Mummies and me

Maureen had asked me what  i wanted to do for my birthday yesterday, and i made a short list, modifying it as predicted rain made modification required.

But unwavering, even with the threat of rain, we drove to Balboa Park, one of my favorite places on earth. The schedule modification dropped the zoo from our schedule. But we figured with the rain, the museums would be virtually empty.

They weren’t. We were astounded at the amount of cars in the parking areas even though it was a little less crowded than usual and disbelieving that many people would be in the park. They were.

We walked down the colonnade on the south side of the El Prado, the avenue from the large Bea Evenson fountain on the east end of the park to Plaza de Panama (a large number of the park buildings were built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition) and stopped in the San Diego History Museum, one of several in the Casa de Balboa, which was featuring the structures created by  Irving Gill, a renown architect. It was our first time in that particular museum. We will go back.

Coming out, i gaped, as usual at the architecture. Across the prado was the Casa de Prado, the sister of the Casa de Balboa. The beauty of this place never ceases to make me feel good.

To get to  the San Diego Museum of Art, we continued down the colonnade to the Plaza de Panama, the center of the park. The plaza has gone through many renovations. Recently, they banned parking there and soon will reroute traffic around it . That makes me feel good. To me, the beauty of this place is in its ties to a century ago and makes the current beauty of the surroundings even more beautiful. Standing on the edge of the plaza, we are in the heart of the place. The Prado, a restaurant with an atmosphere of old charm, serves a mixture of California, Southwest, and Mexican cuisine (at least, that’s what i call it).  The patio in good weather makes me feel elegant. And the bar area with no real bar makes me think of the Long Bar at Raffles in Singapore where the Singapore Sling was invented (the original tastes like cough medicine). But before being renovated into upscale, this one was where my father-in-law, Ray Boggs liked to stop for a Beefeater’s on the rocks with a twist. Of course, i went along.

Plaza de Panama: the Mingei on the left, the California Tower and Old Globe in the center background, and the Panama 66 restaurant on the right.

Outside the Prado where we were yesterday, we were a stone throw away from the Japanese Gardens, the Mingei Museum dedicated to folk art and craft, The Timken Museum featuring classical paintings, the Lily pond, and on and on.

It is a gathering place for all kinds of folks, families, just a place to relax. Beautiful.

On the north end of the plaza is my favorite, the San Diego Museum of Art. It was the reason i wanted to include the park in my birthday. In particular, i wanted to see the “Visible Vaults” exhibition. The museum has made it possible to experience the many, many works of art that has been in the archives, not available for viewing. The collection is astounding. With every piece displayed and with every drawer upon drawer Maureen and i examined, i thought of two people: my daughter Blythe and my friend Maren Hicks. i knew they would understand more and consequently enjoy more than me this treasure.

Our final stop in Balboa Park was at the Museum of Man. i had not been there for a score of years, and i remember being fascinated by the exhibits. It has been upgraded and is now very children friendly. In fact, Maureen and i kept laughing at how our grandson Sam and other boys between six and seventy-three would enjoy some exhibits. They had a special “cannibal” exhibit, there was the evolution of man exhibit, and the Egyptian exhibit featured mummies. For the older guys, there was the “Beerology” exhibit. Maureen and i laughed at a number of ancient civilizations which drank as much as four gallons of beer a day, especially the ones in Peru which practiced shrinking heads.

The Egyptian exhibit had a mummy not of that civilization. The “Lemon Grove Mummy” was that of a young woman and a child curled into a fetal position. She was the one that captivated me those many years ago. She got her name because two San Diego teenagers stole her from a cave near Chihuahua, Mexico in 1966. Getting home, they became afraid of what their parents would do if they knew and stored the mummy in a box in a friend’s garage. Shortly afterwards, they were sent to serve in Vietnam. They and the mummy became separated. In 1980, the mother of the friend was cleaning out her garage when she found the mummy (i’m still trying to imagine her moment of discovery) and donated it to the museum.

Somehow, i connected the mummy to some old destroyers. In 1974, they had been taken out of mothballs and were moored on the quay wall of the Long Beach Naval Station,  just aft of the U.S.S. Hollister, on which i was the chief engineer. When we found out the destroyers were to be used as targets for missiles and sunk on the Pacific Missile Test Range, we went aboard to salvage any supplies we could use. i also acquired a magnetic compass, an engine order telegraph unit, and a brass plate off a main feed pump of one destroyer. The brass plate is a paper weight in my office, the compass is part of Maureen’s arrangement including a metal cruise box, cacti, and orchids on the stoop of our courtyard porch.

But i saw a relationship between those ships and the mummy. That’s when i wrote this poem:

Thoughts about the discovery of the well-preserved and very old remains of an Incan boy and young woman high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, circa 1995

the magazine photos riveted attention, fascination:
children, forced to grow up and die
before their time in our time
yet probably not a great deal more
than their time in their time.
did they volunteer to the sacrifice?
now they are a source of interest in ages past,
and macabre beliefs:
i only feel sadness.

hulks.
dead, empty hulks.
eyeless sockets staring out
into a world gone techno,
not a great deal more advanced from
what they saw when they could see:
world still full of ignorance, hatred and religious zealots
out to rid the world of all other gods.
the hulks,
not just dead, but dead and gone, yet not gone,
still here, rediscovered,
creating fascination, ghoulish interest in such relics.

hulk: dead warship lady
i wandered through during my navy days
hulk.
lady warship “mothballed” with foam
until cleaned up for her sacrifice,
i, sailor man, entered the hulk,
semi-official equipment scavenger
for my man-of-war, pronounced female,
herself already obsolescent:
aboard: quiet and eerie,
a presence here beyond me felt:
an old unfinished letter,
desk drawer of a small stateroom forward,
“Dear Clara,” was the only identification;
nothing much more than the opening hello;
no great heroics here,
just a khaki clad lieutenant
meeting obligations to clara.

down below in the steel machine guts of the lady,
the clang against the emptiness of fireroom ladders,
once filled with hiss and heat and screams over the blowers
stirring the moist heat to just above tolerable.
it was more incan.
i could see the sailors shirtless sweating,
changing spray nozzles as the orders from above
required they rev up the steaming to where
the sides of the boilers heaved.
gone.
just as gone as the incans.
eye sockets empty,
bodily fluids extracted or dried up long ago.
sacrificed,
but no petrification here.
no, she will be hauled to sea
to feel the heat of missiles,
practicing the art of war,
slamming into her innards
as her body is twisted, rent asunder,
gaping holes filling with the briny sea
as she slides, stem down
into deep bliss.
sacrificed like the incans,
dead and gone,
but no longer seen
like the incans.

at least the old war lady
will have some peace and quiet.

After leaving the museum, we departed the park and drove to The Rose in South Park. The Rose is a special place for us and it seems we spend a number of our special days there: light dinners and good wine. Yesterday, it did not  disappoint.

The rain had been kind to me, stopping in the late morning before resuming after nightfall, a break just for our trip. In fact, it rested until i brought in an ample amount of firewood.

The television was not turned on until i went to bed. i sat by the fire and read in silence. Maureen was stretched out in the love seat across the rug with the two cats asleep on her legs.

Not a bad day.

 

It’s Official

Before i finish this post, it will be 8:30 a.m. Lebanon, Tennessee time.

It hit me that is the time my parents would call every year on this day when i was accessible by phone. After i would say the perfunctory “hello,” they would burst into “Happy Birthday.” As they aged, the voices were a little more scratchy, a little more off key, but i could feel the love pouring out over the phone like they were in my room hugging me.

It did not occur to me until this morning, they would wake me up at 6:30 a.m. PST, because that was the time i was born. They loved to tell the tale of how Daddy finagled a week of liberty, by cobbling together several liberty passes from his Seabee friends. He took the train from Gulfport, Mississippi where his 75th Seabees were waiting to be shipped to parts unknown. I was late, so after the instruction of Dr. Charles Lowe, he walked Mother around the neighborhood, “not until she was tired, but until he was tired.” It appeared not to be working. i was stubborn even then. But finally on Tuesday, they went to the hospital. My grandmother, Katherine “Granny” Prichard was the attending nurse. i was anxious to get out i guess as Dr. Lowe did not have time to get in his gown and delivered me in his shirt sleeves.

i think of Daddy waiting in the lobby. i wondered what he thought as he waited. He had a new house, his future was more uncertain than we can comprehend now, his wife was going to have to take care of a newborn while he was away, there was this war going on.

After he saw me, he caught the train back to Gulfport and was not UA (Unauthorized Absence).

And for sixty-nine years, they sang to me as close to 8:30 a.m. Lebanon time on this day.

i do miss that rendition of “Happy Birthday” and them.

 

No Magic Number But That’s Okay

Seventy-Three. 73. Birthdate year 1944.

Seventy-Three is not a magic number. i mean it’s not like 75. If it were my 75th, i could steal from the anniversary connections and say this was my “diamond” birthday. i can’t. They don’t have a connection like that even for anniversaries for 73, let alone birthdays. i figure this birthday should be connected to lead.

Seventy-Three is not even significant in most categorizations. Seventy-Two seemed, not magical, but certainly mathematically clean and associated.

So why am i so obsessed about turning seventy-three tomorrow. i don’t know.

But i have an excuse: i’m old.

Now if i live as long as either one of my parents with a sharp mind to the end as they did, i could have at least twenty-four more productive years left, maybe twenty-five. But i won’t: i lived one hell of a lot harder and wilder life than they did.

So i figure i will be damn lucky if get another twenty years out of this thing called living.

That’s okay. Either way.

Now, it’s time for me, as i have written, to reinvent. It won’t be hard. There are things to remind me of how to do it. Two Tuesdays ago, i played golf with one of my all-time best friends, Pete Toennies at the Bonita Golf Club. For a number of years, we have watched two red-tail hawks soar the heavens looking for game and survey their prospects from a dead eucalyptus, a sentinel  near the sixteenth green. In that recent round, they perched on their outpost, almost like telling me to do it right. They did.

But that is just a recall of a wonderful moment.

With the seventy-third inevitably upon me. So is the rain. So we prepared for the rain, five days of it, an unheard of event in the world of the Southwest corner since the rains of the late seventies. So Maureen prepared, with my help. Her orchids were pulled out from underneath the overhangs in our courtyard so they could bask in the downpours headed our way for the next five days.

Then, i made my last martini…ever…i think. My age does not handle booze well. It is time for me to back off or quit entirely. The trial, hopefully successfully segueing into my lifetime habits, excludes hard liquors and limits all of the others. Appropriately, i had used the last olive already, so i had to forego garnish. Not a big deal but symbolic. So i wandered into the front room, sat down at the piano, arraigned a jury-rigged coaster out of my ever present bandana, placed the martini there for occasional sips. i played a simple piece i made up a hundred years ago and makes me feel like i can do this sort of thing. Then i began “Stardust,” which i learned out the Hoagy Carmichael songbook years ago, but now it requires relearning after layoffs like this long one. i got almost two-thirds of the way through, slowly, haltingly, but always expressively, when the number of my inabilities made my playing un-fun and i stopped. After all, Maureen is making shrimp with risotto, a new dish, so it is time to get on with it.

And then it’s on to night time. i bring in some firewood  and light the fire. Fire in the hearth has become a standard part of our routine from late November through February. It is one of my connections to the past. We never had one fire in our living room fireplace on Castle Heights Avenue. My parents were practical people and they converted from goal to gas with no thought of  connecting to their past with a fire in the fireplace. But my fire tonight is a beautiful fire. i think of my Uncle Pipey Orr, who in his living room fireplace in Red Bank outside of Chattanooga seemed to always have a fire. i think of Uncle Remus. For some reason, i always imagine him telling me his stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, Brer Fox, and all of the other wonderful creatures in those tales while we sit by a fire in a slave cabin made of logs. Tonight, i thought of Uncle Remus.

And Uncle Remus is a good place to start. He has become some kind of “Uncle Tom” symbol to some folks, who apparently didn’t understand he was the hero, making good when it was hard to make it, living like a piece of furniture, owned. Yet he was the one who did things right. The “white” folks in the that film, which had no real connection to Joel Chandler Harris, except for Uncle Remus and his stories, are really the bad guys, not understanding, bigoted, blind. And Uncle Remus survived.

And he is old, like me.

That’s what i hope to do at seventy-three and beyond: be like Uncle Remus.

 

 

My Kind of Humor (Thanks, Norm)

One of the folks i have reconnected with on Facebook is Norm O’Neal. Norm was a radarman (right, Norm?) on the USS Hawkins in 1968-69 when she was my first ship. i do remember him but must confess not as clearly as i would like, a difficulty i have with many parts of my life over fifty years ago…okay, over 50 minutes ago.

Norm sends out some wonderful emails and occasionally posts something on Facebook. Many are beautiful photographs of animals (so i can forward them to family members who are crazy about animals) or historic events. My favorite emails of his are humorous.

This morning, he posted quotes from Steven Wright, a comedian and award-winning film producer. Being challenged to know any performer who did not perform before 1985, i did not know Steven Wright, i looked him up on Wikepedia (God bless you, Wikipedia. If it wasn’t for you and my confessing you are my frequent source, people might think i know a lot). From Wikipedia:

Steven Alexander Wright (born December 6, 1955) is an American comedian, actor, writer, and an Oscar-winning film producer. He is known for his distinctly lethargic voice and slow, deadpan delivery of ironic, philosophical, and sometimes nonsensical jokes, paraprosdokians, non sequiturs, anti-humor, and one-liners with contrived situations.

i mean i have to like anyone who comes up with a lot of paraprosdokians and non-sequiturs. It’s my kind of humor.

But i digress. Wright’s quotes are below. p.s. i think he stole a couple. Thanks, Norm.

The Quotes of Steven Wright:
1 – I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.
2 – Borrow money from pessimists — they don’t expect it back.
3 – Half the people you know are below average.
4 – 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
5 – 82.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
6 – A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
7 – A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
8 – If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.
9 – All those who believe in psycho kinesis, raise my hand.
10 – The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
11 – I almost had a psychic girlfriend, ….. But she left me before we met.
12 – OK, so what’s the speed of dark?
13 – How do you tell when you’re out of invisible ink?
14 – If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
15 – Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
16 – When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
17 – Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.
18 – Hard work pays off in the future; laziness pays off now.
19 – I intend to live forever … So far, so good.
20 – If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?
21 – Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
22 – What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
23 – My mechanic told me, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”
24 – Why do psychics have to ask you for your name
25 – If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
26 – A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.
27 – Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
28 – The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.
29 – To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.
30 – The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.
31 – The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.
32 – The colder the x-ray table, the more of your body is required to be on it.
33 – Everyone has a photographic memory; some just don’t have film.
34 – If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
35 – If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?

January 19: My Second Day of Reinvention This Year

i’m back on Facebook.

Actually, i never went away. i monitored, but not as intensely or frequently. i shared links to the posts on my website and my Democrat columns, and i posted albums of pictures i’ve scanned for posterity because i’m too damn old and ornery to learn how to share those old photos with my family any other way.

The truth is i like sharing stuff back and forth with friends and family. Those reconnections and new ones give me a lot of pleasure. i decided i just couldn’t give up those connections.

But i’ve made some rules. i’m only going to “like” posts i truly enjoy or find especially interesting. i am no longer going to “like” a post because i want you to know i’ve actually read it.

i’m going to skip all those pass-along jokes, feel-good videos, prayer requests, political comments, copy and paste demands, etc. That doesn’t mean i don’t respect you. It just means i’m not on the social media for such stuff. i like the social aspect.

You see, i set myself some goals, not resolutions, before the  end of the year to reinvent myself. i want to live the rest of my life in a better, healthier, more productive, and more giving back mode of operation. i also don’t want to sweat things anymore. i want to truly retire except for that giving back thing, which i plan to do through writing.

Well, i backslid on those goals, not resolutions, pretty soon after the turn of year. Not completely, mind you, not even too badly, but i did backslide in my opinion. But you see, i have an automatic reprieve. My birthday is January 19, which i share with Robert E. Lee, Edgar Allen Poe, Paul Cezanne, Jean Stapleton, Tippi Hedren, Phil of the Everly Brothers, Janis Joplin, and Dolly Parton, among others.

And of course there is James Winston Watts, who developed the frontal lobotomy.

It all seems to fit.

So i’m renewing my efforts to reinvent myself. Whatever is left in this life for me, i intend to enjoy it.

This morning, i completed a project, the first one among many. It’s not that impressive. i made an herb table which we will put out in the old dog prison (no dog, no prison) where Maureen can work on raising her herbs and potting flowers.

It’s really not impressive. i made it out of scrap lumber and some sheet metal. It is not square, but i did it with no plans, just sort of began puttering.

Still it’s a change. i have somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand projects in my garage and office, and that’s not counting the four billion and growing list Maureen has for me. This herb table is the first step in completing those tasks and the beginning of the reinvention of my reinvention.

And as i drug the table from the garage work area to the old dog prison, i passed the rose bush Maureen has in a planter.

i didn’t see this at first what with rousting about the table. i experienced the aroma first, one of the sweetest smells i’ve come across in a while.

Then i saw the rose. ‘Bout damn near perfect. Not a bad way to kick off a reinvention.

King of the Cowboys

The story is dated and a bit overwritten. The writer, Laurence Zwisohn, was obviously a fan of the King of the Cowboys.

i have justifiably been accused of overwriting and being “sappy.” i also was a huge fan of Roy Rogers, shown below with Trigger (i purloined this photo off of a Mexican website, http://undiacomohoyhuaraz.blogspot.com/2015_03_01_archive.html).

Roy Rogers could not exist today, nor will anyone come along like Roy, nor will anyone come close to emulating Roy’s life.

My father in his later years and i would watch Roy’s movies together. Now, on rare occasions, only my daughter Sarah would deign to watch them with me.

i don’t think there are many folks in the generations following mine could understand, let alone enjoy Roy’s “B Oaters.” Many would complain they were not realistic. Many would complain about Roy’s lack of faults or the villains, you know, the ones in the black hats. Many would complain of the violence. After all, the villains did shoot people (Roy just shot the guns out of their hands), and there were lots of fights where Roy fought fair and his adversaries would cheat, throw dirt in his eyes, and use chairs and such to try and whack Roy unsuccessfully. As expected, or even known beforehand, Roy would ward off the yellow-belly cheater’s attack and knock him out (often after catching him in a horse race — no horse was faster than Trigger — diving and taking him and the culprit rolling down a hill) and win the fight. But yes, it was a fist fight earning an R rating by the supercilious.

There would likely be others who would complain about animal cruelty. They would likely want Trigger to be put out to pasture, and the cows not be herded and branded.

Even though, as Zwisohn points out, “Indians” were always friends with Roy and never fought against him, or him against them, there would be some “Native Americans” who would object to the portrayal of these indigenous people as degrading.

Atheists would decry Roy and Dale’s fervent religious beliefs. Rocks would be thrown at the couple from all angles. The left would deride him. The right would demean him. Journalists would haunt Dale and him, looking under every rock, trying to find dirt to print. Some would probably just print something on a hunch. Attorneys would be looking for a kid who missed getting an autograph so they could sue.

It was a different age, a different mindset. Sure there were folks who were no better, perhaps worse than many today. Certainly, there were backdoor deals by the bigwigs in every facet of American life. Prejudice raged in every direction. There were actresses who were abused, but some using the director’s couch to climb the ladder of stardom. Hollywood was a nasty business with a dark underside and shaky morals.

But Roy and Dale were above that. They lived a rather incredible life of religious belief, unblemished behavior, and success.

The museum made way for a highway in Apple Valley. They moved it to Branson, Missouri. It lasted for a while and then closed for lack of interest. Sad. It was a good place to go and feel good.

But if you want to feel good about at least one couple getting it right for them, then read Zwisohn’s article. It’s almost like magic, like pretending. But Roy and Dale did exist. The piece is a bit long, but for me well worth the read:

http://www.royrogers.com/roy_rogers_bio.html

And every once in a while, the Western channel during daytime programming, not prime time, will vary from their usual inundation of Gene Autry movies to show one of Roy’s. Watching it for me is like getting healed. The bad guys lose, the good guys win, and Roy and Gabby ride off into the sunset, obviously after Roy has sung one last love song to the heroine.

“Runt,” the Legend

i almost threw it away.

It was in the middle of a bunch of stuff in a box of many boxes i was cleaning out.

It was yellowed and sort of fragile. i was afraid it might crumble into pieces.

But it was a newspaper clipping, easily recognizable as a sports item. “Lebanon Wins / Over Watertown” the two-line, one column headline read.

Being an old sports reporter and editor, i paused and read the three paragraphs and cringed. It was not the way i had learned to write sports stories on athletic contests: first paragraph twenty-five words or less letting the readers know “who, what, where, and when;” all other paragraphs short and written with the least important parts of the story at the end, so the editor when making up the hot-type page could throw out linotype lines from the bottom up to make the story fit in the space. Half-way through the third and final long paragraph, i found the reason the clipping had been saved. i wondered if other such stories had been stashed away by my Prichard family. The important part was even underlined: “Captain Prichard ended her high school career by leading the scoring for the evening with  ten points.

i shook my head. i’m pretty sure my mother, the captain they lovingly nicknamed “Runt” since she topped out somewhere around five-feet tall, played one more game. i’m pretty sure she told me they had one tournament game, which they lost. Still, “Runt” had a pretty impressive run. Her single game and season point totals remained a Lebanon High School record for a quarter of a century. She was one of the initial inductees into the Blue Devil Hall of Fame. i still laugh when i think of her standing between Rita Rochelle and Louis Thompson, both of whom dwarfed her.

And to give the un-credited writer credit, he or she did mention nearly every player for both teams, men and women.

When i concluded, i thought it would be good to post the clipping. After all, there are a lot of Lebanon and Watertown folks who might recognized the other names.

Organizing Love

One thing that hasn’t changed from one year to the next is organizing. For some while now, my focus has been on photos. i have photos everywhere. Some are in boxes, lots and lots of boxes. Some are in albums; mine, my mother’s, my aunt’s, Maureen’s, and Maureen’s family; lots and lots of albums.

It is a task, not likely to ever be completed, but one that nearly always take me back to happy memories.

Yesterday, i stumbled upon some framed pictures in a box. Boom: memories of love:

1983. Maureen had some photos made of her to remember her by when i would leave right after our wedding, report to my new ship, USS Yosemite, in Mayport (Jacksonville), Florida, then leave for almost eight months on a  deployment to the Indian Ocean. One of the owners of Parron-Hall Office Interiors where she worked was also an amateur but very professional photographer.

One of the photographs was a beautiful shot we framed. i hung in my office wall opposite of my desk so i could spend most of my days at sea looking at her. This one, smaller head shot, i kept by my bedside in my stateroom just forward of the office.

She hasn’t changed much, and i love her as much as i did on those eight months at sea, in some ways maybe even a bit more.

Circa 1993. Also framed in that box was one of my favorite photos. It was taken at Dan’s A-Frame in Grass Valley during Thanksgiving, i think in 1993. It’s my family. We were seldom together because Blythe was in Austin with her mother. So the photo is rare and therefore, even more precious to me. The focus is not perfect, but i still have another copy framed in the house to look at and think of how lucky i am to have all three in my life.

2016. There are more photos, but lying next to the pile waiting to be scanned along with the  two above  was a small painting. Sarah had painted it for me as a Christmas gift this year. It was to remind me of the trees outside my sister’s house on the hill sloping fiercely down Signal Mountain. It captures that memory perfectly. It also shows off another one of her talents.Both Sarah and Blythe are exceptional artists, something they got from their mothers. i am always amazed at how talented they both are in so many different ways, and as i often tell Maureen, the two of them are already successful as humans and are destined to be successful throughout life.

Now i must stop and get on to appointments and errands. But tonight, i think i’ll look for some more boxes with photographs. They won’t be hard to find.

Singers: Ever Since the World Ended

Yesterday was the first of the year, but my year really didn’t get started until today.

You see, i made black-eyed peas with hog jowl (the jim jewell version includes tomatoes, onion, and a whole bunch of stuff that sounds good to me at the moment) and my mother’s version of cornbread, which never includes sugar – and someday, i will get brave enough to fry it like my mother sometimes did or make cornpone, two distinctly different things. If i ever tell Maureen the Southern tradition of making turnip greens because of the belief it will bring you money in the coming year, then i will probably add that to the New Year’s Day menu…by request. But for now, it’s enough to do what i do.

Then there were other things to attend to yesterday, mostly getting organized to start the year one day late.

So here it is, my first day of the year. This morning, i made my walk/run, for now walk only. Through an unintended selection from my normal “shuffle all” due to fat fingers, i ended up listening to Tom Waits’ album “Closing Time.”

It occurred to me there are about a half dozen singers who have had a significant impact on me and are my favorites to whom i listen most of the time. I decided to add Waits (a second cousin to my shipmate, apartment sharer in bachelor heaven, and friend, JD Waits) to the list. i identify with the thoughts in Waits’ songs, especially on this album, even the rough parts. i’m adding him to my list because the same is true of the others.

Jimmy Reed was the first to resonate with me. i listened to and watched Snooky Lanson and Dinah Shore on “Hit Parade” in the early fifties after hearing Fred Waring on his television. Before that, it was nearly all old country and Dennis Day on our 78-RPM album “Johnny Appleseed.” i’m sure there were others but those and of course, the inimitable Spike Jones struck in my head.

But Jimmy Reed impressed me, something new; no, not new, radically different from rock ‘n roll, bubblegum rock. He sang the blues. i do not know how i first started listening to WLAC at night. The news, talk, and easy listening Nashville station went to the dark side at night, nine o’clock to be exact. i loved it. Big John R, Gene Nobles, and Hoss Allen introduced me to blues, called “rhythm and blues” back then – and it was so much more rhythm and blues than the genre label today. The dark side went until way into the midnight hour and beyond, the ending time still unknown by me as i don’t think i ever stayed up that late, with the small radio under the covers thrown over my head so my parents would not hear how late i was staying up. Of all of the great blues singers, all gone now, Jimmy Reed was my first favorite. Then at Castle Heights in the spring, the track team when practicing boomed Jimmy Reed albums on the football field press box speaker system. Coming back from baseball practice down Hill Street, i envied the track guys. Jimmy Reed’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” still gets played frequently on my turntable.

Then came Vanderbilt where my Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers introduced me to Nina Simone and “Nina’s Choice,” still my favorite album of hers, perhaps because it was the first. I learned more about her and learned to appreciate her demand for equality and felt i understood, as much as a boy my age from my culture could understand, her anger. She taught me a lot. i’m pretty sure i have more CD’s of Nina’s than any other artist, but i still listen to “Nina’s Choice” the most.

Sonny Boy Williamson was added to my list much later. i loved much of Sonny Boy’s songs as i did Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Eddie Floyd, Slim Harpo, John Lee Hooker, and the more popular with the general population Bobby Blue Bland as well as others that blurred the line between blues and rock ‘n roll. But the four CD album, “The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson” laid it on the line. It is raw and it is the blues. i listen and i am back in the deep South where someone like me shouldn’t be, and i identify.

Of course, i was raised thirty miles from the capital of country music. Growing up, even though i liked listening to a lot of it, i rejected it as hick. i didn’t want to be labeled as a hick. But bluegrass captured me. It seemed to be genuine country, and Flatt and Scruggs were the icons of Bluegrass for me. Oh sure, there was Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, but i loved Lester’s smooth voice, the unequaled banjo of Earl, and the dobro, oh yes, the dobro of the Foggy Mountain Boys. i play their albums often, especially “Folk Songs of Our Land.” My fraternity brothers, Alan Hicks and Cy Fraser, are much more informed than me but we have enjoyed Flatt and Scruggs and other Bluegrass bands together for years.

Somewhere in there, i am not sure exactly when but it was during my MTSU years, 1965-67, because i was at our home on Castle Heights Avenue when i heard a Carter Family song on the radio. It was “Heaven’s Radio.”  I was enthralled. After all, the Everly Brothers in “I Wonder If I Care As Much” are the only singers i’ve ever heard with an equally evocative pronunciation. The Everly’s sang the title line as “I wonder if I keer as much.” The Carter’s did them one better because they made a rhyme of “If there’s static in the air, and you can hardly hyar, you better turn on the radio of the Lord.” i have their album “Clinch Mountain Treasures” and often put on it on my CD player and go back to my roots.

Then, there is Hamper McBee. At Vanderbilt, my fraternity brother Billy Parsons – i think i’m going to drop “fraternity” from my descriptions because all of those guys are truly “brothers” to me – introduced me to Hamper McBee. He was close to a ne’er do well up in the hills of Monteagle Mountain. He bootlegged whiskey, occasionally got thrown in jail, and he sang a bit. If i remember correctly, Tubby’s Tavern was just a bit south of US 41 as you rolled into Monteagle about halfway from the town to Sewanee, the University of the South. If you took a detour to Tubby’s and there was a white mule tethered outside, you knew Hamper was in there singing songs. When i detoured from a trip to or from Chattanooga, the mule was never there. But others made that stop. Some Nashville dentist (i believe he was a dentist and i think he later became a politician) went up in the mountains and interviewed Hamper in his natural habitat: the woods, not the jail or Tubby’s. The result was some hilarious interviews, but the music was superb Southern hill folk music.

In the early 1980’s, i spotted an old record store on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego. Maureen, whom i was dating, went in with me. There were some great treasures in LP’s in the rows and rows of records, but i couldn’t find that album. Finally i asked the owner, an older man on the heavy side with a white wispy beard if he had anything by Hamper McBee. The man went into orbit. Not only did he have about thirty songs on a cassette, he was a fanatic fan of Hamper. i couldn’t believe it. Hamper is another who takes me back to my roots. Soon i hope to digitize my cassette.

Judy Collins came into my awareness while i was on my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins. She had an incredible voice, was one of the leaders of the folk movement in the late 1960’s, and i think i loved her. Someday i will relate how the staff officers of COMPHIBRON Five would relate to that song when sung by “Baby” at the Subic O’Club. Only Nina’s albums are greater in number in my collection.

So i sit by our fire with the new year upon me. i have given up on Facebook for a while so it is truly a new year.

To usher it in there is nothing much better to express my eldnerness and hopefully, my approach to the world for the rest of my life than Mose’s song, “Ever Since the World Ended:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbSR0z8uMME.

Now if you hit the link and listen to that song, you may stay on and hear a marvelous interview and collaboration between Mose and Van Morrison.

i hope you too have a wonderful New Year.

 

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The season of hope

It is raining here, a blessing for the parched high desert.

It is cold here although nearly all of the rest of the country would define a high of 59 and a low of 46 as “cool.” Consequently, we have had a fire in the family room inglenook since midday. But except for our routine of the heat on for two hours to warm the house in the morning, the fire will be our only heat source.

As has become our practice for the past several years, we are staying at home, enjoying each other’s company…and the fire. i am recording the Fiesta Bowl. Later, we will probably watch the game sans talking heads and commercials.

Maureen remains plagued by a sinus cold and likely to be in bed before nine. i have no particular schedule for bedtime. But it will be long before midnight Southwest corner time.

It is such a wonderful time of the year. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ in spite of all the commercialism, other religions, and quasi-religions continuing trying to dilute the real reason for the season. Along with celebrating Jesus, we feel a sense of birth. And the new year speaks of resolutions to improve, to look forward to the coming year, to put the negative behind us. In short, it is the season of hope.

As a rule, i shy from making resolutions. i keep coming up with things to improve throughout the year, and there is no sense confusing those with overlays.

But this year in this season of hope, this coming year of accepting oldness, rejoicing in it, i resolve to live my life as well as possible, to deny bitterness and sadness from overshadowing that hope, to accept folks as trying to do what is right and not fault them for their rejection of others.

i will be amazed if i do not backslide.

i will make every effort to be strong, truthful, and caring but with my boundaries established.

May all of you have a New Year full of gladness, good health, and success as you define it. You are my friends and family. i care for all of you.

And i’m hoping as i type.