A Moment of Silence

It is official…or as official as it can be at this juncture.

i have just made reservations for a studio apartment in mid-June for twelve days in Flagstaff, Arizona in mid-June. For me. Just me. It will be my moment of silence.

The purpose is to find out if i am really serious about this writing stuff. The plan is stay in this studio and write with breaks only for workouts/walks, meditation, and reading. i have a project to work on, and if all goes as i hope, i will continue to work on it after i return home.

i picked Flagstaff because i really don’t know anyone there, and because it’s a one-day drive from San Diego. I have been through there twice, stopping for a day once a long time ago. i liked it. But the principal reason for choosing this place is i felt it would be conducive to my writing.

It’s rather timely in that my last regular weekly column for The Democrat, Tuesday, June 13 will be by 500th, sayonara time (if i counted correctly: Jared, the Democrat editor and i have a different count; i suspect he is a better counter than me). It is time for me to finally, finally decide for real, i mean for real, if i am ever going to write something more permanent than “posts,” poems, or columns, something longer than a poem, something more meaningful to me. i’m still not sure if i will publish the result or anything else for that matter. i am now old enough to be writing for me. i don’t know why. Sure, i would like to be acknowledged as a decent writer. Sure, i would like to make a little more money, to give us a bit more breathing room financially, to help out our  young’uns just a bit more when they need it. But this is for me to determine if i really have what i have always thought i had in me, deep within me, committed.

If i don’t, i won’t worry about it anymore. Oh, i may write another poem (or whatever it is you should call my stuff approximating poetry), and i will probably keep writing a post or so when it moves me, but writing will be behind me. Writing has long been this bear (since at least my senior year in high school), the bear with the tangled paw that left the print for Ike McCaslin in Faulkner’s “The Bear” that loomed larger than life in the antediluvian woods of Mississippi, looming over me while i shunned it, ignored it to go on making a living, trying to piece the writing together with being responsible, but having enough sense to realize the two just didn’t jive together. And i had a life to live. i mean i think it’s time for me to — excuse me gentle people for my language — to shit or get off the pot.

Now mind you, i ain’t complaining. i’ve had a hell of a good life, a whole lot of it by accident and circumstance. i’ve done a lot of things most people don’t get to do; seen a lot of places and things most people don’t get to see (or can’t anymore); and done a lot of things most people will never do or understand. i have done almost all in good faith. i have a few people who think i might have done better, but that’s their problem, not mine. And now after my moment of silence, i will be able to live the rest of my life relatively comfortably in a place that begs to be enjoyed, and believe you me, i will enjoy. i have been good at that all of my life.

But i gots to get this bug out of me before i can enjoy it.

If this 12 days of Christmas in June in Flagstaff proves to me what i hope, then my life will change. i will know in my heart i can write something worthwhile and have around ten projects in mind, to which i will pursue with an unbridled diligence. If i assess i ain’t got it in me, i will keep on, put it behind me, and enjoy my remaining days.

So i’m just warning you, sometime around the disappearance of “June Gloom” in the Southwest corner, i’m gonna be me. i just don’t know who the hell that exactly will be.

Birthday Dinner

Typical of Maureen, she wished to be low key on her birthday. She went to yoga, a new location as the athletic club closest to us has begun cutting back. From there, she spent most of the day escorting her sister to a doctor’s appointment and the follow-on pharmacy pickup.

i had planned to take her out to a nice dinner. i suggested an excellent French restaurant, Et Voila (you wouldn’t have known it was French if i didn’t tell you, would you?). It’ a place we love both for the cuisine and the atmosphere. i gave her that choice with some other of our favorites. She considered some new ones she was researching before she agreed Et Voila was the best choice.

By three o’clock, i realized she had a demanding day. i called and said i could pick up Thai food for tonight, and we could go out another night to celebrate her birthday. She seemed thankful. When she started home from her sister’s place in Santee, about 20 miles north of here but tough in the commute traffic, she called. i revised my suggestion, giving her the choice of Romesco’s.

Romesco’s is one of our go to places. Its subtitle once was “Mediterranean Bistro,” but has since been revised to “Mexiterranean Bistro.” Good change. It originated in Tijuana and is still a thriving restaurant. A son of the original owners started this one just down the hill from where we live. It has gained notoriety for its wonderful dining and even more so for its tapas bar in the back. Almost since the beginning, Maureen and i take refuge at the well appointed bar in the restaurant. The tapas bar is party town with about five flat screens showing disco videos and a motif featuring Spanish bullfighting. The restaurant bar is quieter and the music is usually jazz. We share two or three tapas and drink a glass of wine or two.

Tonight, we shared salmon carpaccio, excellent with fried capers; a roadside ahi tuna tostada, and cochinita pibil Yucateca. They seemed even better than usual. We always have a glass of Ergo tempranillo. Tonight, Maureen tried a new one, a cabernet, tempranillo blend. She liked it. i’ll stick to my Ergo.

It all went well until i mentioned four San Diego high school baseball teams would be playing a double header in the Padre’s Petco Park in late April. She liked the idea of attending. Then i wondered how thrilled i would have been if my Castle Heights Tigers team had played in Sulphur Dell.

“What is Sulphur Dell?” she marveled.

“It was the oldest professional baseball park in the country at that time,” i explained. “The Nashville Vols, now defunct, played there in the Double A Southern League,” i continued, “i went there quite a bit.”

“Cy Fraser, Billy Parsons, Alan Hicks, and a lot of others went there when we were at Vanderbilt. My father took me there several times.” i was on a roll.

“i went there with several kid groups,” expanding, “In the sixth grade at McClain Elementary, they took the school patrol to Nashville to thank us for holding the traffic flags. We were supposed to go to the state penitentiary and to a wrestling match.

“The wrestling match was cancelled or something, so we went to the Vols’ game that night,” i should have stopped there…but i didn’t.

“We did get a tour of the penitentiary. That’s when i bought the miniature electric chair.”

Maureen stopped and looked at me accusingly, “Please tell me you are kidding.”

“Nah, i’m not kidding,” i foolishly went on, “They sold them in the little prison shop. They were wood. No electricity. The prisoners made them.”

It finally dawned on me this conversation was not going well. i shut up.

We enjoyed the rest of our tapas, paid our tab, and went next door to Baskin Robbins, one of Maureen’s favorite places in the world because they have jamocha almond fudge. Feeling guilty, i punished myself by not having some black walnut.

We came home. i’m still trying to figure out what happened to miniature electric chair. Perhaps i gave it to someone. Man, it was cool.

Birthday Woman

i have loved quite a few women. i still love a bunch of them.

Some have loved me, for a while, or from a distance.

The one woman. The one woman i also love and also loves me has been with me for longer than i could have ever hoped for. She turns 66 today.

She has been beautiful all of her life.

And it seems like we have always had fun together from the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We married late. i was 39. She was 32. Yet it’s been almost 34 years ago. When we were married by my brother Joe, God bless him, the vows we made spoke volumes:

…Their love began as a friendship and grew far beyond what either had dreamed possible…The light of love…has also revealed a depth of emotion that defies any explanation of extent. It has cast the light of clarity on relations with other people important in their lives, redefining and deepening those relationships…

And we have tried to do just that, deepening relationships with friends and family. My friends, her friends, my family, her family. All of them ours. Together.

But there is something else. i chose to ask Maureen to marry me because i saw and felt a kindred spirit. i knew she loved me and i loved her and that would sustain us through hard times and even disagreements — and oh yes, we have had our share.

Reflecting on my life, i realize Maureen is the only woman who could still love me through all my shenanigans, my missteps, my hurts, and a thousand other things which would drive other women bonkers and away eventually, if not sooner.

Yes, i love my birthday woman. She is my refuge in a storm, my counselor in dark times. She has put up with listening to my rants, pontifications, declarations, disappointments.

She has been true.

And i have been true, true because i love her. i’m not sure i have been as wonderful in that love because i had to simply put up with her while she had to put up with me. i win on that one.

And you know what? i’m deliriously happy i will be living with her, loving with her, for the next millennium of her birthdays.

She’s a keeper.

Happy 66th Birthday, my love.

 

 

Call me…?

I went to bed early tonight after realizing i was writing gibberish for my Tuesday Democrat column. i had finished a wonderful historical novel earlier, hoping concluding it would inspire me to write well. It didn’t.

As i was readying for an early bedtime, i checked my email and Facebook page to see if anything interesting had popped up or if someone had asked for a response. On Facebook, i found a post from a dear friend. She is super intelligent, well-thought, wonderful fun, and passionate about equality.

The post bothered me. i woke up after about an hour and couldn’t go back to sleep because i kept thinking about the post. So here i am, after midnight, puzzling.

It was a video of a woman telling of being insulted in a bar because she was called “pretty” and “girl” by a bunch of guys at the bar who, in my experience, are nearly always clumsy and inappropriate when trying to meet people of the other sex in that environment. Many are just downright rude and on the make. So i could understand why she might be repulsed.

i must confess i did not watch the entire video. So i may be jumping the gun here, but i just couldn’t make myself listen to this…er, person complaining about what people called her. Apparently, being told you are pretty is an insult, and it’s even worse to be called a girl.

My friend surprised me as her comment on the video was to the effect being called “lady” is an insult.

The exchange took me back to the early 1990’s and Detroit. i had been selected to be a facilitator for a marketing blitz for a new line of Chrysler cars. We had gone through each session of the two-day program and had begun what in the Navy we called “murder boarding,” i.e. a facilitator would present the session to his or her peers and afterwards be critiqued. The idea was to catch mistakes and lessen the chance of those mistakes happening with any of the group.

The group consisted of twenty-four of the distaff population and three men…er, persons of masculine gender. One of these came from Spokane, Washington; another was a super car salesman…er, salesperson from Los Angeles, and then there was me. i wasn’t quite ready for what occurred next. i had already become aghast earlier when a colleague with my Navy background insisted we could not call those easel pads “flip charts” as it was an insult to Filipinos. i told him i didn’t believe it, that he was just looking for insults, and i didn’t give a flip.

This person from Spokane did a pretty nice job. The critiques from the group pretty much confirmed his performance when a very fit young person of opposite gender (she ran survival leadership training for executives out of Seattle) stood up for her comments. i later was told this critiquer (sorry, but i’m trying to not offend anyone), complimented the presenter, but then added, “But you made one terrible mistake.”

“What was that,” this critiquer was asked.

“Several times, you addressed your audience as ‘ladies and gents.’ It is an insult to call me ‘lady.’ You are just asking for trouble.”

A smaller person raised her hand. “Excuse me, but i like being called a lady. I take it as a compliment.”

Another person responded, “You can call me ‘lady’ but don’t ever call me ‘woman.'”

And so it began. These twenty-four people all had a different idea of what was appropriate or insulting and none appeared to agree. The raising of hands ceased. The voices became louder and shriller. Soon, there were individuals, red in the face, shouting vehemently at each other. Not one of these people seemed to agree on what they should be called. It was not pretty.

The person being critiqued backed up against the front wall in attempt to make himself invisible. i slid down in my seat trying to disappear. i looked over and the usually bellicose super salesperson was also sliding down low, out of target line.

After what seemed like several days to the three other non-participants but was likely not more than ten minutes, the lead trainer returned. This person was a rather large person of the same gender as those arguing.

“What’s going on,” the lead demanded. It took a few minutes to quieten the group down and get a response. The three of the other gender knew better than to provide any explanation.

When the cause was determined, the lead said, “This is crazy. If you unintentionally insult someone, you can always tell them you are sorry. Now, let’s get on with it.”

Now fifteen years later, i’m being told i can’t call those of the opposite sex anything. i have always called women for whom i have the utmost respect “Ladies.” It was my highest compliment…i thought. Now, i find out it’s an insult. I also am required to not call any female (are “woman” and “female” acceptable?) “girl.” i quite frequently use this term as one of encouragement as in “you go, girl.” i use it for all ages with the intent of being friendly and positive.

Groups keep telling me what i can’t call them. Often they use the terms among themselves but it is insulting if someone outside the group calls them such.

Most people who know me agree that i am for total equality. i was a champion of the Navy’s women-at-sea program when i was executive officer of one of the first ships with women as part of the crew. i believe that indigenous tribal people, many of whom are family and close friends, should be treated respectfully, equally and have their property rights accepted without encroachment, private or government. i strive in my own way to acknowledge people of other ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference as equal.

i hate biased, racist, bigoted, narrow-minded idiots.

But i am getting tired of people telling me i can’t use words.

i am or have been called paleface, cowboy, redneck, honky, rube, shorty, goober, SOB, asshole, twerp, goofball, dweeb, junior jock, mister, master, monkey, turkey, jackass, all Navy officer ranks up to commander, and a whole bunch of other things.  i don’t think i’ve every been called “lord,” but i have been called “gentleman,” and “gent.”

i do not object.

i will take those names in stride as i will assume the person calling me one of those names has no ill intent. If they do have ill intent, then i will confront them and deal with them personally, privately. If people are out of line in their name calling of other folks, i will step in and correct it if possible.

i have been lumped together with people because of the way i look, the way i talk, and whatever group with whom i am classified. That is wrong. Flat wrong.

The sad thing is so many people, so many movements, get so wrapped up and upset with words, even with no idea what the person mouthing those words really meant. As the Virginian said to Trampas in Owen Wister’s novel when the the villain called him “son of a bitch:”  “When you say that, smile!”

But for now, i guess i’m just going to have to start calling everyone “Hey, you.”

Now, i am going back to bed. i have a column deadline midday tomorrow, but now i am tired.

Zooed

The Allie troop made a decision to return to the zoo today. We did not see all that Allie had wished to see on our first foray on Tuesday, and the other possibilities just seemed not quite as inviting. So zoo today, Safari Park tomorrow (after all, they have the butterfly exhibit open).

i had many ideas to add here, but i am too pooped to pop. i’ll just say between the two days, we covered all of the zoo. Even with about 1/8 of the zoo area under construction for a new exhibit, this is quite an accomplishment. Today, we chose to rent a stroller for Allie. The first day was tough.

When we got home, Maureen took Allie to Hans and Harry’s Bakery, a destination to many all over San Diego, but just down the hill from us. Maureen got some kind of French pastry for her and Martha’s…er, Happy’s desert with strawberries and cream tonight. And Allie picked out a cookie, not a gingerbread cookie, but better. This was a highlight of the day, along with the polar bears, panda bears, hippos, and tigers.

An Almost Non-Animal Day with the Famous Allie

As noted, yesterday’s zoo trip gave me the opportunity to be described by Kim Novak. With a storm predicted for most of the day in San Diego today, we planned a mostly indoor day with Alexandra and Happy, granddaughter and grandmother Martha.

So a bit later to miss the rain snarling of an already snarled San Diego commute, we left home a bit later. It turned out the raging rain storm was less than a quarter inch in the early morning with the clouds burning off by noon. Typical. But on we went to Balboa Park.

We had Allie’s visit planned out, but the plan had some holes in it. Trooper Allie made it through the first day at the zoo, but we only saw about half of what she wanted to see, and logistics prevented one goofy yahoo from getting to Albert’s, one of my all time favorite places to dine in the middle of the zoo, named after the zoo’s past famous gorilla. The other must stop was the Zoo’s “Safari Park” which is about forty minutes up the road inland of Escondido, which is inland of Encinitas, which is…oh, never mind, i got off track again. Anyway, we moved that visit around to Friday to ensure we missed the big storm, which never happened.

Then, i suggested the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on the east end of the Park, across from  the Natural History Museum with the big fountain almost in between.

And that’s where we began today’s adventure.

It turned out the Science Center was a perfect place for a five-year old and a significantly older and very tired playmate. Allie loved it. We tinkered with the science education projects with inquisitive Maureen leading the charge, Happy being the effective teacher she has been all her life, and the goofy guy unsuccessfully trying to figure out the exhibits kids of all ages had mastered within a minute.

Then we went upstairs to Kid City. Allie was in heaven, along with about two dozen kids flitting about the air tubes, mock-up bus and fire engine, the “Mercado” grocery store and the factory next door. This, of course, allowed most of the adult escorts to sit down. Allie played until our group got hungry.

So we walked down El Prado to The Prado restaurant. Allie loved it, and the adults enjoyed their lunch and rest. The goofy guy had a glass of pinot grigio. So, at Allie’s request we went back to Kid City. This time, the goofy one was designated to be the playmate. Allie and i made the rounds. For most of the time, the air vacuum exhibits with the balls swirling upward in and around the Rube Goldberg contraptions before falling down a tube into a bin to be repeated thrust into the tubes again held sway.

And then it happened. While checking out the “walk” and “don’t walk” exhibit for crossing the Kid City highway of life, there was this three-year old rolling his Mercado thirty-inch high shopping cart at pedal to the metal speed (except, of course, there was no metal). The wipeout was pretty ugly. There were no serious injuries other than the goofy guy’s ego. The photo to the left is the evidence at the crime scene.

Fortunately, the wreck on the highway was near the end of the adventure because the beginning of a non-adventure called rush-hour was fast closing in.

As Allie’s entourage was gathering, the goofy guy walked out to the fountain and found a soul mate. One lone male mallard duck had claimed the fountain. The goofy guy and the duck discussed the state of the world, speeding plastic grocery carts on main highways, and independence. The two agreed neither of them was really lonely.

Allie, Happy, and Auntie Mo emerged from the museum. The entourage made it back home with minimal problems with the commute.

The designate playmate was informed that about ninety-five percent of his house was “Girls Only.” Fortunately, he was designated the “helper” and could traverse much of his home, but just in transit or when helping. He, as a playmate was blissfully extricated from a game of “Old Maid” because three players were required. But he lost in “Go Fish” yet again, although this time, there was some consideration in his claim the officiating was awful. Then, after Allie had finally, peacefully, and lovingly bit the dust for the evening, and Happy and Auntie Mo had retired, the goofy one, the helper found this note (to the left) on the table beside his favorite chair.

The rain decided to fall only at nightfall, like tonight. Tomorrow, the gang hits the zoo again for all the animals missed on the first day (with a very weak promised from Happy and Auntie Mo lunch would be at Albert’s). Friday, the planned visit to Safari Park is a lock.

But tonight, the goofy one, although even more resembling Sister Lila marching on that railroad track, is happy with a full day as Allie’s playmate and helper behind him and the assurance he still has at least one place to rest in his home.

 

We Are Family

The fog greeted us this morning, early this morning for Maureen, not so much early for me.

The fog reminded me of Newport. Rhode Island, that is, not up the road in California. i would not give up the Southwest corner climate unless i was forced to or for financial reasons, but i often think about the raw, beautiful, wind swept fog on the rocky shores of New England. i remember sitting on the rocks as the angry Atlantic crashed against those rocks below. Hite McClean,  a Greenwood, Mississippi boy who had done well, graduated from Vanderbilt, got his law degree from Ole Miss (i think i remember), and who was slightly goofy enough to run with me, especially down to Mac’s Clam Shack by the small shipyard off of Thames. i’m thinking maybe Waites Wharf, but it was a long time ago when Hite and i would plan ahead for eating quahogs because the grit from the sandblasting might end up in our quahog or beer and even if it didn’t, you could blow lunch for most of the next day, but man, were they good and and the setting was perfect so it is probably gone now, and the next day, blowing lunch or not, Hite and i would go sit on the rocks and watch the sea crash against the rocks in the fog.

This morning, the fog driving north reminded me of that…

But that is another story.

You see, Maureen and i were headed to Disneyland, not to go mind you. i have another story about the best way to go to Disneyland, but that too is another story. We weren’t really going to Disneyland. We were going to Mimi’s Cafe, which is right close to Disneyland to meet family.

The folks we were going to meet are a special part of our family. They live up east of San Francisco, except one couple who live in the city. They all are just incredible folks.

Ann Minoulti is the ringleader. She is also the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to all of them. She is a kick. She also takes care of them, loves them like mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers should love their offspring. Unconditional. No excuses. Gathers them about her and laughs with joy. i’ve seen it.

Nikki and Mark are the two who live in the city with their son, Marky. Nikki is one of the most beautiful young women i have ever met. From what i’ve seen, she is just right  for Mark who proposed to her in Disneyland yesterday. They are also both very smart and fun. Marky has good genes.

Stefanie and Eric are quite frankly in my opinion beautiful. Her son Stefan is in high school making great grades and on his way to success. You can tell. He and Eric are father and son even if it doesn’t say that on the official records.

Then there is Naomi. Naomi is eight. She had some difficulties in that thing called birth and has some special needs. But you wouldn’t know it. Stefanie has written a book, I See You, LIttle Naomi. It is a children’s book to make children understand special needs children in their midst and how to relate. Great idea. It works. Great book. Naomi, the title character is great also. It is a wonderful thing to see Eric and Stefanie loving her just right.

Finally, there were Sebastiano and Sienna. They are the children of Danielle, another daughter of Ann, who could not join them on this trip. Danielle is a winner and proving it. Sebstiano and Sienna are fun, well-grounded, and good to be around.

It all made me feel good because these folks, my family have faced life and its hardships and not only survived but succeeded through love and strength. They are very special to me.

In our breakfast conversation, Stefanie discovered she missed my Democrat column about her mother-in-law, a special person in her own right who i am honored to call family and my friend: Leonore Johnson. So i have included that column below the breakfast photo.

It was about three hours of driving in Los Angeles and I-5 traffic in the fog. And our short time together was worth every mile.

The column with its photo:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Leonore Johnson, one of my heroes

By jim jewell

SAN DIEGO – Sometimes I think I whine about not being back home too much.

I miss Lebanon and frequently wonder what life would have been like if I stayed. In most scenarios, staying home comes out ahead in my mind.

But I ended up with a beautiful woman where the weather, in my opinion, is the best in the world, where I can climb my hill and see the ocean as well as Navy ships in the bay, and where I can play bad golf twelve months out of the year. Also, if I hadn’t stumbled into this vagabond life, there’s a bunch of great things I would have missed.

And once in a long while, I have run into someone immediately recognizable as special, someone with whom I immediately found rapport, someone who immediately gained my respect, someone I began to think of as a hero.

Race, culture, religion, background may not match, but I knew this was certainly a special person.

I have run into a handful of such special people. I have spent significant time with all of them except one.

I met Leonore Johnson once for about an hour, if that. Fortunately, in this age of “the cloud,” and “Facebook,” I feel as if I have known Leonore for a long time. She is one of those special folks I have come to see as a hero.

I would have never met Leonore if I had stayed home, although we might have met much earlier if the Navy had operated differently in 1968.

Leonore was born in southern Alabama. Her family moved to Killeen, Tex. when she was in her pre-teens. After high school, she met Leo Johnson at Prairie View A&M where they married. Both signed up to be Navy officers. Had the Navy sent them immediately after graduation to Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., we might have run into each other. I went to OCS in 1968. The twosome’s arrival in Newport was delayed until 1970.

While in OCS, Leonore became pregnant. The Navy, intolerant about such things back then, sent them back to Texas with honorable discharges. As Leonore says, “the Navy’s loss.” Leo became an agricultural engineer for the USDA Soil Conservation Service from which he retired in 1999. The couple moved frequently due to USDA assignments until they settled in Brownwood, Tex. where they have lived for 42 years.

Leonore returned to college and earned her teacher’s certificate and was a teacher for 35 years and then she retired in 2007). They have two sons, Eric and Michael; daughter Jerilyn; and two grandchildren.

I met Leonore through their oldest child Eric. Eric is married to Maureen’s and my niece, Stefanie Lynn Johnson. These two live in Concord, Cal. with their 15-year old son, Stefan; and 6-year old Naomi, who is a beautiful and intelligent child with special needs.

While we were on one of many trips to the Bay area four years ago, we were visiting with Eric and Stefanie when Leonore came by in the afternoon. Our meeting only lasted minutes but it has led into a lifetime friendship.

We have solidified that friendship through Facebook. Leonore is an avid and frequent contributor. We “friended” each other (“befriended” if you are old school) through Eric’s page. She puts up many posts, which I find interesting.

I am amazed she has the time. In addition to multiple daily posts, she sews, does woodcraft, cooks, makes artistic hair bows, and is a prodigious reader. But her real, continual job is being the caregiver for her 89-year old aunt.

Her posts, which initially drew me to her, were almost daily poems of the season by famous writers. The poems allow me to contemplate the bright side in my harried times. Leonore also provides interesting tidbits and photos of Texas history, women’s rights, and from a website named “Up from Slavery,” which has uplifting articles on how people with darker skin than I have reached great achievement in spite of racial prejudice.

In everything she posts or writes, she discloses what a caring, gentle, and loving person she is. I somehow identify with her. Her dedication to her children and grandchildren comes through on a grand scale.

She is one of my heroes.

And if my wandering lifestyle had not occurred, I would not have met such a courageous, wonderful woman.

That validates my choices.

Leonore and Leo Johnson with their granddaughter Naomi in the Johnson’s home in Brownwood, Tex.

Up in the Morning and Off to School…

i was a pre-teen when i first heard the man singing and playing. Twelve. i was twelve, deep into the giddiness of testosterone driven faux coolness, or in other words, being different from all about me, or at least i thought so. In that pubescent innocence, i wallowed in the new thing called Rock ‘n Roll.

Oh, there were wonderful things that took me away, made me a hero, made me a lover (without a real good handle on what that meant), let me suffer in my forlorn abjectness of rejection i assumed from beautiful young girls. It was Rock ‘n Roll. Ray Peterson sang a bubblegum version of “Corrina, Corrina.” Marty Robbins sang “A White Sport Coat.” Carl Perkins sang “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sonny James sang “Young Love.” The Coasters sang “Searchin'” and “Young Blood” long before “Poison Ivy” and “Charlie Brown,” but after “Idol with the Golden Head,” which remains one of my all time favorites.

And a long time before earbuds and cassette players and iPods and Smart Phones and iTunes,  i would sing those songs with gusto while mowing the two acres of yard across the street, thinking no one could hear me above the roar of the two-cycle power mower.

Then, i (actually i think it was for all three of us: Martha, Joe, and me, but i was oldest and i claimed it as mine) bought or more likely was given a “portable” 45 RPM record player, and i would take my hard-earned weekly mowing money from the Cowan’s and the Frame’s and head to College Street between East Main and East Gay to Simm’s Magnavox store with the forty-fives in wooden cases and buy as many as i could afford, take them home, play them on that self-same portable record player.

Considering my pre-occupation with Rock ‘n Roll, or as much pre-occupation as a pre-teen pubescent boy in a little town flat smack in the middle of Tennessee could have while he was dreaming of becoming a football, basketball, and baseball star,  i am sure i must have heard Chuck Berry’s earliest recorded singles (We called them singles, which in retrospect seems a bit odd since singles had a “B” side). But they didn’t seem to stick with me, or rather they were blown away from my consideration by one song.

1957.  “School Days.” i was mowing and singing in the summer. i wished my world to be Chuck Berry’s “School Days.” Mowing became a solid repetition of singing the song over and over and over…

The man was a genius. He touched an unexplored corner of our souls. He mixed country, rock, and rhythm and blues. He crossed lines. Unfortunately, one story has it one of those lines was a state line while escorting a minor young woman across some of those state lines and those twenty months in prison changed him those who knew him say.

Later, i admired him for his bravado. i am not wise enough to know what really happened back in that Mann Act period, but them white men and that white judge sending him off to prison makes me a little bit suspicious about what really happened. It annoys me the truth, justice, has been fogged by pretentious morals and prejudice.

But the man kept playing, and i loved every song.

He came from music. St. Louis. According to Wikipedia his influences were Nat King Cole, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Louis Jordan, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Monroe. Now that’s a background.

Oh yes, i sang “Sweet Little Sixteen” behind that roaring two-cycle. But “School Days” was my anthem.

It never happened, of course. It was on its way during my junior high years, two of the best years of my life while i kept singing “Up in the morning, and off to school; the teacher is teaching the ‘Golden Rule.'” But my folks thought i should have the advantage of the military school up the hill called Castle Heights. They were right. A military prep school doesn’t quite mix with Chuck Berry’s “School Days.”

But i won’t forget the feeling of jubilation while thinking of the glory of my (never happening) “School Days” when:

As soon as three o’clock rolls around
And you lay your burden down
Throw down your books and outta your seat
You go down the hallway and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

You drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear somthin’ that’s really hot
With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you’ve been waitin’ to dance
And you feel the music from head to toe
Round and round and round and round you go
Long live rock n roll.

And i won’t forget Chuck Berry.

Long live Rock ‘n Roll.

 

A Day Late Comment on Humming

i didn’t really miss it yesterday.

i just had too much going on to pay my proper respects, so i delayed it until today, which i thought was appropriate because it was St. Patrick’s Day.

i think he would like that.

Yesterday, Ray Boggs (what a lovely Irish name) would have been ninety-nine years old.

Yes, i married his daughter. He seemed to be pleased, but i wasn’t really sure about what he thought about me. After all, i was a sailor boy. His daughter was…no, is a beautiful, sophisticated young woman. And i was from the South.

But soon, Ray and i had our own thing, not just in-laws, but best friends. We did projects together, we played golf together. We watched movies and sports together. We argued about the best route to get where we were going. And yes, to be perfectly honest, we drank a lot together.

Ray loved to play golf with my friends and me, especially when it was at Miramar, Admiral Baker, or North Island. This was not because of the golf, mind you. This was because he would go early and have SOS (okay, who besides military folks, especially Navy folks, knows what SOS is?) for two dollars.

Watching Ray and my father work together was something magical. Ray was the consummate engineer. Everything was planned out, drawn on engineering plans, all preparations complete, including tools, supplies, safety checks, etc., etc. My father shot from the hip, starting a project with an idea in mind, adjusting when in mid-stream he realized his original idea needed to be modified to work better, finding a tool he didn’t have was needed and either stopping to go get the tool or, more likely, figuring out a way to get it done without the tool. The two of them re-tiled the kitchen floor in our first house. Ray would present his plan, and Jimmy Jewell would point out something in the plan wouldn’t work. They would argue…hmmm, discuss the problem, go out to the garage refrigerator and get a beer, stand there and talk for a half-hour, seldom about the work, and go back in and resume the tile job. Within an hour, they were back in the garage.

The tile job was perfect.

i loved the way Ray loved his daughters, his son, and his family. i loved the way they loved him.

i have hundreds of stories about Ray. i love them all. All of them display how much he enjoyed life.

Yet the thing i always remember about the French-Irish, Boston-born, Wyoming-raised, self-made man, was his humming. Yes, humming. You see, a number of times Maureen and i would go out for the evening, we would take Sarah when she was between one and two over to Taft Street in Lemon Grove to the house of which Ray designed, engineered, oversaw the building of, and then did most of the interior work on himself.

i still remember him sitting with Sarah on his shoulder, her cheek next to his. Ray would hum in that gravely voice, low and rhythmic. i could almost hear the vibration, tremolo i think is the word. Sarah would go to sleep and Ray would rock gently in his chair, continuing to hum.

i miss him, but i always have the memory of Ray and Sarah.

 

Thank You, Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Somehow, it’s appropriate Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s album was titled “Déjà Vu.”

There is one track on the album that keeps playing over and over again in my mind. “Our House” just made me want to spend my life in our house. The album came out in 1970. i was plying my way between Sasebo, Japan; Pusan, Korea; and Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, and Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam on a USNS ship (first the USNS Geiger and then the USNS Upshur) carrying Korean troops back and forth between RVN and ROK.

“Our House” gave me visions of the way things ought to be: “Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, / Life used to be so hard, / Now everything is easy ’cause of you and our— / La, la, la.”

I imagined “our house” to be shared with a number of women with whom i had shared special times…no, whom i loved. Then, i met someone and it all seemed to fall into place…for a while. Maybe the problem was we only had one cat in our yard until the very end, nor a fireplace until it was too late.

So then, i led a good life of a single Navy officer. i was a rambling man, saw a whole bunch of the world, met a lot of women, worked hard, played hard, and didn’t have any cats, or dogs for that matter. i still longed for “Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard.”

Then with stories enough to make you think it was fate, i met Maureen and we married. It has been good.

This afternoon, we went through the drudgery, the uncertainty, the pain-in-the-ass of meeting with our tax accountant. It turned out well in spite of our concerns as it always does.

We got home, and i, having been crunching paperwork in distress since all of yesterday and since O-dark thirty this morning, took a nap. i had to clean up the paperwork and set it up for next year’s ordeal, and i set down to find Bill Cook’s post of Howlin’ Wolf. Took me back a long, long way.

Then i went out front to move the trash cans to the side yard after pickup. There in the front yard were Oscar and Luna, “two cats in the yard.”

Oscar and Luna are not really our cats. They belong to Luis and Regina Gonzalez and their two daughters. But they have become our “two cats in the yard.” In this photo, they are surveying their realm from the top of the berm in our front yard. i disturbed them, but not much. Oscar and Luna spend a lot of time in our courtyard. They like to get up on the outdoor furniture to look in the window and watch in amazement at the luxuriating of our indoor cats. Sometimes they hiss.

This is Dakota. Dakota was the cat Sarah rescued when she was a sophomore at San Diego State. Because of the college area where Sarah lived, Dakota became an indoor cat. She is the best suited cat for an indoor cat i’ve ever known. Sarah left for Austin. She planned to take Dakota with her so she got Maureen another cat to have when she left. Maureen wanted to name him “BW” or some other innocuous name, so Sarah came up with “Bruce Willis.” Perfect. Not to be denied, Maureen calls him “Brucie.”

Bruce has not yet decided if he likes being an indoor cat, but he’s getting used to it. He leaps up on the sill and hisses back at Oscar and Luca when they peer in the window. None of them really have determined what is going on and why two are in and two or out. It doesn’t seem to bother them very much.

As i walked back in contemplating a long night of beating the system and setting up tax recording for the next year, which will never be quite as good as i envisioned, i remembered the boys on the couch on the porch in the album cover photo.

“Hmm,” i thought, “i got two cats in the yard and two in the house. Is that doubling down?” And i remembered the lyrics…okay, okay, i remembered most of the lyrics but had to look them up to be sure:

I’ll light the fire, you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today.
Staring at the fire for hours and hours while I listen to you
Play your love songs all night long for me, only for me.Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes, everything is good.
Such a cozy room,
The windows are illuminated by the evening sunshine through them,
Fiery gems for you, only for you.Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard,
Life used to be so hard,
Now everything is easy ’cause of you and our—La, la, la

Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard,
Life used to be so hard,
Now everything is easy ’cause of you and our—I’ll light the fire, while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today.

 

It is now near bedtime. Maureen just came in and gave me a kiss before she headed for the bedroom. We ate supper as usual on dinner trays in family room. Tonight,  unlike the colder evenings of several weeks ago, we ate without my lighting a fire, but she did place some flowers in the vase. She always has flowers to place in the vase.  i will follow her soon and hold her before we both go to sleep.

 And our house is a very, very fine house. Life used to be so hard (but not really hard), but certainly everything is easier because of her.