“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Murphy’s Third Law of Construction: The more planning you do for a project, the more confusion there is when something goes wrong.
 Goofy guy’s extension to Murphy’s Third Law of Construction: …and something always goes wrong.

Robert Coles’ Admonition

The following was an item in today’s “The Writer’s Almanac.” As i was going about my morning routine thinking about friends right and left of me and our citizens today, i saw good ideas gone bad because of excess and lack of consideration of the end result. i saw bad ideas becoming the guidelines for political maneuvering. i felt hatred. i felt fear. i even felt glad because i recognized i am too old and too little known (thank god) to have an impact if i tried. And, ultimately, i felt sad. Then i read this entry and i felt akin to Coles, and wished, i’m afraid forlornly that somehow all these friends and all the haters and the fearful would adopt Coles’ recommendation in the bottom paragraph.

It’s the birthday of author and psychologist Robert Coles (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts (1929). He’s the author of more than 60 books. Coles was in the South at the dawn of the civil rights movement, planning to lead a low-key life as a child psychologist. But one day, during a visit to New Orleans in 1960, he saw a white mob surrounding a six-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges, who was kneeling in her starched white dress in the middle of it all to pray for the mob that was attacking her. Coles decided to begin what would become his work for the next few decades, an effort to understand how children and their parents come to terms with radical change. He conducted hundreds of interviews on the effects of school desegregation, and he shaped them into the first volume of Children of Crisis (1967), a series of books for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
When Coles was 66, he co-founded a new magazine about “ordinary people and their lives.” It was called DoubleTake, and it featured photography and writing in the documentary tradition. The magazine was printed on fine paper with big, beautiful photo reproductions, and it won lots of awards.
Robert Coles said, “We should look inward and think about the meaning of our life and its purposes, lest we do it in 20 or 30 years and it’s too late.”

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Grelb’s Reminder: Eighty percent of all people consider themselves to be above average drivers.
 Goofy guy’s augmentations to Grelb’s Reminder: …and only one percent actually are…and that may be too high of an estimate…and i confess i’m in the eighty percent, not in the one percent.

A Slice of Home and Half Baths

As usual, my fat fingers and Southern heritage messed me up at least once. Wonderful man, Hays Mershon, pointed that out in response to my posting this with this comment, which has to be repeated: “I believe it’s Forest Hill, not Forrest–to my knowledge, Nathan Bedford never carried his abundance of laundry to the City by the Bay. 😉 We mostly see the “double r” south of the Mason-Dixon.” Thanks, Hays.

In San Francisco, way up on a hill, there is a home that feels like home with hospitality as smooth and Southern as George Dickel’s Barrel Select.

In fact, it’s a lot like home, my home back in Lebanon, Tennessee, 127 Castle Heights Avenue. Oh, this home is quite a bit larger in that being on a San Francisco hill it has two cavernous stories of a basement with a garage. But the living space is similar. There are two bedrooms upstairs with a full bath and a landing area. There is the master bedroom and bath, nice kitchen, a breakfast room, a den, a living room, dining room, and a half bathroom.

i claimed the half-bath. There is a reason. In that home back in Tennessee, my father had a half bath. It was a man’s bathroom. It was practical, no frills. It was just inside the backdoor. An electric razor on a three-tier shelf he had hung by the mirror. The one on the hill in San Francisco is more elegant featuring a wood cabinet and much to my liking a wonderful Japanese wood print reminding me of one i bought in Kyoto about a million years ago. Back in our Southwest corner home, i also have a half bath. It too is more fashionable. Of course it is because i have a wife like Maren with impeccable tastes. I have to clean up in both of these. My father did not have to clean up his because no one else used it. But, being him, he did.

What i’m trying to get across is this place in the Forest Hills section of the City by the Bay gives me the feeling of home. But it is not just the house. It is the people who live there.

Alan Hicks and i go back quite aways: Vanderbilt, fraternity brother, NROTC classmate, a shared love of the sea and the ships that sail those seas. We are also avid followers of Vanderbilt athletics, especially baseball nowadays, going to Vanderbilt’s trip west in the early season each year. Been going to that series for over ten years, dragging other Vandy friends like Cy Fraser, Alan’s brother Jim, and Bill Oliver.

Maren is also a Vanderbilt graduate. She is the leader of that Southern hospitality. Her home is comfortable and artistic. Her meals are incredible. Her caring is beyond the pale.

Alan and Maren have become close friends for both Maureen and me. We also visit their other wonderful home in Sonoma.

Alan, Jr. is one of the most well-read people i have ever met. It is a joy to talk to him. i learn something every time we talk. He is also a nice young man.

What i mean is this wonderful home up on the hill in San Francisco is a lot like the home where i grew up. The house reminds me of that Tennessee home, but it is the people who make it really feel like home.

And i left out one:

Eleanor is the daughter. I could discuss Eleanor’s attributes for about a year and not stop. She is smart, caring, attentive, wonderful partner to discuss anything. i consider her my other, third daughter. She is part of Alan’s and my team (and sometimes Cy Fraser) to stake out our territory at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the three day mad house of 300,000-plus people in Golden Gate Park, the reason for our visit this past weekend. The early settlers at HSB dine on breakfast burritos and coffee and read and talk while waiting for the rest of our troupe to arrive and the performances to begin. Eleanor also likes folks who save extra paper napkins, like me.

So thank you beautiful people for your beautiful home, your beautiful family, your beautiful hospitality, and our beautiful friendship.

Since Eleanor was the photographer, not the photographed, this year, i decided she should represent the family here.

Thank you, Alan, Maren, Eleanor, and Alan, Jr. See you next year and hopefully before.

To Judy Collins

Today (Sunday, October 6), on our annual weekend at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park with my college friends, Alan and Maren Hicks, and their daughter Eleanor Hicks, who, along with Alan, Jr. are just damn near incredible people, Maureen and i left the Porch Stage and went back to the Banjo Stage to listen to Judy Collins. i am glad we did. Judy moved us both, and i thought of when i first heard Judy Collins, which inspired this:

To Judy Collins

i was a warrior at sea
when i heard her first,
not a song of protest,
her original claim to fame,
a song i had heard earlier from
Nova Scotia couple, Ian and Silvia
long time ago,
it was about love for a rodeo man
just out of the service
looking for some fun
i was not just out of the service
in a war
of which she protested
i didn’t care because
her voice carried me off to different places;
i rode, or rather sailed
to and through and out
of the combat zone
with her songs in my soul.

i am no longer a warrior of the sea;
a score and a half of years gone by,
i have not forgotten
remain proud of defending our country,
recognizing she would not agree
she was not there
when i stood at the gunnel on the port side of the well deck
off the shores of Vung Tau in seventy-five
with my after-breakfast cup of coffee before quarters
for five days watching thirty-five thousand and more
folks like you and me
flee in crafts i would not put in a Tennessee creek
coming over the horizon when they had only heard
redemption from their tormentors was at hand,
rumors someone might be beyond their horizon
of the South China Sea bordering the Gulf of Siam,
those folks, risking life and limb not only of themselves
their old folks and infants as well in those rickety crafts,
with a sip of coffee before the sun would scorch the ocean,
i thought
whatever the hell we did, pro or con
didn’t matter
except we should have done something different, better,
not “pro” or “anti”
to let those people stay at home
like my home, my folks in Tennessee
we didn’t
now, damn near a half century later
i stood in a hollow
to hear her again:
her songs still moved the warrior of the sea
i was moved again
when she sang
“Amazing Grace,”
i sang
then i cried.

Perhaps we should all sing Amazing Grace
Judy Collins.


“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Golub’s Third Law of Computerdom: The effort required to correct course increases geometrically with time.
 Goofy guy’s redirection of Golub’s Third Law of Computerdom: This law is more applicable to conning ships at sea.. not to mention just about every other thing in life.

a clump of feathers and dried bones

as first light creeps into the consciousness of morning’s beginning,
the doves cooing goes silent
until dawn
as the sun peeks over the peak of Mount Miguel
to begin his slow, low pendulum arc across the southern horizon,
beaming over the land before the Aztecs knew no border;
on the lone silent, dead, and white washed trunk
protruding from a leafy foundation of its striving to live beginnings,
a hawk perches on the one small, treacherous limb
atop the dead projection,
a sentinel surveying the surrounding countryside for game;
in a meadow of fresh mown grass,
browned by that sun’s sweep across the southern horizon
lies a clump of feathers and bone,
all that’s left of an earlier game of sorts
leaving the red-tailed hawk on the limb satisfied,
no: satiated.

man seems to have forgotten what it means to be a human being,
different because man can think beyond the need to be satiated
like the red-tailed hawk, the sentinel on the dead spire of an eucalyptus;
seems to not understand caring, loving, forgiving, thinking, and rising above
the animal of the hawk on the limb, the coyote in the canyon,
the bobcat in the arroyo, the rattler in the manzanita
rising above survival and taking care of others;
is a noble pursuit giving more satisfaction than
belching over a clump of feathers and dried bones.

the doves cooing is a soothing sound
just before first light, then after dawn;
perhaps the doves and the red-tail hawk
know more than given credit.


i finished this last night. i posted it but didn’t share it on Facebook. i wanted to proof it after a good night’s sleep. He was a good man. Happy Birthday, Jimmy Jewell.

i woke up thinking about it. Been thinking about it all day. Have been intending to write something, post something, maybe an old photograph or two.

You see, he would have been 105 today. Up until six years and three months ago, i thought he had a great chance to make it to today.

i have celebrated him in many ways before and after his passing. i have spoken of the incredible changes he saw, experienced in his life: born in a town that at that time in 1914 had two paved streets,  only a handful of new fangled motor driven vehicles, limited electricity, limited telephone service if any, and most of the homes having outhouses and wells. He saw a lot of change.

i have written of how he was a good man. i have written of how he was loved by many. i have written of how he was a member of the “Great Generation” and how he chose to volunteer to defend his country and spend two years away from his wife and his newborn son named after him to do that defending in the Southwest Pacific.

He did have faults. He has expressed his assessment of his faults with this son, his daughter, and his youngest son. He was ashamed of not graduating from high school, not being a  great reader even though he was the smartest man i have known.

i, my sister, and my brother have heard him cry.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in my relationship with him was when his wife was in the hospital with the possibility of not leaving, and while i was there to help them, he and i said good night. He retired to their bedroom, and i remained in the adjacent family room to watch the end of a baseball game. i heard him crying, heard him praying to his lord for the love of his life. My brother heard the same thing when he and i swapped the assistance role. i cried then, and every time i remember, i cry again.

His life was his wife and his family. The children, the grandchildren, and the great grandchildren  were his greatest love, and his greatest, along with his wife’s, reason for being, living just shy of 99 and 97 respectively.

Not all was perfect at 127 Castle Heights Avenue in Lebanon, Tennessee,  but there was never a question of love. And of all of the people i have met and known in my life, there are few, if any who have given more love or been more loved than him.

Florida, 1949.

And he loved his wife.

And his namesake considered him a hero, 1951.
The Jimmy Jewell family, 1952.

And there was family. Family. And the world was good, not perfect, but good. And he was the epicenter of it all. Happy 105th, Daddy.