How to Build a Country Club

By Jeanne Althouse

One cold Sunday night, just before dark, Temple Seeks drove over to the old golf club building, closed for winter, and let himself in with his member’s key. In a duffle bag he carried thirty large firecrackers, each made with more than three grains of powder, and a dozen aerial shells full of stars. He put them on top of the old gas furnace. The thermostat, an old one whose numbers were barely readable, was set for “off.” He sprayed the walls around the furnace, the wood floor and front steps with a pesticide sprayer he had filled with gasoline from his lawn mower. As town Mayor, and President of the Volunteer Firefighters Association, he was confident he could persuade everyone the fire started from mice chewing on the ancient electrical wiring. When he was done, he returned to the thermostat and turned on the heat. He knew it would take a few minutes.

That winter, before Temple set fire to it, the Board of Governors met to decide when to replace the dilapidated building overlooking the golf course ten miles outside of town. Instead of making a decision, the men talked about when Hem broke one hundred and then collapsed and died on the green, or when Dottie left her devilled eggs in the sun at the member’s picnic and people puked in the potted ferns, or when the Knights of Columbus got together to repaint the dining room and used the wall color on the trim by mistake.

“Room looked like a bordello,” said Temple, turning his cigar back and forth in his fingers, leaning back to show off his big belly, a sign of his success. Seeks was owner of Seeks and Sons Hardware in Nameless, Montana. His store was well-known for its mail order kits on how to construct fireworks. Around the 4th of July, they had the best stock of illegal reloadable mortar shells in the county.

The Trustees procrastinated. At one meeting instead of the building, they talked about the old days, before the road was paved, before membership cost four figures, and before they allowed women on the green. Then, another time they avoided decision by discussing possible paint colors and design. Taupe with eggshell trim was proposed by Hem’s widow, the one woman on the Board who held a no-vote position as secretary. The style, majestic, like a capital building, with a grand entry staircase leading up to double glass doors, was proposed by Seek’s nephew, a contractor. He said the toilet that always leaked and flooded the old men’s room should be replaced with a water-saving device with two kinds of flush handles—one for yellow, one for brown. They spent hours on the toilets at a Board retreat.

Temple said he hoped they made a decision before he was too old to lift a club.

No one remembered exactly when they split into two factions—one group supported repair of the old structure to save money and the other argued it would be cheaper to start over with a new building. They proposed calling it the Nameless County Country Club.

Temple, who led the advocates for new construction, challenged the others—said they were more afraid of change than showing up for a prostate biopsy.

They took several votes, and individual members switched position after bribes from the opposing side, but the votes always ended in a tie. Finally, Temple couldn’t stand it any longer.

While he was waiting for the gasoline to ignite, Temple hiked to the far end of the platen of green grass, now dotted white with winter snow. From this distance he turned and stared back at the old building. He had golfed here for forty years. He and his wife had their wedding reception on the veranda. During high school his son had worked summers driving carts. But now his first grandson was on the way.

“Time to think about the future,” he whispered. His breath made a smoke ring in the air.

The first sound he heard was the drum beat of the exploding firecrackers. Then the furnace blew up; the blast cut open the roof and the aerial shells launched. Hanging in the air, spheres above the fire, the shell casings burst one after another, igniting the stars and scattering them in all directions across the sky.