Return to Another Day

Growing up, i enjoyed the Looney Tunes cartoons prior to the oater Saturday matinee at the Capitol and Princess Theaters in Lebanon.

i enjoyed the feature with the white hatted good guys triumphing by fighting fair against the black hat bad guys who cheated and shot people in the back. i enjoyed Lash Larue, Rocket Man, and Buck Jones escaping from yet another death peril in the short serials preceding the main event only to face another sure fatal ending until the next Saturday.

i thought the quarter for my ticket, the dime for my popcorn, and the nickel for my coke (did i reverse the prices?) were well worth those serials and Roy and Gene, Bob (Steele), and The Three Mesquiteers.

But ahh, the Looney Tunes cartoon: i laughed and laughed and laughed, sometimes so hard i snorted my coke and popcorn.

Then came that magical moment when, several years after 1954 when we acquired our own television, the prominent thirteen-inch console job that sat in the corner of the living room thus becoming the center focus of all things living room, they would occasionally run a Looney Tunes cartoon on the “small” screen.

The only adult who laughed as hard as my sister, brother, and myself was my father. He loved Daffy, Sylvester, Bugs, Porky, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew,  and especially the Road Runner and Wiley Coyote and the Tasmanian Devil (“Why for you bury me in de cold, cold, ground?” remains one of my watchwords).

In my father’s later years, there were several gifts to him on Christmas centering around Looney Tunes. First there were the VHS tapes with collections of the various characters. In the latter stages of VHS gifts, i stumbled upon some car floor mats, which i thought was perfect for Daddy: The Tasmanian Devil going fishing. My father loved them and immediately put them in his Ford Escape. When he decided my mother had too much difficulty getting into the Escape, he sold it to Blythe, my older daughter and moved the mats to the Buick. When he passed away, i inherited the mats, now which proudly adorn my Mazda 3 hatchback and bring memories every time i get behind the wheel.

As with all things electronic, the VHS world ceded its place to the DVD world. So Daddy got his share of those as gifts. His grandson (earlier i wrote “nephew” but Tommy is my nephew and one of the best around)  Tommy Duff gave him a slew of westerns. i gave him a large portion of his Looney Tunes DVD library. When both of my parents left us, i drove a U-Haul across country with things for my daughters and us. The boxes of music cassettes and CD’s and the VHS and DVD videos were stored in garage attic. This late autumn as we began to consider Christmas gifts, it occurred to me there were some perfect hand-me-downs for the little ones. i considered giving them to my grandson Sam, but he is a pre-teen and not likely to be that amused. Two specific little ones were also on my mind.

So this Christmas on Signal Mountain, when Max and Culley Duff, the four-year old identical twin grand nephews opened their gifts, one was a Looney Tune DVD. i don’t think they really had a clue about this treasure. But their father did. You see, Tommy was as big of a Looney Tune fan as his grandfather and his uncle.

Several weeks ago, he shared a photo of the two boys enjoying their gift. Then Monday, he sent me these photos. It moved me. i laughed. i thought about my father. i thought about growing up in a world quite a bit simpler for youngsters. i thought about how lucky i was to grow up where i did and how i did. i was glad the young boys had a chance to share laughter with their father as the three generations of Jewell shared their laughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?

 

CHENG and My Father

This is a slight rewrite from about fifteen years ago. A very special moment in my life initiated my writing this. i don’t recall if it was newspaper column or i simply wrote it. 

Recently, Mike Dixon, a close Lebanon friend, basketball one-on-one opponent, baseball teammate, and of several other connections sent me an email containing a photo purported to be a Popular Mechanics cover from the 1950’s. The photo showed a massive control board with many gadgets, dials, and meters. The email falsely claimed the photo was Rand Corporation’s idea of a home computer in the future 2004. A couple of my old Navy connections had sent the item to me previously, and i had checked it out to find out it was a hoax. The photo was actually a control panel for the propulsion plant of a nuclear submarine used for training prospective submarine officers. i informed Mike of this information. When he sent a not of appreciation, i provided him the following response:

When i first saw the photo and the claim from someone else a long time ago, i questioned it primarily because it did look more like a FRAM engineering plant’s main control board in the forward engine room but a bit more sophisticated. i then started checking it out and discovered the photo’s actual source.

In case you don’t recall, one of my Navy tours was as chief engineer or “CHENG” on the destroyer, USS Hollister (DD  788). FRAM’s were WWII vintage destroyers “modernized” (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) in the 1950’s and early 60’s by taking off  the original superstructures and replacing them with lighter aluminum versions and new electronics and weapon packages that would add back the weight and then some. The aluminum superstructure created a ship better equipped for that era’s battle-at-sea environment, but the aluminum also induced bimetallic corrosion at the juncture of the new superstructure with the steel main deck. This was a serious problem by 1973 when i assumed my duties. This was the tour where Earl Major and i reconnected while attending destroyer school and with both my destroyer and his cruiser, the USS England (CG 22) being homeported in Long Beach.

When i arrived on board, the Hollister was forty-years old. The plant in those destroyers is still the most reliable ship propulsion system i ever experienced, especially for ships with the mission of war at sea. Duplication was everywhere and it was steam, steam, steam. Any electrical engineering equipment was backup or auxiliary. Those old greyhounds were small, fast, and durable. My vintage Hollister weighed in at 4200 tons and was 390 feet long and forty feet beam to beam. During one engineering full power trial, we built up the four boilers superheat and were still accelerating at 35 knots when we had to call off the dogs in order to make another commitment.  i still have no idea what speed she might have reached.

Main Control aboard USS H. R. Tucker, taken from Jesse Fox’s post in the Facebook group “U.S. Navy Gearing Class Destroyers.”

Main control and both the forward and after engine rooms were snarling, hissing, clanking, roaring webs of pipes and asbestos-lagged machinery, hotter than Hades and louder than the pits of a NASCAR racetrack or a flight deck during an A6 takeoff (and i know as i have been in all three places). The lower levels were mostly a swamp of pumps akin to a mechanical jungle. The entire engineering plant was quintessential Rube Goldberg. The heart was the main control board flats. We stood behind a wheel similar to the one in the hoax photograph as the machinist mates responded to the engine order telegraph from the bridge to funnel the appropriate amount of steam from the fire rooms through the turbines larger than a Ford Exhibition SUV to reach a finite RPM. When i climbed the ladder through the hatch to the main deck after general quarters or engineering drills, i  was flushed and hoarse, feeling like we had just harnessed an untamed stallion and ridden him through a fiery desert, then him dragging us through a steaming jungle pond.

Another photo of the main control board in the forward engine room, this one of the USS Carpenter (DD 825) taken from Jerry O Brien’s post in the “Gearing Class Destroyer” Facebook group.

Ship’s propulsion was not my favorite endeavor on warships. i loved standing watches on the bridge, conning the ship, feeling the pitch of the bow into the waves — a primary reason i eschewed carrier duty — navigating by the “seat of my pants,” piloting in coastal waters and the harbors. i loved the deck evolutions of alongside replenishment, the gun shoots with 5″ 38’s booming in my ears, putting the boats in the water, and all of the boatswainmate endeavors. i also loved the dark, blue-lit hole of sonar and the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) plot where we detected and tracked submarines, watching the scopes and the fire control tracking while listening to the high-pitched beeps of the sonar transmissions and return echoes.

(Sometimes i would go into ASW on the mid (midnight to four a.m.) or the morning (four to eight a.m.) watches after my own watch on the bridge and, while one watch stander monitored the sonar search another sonar technician (ST) and i would “talk” to whales on the underwater telephone nicknamed “Gertrude.” The whales would talk back.)

But engineering was an awesome thing to behold. The machinist mates and the boiler tenders were working men in the fullest sense, giving themselves to incredible hours of hard labor to keep their beloved monster steaming safely. i appreciated and respected their knowledge, their experience, and their work effort. Even though i remained an officer-of-the-deck (OOD) and weapons oriented, that tour in engineering still brings a sense of satisfaction.

In the spring of 1974, my father took a very unusual solo trip to Long Beach. My mother stayed in Lebanon. i took Daddy down to Pier 9 at the Long Beach Naval Station where the Hollister was berthed. i gave him a tour of the engineering spaces, my domain. We went to the forward and after fire rooms, each containing two boilers the size of small two-story buildings and their intriguing support equipment through three levels of forced draft blowers, fresh and feed water tanks and cable runs, which would out cable a TVA dam plant. We went to both engine rooms with propulsion shafts with diameters the width of a one lane road and every conceivable pump one could conjure as well as a distilling plant (we called them evaporators or “evaps”) that defied logic. We visited the welding shop, the machine shop, the damage control lockers, and damage control itself, a plotting and communication hub for any emergency. When we emerged and headed back to my Navy quarters in San Pedro, my father seemed contemplative.

This man was a pioneer in many ways in the automobile world. he was acknowledged as one of the best, if not the best automobile mechanic in Wilson County, having started to work on cars in the late 1920’s. He drove his first car, his older brother’s, in 1924 when he was ten around the block and stopped it by hitting the garage gate because his legs couldn’t reach the brake pedal. He bought a junk car from a Cumberland law student in 1932 or so for ten dollars. He completely rebuilt the engine and the drive train, then constructed a wood chassis. He drove that on dates with my mother (and others) for three years and then sold it for ten dollars. In  the sixties, he built a VW Beetle for my sister from two totaled wrecks, practically by himself including welding the good parts remaining from the two, doing all the engine work, upholstery, chassis, electrical. He knew more about the practical application of mechanics and engineering than anyone i have ever known, and at that stage of my Navy career, i had experienced college engineering propulsion professors and  the elite officer and enlisted engineering community. He garnered my greatest respect.

i, on the other hand, had fallen into the engineering job through progression. i had been a sports editor, a disc jockey, a sub chaser, and a deck hand. Engineering was something i was passing through.

As we drove across the Vincent Thomas Bridge from Long Beach to San Pedro, Daddy finally spoke, “Jim, I would have never considered you would ever be the head of such a mechanical wonder. I’m proud of you and just a bit amazed.”

To this day, i am convinced the wrong James Rye Jewell was the Chief Engineer of the USS Hollister.

Andrew Maraniss’ article on ESPN’s “The Undefeated” Web Site

i have just shared this on my Facebook page. i wanted those who are receiving my posts here to have a chance to read this as well. In my introduction to sharing the article, i noted,

“Andrew Maraniss just keeps on telling us like it really was. This is not only a moving piece like the book from which it was initiated, it should be a reality check for those of us who seem bent on playing the hate game. Thank you,  Andrew.

Jesse Owens vs. Hitler wasn’t the only story at the 1936 Olympics

Birthday

She is my niece. She is a wonder.

Stefanie Lynn Johnson has a birthday today.

She is a trooper. She is a Christian Soldier. She has taken on problems and won.

She has two remarkable children.

She has love.

She has a husband who is as remarkable as she is. So much, in fact, i feel compelled to include a photo of the two of them rather a single of her or one of their family.

They go together well, and they have faced their problems with resolution. The result should be a lesson for us all.

Happy Birthday, Stefanie. i am proud to be kin to you.

 

Winter Again

Family in Tennessee have  been sending me photos of the recent snow there.

In my usual smart ass curmudgeon manner, i reported it was cold here in the Southwest corner as well, and then added our highs barely got into the sixties and we almost had frost one morning. i did not point out yesterday was 72 and just about perfect. Today, i was glad i had not been that much of a…well, you know (someone reading this might take offense at my sailor language) because it turned Southwest corner winter again: highs bordering around sixty, cloudy with an ocean wind to make it seem chillier, and goodness knows (and i cleaned that up), it rained.

As i was dealing with all of this terrible weather, i remembered our Thursday and Friday respite. On Thursday morning i took my exercise walk along one of my routes. A section is a walking path along the edge of Bonita Canyon, a large open space area with hiking and riding trails (no off-road bikes, please) surrounded by development homes of which one is ours. Looking eastward from the path, i remembered my father being so amazed at the weirdness of Southwest corner winters and summers compared to back home. Here, the summers are brown and dry. Winters are…well, they are green.

i refrained from adding in my  response to my family we also have white in the winter too. i’m not talking about an hour or so east of here where they do have snow, enough for skiing. i’m talking about right here in the heart of the Southwest corner. They are Japanese pear trees. The streets around us are surrounded by this winter whiteness. Each time i see one, i think of my Aunt Evelyn Orr, who in her last trip out here this time of year in 1990 was effusive about how beautiful they were.

We are in California, you know. Lots of folks not living in California and quite a few who do live in California throw darts at the state for many reasons. i have sworn off politics and i won’t go there. But there are really some people out here who are like a lot of people elsewhere not quite in the mainstream of the way we go about living. This one, on that Southwest corner winter wonderland day caught my eye.

i guess what i’m trying to say here is there are good people here and there are good people there, wherever you are Mrs. Calabash. The weather can be good or it can be bad wherever you are. It truly is (one of my best buddies of the curmudgeon golfing troupe likes to explain with “it truly is” and i like it) up to you.

Don’t throw rocks. Enjoy.

After all, i remember a magic place where winter was magical.

 

A Love Story

i have to figure out how to be a little less impacted by loss of friends. This sad occurrence is becoming more frequent. The last several left me…well, they left me sort of lost.

The most recent one took a bit of my soul away.

When we were growing up, Beverly Hughes lived with her parents and her younger sister Patsy on Pennsylvania Avenue almost exactly one block east of our home on Castle Heights Avenue.

Back then, the entire neighborhood, roughly three square miles, was filled with children. Almost every house was occupied by a family with one to four children. There were no mobile phones, there was no internet. For the first decade of my life, there was no television except in a few homes of the well-to-do. There also were many less restrictions and far less concern about safety. We played outside, we wandered around, spending time with neighborhood friends in our yards or in each other’s home. Everybody seemed to know everybody else.

Sometime around the fourth or fifth grade, i discovered Beverly. She was beautiful to me even then.  i would duck under the top and only wire of the hole in our backyard fence and walk through Pennsylvania Annex to her house. We were just children playing. By junior high, we had become close friends. We never had a date, which in retrospect, i find unusual. But we were friends, close friends, always with someone else, but always close.

In junior high, it became a big deal to walk from Lebanon Junior High at the intersection of North Cumberland and East High west to North Greenwood and then to Hill Street, cutting over to West Main and then to Pennsylvania, roughly just over a mile. There were usually four to eight of us who would stop at Beverly’s home. A number of the boys and girls had paired off. “Going steady” was a big thing. My steady didn’t live in the neighborhood. But it did not matter. Beverly pulled out her 45 RPM record player. Sometimes we would play board games in the den, but most of the time, we just listened to the latest rock ‘n roll on Beverly’s record player. And talked of course, after all, we were in the early stages of teenage.

It was at Lebanon Junior High where i met Buddy Phillips. We played football together and did a lot of the goofy things seventh and eighth graders do together. Buddy was one of the friendliest and nicest guys, and funny. Yes, Buddy could be a riot. We ran around together. But Buddy wasn’t one of those who gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue. He lived in another direction.

Still it was soon evident to most of us boys, Buddy had a crush on Beverly.

I don’t know all of the particulars of their relationship. i soon went to Castle Heights and lost touch of all but a few of the goings on at the high school. But eventually, Beverly married someone else. After several years, the marriage fell apart.

Buddy was waiting.

The two married and every time i was privileged to see them, they were obviously very much in love. For forty-five years, they both were in love. Buddy was rewarded for his love that has lasted 64 years by my count.

They had an incredible life together. It was one of the best love stories i have ever heard. It was not motion picture stuff. It was real. And it was the way it should be.

Last Monday, Beverly passed away with Buddy and her children at her side. The ugly “C” word had taken yet another beautiful soul away from us.

I cannot imagine the grief Buddy is experiencing, just as i could not grasp when Betty Jane’s husband and my high school buddy, Jim Gamble, passed away almost a month before. Jimbo, by the way, was one of those constant attendees at the record playing afternoons at Beverly’s home.

It hurts losing friends that close. It hurts to see such loved ones taken from their life long loves.

Then, i read Eddie Callis’ emails about the arrangements after Beverly left us.

You see, they had Beverly’s memorial service yesterday. She was laid to rest. Yet the arrangements revealed a back story, another love story.

Beverly’s obituary gave the usual details one finds in such news items. At the end, it turned a bit different. The honorary pallbearers was simply listed as “Lebanon High School Class of 1962.”

Previously, i have written of this bunch. The couple who are the drivers of this cohesive group, Eddie and Brenda Callis, have no doubt been a big factor in keeping the group so close with reunions, class birthday parties, and other excuses to keep us all in contact. Eddie provides updates to all of the class on the significant events of all of the classmates.

i have been part of it. The LHS 62 class adopted me, even though i was a goober, a town boy at the military prep school across town. i consider being included one of the best honors i’ve received.

As Beverly’s notice signified, they are a love story, all of them.

Now, we, our class are 74, 75, and 76 in age. Our numbers are declining at a faster rate. i know, even though i am half almost a continent’s breadth away, all of them, like me, take such partings as Beverly’s hard.

For my part, i must get better with dealing with such losses. After all, it is a deep and forlorn feeling to lose those you love.

Good Stuff

i was writing a post i wasn’t sure i should post. It was negative. i took a break when i answered a phone call from a friend who shared childhood, youth, and a couple of Navy times together.

Before i got back to that, i moved a few papers around in my futile attempt to organize or throw away a bunch, i mean a bunch of stuff when i ran across this, something i read rather frequently because it hits at the heart of me.

It is the first part of something my brother sent me when i turned forty, about half way around the globe in the middle of the Indian Ocean as the executive officer of the USS Yosemite (AD 19), you know, the deployment i’m wrestling putting into a book.

i have long maintained my brother Joe is rather fantastic and an amazing, amazing writer, far better than me. i think this poem proves it. i did not include the second part of the poem, which is a more personal note between brothers, five years different in age.

But read, my friends. It remains one of my favorite poems of all time, and not just because the author is my brother.

On the Bridge by Joe Jewell

Will you be alone on the bridge
when the moment comes?
Surrounded by the winking lights
on the night watch, the scopes that
tell you what’s out there;
the horizon etched in nothingness,
abstract as another’s death,
the indigo sky meeting and reflected
by the dark ocean, so only
the externals, the stars, tell you where you are.

One wrong move and it’s a plunge
into the depths of that darkness
Which is shallow compared to the depths
of You.
Can all those lights and signals guide
you there? It is a technical question
I realize, answering how, not why or who.
We’re tacking too close to theology there.

The externals tell you about entering a new
age, new year, new decade. I’ve never
believed them. Only know when you are.
History is just a record kept to tell us
about the others. We all cross that bridge,
but in a span of time, and make it Ours.
When you sit there in the dark watching the lights
straining to know the horizon, capsuled in steel,
knowing the tropic heat will come like a cat
to steal  your breath, remember, all moments
are the same and age like history an illusion.
It is the sequestered heart that brings you home.
Remember on your bridge to ask the right questions,
and
laugh at the coming day.

 

Certifiably an Oater

My wife quite frequently thinks i may have lost all of my marbles.

Tonight, she is totally convinced.

We watched the news i could stand to watch — pretty much the weather because all of the other news except some feel good features at the end of news programs, which, i guess, are supposed to make you feel better after all of the crap you just watched. We ate a marvelous dinner she prepared from one of her 2300 cookbooks.

And then i asked Sarah to help get back on to Starz on our streaming service. She did and i went to movies, scrolled down to “westerns” where there are at least 250 of that genre and spent about fifteen minutes scrolling through memories of the oaters i loved.

i finally stopped on something i probably saw sometime around 1954 unless i caught it earlier at the Capitol or Princess theaters a block off Lebanon’s square to the west and south respectively. 1954 was the year we got our first television set and Ruff ‘n Ready in his plaid cowboy shirt, stetson, and handlebar mustache would introduce the western of the day. For the record, it was a WSM program, but it doesn’t matter as WSM carried the only television station and selected the shows we could see from NBC, CBS, and ABC.

The movie was “The Cowboy and Senorita.” It’s a classic…at least in my mind. It was on screen in 1944. It was Roy and Dale’s first movie together before they married and met Bullet, Pat Brady, and Nellybelle (and if you don’t know who or what Nellybelle was, you have missed a big chunk of life).

You would immediately recognize this was a true “oater” when the opening credits showed Roy, and…not Dale, not Mary Lee who co-starred as “Chip,” not Guinn “Big Boy” Williams who was “Teddy Bear” and Roy’s sidekick, not Pat Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers who sang and sang in the saddle. Oh no, not them or even John Hubbard, the villain. The lead photo for the credits were Roy and, of course, Trigger.

i watched the whole thing even though Maureen sat there reading or getting up and walking about, shaking her head in disbelief.

It was great. The acting was really bad. No one got shot with blood and gore in some insane attempt to be “realistic” or beyond. The stunts were slapstick. The plot was absurd. But i knew who the bad guys were from the start. i knew who the good guys were. i knew Dale was getting duped until the end when she realized Roy was the really nice guy and carried a big six shooter, no two big six shooters. i listened to some really old, honky music. i even watched the dance troupe in the finale do something that was supposed, i suppose, to be Spanish. i even recognized George McFarland, an older “Spanky” from Little Rascals as a brat in the opening scenes.

i loved it. i have spent the rest of the evening singing “The Cowboy and the Senorita.”

Hmm. i might skip the six or seven hours of insanity they call the Super Bowl, Sunday, and watch another oater.

i’ll bet i will feel better if i do.

Pickup Basketball Once

In the original post, which i began last weekend, i made a geographic error in the description of the gym basement. Bill Goodner, who should be my editor for all things Castle Heights, pointed out the errors in a Facebook message when he read the post. i have revised the post and added a bit with the memories Bill jogged up for me.

As usual, i have about 945,328 tasks to get done in an hour. i’m so busy i even have passed on a couple of spider solitaire games. But i have been watching a ton of basketball games.

Of the dozen or so sports i’ve attempted in my life, basketball was probably the one i played worse than others. This is disappointing in my mother was a star, a record scorer, a Lebanon High School Blue Devil in the initial group inducted into their Hall of Fame. At five feet, flat. So it is difficult for me to blame my height, or lack of it, for my lack of success. Or rather, my lack of making the varsity at Castle Heights Military Academy.

i made the varsity in football my sophomore year, even was the only sophomore to make a road trip (another story). i was a five-foot-six, 128-pound terror of a linebacker but hurt my knee after the first game my senior year. Thus such silly promise was ended. As noted frequently here, i loved football, especially when i realized i was never going to be the next Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, Doak Walker, or Clifton Tribble and moved to defensive linebacker. i enjoyed the practices as much as the games, perhaps even more so because i got to play more and loved to tackle.

i was a decent baseball player at catcher, outfield, third base, shortstop, and finally years later second base. i had good hand-eye coordination, probably would have been a better catcher had someone given me some technical advice on stopping wild pitches, loved third base, and played okay at 44-46 years old in an adult baseball league (over 33) in the Southwest corner.

Basketball? Well, even though i did not see my height challenge as a limiting factor, it was. Even though i was not particularly good at shooting or dribbling with my left hand nor having a decent jump shot, i was about half decent as a point guard, could drive pretty well, and had a fair to middling push shot from the corners…or at least thought it was pretty good.

Before everyone else grew up and i stayed my junior high height, i was the co-captain of the junior high team along with Clinton Matthews who became a high school star who was superb on the fast break.

Even more so than the other two sports, basketball was a challenge for me at Castle Heights. Post-graduates recruited for their athletic prowess dominated the football and basketball rosters. Nearly all of them were well over six feet, except for some very talented guys who topped off just below six feet, like Phil Turner, and Crockett Carr, who i previously have pointed out had a beautiful jump shot. Phil did too and he was deadly.

For three years, i played JV, “B” team basketball. My senior year, unable to play on the JV due to restrictions, i became the manager, and loved it. But not as much as playing. i said then i am even more convinced now, basketball is the best for a complete workout in every aspect of exercise, all parts of the body, aerobic and an anaerobic. i miss it.

However back then, there were alternatives that weren’t run by any organization. i played in pickup games everywhere in Lebanon i could. Mike Dixon was the usual fomenter of my court endeavors. We played at the old Cumberland gymnasium with college guys. We played at Lebanon High School with our high school friends who were our teammates in Little League, Babe Ruth League, and American Legion baseball as well as the Lebanon Junior high football and basketball teams. We even played at McClain School, in the indoor gym/cafeteria/auditorium or the outdoor recess courts.

In the fifth grade at McClain School, we even came up with a cockamamy idea and  pulled it off thanks to Mrs. Edwards, our teacher, who i must admit was as lax as my mother thought she was when it came to discipline. Townley Johnson, Bill Cowan, i think Henry Harding, several others, and myself created an afternoon game against — and here i’m guessing the other fifth grade class. We staged it in the gym right after lunch was finished and they folded up all the tables on each side. i have no idea how it came out, but i think that is the only time i really got hurt on the court. i was driving on the basket and stepped on the side of Townley’s big foot, severely spraining my ankle.

Far and away, my basketball domain was the Castle Heights gymnasium. With the town boys’ lockers in the basement, across from the football, basketball, and baseball dressing room (did wrestling, soccer, track, and others also share that sweat soaked den?). Further down the hall was Major Baker’s  geometry classroom across from Coach Stroud Gwynn’s General Science Major Tom Harris’ English classroom was in the southeast corner, and in the northeast corner was the famous Major Sweatt’s biology class. i did well in grades in biology but the dead frogs and the formaldehyde killed any ideas of becoming a medicine man. i spent what felt about two years in the jacuzzi with my knee the last of my autumns in the football dressing room. Our locker room was a den of iniquity and high school high jinx, but the gym, ahh, the gym: a place where dreams were made.

So in addition to the three years of junior varsity ball (and there are some pretty good stories about that), the lure of that small gym with seating only in the balcony, two rows of seats on the sidelines and four behind the west backboard, was a lure too hard to dismiss. At every opportunity, there was a pickup game. Sometimes when there was not time to change into gym gear, we would take off our shoes and long-sleeve gray shirts and play in our grey wool or cotton trousers with the black stripe down the side and play until the soles of our feet were pretty much just one big blister.

It was nearly always half court, and it seemed every town boy at one time or another would join in. Jimmy Hatcher was irritating (when he was on the other side, “shirt” or “skins”) because i never could block that shot that came from in front of his face, not above his head. Phil Turner just scored at will. Tommy Palmer was a force but i remember him because he taught all of us how to spit shine, a capability that served me well for thirty years. George Thomas could make ugly shots, but he made them. Burton Humphreys could beat you up under the boards and score at will on rebounds. Mike Gannaway also was good under the boards. Jimmy Gamble had a nice one-hand push shot.

And then there were two who were there pretty much all the time they could be there: Mike Dixon and me. If there was no one else there, it was a continuous one-on-one. We played at lunch time and almost every break that would take us close for more than a half hour. We played after football practice. We played after baseball practice. And there were a couple of times we played after basketball practice. Mike had a two-handed jump shot, and when he got hot, he was as good a field goal shooter as i have seen anywhere.

After baseball practice, we would play until one of two things stopped us. Either Mrs. Fahey, who lived in the apartment at the front of the gym, would chase us out because we were making too much noise during her supper or we would realize we were significantly late for supper at our respective homes. Sometimes it would a double whammy when both of those pickup game interrupters would coincide unceremoniously.

i played pickup games afterwards in college, in the Navy, and even one or two in other places and other times.

i am too old for pickup games now. About five years ago, i passed by a court and took some shots at the foul line. i will not tell you the results, but it was pretty ugly, almost as ugly as my putts. But i’m still putting.

Still, the thoughts of those pickup games in Lebanon, Tennessee remain in my mind pure joy.

Tomorrow, i am thinking i might get that old worn basketball out, pump it up, go  a couple of houses down toward the entrance to our cul de sac where a neighbor with some young children has put up a portable goal and backboard on his sidewalk. i might shoot a few, especially one-handed push shots from the corner.

i’ll miss of course, but i’ll remember.

Yes, i’ll remember.

Fun

There is this woman. She is only a couple of years younger than me, but she seems much younger. If i got the math right, she is two years minus seven days younger, but so much younger. Yeh, much younger.

She and i have wandered in and out of each other’s lives for about a half-century. Eventually, we married someone else (or is it “else’s”?) and both marriages are good things as they should be. i have never met her husband, but would like to do so as he has to be a spectacular guy. She has met my wife and they are fast friends. This woman and i have remained friends throughout it all.

i won’t write a lot about her here. i have written a lot about her to her. She is a special friend.

The thing i like about her most (not counting her legs: she has great legs among other things) is she is always fun. She is fun around everyone. i cannot remember not having fun around her. Oh, i’m sure over the years we have had serious discussions, but i remember how much fun she is

She is beautiful, inside and out.

She is from Lookout Mountain and lives in Atlanta. She has many friends, several from her sorority days at Vanderbilt where i met her.

i hope the four of us can get together this year and make our connections. Over dinner someplace, of course.

Susan Butterfield Brooks, i’m sure Mike will take good care of you today. You deserve it.

And we will be thinking of you and all the fun you are.

Happy Birthday.