Some Reflections on an Old Metal Box

At my age, memories fade and confuse. It seems i’ve written about this box before. Don’t care. The real memories, not forgotten and clear came rolling out yesterday.

It’s not much of a box really.

i got it out yesterday to replace a button on my working shorts.

The box is about five inches square, an old haze gray box. In 1975, i found it my new stateroom on the USS Anchorage (LSD 36) when i reported aboard in San Diego to relieve the first lieutenant. Since the guy i was relieving had the first lieutenant’s stateroom, i was put in another stateroom. The temporary was on midship passageway in the after row, the first one on the port side in officer’s country.

Looking back, it seems almost prophetic where i was berthed. It had been the stateroom for the ship’s bosun. i never knew his first name. i imagine him as a balding big man with a deep voice. i do not know why. He left about a month before i reported aboard. He left me in an awkward position.

It was February. The Anchorage was about six weeks from a ten-month deployment to WESTPAC as a ship in Amphibious Squadron Five. i had never been on an amphib; didn’t know squat about them. i considered myself a destroyer sailor and had come from being the chief engineer on the USS Hollister (DD 788) out of Long Beach. But the Navy had decided to share the wealth and introduced split tours for department heads. i went from Destroyer School in Newport, Rhode Island to the Hollister for about eighteen months. Rather than spending three years in that billet, i rotated to an amphibious ship, one of the first department head grads to finish Destroyer school and then split to another type of ship, amphibious, or service force (oilers, ammunition carriers, etc.).

Although i was not enamored with the idea of leaving destroyers, the “greyhounds of the fleet,” i admit i was glad to leave chief engineering behind me. The job of keeping a thirty-year old, abused engineering plant up and running was harrowing to say the least. i was absolutely thrilled when i just missed my goal of holding it together well enough to meet all of her operational commitments. We failed to meet one five-day underway period just before we went into the yards for a periodic overhaul. It was one of my toughest jobs in the Navy.

So as the completely unarmed lieutenant reported to the Anchorage, he was counting on the ship’s bosun to provide all of his knowledge and expertise in maintaining amphibious operations at an acceptable level, at least until i learned more and became more proficient in boats, cranes, well decks, and landing operations.

One problem: the Navy (again) had decided to rotate the ship’s bosun a month before i got there. He left with no replacement.

But he left his little metal box in the small fold-out desk in his stateroom. With a felt-tip pen, he had written his name, “Bosun Holtzclaw,” now faded to almost illegibility, on the top.

When i discovered it the second day aboard, i picked it up and opened it. It was the bosun’s sewing kit. There were some small scissors, about a half-dozen sewing needles of various sizes, straight and safety pins, Navy exchange thread kits wrapped around cardboard, white and Navy blue spools of thread, and about fifty buttons from pea coat size to small uniform buttons for nearly all officer uniforms.

i didn’t have a sewing kit. Convenient. At least the boatswain left me something.

i have many tales about that deployment and my tour aboard Anchorage. Except for a couple of personal setbacks and a shocking abuse of power by the chain of command at the very end of my tour against Art Wright, one of the best commanding officers i had in my career, it was my best tour of my Navy career.

Not known at the outset, we would take part in the evacuation of Vietnam that May. We were chased by typhoons in the South China Sea. We did some rather amazing lifts of cargo and hit some great liberty ports. As first lieutenant, i was in charge of just about everything except engineering and the small Combat Information Center.

i was in charge of all exterior maintenance of the ship (the first commanding officer, Lou Aldana, told me my job was like a farmer’s: when it was good weather, my boatswainmates would work long hours painting and chipping. When it was bad weather, we would be getting ready for the good weather, and  when we had finished, we would start over again).

i also was responsible for the ship’s boats (an LCVP, motor whale boat, and the captain’s gig) as well as the embarked Assault Craft Unit boats, two LCM8’s (70-foot landing craft) and an LCU (120-foot landing craft). The two 60-ton cranes were my responsibility in addition to the flight deck, the mezzanine deck, and the well deck. I was the well-deck master for all boat and cargo operations. i was responsible for all flight operations and the flight deck. i had the gunnery department under my aegis and was in charge of all ammunition storage. Troop berthing (about 600 enlisted berths) were in my bailiwick and being in charge of any troops when they were embarked. There are probably a couple of things under my responsibility i have left out.

i was one of the four Officers of the Deck (OOD’s) underway and Command Duty Officers with 24-hour duty every fourth day. i was the sea detail and general quarters OOD. One load required me on station throughout 42-hours, followed two days later by a 22-hour load, and there were numerous loads twelve hours or longer.

And you know what, it was fun. No, it was a wonderful time to be a mariner, a Navy surface officer at sea. i’ll cherish the memories for the rest of my life.

*     *     *

i am a collector of memories, some might say a third degree hoarder. i have a garage full of stuff from the past, my past. i have an inexpensive glasses holder on my nightstand. My aunt gave it to me for a small Christmas present. I think of Aunt Bettye Kate every night before i go to bed when i use it for my glasses. i have a wine bottle foil cutter my brother and his wife gave me one Christmas. The plastic holder is broken and i have other foil cutters but i always use this one because i think of them when i open a bottle of wine. i have about two hundred photos of my daughters and grandson around the house and garage so it feels like they are with me when i am anywhere in our house. i have my father’s Tasmanian Devil floorboard covers i gave him for his Ford Escape one birthday. Every time i get in my car, i think of him.

That’s just the beginning.

And on a closet shelf, there is this little metal box tucked away for when i have to sew a button on some pants or shorts. Anything more sophisticated tailoring than that i seek out Maureen or even a tailor. At Castle Heights, i had about four or five “bachelor buttons” to use vice sewing on a button: emergency kind of thing. Yep, i have a couple in the metal box that allows me think of the hilltop back a long time ago.

Each time i pull that little metal box out, i think of the man i never met. i wish i had met Boatswain Holtzclaw. i have the greatest admiration for Bosun’s, some of the finest men and capable sailors i have ever met. i suspect some of CWO4 Holtzclaw wore off on me through his little metal box.

i would like to thank him.

 

 

 

 

Sean of the South Does It Again

Yeh, i’m a Methodist by birth and by somewhere around 500, give or take a couple of hundred, folks raising me in the First United Methodist Church, previously the First Methodist Church South, nee First Methodist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. Sean captured some precious memories for me here, even though our old church buildings with the three-sections of arched pews in the sanctuary and a balcony in the back are long gone. Hartford, Alabama’s Methodist Church and mine of yore in Lebanon are/were a bit different in some respects but very much alike in much of what Sean describes in his daily post, and reading it brought back the memories, many memories.

When i go home, which is far, far too infrequent, i go into the new church sanctuary –i haven’t yet been in the newly renovated sanctuary. The new and the newer versions on West Main are bigger and whiter and more majestic than that old one on East Main and have with electronics to aid the hearing impaired and abet not opening the Cokesbury hymnal to sing those hymns, and new modern stained glass windows i don’t particularly care for, and the revised ways of singing and voicing the liturgy. 

But when the hymn is over, we all still end it with a heartfelt “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh-meennnnnnnnn.”

Thanks, Sean:

http://seandietrich.com/hartford-2/

New Palestine

My close friend from Lebanon days, Jimmy Nokes, has asked about my novel, New Palestine. i haven’t actually written the novel but have several chapters or short stories in various stages of completion. They are on the back burner until i have finished my book about my experience with women at sea and perhaps several others before i re-attack New Palestine.

i published the short story, “Leaving New Palestine,” several years ago on this  website, but it was lost when my previous web provider crashed a number of sites. At the beginning of  the original short story, the narrator, Abner Moses was introduced along with his good buddy, Ezekial Ratliff. Abner is a retired U.S. Navy chief warrant officer who returned to his hometown of New Palestine. Ratliff is essentially a traveling salesman. The two meet regularly when Ratliff’s route takes him to New Palestine. They usually meet at Erlene’s Diner just off the square. Ratliff enjoys hearing Moses’ tales and the novel was originally planned to be those tales told by Moses as in “Leaving New Palestine.”

i am reposting the short story here for Jimmy Nokes. i’m also including a work in progress introducing Abner and Ezekiel.

Once again, i want all of my Lebanon friends (and all other readers) to know although there is a great deal of my memories of my hometown used in the stories and many of the people and places may seem familiar, the story is from my ideas about story telling and neither any places nor any people are representative of folks or places back home.

Abner

I am Abner Carlisle Moses.

I was born in Nazareth Creek, a little settlement about twenty miles southeast of New Palestine, Tennessee in 1933. I was born in a depression and been in one pretty much ever since.

My great, great grandfather, Aaron Moses, came over the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone in 1775. He helped cut the Wilderness Road and married one of Daniel’s sister-in-laws in the process. But in 1782, Aaron and his family left the Boone conclave and moved to Squirreltown in southern Kentucky. From there, the whole family migrated to Nazareth Creek around 1804.

I was too young to fight in World War II, so i fought in high school. They kicked me off the high school football team because I beat up the star halfback with my helmet after he straight-armed me in a pre-season scrimmage. Then at the start of my junior year, I beat up a boarding cadet at the military prep school pretty bad with a tie rod off a 38 Ford. It happened in plain sight outside the Starlight Theater on Ferndale Pike, just south of the town square right after the Wednesday Matinee. The movie showing that afternoon was a Bob Steele oater. The judge told me I was lucky I didn’t kill the goober and gave me the choice of joining the Navy or going to jail.

So Abner Moses was the first of his immediate family to leave Tennessee, and I left it for a goodly while. I liked the navy. I tested high enough to be a radioman, but I wanted to be out on deck, so I became a boatswainsmate. Being a sailor back in the late forties, early fifties was a damn sight different than being a sailor today, and being a boatswainsmate meant long hours and hard work, and most of it was no-shit manual labor.

It wasn’t all that bad and I had a knack for working around boats and liked all the fancywork with line so i got along okay. I learned early on about staying out of fights. On my first ship, the U.S.S. Frederick Sinclair, an old 2200 ton destroyer, one of the duty master-at-arms, was this huge, hirsute, second class gunner’s mate. i had come back late on the liberty launch cause i got about three sheets to the wind and couldn’t get my lock to open at the locker club right outside the destroyer pier gate in San Diego. When the officer-of-the-deck, some smart ass first class yeoman, said he was going to put me on report, i started raising hell and the petty-officer-of-the-walk called this bozo duty master-at-arms.

He sorta picked me up with one arm around me and under my arm pit and started shuffling me off, saying, “Boy, I think it’s bout time you learned a little destroyer discipline. It was just after taps when he shuffled me right on down to the boatswain’s locker, and proceeded to beat the living hell out of me. I figured I was tough and held up pretty well, but then the next day, Petty Officer Carrier, a second-class boatswainsmate and our leading petty officer, couldn’t find my liberty card. They held it for two weeks before I could go on liberty again. That hurt a hell of a lot more than the whipping, so I learned: never was late again.

That pretty much led to quick advancement back then and after we got through the Korean War, I had made second class. By sixty-one, I had made chief and before I knew it, they had nominated me for the warrant officer program and i’d become a bona fide, no-shit Bo’sun warrant. And to tell you the truth, that was my hey day, my crowning moment, cause there just ain’t no shit like a Bosun’s shit.

I never married. Didn’t particularly want to and didn’t have to, being in the Navy and all. When I was in sixth grade and she was in the fourth, I had a dream about a girl named Mary Claire Dubonnet back in New Palestine – we moved from New Nazareth into a house bout two blocks off the square when I was four. But somehow this dream took my breath away and i was taken with Mary Claire. Course, New Palestine girls in general and Mary Claire in particular wouldn’t have much to do with me. I was wiry and small, with a big head and always getting in trouble. i probably scared ‘em. But even after I left, Mary Claire was the girl of my dreams and it was real hard to get serious about any other girl.

And the Navy allowed me plenty of opportunities to be with women, especially on deployment. There were several I seriously thought about marrying. Kazuko, whose parents were killed by the Nagasaki A Bomb was the closest. But my momma, Cora Mae Macon Moses, talked me out of it through letters when I told her of my intention. Probably just as well. I was way too independent to have ever been a good husband.

So after twenty-five years, the damn Navy decided I should be doing shore duty for the remainder of my career and I told ‘em to shove it. They gave me a pretty good pension so i used the G.I. bill and went to a San Diego college and picked up my B.A. in English. Took me most of three years.

So i headed back home. Momma was gone and Daddy had passed long before her. But New Palestine was home. I hooked on as a county correspondent with the Nashville Daily Blade, the afternoon city daily. It was a good deal: part time and let me as close to the inner workings of the county seat and city government as I could get, which was always interesting. i also got to cover the local sports, which was both the high school and Joshua Military Academy.

It was several years before I met Ezekiel Ratliff. He sold auto parts to the auto parts stores around the mid-state and New Palestine had a couple of his major customers. He stopped off for lunch at Erlene’s Diner just east of the square on nearly every visit. I was a regular at Erlene’s but Ratliff’s and my schedule had not matched up before that day in sixty-seven. We was both at the counter so just naturally started jawing. He’s a good guy and we hit it right off. We both liked to tell our stories; so pretty soon, we are getting there early and spending a couple of hours over coffee spinning our tales.

I suppose New Palestine ain’t a great deal different from most small towns in the South, although we all like to think New Palestine is a sight better than all of them others. Of course, come to think about it, all those other towns probably think they are better than the others. So i guess we are all more alike than we like to believe.

Leaving New Palestine

“Caroldeane was always a mite different from most of the girls round here,” Abner Moses mused.

“Ain’t a hell of a lot of women, young or old, who’ll take on a man straight up, but Caroldeane done it a bunch of times.

“Don’t know what possessed her to run away like she did, but she was always a mite strange, different from most of us around here.”

“What kind of family did she have; what was she like?” Ratliff asked.

“Well, the family didn’t measure up to snuff: poor folks, generally. Caroldeane was youngest and the only daughter out of six kids Missus Culpepper had. She had two die in childbirth, and two more died afore they started school. Course you gotta remember there was a hell of a lot more to die from when you were a kid growing up around here before the fifties. Hell, I lost a brother and a sister myself. The brother died when he was a couple of months early and my sister died at four from pneumonia.

“The other Culpepper boy joined the Navy ‘cause the judge told them he had to or go to jail. I think his name was Henry.

“Quince, Caroldeane’s ole man never really had a job. Ran an automobile junkyard for a while, but that didn’t take. He kicked around doing odd jobs mostly, labor, not handiwork, even though he fancied himself a handyman. He was a little bit bloated from whiskey, but hard.

“Quince had three brothers as I recall. Reamus served quite a bit of time for slicing up some guy outside a beer bar up beyond four-mile hill. Another, Robert E. -it was hard not to remember his name -just sort of disappeared. Folks really don’t know what happened to him.

“The oldest, Broadus, got kicked by a mule, right in the forehead when he was ’bout twelve.

“Never was quite right again. You might have seen him on the square playing with his little stick and twine. Heard he crawled up in an unlocked car on the square bout three January’s ago. They found him froze to death several days later. Damn shame, Broadus might have scared a couple of women once or twice cause they didn’t know he was harmless, but he never done anyone no real harm. Caroldeane’s old man and momma took in Broadus and sort of took care of him as much as they could. They put up a lean-to on that old shed they lived in for him to sleep. Some folks say they heated it, but I don’t see how they did that. I reckon he slept on the floor in the shed when it was too cold to sleep in the lean-to. They kicked him out after Caroldeane left town and he just sort of shifted around on his own, living on handouts and sleeping in barns or backyard shacks until he crawled up into that car. Somebody said that he had been doing that for years, but usually not in the winter.

“Quince stuck around, too. He ran that junkyard into the ground, and when that failed, he hired on with city works, doing all sorts of odd jobs. Drove a school bus for a while, right after they made the old high school into a junior high. But two or three girls claimed he made some advances or said some lewd things to ’em and they kicked him off the bus and put him on a scooter running around town and picking up dead dogs and such and taking ’em out to the dump. It was okay by Quince because he felt like that scooter was his own and he treated it like it was a car since no one in his family, at least not around here, ever had a car, excepting, of course, all of those broken-down ones in the junk yard. I suspect that had a good deal to do with the business failing. I mean what the hell is a man doing running an auto junkyard when he can’t put enough of a car together just so it would run?

“Nobody ever saw much of Caroldeane’s mom. She stayed pretty much out of sight, stayed mostly in that four-room shack at the back of the junkyard. Even after they got out of the junk business, they stayed on the land. No land around here is all that great with the limestone and all, but that old junkyard, out near the quarry was about as bad as any round here.

“Some say she was once a pretty woman, came down from Jerome County. Don’t know

how they met or anything. I only saw her a couple of times and she had pretty much gone to seed by then: gaunt, gangling woman, bout five-seven and all bones and a hard look. Didn’t talk at all when I met her down at the farmers’ market about ten years ago. Just stood back of Quince and sort of glared at the world. But hell, anybody married to Quince and wearing nothing but old cotton dresses and brogans, and living in that shack in that junkyard on that worthless land with all that junk would have ended up looking and acting like that.

“Mary Beth Edwards once told me that Miz Culpepper was born Lilah Mundy. Mary Beth said that she was in Whiting’s hardware store on the north side of the square round the early 50’s when she came in with Caroldeane and was trying to buy a wash bucket. Old Nails Whitehead was

a waiting on her. Mary Beth said that Nails wouldn’t lower the price fifty cents and Missus Culpepper didn’t have enough money. They squabbled about it for about fifteen or twenty minutes when Nails finally called for Colonel Whiting. The Colonel told Miz Culpepper that the price was fixed but that he would put the fifty cents on account with no interest. Mary Beth said the poor old thing got all hot and irate and told the Colonel that the ‘damn Culpepper’s might not be bothered by owing people, but no Mundy and especially this Lilah Mundy was ever gonna owe anybody anything and that he could just keep the damn wash bucket.’

“That’s why Caroldeane was so surprising. You could see a bit of her mother in her. She was tall, bout 5-8 or so, but certainly not gaunt, just about right most of the boys around here would say. I guess even ole Quince might have had some good looks about him before that beer gut, and the whiskey-red, swollen nose got in the way of anybody noticing. But Caroldeane was a pretty kid from the get go and just kept getting better looking as she grew up.

“Caroldeane was a looker: not a classic beauty, mind you, but she had a woman’s figure by the time she was twelve, and it was a damn sight perfect. She had soft curves and skin that glowed like cream just out of the churn. Her nose turned up a bit, and her head was small. Her eyes were those dead pools of blue that haunt you. And her hair was thin, bobbed, but always blowing in the wind. It was sand colored, not brown, not blonde, with streaks of light running through it. She had a small mouth too, the kind that looks like a rose petal. A lot of babies have them but lose ’em before they get through with grade school. Caroldeane kept hers, at least up until she left.

“But it wasn’t Caroldeane looks that made her so different. She always seemed interested in people but snapped at them whenever anyone tried to be friendly. Actually, the kit and caboodle of them were like that except for Broadus, who was always running up in people’s faces on the square and almost screaming, “Do you know me?” with that silly ass grin on his face and snapping the string tied onto a little string. Caroldeane looked approachable. Lots of rumors ran around about how she let boys do things with her, but none of them was substantiated, and I’ve seen her chew boys’ heads off when they approached her too many times to believe it. She didn’t seem to like boys at all. Didn’t like women too much neither. Didn’t make much sense to me, and most of the other folks around here either.

“She spent a lot of time wandering around the square, watching folks, not saying much.

“Missus Thatcher, the old school teacher who retired and started up the city library – the one that use to be the old Macumber town house on main street fore they all died and left the house to the city in their will. Missus Thatcher used to say that Caroldeane was nearly always in the library when she wasn’t kicking round the square. Missus Thatcher said that Caroldeane read bout everything that she could but sort of gravitated to poetry books. Said she eventually started reading just poetry and weird kind of stuff like Ezra Pound who was some nut case who turned communist and lived in Italy.

“Caroldeane stayed away from the junkyard as much as possible, even around the age of six. Her mom would send her down the square to get Broadus. About the only time Missus Culpepper seem to worry about Broadus was getting him home for the evening meal. She’d apparently tell Caroldeane to come through the square on the way home from school and get Broadus.

“There’d be some pretty good arguments between the two of them down there on the square in the late afternoons. Sorta eerie: Caroldeane, between eight and sixteen, laying down the law to Broadus who was forty or so when this stuff started. Broadus was the oldest brother of Quince and Caroldeane was Quince’s youngest.

“Anyways, Caroldeane and Broadus would have these screaming arguments on the square and Caroldeane acted like a marshal or something and would finally shoo ole Broadus back to the junkyard. Then, Caroldeane herself would just sort of mosey around the square, looking in the windows, watching the people. Sometimes she would find a bench, usually the one outside Feller’s pharmacy over by the arcade, and just sit and watch people until after dark. Sometimes she’d stay there until the last store closed. Then she’d finally get up and wander back to the junkyard. Old Quince and Caroldeane’s mother were hard people but they apparently never got mad at Caroldeane, pretty much let her do what she wanted to do from the time she started school till she ran away. People use to laugh and say that Caroldeane and old General Hicks, the statue of the Confederate officer in the middle of the square, spent more time downtown than anybody.

“She especially liked hanging around the arcade in the winter. Tulip’s Five and Dime was on the other side of the arcade from Feller’s. Caroldeane would wander in just before closing and just look at all of the cheap stuff they had in bins up toward the front. I remember liking Tulip’s too. It smelled like they’d been making cotton candy and coffee for so long they couldn’t scrub the smell out. Always seemed like it was warmer in there in late fall and winter afternoons. Wasn’t much to buy really. Lots of small stuff from Japan. Trinkets. I liked it. Caroldeane liked it too. That’s where Robert first talked to her.

“Robert Witherspoon took her back to the junkyard one night. Just before Thanksgiving. Cold, rainy night, not quite sleet. I’d gotten back from delivering a load of fuel oil out on Chigger Lane and had stopped at Erlene’s Diner, just off the square on East Main. Wasn’t hardly anybody anywhere, being Monday. Robert came in from the office at the other stone quarry, the big one out on Nashville Pike. It was just past five and dark already. The rain started just about when Robert and I finished our supper. I decided to have some pecan pie, ala mode of course, but Robert started to head home. The next Saturday, he told me what happened.

“Robert had to walk down to the square where he had parked his truck in the middle area.

“He said he really didn’t know why he didn’t just get in the truck and go on home. But he didn’t.

“He walked across the empty square in that cold rain to Tulip’s. It was warm inside and it did smell of cotton candy and coffee. The old wood floors were dark and rough, but the place was well lit. That showed off the trinkets in the best light.

“Caroldeane was there. Young and wet and a bit shivering from the cold, she was rummaging through those trinket bins up front. Robert said he forgot what he came in for and wandered around for a few minutes, smelling and feeling warm. He was walking out and Caroldeane, with that old wet felt coat and those young, dead pool blue eyes was standing there, and he knew she had about three miles of walking in cold rain to get back to the junk yard. He asked her if she’d like a ride home.

“Robert said it sorta surprised him when she said yes. She had turned down a bunch of rides, even in the snow and one hell of a lot colder weather than that little piddling cold night in late November. But Caroldeane said yes. So Robert and her walked back to the middle of the square and that old GMC pickup he had. He started it up and fired up the heater. Caroldeane sat sort of like a knot against the shotgun door. Robert said she look like a fawn that just got cornered by a puma.

“He kept saying, ‘Child, don’t worry. I just wanna take you home so you can get a hot meal and get dry and warm and have a good night’s sleep.’

“He said Caroldeane seemed to shrivel up closer to the door and said, almost defiantly, ‘There ain’t no hot meal I’m gonna get and the folks are too stingy to turn on the heat, so it ain’t likely I’ll get warm, but I may get dry.’

“He said that bout the time he got two blocks from the square, the old GMC heater got warmed up and it got toasty inside. He said Caroldeane seemed to sort of melt with the heat. She relaxed and sorta moved away from the window. He said when he got up near the old mill offload for the railroad, he glanced over and she actually smiled at him. He said he could remember it because it was right across from Catfish Heaven and that damn neon sign kept flashing and he kept seeing her smile through the flashing old fish sign with the curly whiskers.

“Robert told me that he kept wondering how old she really was. He kept thinking she was bout the best looking woman he had ever seen, but he figured she had to be shy of sixteen. She just didn’t look it. ‘Moses, i’d swear on a stack of Bibles that there was all sorts of thoughts running through my mind, honorable ones and damn awful ones, but after we got past that damn catfish, I gulped, grabbed that steering wheel, stared at that road through the cold rain and drove straight to that junk yard.’ That’s what he told me.

“They got to junk yard bout when the rain slowed down near to a drizzle. Must been just after seven. Robert drove that old GMC through what was left of the junk in the junkyard and curled around broadside to the old rambling shack.

“As the truck got close to the house, all of the old lights of the junkyard security -about a dozen poles with twin floods hanging from each end of a yardarm -came on in sequence. Robert told me that he saw the three other Culpepper’s coming toward him in a line.

“‘Thank you, Mr. Whitherspoon’ were Caroldeane’s last words to him as she got out of the car.

“Robert said it was weird. Quince was carrying a poleax. Missus Culpepper had a baseball bat, and Broadus had that damn little switch with the string. ‘It kept running through my mind that I should be more afraid of Broadus than the other two,’ Robert told me.

“He said Quince yelled at him. ‘Where the hell you been with my daughter, you son of a bitch?’

“Fore Robert could say anything, Missus Culpepper screamed, ‘Caroldeane, that ole

man done touch you?’ Robert said he remembered her yelling and seeing the veins in her neck all popped out.

“‘Momma, the man just brought me home from the square; he was just being nice,’ Caroldeane tried to explain to her momma, but ole Quince wasn’t listening to that. Didn’t care.

“‘Listen you son of a bitch, my daughter is special. She ain’t white trash. You can’t just go and do with her what you want. She’s special. If I ever see you with her again, I’ll beat you to death with this here ax.’

“Robert said he kept thinking a whole bunch of things. He kept wondering why Quince wasn’t listening to Caroldeane. He wondered how he could just gun that old GMC and get the hell out of there, but that seemed to him like it would look like he was running cause he did something bad. Poor manners, you know. He kept thinking that if Quince and Missus Culpepper lost it, the bat wouldn’t hurt him unless they got him out of the car, but that damn poleax would come right through the window if Quince’s aim was about half good. And he knew the worse thing that could happen would be for Broadus to lose it and charge him. He knew that he couldn’t get out of there before Broadus could get to the truck and that if he lost it, Broadus could kill him with his bare hands.

“Then in the middle of all this thinking, with Quince, Missus Culpepper and Caroldeane

screaming in that cold dark drizzle, he realized that someone was singing. It was Broadus. Broadus was singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Everybody sort of quieted down and everybody looked at Broadus. He was standing in that cold rain with the junkyard security lights shining on his big flat face and that arched red lump of a scar across his forehead. He was standing at attention like he’d seen the cadets at the military school do with that silly stick with the string on the end, on his shoulder, like he was at right shoulder arms. And he was singing, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.’

“Fore he got to ‘Glory Hallelujah,’ Missus Culpepper fell down on her knees and started crying, ‘Oh Quince, Quince, what have we done?’ and she started sobbing hysterically.

“Caroldeane ran over to Broadus and put her arm around him, saying, ‘It’s okay Broadus. Everything is going to be all right. I’m here, Uncle Broadus. You can take care of me.’

“Robert said he looked over at Quince and he had dropped the poleax and kept looking back and forth between Caroldeane consoling Broadus and Missus Culpepper weeping on her knees in the mud. Robert said he didn’t know what the hell he should do. He decided to stay in the truck.

“Finally, Quince yelled to him, ‘I think you best be going now. Remember what I said I’d do if I ever catch you with Caroldeane again.’

“Robert said he didn’t say nothing. Just sort eased that old GMC back through the wrecks and out the gate. He said before he made the right hand turn back into town, he glanced back. It was still drizzling. Caroldeane had her arms around Broadus and they were a swaying back and forth. Missus Culpepper was still on her knees in the mud, a crying, but Quince had gone over and put his hand on her shoulder.

“Caroldeane still came down to the square after that, but more often than not she would walk home with Broadus, holding his free hand, the one without the stick and the string. This went on for several months. Missus Thatcher, the librarian, said Caroldeane kept coming to the library during all of this, especially on the weekends, but she said Caroldeane quit reading that Pound fellow and started reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Mary Beth Edwards said Missus Thatcher told her that it was one big jump from Pound to that particular Browning and not necessarily what she would have expected from a child.

“It was March when Caroldeane left, almost six months after the rain incident with Robert. The Culpepper’s kicked Broadus out about two months afterwards. Missus Culpepper quit coming into town altogether. She died of pneumonia bout a year later. Somebody told me she just quit eating and shriveled up, but as far as I could tell there wasn’t much shriveling to do. Quince lived in that shack for about twenty more years, then the quarry people bought him out. He’s moved to Jerome County. Folks say he’s living with Missus Culpepper’s family, the Mundy’s over near Lazy Snake Hollow.

“Robert left town bout six months after Caroldeane left. Told me he needed to get away. Said he couldn’t stand the smell of cotton candy and coffee anymore, that he nearly got ill every time he walked by Tulip’s. He wrote his sister, Margot Biddle, a few years back. He went to New Mexico, running a strip mining operation for the Navajo’s out there. Margot told Mary Beth that he had married an Indian girl, a Navajo, and was moving to Pittsburgh to the corporate headquarters of the strip mining company.

“Bout four months ago, Missus Thatcher said that she got a letter from Caroldeane. She said Caroldeane had wandered around, doing waitressing at truck stops and other restaurants and finally worked her way up to Boston. She landed a job someplace down near Haymarket Square. Then one day some guy asked her to help him with a paper for his class at one of the colleges there. One thing led to another and that she now is the head writer for one of the television channel news divisions up there. She wanted to thank Missus Culpepper for letting her do all that reading in the library.

“Said she didn’t much like the steam heat in her apartment and she missed the square but she liked Boston a lot. Then on toward the end of the letter, she asked Missus Thatcher to write and tell her whatever happened to that nice man, Mr. Whitherspoon.”

incongruity in the valley on a golf course

if you stop and think about it, it really was sort of incongruous:
perfect weather on a weekday
in the middle of a perfect September day,
seventy-five with a slight breeze
in the valley.

they call it Mission Valley now
named for the first California mission
further west in the valley toward the Pacific,
first one;
you know, the first one established by Junipero Serra,
the sainted friar, of course now being denigrated
because the naysaying destroyers of all things past
citing Fra Serra for not living up to today’s standards,
oppressing natives,
not allowing them to live like starving heathens anymore
while my forbears were fighting the Brits in the Carolinas
before crossing the Cumberland Gap to settle smack dab
in the middle of Tennessee with its limestone and sinkholes and
game,  lots and lots of game to live on
to eventually oust those natives across the continent
from Junipero Serra’s Kumeyaay
in a so much more brutal way
than converting them to catholicism.

then, the farmers came to the valley
to take advantage of the loam from
San Diego River sediment,
filling the valley with crops
before
the development men swept away the crops
to fill up the valley
with concrete, buildings, malls, stadiums, restaurants, offices, people:
lots and lots an lots of people and cars
so you can’t hardly move or breathe,
knowing when the rains come
(and they will definitely come),
the concrete will be covered with floodwaters
with the buildings and the people and their cars
isolated,
but the development men won’t care
’cause they will have their money in their pockets.

But this was now in the valley
on the eleventh green where deer graze —
hey, one of my foursome told of spotting
an eight-point buck grazing between
the twelfth green and thirteenth tee,
“not more than fifteen feet away from us,
“right there,
“nonchalant as if we weren’t there,”
he said,
reminding me of the herd of them deer
grazing on the fourth fairway
of the south course;
oh yes, the complex bounded by
the San Diego River to the south is huge,
navy huge: a park dedicated to
morale, welfare, and recreation,
but except for the golf course and RV park,
not used very much at all by
the military personnel for which it was intended
so the deer can roam freely,
not only deer but coyotes, one of which we saw in the winter
dashing pell mell out of the hills defining this valley to the north,
damn near mountains really,
this coyote going full bore,
ignoring us on the first green,
through the bunker into the ninth fairway
scattering the coots, culling one, a trailing one of course,
catching the forlorn coot in his jaws,
breaking the coot neck with a head snap,
dropping it there in the fairway
to catch another hapless coot,
dead with another head snap,
then puzzling over how to get them both in his jaws
before the maintenance man on his scooter turned mini-pickup
fruitlessly chased the coyote down the fairway
back to his lair.

Amazingly, i thought about all of this in a few seconds
on the eleventh green of the north course
called Admiral Baker in honor of the Naval Academy submariner who was
commodore of destroyer squadron 31 in the middle of the big war,
the one where they used this part of the valley for training aviators
to drop bombs just feet away from where
i missed my putt and where they found
some live remnants of those training bombing runs,
live bombs beneath the fairway just a few years ago;
the very selfsame fairway where a disabled plane a few years later
landed in an emergency unable to make it to Montgomery Field,
named for the man who did the Wright brothers one better in the 1880’s,
just over those hills to the north on Otay Mesa
(i’m betting that guy putting then missed his putt also
but with much more justification than me).

the other golfers left the green for their carts and the twelfth tee,
but i caught sight of something on the other side
of the arroyo at the bottom of those hills:
another flying machine of the animal kind,
a red tailed hawk, gliding up from what was most likely his nest,
skimming low over the yucca, acacia, manzanita, brush, cacti, and dead grass
for kill,
gracefully unaware of golfers and such,
flying low, in search of game,
then spotting a ground squirrel or something in the acacia,
divingquickerthantheeyecansee,
emerging with food to take home,
just like the shopper in the valley down river
emerging from Trader Joe’s
and
i watch the hawk, take a deep breath
thinking
jesus, take me home.

Place Settings

Maureen and Sarah often laugh at me about this.

Not so much Sarah as she is moving fast for work and rarely has breakfast with us. But she’s definitely in on the laugh thing. It has become a behind the back smirk kind of laugh because they don’t quite get it.

They shouldn’t. They were both waitresses in the previous lives and economy of service takes rule over formality.

i, however, am into formality, at least some of it…some of the time…when i want to be formal.

At least when it comes to place settings.

Now both of them know more about place settings than i do. Maureen finally informed me years ago i was putting the knife down with the blade pointing the wrong way, pointing out rather than in. i had no idea. But there are a lot of things Maureen knows that i have no idea about. But these two women have that efficiency thing going. They don’t put out any silverware that isn’t going to be used.

Not me.

You see, i think i’m a lot like others raised the way i was. The children took part in daily chores. One of our chores was putting out the place settings for meals like breakfast: plate, knife, fork, spoon, glass of orange juice for every one, glass of milk for the three children, and coffee cups and saucers for mother and daddy. On the round oak table. We didn’t use place mats. We sure as hell didn’t use chargers. Those chargers were for fancy meals like Thanksgiving and Easter and Aunt Evelyn’s and Uncle Pipey’s in Redbank.

We didn’t put out napkins either. Don’t know why. i do know when Douglas Lawrence came to visit from Gotha, Florida one summer, and we all sat down for breakfast, Mother had put napkins at every place setting. Some smart-ass kid asked why we had napkins out because we never usually had them. It was a moment i will always remember because my mother did the great curse on me with her legendary raised eyebrow scowl, behind Douglas’ back, of course.

But anyway, setting  out the place settings and getting the kitchen for the empress chef to do her magic. It is a routine, something i rarely have these days. But is my morning salve, meditation, quiet time, if you will, even if it is continually interrupted by the two cats who crave my attention then and ignore me pretty much the rest of the day.

There are connections, you see. It takes me back to 127 Castle Heights Avenue. That is a good feeling. It connects me with my father. After my parents moved to Deer Park, he gradually took over the meal preparation from my mother and her frailties, saving the really good stuff times for her to either take over or take charge, sometimes a bit of both when Tennessee country ham, biscuits, red-eye gravy, fried corn, squash casserole, and fresh tomatoes; meatloaf with mash potatoes, and the aforementioned biscuits, and several other legendary mother meals were to be served. But most of the time, it was my father in that pretty much new territory called the kitchen and breakfast table.

He always got up early. It became a daily thing after they both retired. When i visited Deer Park, i normally stayed in the guest bedroom with an adjacent wall to the kitchen cupboard. i would awake to his sliding the door back and getting out the morning fare, putting the coffee on, and rumbling around setting the table, getting everything ready (he specialized in cereal, especially Sugar Frosted Flakes with Tony the Tiger. Then he would call, “Mother, breakfast is ready.”

i get up early too, significantly earlier than he did. Perhaps that comes from my years at sea. i feed the cats, get the paper out of the driveway, grind the coffee beans (he got his from the Folger’s big tin can), start the coffee, put Maureen’s 647,000 condiments, chocolate, frothing machine, grater, and lord knows what else so she can make her coffee her way…with very little coffee but a lot of other stuff. i turn the kitchen sink faucet into a drip because Bruce Willis, the cat, likes to drink his water straight just like my coffee black, period: perhaps it’s a male bonding thing. i put a bowl of water out for dainty Dakota, the female cat. i get out the vitamins and the standard prescriptions for this old folk, i open the blinds so we can look out the window. Sometimes, i will get out the Bluetooth speaker and set it up for classical guitar during the meal, but i usually forget, and then…

i set the table.

From the table, i remove the table linen my great grandmother made by pulling out the threads in a decorative pattern for the border — my sister Martha once admonished me for calling it crochet and corrected me with the correct name of the craft, but of course, i forgot — and the flowers in the vase, usually Maureen’s roses, which leads me to humming Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Our House” and put them on a nearby counter. i pull out the place mats like the ones we never had growing up, i retrieve our napkin rings from their drawer — Now i know about napkin rings for when i got to my first Navy ship, the wardroom meals were formal to the nth degree, place settings perfect, the messes perfunctory formal, damn near religious in the unvarying courses, and napkin rings, round silver napkin rings, individually marked with care — and put them in their proper place.

i get out the silverware. We have about 368 sets of silverware for reasons far beyond my ken, but i like a certain set. i put the fork on the left side of the mat; the knife on the inside on the right side, blade facing inward, and then THE SPOON outside of the knife. Unless we are having soup or cereal, the latter being rarely, Maureen and Sarah never put out the spoons.

Then i turn out the overhead light and admire my work. The spoons are in place.

i know when they see the settings, they will laugh behind my back. Silly boy.

Don’t care.

It’s tradition, it’s connection. It’s me being me like where and how i was raised.

Laugh away.

Dr. David Williams

i know i have a lot of friends who are Vol, Gator, Tide, War Eagle, Trojan, Bruin, Buckeye, Spartan, Blue Raider, Moc, Aztec, Longhorn, Aggie and many, many other fans to the exclusion of any other athletic program but their particular favorite.

i’m not that way. i root for a bunch of college athletic programs — and root against those that appear unsavory to me in their moral, or lack thereof, to college athletes and their sports — but i have rooted for Vanderbilt for as long as i can remember and by 1962, they became and remain my favorite. Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for athletics, David Williams, a giant of man with a long and impressive career, announced his retirement from his position in a year from now to return to his love of teaching. i wish i could take a class of his.

When i learned of this, i wrote an email to numerous friends and family who have ties or are supporters of Vanderbilt. Afterwards i received a nice note from Andrew Maraniss, the author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South. Andrew included his Facebook post about Dr. Williams.

The text of my email and the link to Andrew’s FB post follow:

i am sure many of you are already aware of the vice chancellor for athletics announced today he will be leaving his post in a year and a search for someone to replace him (not) is underway.
i have seen some negative comments about Dr. Williams. i’m not sure why anyone would fault him.
i don’t know David Williams. i have seen him in many presentations and speeches throughout his time as vice chancellor, especially in a session during the 40th class reunion for the class with whom i should have walked across the stage. Every time, i have seen or heard him speak or read his comments on any subject, i have been impressed. But most particularly, the post presentation comments he made at the 40th reunion in 2006. Some yahoo, who obviously had not thought his question through to the end was almost angry when he took the audience microphone. He asked Vice Chancellor Williams why Vandy did not do something Florida did (as i recall it was about having separate athletic dorms) equating that to the athletic record the Gators had, obviously most notably in football and basketball.
Dr. Williams replied Vanderbilt was going to win and win in all sports. That was the goal. Then he added, but “We are going to do it the right way, the Vandy way.” It took me back to my Navy career when, on several ships our watchword was doing things the Navy way, the right way.
Dr. Williams, i’m sure, has had to walk carefully among the myriad of desires of Vanderbilt fans, supporters, and alumni. There were many mines hidden in his walk. He has shepherded Vanderbilt athletics into a realm where it has not been since the beginning of the twentieth century, being respected for its success, and while football and basketball, the latter men and women have not become champions yet, Dr. Williams has made every effort to put them on the right path. 
And he has done it all with dignity and a presence that exudes doing it the right way, the Vandy way.
Hopefully, the search will lead to someone who will adequately fill some very big shoes, but i don’t think anyone will ever replace this man who has dedicated himself to the student-athlete and Vanderbilt athletics for so many years.
Thank you, Dr. Williams. You will be missed.
The text of Andrew Maraniss’ post:
I know it has been fashionable for some fans to complain about the state of Vandy athletics, but I’ve never understood it. David Williams announced his retirement today and I don’t think there’s any disputing that his tenure has been the golden age of Commodore athletics, both on and off the field. All four of the school’s NCAA championships have come under his tenure, as have five of Vanderbilt’s eight all-time bowl appearances. Some complain about the comfort of the football stadium, but the facilities for all sports are better than they ever have been, including the indoor football practice field that he built, and Memorial Gym is about to undergo a major renovation. Vandy Athletics has instituted several innovative off-the-field programs, allowing student-athletes to study abroad, participate in more campus organizations and events, and land summer internships, all things that had been ‘impossible’ before. Graduation rates and academic performance remain stellar. Vanderbilt has retained great coaches and the people who work at McGugin are all extremely dedicated, hard-working, and professional, including people like Deputy AD Candice Lee, who not only played women’s basketball at Vandy but earned three degrees there and is recognized nationally as one of the emerging athletic administrators in the country. From a personal standpoint, I recognize that it was David Williams who worked so carefully to ensure that Perry Wallace was brought back into the fold and that his legacy was preserved – and will be celebrated – forever. At a time when it is obvious that college athletic programs are the tail wagging the dog at many universities, Vandy was fortunate to have an athletic director for so many years who understood that’s not how things are supposed to work. I think he always put the well-being of student-athletes first, and has interests far beyond the athletic fields, including books, music, movies, history, civil rights and the law. Here’s wishing David Williams a happy retirement and an acknowledgement from fans how far things have come, all while not sacrificing the values that make us proud to support Vanderbilt athletics.

Times of Change

i wrote this for The Lebanon Democrat on the last day of 2007. It was my eleventh column for that successful and long lasting local paper.

i chuckled when i read it before posting today. Change definitely continues, even the places and people i wrote about then have gone through many changes, including me.

The troika of couples, Henry and Brenda, Eddie and Brenda, and Maureen and i are still intact. The restaurant at the Heights’ superintendent’s home has changed hands several times.  i don’t know if Joe’s and my photos are still in the opposite corners of the south side dining area. Even the predictions about today in 2007 would make us laugh. The Southwest corner continues to grow amok. Lebanon, i’m sure, has also continued to grow and change. And unfortunately, my trips back to Lebanon have decreased significantly as i knew they would when my parents passed away.

But you know what? i’ve lived in the Southwest corner continuously for thirty-three years, it is our home.

But Lebanon will always be my home.

Tennessee in general and Lebanon in particular is not only a Christmas escape for me; it is a place to reflect on change. This year, the change, past, present, and future, seems more palpable.

Often, we refuse to accept change as inevitable. We spend post-Christmas creating New Year Resolutions, which we usually blow off in a week or so.

Just before Christmas, my wife and I shared a dinner at the Chop House with special folks. Change joined us for the evening.

Growing up, I spent almost as much time at the home of Henry Harding; his maternal grandparents, J. J. and Maude Arnold; and his parents, George and Virginia Harding, as I did at my own home. Henry remains my “best” friend. He and his wife Brenda joined us.

The couple’s troika was completed by Eddie and Brenda Callis. Eddie has been a close friend since we met in high school as sports competitors from Castle Heights and Lebanon High School. Brenda’s father, Jim Horn Hankins, recruited my father to work for at Hankins and Smith Motor Company in 1939, and they became partners in the late 1950’s. So Brenda and I have known each other pretty much all of our lives.

We spoke of families, children, grandchildren, and parents. We spoke of friends. We spoke of adventures growing up and shared stories of places we have been.

Essentially we talked about change.

We talked amidst change itself. My sister, Martha Duff, had played in this structure, now the Chop House, with her friend Kay Lucas, when it was the Castle Heights superintendent’s home, and Ralph Lucas served in that position.

Down the road, my mother played with the son of the original occupants of the Mitchell House, which Danny Evins so graciously renovated for Cracker Barrel’s headquarters. Further down on the original Castle Heights Avenue is the house my parents bought in 1942 when it was one of only two or three houses on the street and where they lived for sixty-one years.

On the dining area wall hung a picture of my brother, Joe, attired in a Heights jersey. A photo of me at the 1962 graduation dance hung in the opposite quarter. The placement was appropriate. Joe and I always seem to end up in opposite corners even in choice of homes: Joe in Vermont, me in the Southwest corner. We often reflect on how we have managed change differently.

At my age, change seems more important. I long for what used to be, overlooking the negative aspects of the past. The past seems more poignant. The need to share memories with my family, especially the new grandson, is strong.

Change is never what we expect it to be. The 1950’s predictions for the next century are comical looking at them from this end. Sometimes change is better than expected. Sometimes change is worse.

Growth, i.e. change, in Middle Tennessee is small compared to San Diego. A community of 100,000 has grown up about three miles south of our home since a large ranch estate was settled in 1995. The expansion of developments may soon extend to the Cleveland National Forest to the east.

The increase in population has produced traffic congestion. Water supply is more tenuous than ever. Utility rates have risen dramatically. Housing costs are astronomical. Politics has become more profitable and more divisive.

The plus side is convenience in shopping and dining. The developments are rife with parks, walking trails, nearby modern schools, and an increase in services.

When I see change in Lebanon, I winch with concern it may drive away many of the things in Lebanon I hold dear. However, it seems to me Lebanon has managed change pretty well since I left for the Navy in 1967. Good change without destruction of the past appears to have been the rule.

Dining with my life-long friends, it occurred to me they (and you folks who live here) have permanent connection to the past, which might explain the change management of the community. The sense of community is not strong in the Southwest corner. Change seems more precocious, more uncontrollable there.

Before this article is published, I will be back in the Southwest corner, attempting to manage change positively. If all goes well, I will return to Middle Tennessee several times in the next twelve months and find change continues to be positive here.

It’s a nice place to come home to. I hope that never changes.

Ramblings of an Old Man on a Saturday Morning

Maureen is off to a “movie date” with her “girl friends.”

Sarah is going to the San Diego Zoo with one friend and then to Safari Park (nee Wild Animal Park) with another.

Billie Holiday, the catahoula mix; Dakota, the pampered princess; and Bruce Willis, the epitome of a “fraidy cat” are with me for the day.

i am taping the Vandy-Nevada game to watch a bit later and skip all of the stuff other people must find somewhat interesting, and of course the never ending stream of commercials dedicated to making money and disrupting the flow of the contest.

And it’s been a while coming back to my briar patch, my writing place. i’ve been working on the book and dealing with the fact “old” is here in the house. i’m reminded a lot of the time from an annoying shoulder and neck issue, which may not go away. Ever. Part of life, i surmise.

Been thinking, too. That is a scary thing.

 *     *     *

It all began this morning when Maureen and i started giving each other shit about our faults. i was going to describe it in another way, but we both sort of lean on D.H. Lawrence’s idea about making profanity not profanity because after all, they are just words, and even though it seems the mass of our population now seems to believe words can be destructive, it’s the people saying them that are destructive, not the words because i know because they taught me somewhere around five or six years old “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” and Owen Wister knew it when he had his hero (the Virginian, of course) deal with the novel’s  asshole…oops another one of those words, but this one is what my bunch of friends who rally around the Friday Morning Golf game proudly take that title as a compliment… in a way best be described by an excerpt from Wikepedia:

The novel begins with an unnamed narrator’s arrival in Medicine Bow, Wyoming from back East and his encounter with an impressively tall and handsome stranger. The stranger proves adept at roping horses, as well as facing down a gambler, Trampas, who calls him a son of a bitch. (At the time, the word was an unacceptable insult in any society, except between joking friends.) The stranger lays a pistol on the table and gently threatens, “When you call me that, smile!” 

And…where was i?…oh yes, Maureen and i this morning giving each other shit about our faults, which, by the way, we no longer consider faults but just differences and things we actually admire about each other but would never admit it and when we do give each other shit, we roll our eyes, evoking my mother’s famous facial expression, and laugh and then we go to each other and hold each other in our arms and warmly laugh and say, “i love you” expressively, which we do and which sort of defines us now because we have passed from the passions of youth although we were a bit beyond youth when our passions were in full bloom and our admiration for all of our strengths and things one might admire in us although my strengths and list of admirable traits are damn short, especially compared to hers, and we have advanced, not because we are old, at least not because i am old because she still reeks of youth compared to me, but because we are experienced and we know, perhaps knowing all along through the passion and the admiration that subconsciously we understood the good, the sharing we would have then and have now that we are two humans who happened to connect at the right time with the right feelings about life and about each other and someone somewhere smiled on us and let us understand what love really is about.

i think we love a lot of other people more because we have stumbled on that understanding.

    *     *     *

Then i read about some silly ass (oops, again) idea that passing gold chains on the sidelines of the Miami Hurricanes football team to someone who made a sack was becoming a big deal and other college teams were trying to outdo the Hurricanes with their own gimmicks, and then i thought about how silly and inane such gimmicks are, and then i realized pretty much any sport not on a sandlot or empty court or empty field by someone unsupervised under the age of…a moving target, this age thing as i played for the game until my twenties, but now in the age of supervision, orchestration, marketing, product selling, and false idolization of plastic heroes and heroines, the age is probably around six or less.

And then i thought about touchdowns and how much i wanted to score one in a real game (i did: one on a punt return, 447 yards according to The Lebanon Democrat in 1957 in a Lebanon Junior High Colt game at the old high school stadium on Coles Ferry Pike) and how i imagined crossing the goal line and passing the football to the referee, letting my actions speak for themselves and not go into some kind of idiotic dance and attention-seeking histronics, which is now sadly de rigueur. But then, we can understand as it seems our very existence, all marketing, all political posturing, all just about everything focuses on gimmicks and we buy into it big time, ignoring what is really important, which is one of the reasons corporations like Nike don’t care if the gimmick is negative because the notoriety sells their products (and i’m not taking a stand on Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem as i have said my piece and no one seems to have listened and they are still arguing apples and oranges and it has done nothing but deepen the chasm between those people who are intent on taking sides.

Nah, i’m talking about dealing with the essence of things, dealing with people face to face, not creating false idols or false enemies, not taking sides but believing in the goodness of most of us, all of us, which seems to be pushed into the background as folks keep trying to kill all of those demons hiding under their bed at night…like ten year olds.

    *     *     *

Most of you should know by now i’m not a formally practicing Christian. There are many reasons, but the biggest reason is hypocrisy. Those in churches who are not into hypocrisy seem to get shuffled into the back of the room But i do believe in the tenets of Jesus Christ as i interpreted his lessons from the Bible’s “New Testament.”

And then with all this gimmickry and stuff, i got to thinking about everyone wanting and buying things and ideas to make it easy. Then i thought what a ridiculous idea it is to seek making it easy. As my good friend Dave Carey said, “It (life) ain’t easy. It ain’t supposed to be easy.” i would add it would be awfully boring if were easy and all of the gadgets, technology, innovation, etc., etc. to make it easy don’t work. Easy and money ain’t the answer. Living well is the answer. Doing the right thing is the answer. Enjoy life, learn. Take care of others. Get off this easy shit (oops again).

    *     *     *

You probably have figured out it ain’t morning any more. And i’m still rambling. So i watched my taped version of Vandy drubbing Nevada, a good show, but the real tests are yet to come. It was fun, and my fast forwarding through all of the stuff except the game, i watched the three-hour broadcast in about forty-five minutes. Just right.

    *     *     *

And then i went to a little slice of heaven for lunch. Well, maybe not heaven but a good place, good enough for me anyway. The Bonita Golf Club. i sat at the bar. Val is one of the daytime bartendresses (my word, obviously). She is a neat young lady and very, very busy on Saturdays. Everyone knows her. She knows everybody as well. All of the bartendresses, waitresses, and waiters seem to know everyone.

The place is packed. The bar when i arrived had one seat. It’s that way most of the days i go there. The food is standard bar fare. But there is nothing bad and mostly great. The cheeseburger is splendid. The onion rings are special. The chili is really, really good. And then there is the club sandwich, the shrimp tacos, and the carne asada quesadilla: my favorites.

There are nine televisions in the bar and the other sitting areas, but not on the outside patio. They all have different sports events except three have the pro golf tournament.

But the best part is the people. There are all kinds of people of every skin tone, many origins, different political and religious positions, the spectrum of educational levels. There is a Pearl Harbor survivor who parks illegally in a spot right outside the door. i usually write nasty notes and put them on the windshields for people who park illegally, but not him. He’s earned it. There’s a retired Navy SEAL who is there almost every day. i often avoid him because i know i will enjoy the discussion so much i will overstay my time.  There is this one Latino who talks really loud, but laughs a lot and it seems like everyone with him is having fun. There is this one guy at the end of the bar who is buying every kind of drink and beer for what seems like three or four groups of golfers, men and women. The basketball player who played professionally in Europe is not here. He and i laugh and talk about foreign places and golf courses. Kevin Mitchell, the outfielder who played most notably for the Giants is not there. i talked to him a couple of times. Nice guy. Those two are here most of the time.

It is a fun place.  i’ve never seen an argument there. It’s people, all kinds of people, golfers and non-golfers, having fun with each other.

If it’s not heaven, it’s sort of like i imagine heaven would be.

Why Navy?

i have probably posted this before, but i don’t care. How i ended up with a Navy career still amazes me. Since i realized i was not going to be a sports star or even extend my sports past high school, i wanted to be a writer. The Navy was a choice for the matter of convenience. But looking back, it was a wonderful choice and shaped my life. i am proud of my choice. So here it is again.

SAN DIEGO – As the new year ramps up, I am back in the Southwest corner considering why I made the Navy my career.

My father also has wondered why a boy from Middle Tennessee would choose the sea for his livelihood. Others have wondered the same thing.

The sea called me during my midshipman cruise on the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) in 1963. We steamed from Newport, RI, to Sydney, Nova Scotia; to Bermuda; and back to Newport as part of the U.S.S. Intrepid (CVA 11) battle group.

My last four weeks were in engineering with two watches and normal work requiring 16-hour work days. Having no more sense than now, I went from my last watch to the crew’s movie in the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) hangar – “DASH” was a weapon which did not last long. Sailors called it “CRASH” instead of “DASH.” But its hanger on the 01 level just aft of amidships was perfect for showing movies.

This night, I watched “The Quiet Man” for the first time. As I left the theater and traversed the torpedo deck, I walked to the port side and gazed at the full moon.

The ship was making 15 knots. The moon’s reflection cut a wide, rippling, reflective path straight to me. The boilers roared through the forward stack. The bow wave was white, curling from the side and swishing its whisper as the ship cut through the water. “Darken ship” allowed no lights except those for navigation. At least a billion stars blanketed the black sky.

The sea grabbed me. She came down that path from the full moon, wafted across the bow wave, and reached deep inside. I felt her grab my heart and take it away.

I have loved her in her fury of the winter Atlantic, when she tossed a 500-foot ship around like a cork, ripping off protruding metal like dandelion bristles, and tossing sailors around the ship like matchsticks. Her intense fury blanketed the sea surface with froth.

I have loved her in the doldrums of the South China Sea where not a breath of wind existed, and the sea surface was glass for a week. I saw my first “green flash” then.

In the summer of 1973, steaming in the operating areas off of Newport, Rhode Island, my father saw why I went to sea. My ship, the U.S.S. Luce (DLG 7), was undergoing a major inspection. My Commanding Officer learned of my father visiting and invited him to ride during our underway day.

As a lieutenant, I was the sea detail officer of the deck. My father was by my side as I had the “conn” while the ship stood out of Narragansett Bay. As soon as we reached the operating area, we went to 25 knots for rudder tests, rapidly shifting the rudder to max angles both ways. The commanding officer and I went into a frantic dance, running in opposite directions across the bridge to hang over each wing checking for small craft in the dramatic turns.

After the rudder tests, I took my father into the bowels of the ship to our anti-submarine warfare spaces. My father stood behind me as I directed prosecution of a submarine contact. In the darkened spaces with sonar pings resounding, he watched as we tracked the sub on our fire control screen and simulated firing a torpedo.

After lunch, we set general quarters and ran through engineering drills. Finally, we transited back to Newport.

With mooring complete, the captain gave my father a ship’s plaque. My wife and mother were waiting on the pier when we debarked from the ship’s quarterdeck. As we walked the brow to the pier, my father said to me, “Son, I understand why you would want to make this a career.”

I did. Somewhere in the latter stages of that career, I met a woman, a native of San Diego, and we got married. After a brief taste of being a Navy officer’s wife, she and I returned to San Diego for my “twilight” tour, the last four years on shore duty.

So now when I walk up our hill to raise and lower the flag, I look out to sea and check to see how many ships are pierside at the Naval Station.

And that, my friends, is why I made the Navy career and live in the Southwest corner, far from my home in Tennessee.