When is it okay to laugh?  

That’s the age-old question when someone has just befallen an embarrassing and/or painful, fluke misfortune, such as occurred on a recent Sunday golf outing. Is the accepted grace period preceding the belly laugh soon after the first, “Are you all right” is asked and answered affirmatively?

Here’s the setup: It was gonna be me, Greg Stenlund, my nephew Rusty and his teen son Sammy, but they arrived with his wife’s visiting nephew from Oregon, who Rusty said “wants to tag along.” The boy had never golfed, but to even Rusty’s dismay, he appeared ready to jump in and give the game a go.

This, of course, would entail considerable extra time on a busy golf course Sunday afternoon, and Rusty should be commended for reluctantly but graciously facilitating the irritation it would surely become. So we’re on No. 2 with Rusty looking darn proud of his second shot landing on the back of the green. The four of us waited as Rusty tactfully urged the young interloper to speed it up.

I recall him squatted behind his ball estimating the degree of his putt’s break and telling Alex who was still near a sand trap, “You can just pick up your ball.” As the boy ambled toward said ball with borrowed club in hand, Rusty facetiously whispered, “OR you can just do the opposite of what I just told you.”

Still eyeing his putt while chirping, “I’m putting for birdie,” we heard a sickening “CRACK!” As God is my witness, the wildly wayward shot – much harder than a kid that age should be capable of – hit Rusty square in the ankle, lifting his body almost straight up in the air, almost levitating briefly before landing with a thud, feet from the spot where he had once squatted.

It was a gruesome, ball-on-bone collision, which had it struck his head would have minimally led to an extended coma. And then they came – the “Are you all rights” from the nervous youngsters seemingly before he had actually even landed. I also heard a “Where did it hit you” and I think a “Did it hurt?” As Rusty hopped and flopped around like a one-winged bird, he growled, among other things, “No, it didn’t hurt; I was rolling around because it felt really good.” I turned to the boys and cautioned, “No more questions, fellas; let’s let him recover in silence.”

It was right about here as Greg and I walked to our cart that the humor of it all really sunk in. It was private at first, somewhat stifled, but soon there was no turning back from the uproarious giggle fest. I reenacted Rusty’s “I’m putting for birdie” and his body language upon impact, countless times, and I really became concerned a cackling Stenlund might lose bodily control and wet himself. With the typical Blough temperament, Rusty himself eventually began laughing in retrospect.

Were we wrong to laugh once assured life was not lost and he would ultimately walk again? That’s for greater, more discernible minds than mine to conclude. But before judging, I’ll add I’m pretty sure I heard an “Oof!” when he hit the ground.

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