life

i reached a major milestone today. With the blessing and assistance of the Coronado Library staff, who gave me access to the microfiche reader and scanner, i now have the ship logs in readable form for the USS Yosemite (AD-19) during her Indian Ocean deployment in 1983-84. The logs are the last piece of the available puzzle to complete my book on that deployment, which was the first where a Navy ship with women as part of her complement spent extended out of port time. My working title is Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. There is still a lot of work to do, perhaps the most difficult work of validating the facts, eliminating duplications, making the damn thing properly readable (perhaps the most difficult task of all for me). But i can see the end, and i am very happy. i think it’s a message that needs to be put out there.

Thanks to Shaun Briley, library director; Glenn Risolo, library manager; and Nick Burmeister and Loren Cruz, research staffers. You made it happen.

As i sat in the library this afternoon, taking a break from the laborious and tedious work of scanning microfiche and copying to a computer file, i reflected on life, mine in particular. Once at 87, my daddy told me he had lived a good life, had a great family, and all he wanted then was to “go quick.” He did go quick eleven years later. He did have a good life. Sometimes i think i might have been better off had i stayed at home and followed in his footsteps, but i didn’t and it is all right. So i jotted down some thoughts about life, mine in particular, and put in the poem below tonight:

i prayed with the pious
i sang gospel with the church folks
i ran with the wild ones
i sailed the seas
i dug the graves
i played the music,
all genres of the time,
i professored with academia
i tackled the running backs
i hit doubles to left center
i nailed threes from the corner
with a push shot in my socks
i hit every shot in golf
in the wrong direction
i have run a long way in many directions
i hunted the game
i fished for the fish
i have lived in a grunch of places
i marched in a line
i ate in the five stars
i ate in a diner
i drank in elite salons
i drank in dive bars
i have done good things for folks
i have done some bad things
i have loved and lost
i have loved and won
i have lived a full life
but
looking back
it tweren’t much different
than all the others
if you cared
as you went about your business.

No Crazies for Me

Yesterday, Judy Gray posted on Facebook about wanting peace in this time of angry. i responded with a comment and told her i might use my comment in a post. That comment is below. At the end of my comment, i realized where i am in the midst of vile craziness in nearly all aspects of our public life. Earlier i wrestled with making comments on some negative thoughts expressed by others. i had a long talk with my brother Joe about how i was feeling, and he helped me greatly. I feel free and the crazies can carry on with their hate without me. Thanks, Joe, and Judy.

We have chosen, as a country, to demonize each other and what it can lead to is frightening. i was going to write a post about fanatic LA sports fans when they sent death threats to Daniel Green after he missed a game-winning three point shot, but then they looted and burned in common sense defying hordes to celebrate the Lakers winning a meaningless championship. But then i realized it wasn’t just LA and sports. It was the country. I am exactly three months from 77. i am checking out of politics, news, any mention of any of those on this social medium, and have considered finding 40 acres with a small cabin in the middle, removed from our uncivilized civilization either in Wyoming, Utah, the Smokies, or a Tennessee lake (if there are anymore of them not populated enough to consider remote) and spend my days reading, writing, exercising, doing the chores…you know, a simple life. But i have a wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, a grandson, and friends i cannot leave…and golf, of course, my terrible golf. So i’ll stay but leave as much of this hate and demonization to those not civilized.

The Way It Should Be for the Little Guy

When i was playing baseball three nights a week and on Sunday afternoon (oh, about seventy years ago), and playing fast pitch softball another two nights in those summer months quite a while ago, the bat i chose to use was a Louisville Slugger Nellie Fox model, 32 inch length. It had a thick handle, comfortable for me but likely keeping me from hitting for power. i was fine with that as i hit well for the level of my competition.

Nellie was a hero of mine. i wanted to be the greatest third baseman in the history of the game, but second base is where i should have played, which i finally did when i was 46 in the over-30 ADABA (American Adult Baseball Association) when a shoulder injury made me a liability at third or behind the plate. Bill Mazeroski will always be an all time hero for me because of his dramatic home run that beat the Yanks in the ’60 World Series, wheen even though i worshipped Roberto Clemente, Don Hoak at third was my  favorite Pirate.

Then there was Joe Morgan. There is a different level. Tim Kurkjian in an ESPN post, pretty well covered the greatness of Joe Morgan:

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/30100937/baseball-keeps-losing-legends-2020-joe-morgan-the-smallest-mightiest-allb 

Rest in Peace, Joe.

Altair

It is nigh on ten in the evening.

The predicted hot weather didn’t quite live up to the weather guessers’ hype in the Southwest corner, but nor has the marine layer taken over the coastal fringe where we live. So the skies are clear. i should be in bed. I’m old. Maureen, who is young compared to me has retired to read a bit and then fall asleep in a lovely repose.

But the skies are clear.

i have moved out to one of my favorite places at night, the little sitting area, which would be a gazebo except there is no top other than the umbrella. The neighborhood is quiet. The night residents of owls, coyotes, bobcats have not begun their hunts. It is quiet.

And i can see stars.

i sit with my computer and my usual rambling of thoughts. Sarah’s dog, Billie Holiday is with me because Sarah is out with friends. It is an updated version of Norman Rockwell painting conflicting with this new world of negativity where everyone seems to be consumed by what they hate rather that what is good, and the crazy, still unknown degree of calamitous infection weighs upon us all even if all of our interpretations of the effects and the method of resolution do not agree.

So what the hell?

i have my music on. Nellie McKay is first in line. i would have never known of her had not Blythe given me her CD. One of the more intriguing and talented artists I’ve heard in a long time. She’s followed by Betty Carter with Ray Bryant, Benny Carter, Ray Charles, Flatt and Scruggs, and John Lee Hooker.  My music tastes are pretty eclectic, and I’m glad. i have found i share this wide range of appreciation with my daughters, although their knowledge and appreciation are deeper than mine. That too makes me feel good about the world.

A point past my properly lit flag atop our hill to the southwest Jupiter and Saturn are rolling to the east. Above them Altair stands poised in the night sky. She was one of our constant reliables for shooting the stars and obtaining navigational fixes before the electronic gurus saturated these heavens with satellites to tell us where we are and remain my preferred way of finding my way if only they would let me go to sea again.

And i wonder what the ancients would think if some time vehicle could bring them to the chair beside me as a border patrol helicopter whirls noisily over head and out of earshot. i know it’s the agent passing over his home on the way back to base and alerting his family he is on the way home.

When i try to think of some way we could resolve our differences, i know the answer isn’t hate and confrontational posturing, but the real answer evades me and trying to come up with a resolution makes my heard hurt.

So i take a sip of the good port my neighbor Spud Mumby makes and graciously provides me. i look past the flag and up and up at Altair and speak to the ancients.

i listen to Nancy Wilson sing “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and realize in this fire alert conditioned Southwest corner, that “rainy day” is really here, just not wet.

Then the magic “shuffle” on my music plays The Pozo Seco Singers’ “Time.”

i think that pretty much captures my thoughts tonight:

Some people run, some people crawl
Some people don’t even move at all
Some roads lead forward, some roads lead back
Some roads are bathed in light, some wrapped in fearful black

Time, oh time, where did you go?
Time, oh good, good time, where did you go?

Some people never get, some never give
Some people never die, and some never live
Some folks treat me mean, some treat me kind
Most folks just go their way, don’t pay me any mind

Time, oh time, where did you go?
Time, oh good, good time, where did you go?

Sometimes I’m satisfied, sometimes I’m not
Sometimes my face is cold, sometimes it’s hot
Sunset, i laugh
Sunrise, i cry
At midnight, I’m in between and wondering why

Time, oh time, where did you go?
Time, oh good, good time, where did you go?

Good night, Altair.

Sports Writing

In a world long ago in a little town, a naive and believing-in-goodness country boy dreamed of becoming a national star in football, basketball, and baseball before becoming a movie star succeeding Bob Steele in oaters, for even though he thought he could sing as well as Gene and Roy, he could not play the guitar well enough. Then, he finally figured out it wasn’t going to happen. No way, no how. Reality struck hard and left the little guy without a clue as to what he really wanted to do for the rest of his life, but a friend (Mike Dixon) who was a class ahead of him and played basketball with him almost every day after classes and sports practices, became the sports editor of The Cavalier, Castle Heights Military Academy’s national award winning bi-weekly high school newspaper.

The reality-stricken boy followed and became one of the newspaper’s sports reporters, and  the following year followed Mike as the sports editor. That’s when this giant among teachers of journalism, then a major in the school’s ranking system, became oh so much more than just a major and a family friend with two beautiful daughters and two rambunctious sons who attended the same church as the boy and his family and lived behind the boy’s aunt and uncle on a neighborhood abounding with children who played outside almost everyday and swapped houses for their playgrounds. The journalism advisor became so much more than just a mere advisor to the boy, just as he had become so much more for many of the cadets. JB Leftwich became the boy’s sponsor, his critic, his supporter, his friend — and eventually, although they were good friends throughout, the boy’s father and JB became closest friends as all of their other buddies had gone on to another world.

The boy, since he first learned to really read  in Mrs. Eskew’s first grade class at McClain School (they didn’t have to add “elementary” back then ’cause folks knew what it was, and there were only three such schools in the town and several more in the surrounding country like Flat Rock (one of my favorite names for a community) had read Fred Russell’s daily sport column “Sidelines” in the Nashville Banner every afternoon (except Sunday of course, ’cause they didn’t publish on Sundays, the purview of the morning paper, The Nashville Tennessean). The boy read Fred because of the sports, not the writer. But when reality bashed him in the head (the boy, not Fred), he decided he would write about sports.

His mentor JB who was from the time the boy began writing sports until forever was “Coach,” taught him the laws of journalism: First paragraph, 25 words or less and passing along the information of who, what, when, where, and how, no exceptions, with all the remaining paragraphs arranged in priority of importance — so if the makeup men in the back couldn’t get all of the metal lines of linotype into the metal frame, they could toss the bottom paragraphs without losing more important ones (Of course, our jingoistic journalism moguls and their employees are more interested in money and fame than good reporting have long abandoned such practices).

Then after his last hope of extending his sports career, football in fact was dashed when the college (Centre) could not offer enough of an academic scholarship to allow him to play for them rather than taking a full-boat ride of an NROTC scholarship elsewhere, the career-lacking boy decided he wanted to be a sports writer.

Now the boy reasoned (a rare, rare thing for an 18-year old goofy guy) sports writing would allow him a lot more poetic license in writing than straight news reporting did. It would also give him access to sports events, which he loved dearly. Imagine, to be able to follow your passion from the sideline if not on the field. He was all in.

There were many detours in his pursuit of sports writing, but for a short time, his second dream was realized way up in the north part of New York State when another impressive journalist, his friend from Vanderbilt offered the boy a job to write sports and succeed as sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times. He did and, even if he says so himself, was pretty good at it. But it was short lived as he had obligations to meet and another detour in the road came upon him.

Years and years and years passed and the world changed until one morning in this strange new world (this upside down world this morning) he read an article on the web that caught his eye about a young woman becoming the first Polish champion of a tennis major championship when she took the pandemic altered French Open. Iga Swiatek is her name. What a great name.

But what really knocked out the former naive and believing-in-goodness country boy (who somehow has retained his naiveté and believing in the good of folks) was the writing. Sports Writing. The way it should be.

Now he likes tennis but he is not a real big fan. Yet this story was so beautifully written, he read until the end. As he read, he thought, “Coach Leftwich would love this. Wish i could share it with him.” Ironically, it was on the weekend the alumni of his old, defunct school were having the abbreviated informal celebration of its annual “Homecoming” in a place far away.

And the county boy, now old, really no-kidding old, aka moi, is subscribing to The Guardian, the publisher of this piece of superb sports journalism. If you would like to read some really good, enjoyable stuff and even get into a tennis match, here is is:

aN https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/oct/10/iga-swiatek-beats-sofia-kenin-french-open-final-history

The Cemetery: A Story of New Palestine

i found this one while completing the other story posted yesterday. It was first written in the early ’70’s. Again, i caution readers from my hometown, none of the characters represent a real person from my past. i drew two of the main characters here from two wonderful men with whom i worked in the Cedar Grove Cemetery during high school summers. But it is only the idea. Neither of those two men were like the characters in this story.

The Cemetery

News item from The Eagle, New Palestine, Tennessee, July 13, 1958:

Mrs. Lucinda Mae Quarry, age 88, passed away at the Hilda Burton Nursing Home in New Palestine Sunday morning after an extended illness. Remains are at the Quentin Howser Funeral Home.

Mrs. Quarry was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy and a member of the First United Methodist Church South of New Palestine. Her husband, Bernard A., was a merchant in New Palestine. He expired in 1908.

There are no survivors. Rites will be at 2:30 p. m. Thursday at the funeral home with interment in the New Palestine City Cemetery.  

Imperturbable, Boaz sat silently on the tombstone, munching his sandwich noisily, Buddha-like. Even in the heat of July, he wore the threadbare, soiled blue serge sports jacket over his bib jeans. His ham-size hands protruded from the coat sleeves. The one good eye, jaundiced, peered from beneath the worn and sweat-stained fedora.

With a final gulp from the fruit jar, he arose and spoke to the boy beside him.

“I reckon we better stop mowing and get on that grave on the south side. With it as dry as it is, it’ll take us most of the afternoon and tomorrow morning.”

The youngster left his cool refuge, the flat marble tombstone under the shade of the big elm reluctantly. The two trudged across the cemetery.

“Good thing Mr. Johnny came out this morning and showed us the plot,” Boaz considered, “I don’t know nothing about those old graves over there. Mr. Johnny is the only one who knows who is buried where, especially in that old section.

“That’s the only reason they keep him around,” Boaz continued after a brief pause, more to convince himself than the boy, “He’s too old to be good for anything else.”

Hite had heard of neither Boaz nor Mister Johnny before he started his summer job. After he began his mowing, trimming around monuments, and finally digging graves, he quickly discovered the rumors ran throughout the town about each man.

Mr. Johnny’s great-nephew was a mechanic for Hite’s father, R. J. Beard, Sr., at Wilson’s Tractor Sales. Most of Hite’s information about the old man came from the boy’s father, the mechanic.

Mr. Johnny Bream was ninety-three. He had returned to New Palestine around 1916 after several years of playing minor league baseball. By the time Mr. Johnny had arrived back in Tennessee, almost half a century before, one of his teammates on the
Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League, Ty Cobb, was the toast of the nation, and Mr. Johnny became somewhat of a local celebrity by association. Though he had several more lucrative offers of employment, the city had offered a house adjoining the cemetery property along with the small salary, and Mr. Johnny realized that the job would afford him a great deal of free time.

His days became highlighted by the activity around the courthouse in the midst of the tobacco-chewing, cedar whittling men sitting on the courthouse steps. On afternoons following a broadcasted ballgame, he would reign supreme among the old-timers. His sagacity as a baseball tactician was never questioned, and he always managed to get in a story about his days of playing with the great “Georgia Peach.”

He had thoroughly learned the geographical makeup of the cemetery during his tenure as cemetery custodian. In 1952, a fire in the attic of the county courthouse had burned the majority of the cemetery’s records, Mr. Johnny became indispensable. He was the only man in the county who could say with any degree of certainty where a body was buried.

Hite was awed by the old man when he learned of the Ty Cobb episodes. The boy had made baseball his main concern since the age of seven, and anything relating to the sport gained his whole-hearted attention. The old man actually recalled little from his playing days. His fabrications were evident even to a naive and potentially gullible youngster. Hite’s growing lack of interest was further hastened by Mr. Johnny’s constant demands to be carried on various errands by Hite in the old Pontiac R. J. had let the boy use for the summer. The old man dribbled brown juice from the chaw of tobacco he always had lodged in his jaw, and in addition to having dried trails of tobacco juice through the stubble on his chin, he would spew a fine mist over anyone near whenever he talked. Not long after Hite began work, he learned of Boaz’s hatred for Mr. Johnny.

It amazed the boy to find the big black man docile in the face of Mr. Johnny’s harangues. Boaz cursed the old man constantly when he and Hite were working alone in the cemetery. The hatred evidently stemmed from when Boaz first began work for the city nearly two decades before Hite became a summer assistant. The initial cause remained vague though Hite had drawn out enough from Boaz to learn the original disagreement had come in a confrontation shortly after Boaz had started at his job.

It was a common occurrence for lovers to park in the cemetery, especially if the affair was illicit. Having just started his job, Boaz was unfamiliar with the problem. He had come across a married woman with a man other than her husband while he was working alone one day. Boaz consulted Mr. Johnny as to what he should have done. From Boaz’s invective-filled description, the old man had viciously, though only verbally, attacked him for even discovering any white man and woman in such a situation.

Hite also had learned of Boaz’s past from other sources. The boy played basketball on the grammar school courts with several black boys in the late afternoons of summer, and during the rest periods they had responded to his questions about Boaz with tales the boy barely could believe possible.

Boaz had dropped out of his freshman year at the county’s negro high school to become a laborer for a brick laying concern. His skill and strength assisted in a quick rise to mason. But on the weekends after he turned sixteen, he drank almost solidly and traveled to all the black night spots in the communities through­out the middle of the state. His popularity with the women soon became renown among the blacks. This resulted in numerous fights until one cuckolded lover caught Boaz across the face with a beer bottle. The bottle shattered and Boaz lost his eye. The story concluded that the assailant had suffered multiple broken bones and nearly died.

After the loss of the eye, Boaz’s drinking became a constant, rather than a weekend occupation, until he was fired from his job as a mason. He could not get a job for two years until the grave­digger’s position became available with the city. The two years had subdued the big man and his drinking was now restricted to several beers on Friday afternoons at a small tavern in the center of the negro district. The area was named the Black Elbow because it was formed around a sweeping curve in Highway 127 on the west side of the town. The incident with the discovered lovers had occurred shortly afterwards, and though the enmity increased between the two men, Boaz had never spoken crossly nor acted perturbed in the old man’s presence.

But this day, the boy’s major concern lay with getting everything completed as quickly as possible. His baseball team was to play at Travisburro that evening, and the team bus was to depart in the early afternoon. Hite had decided he could make the bus if he left work thirty minutes early.

Hite remembered how relieved he had been when, on digging his first grave, Boaz told him the required depth was only four-and-a-half feet and not six as was commonly assumed. Boaz explained there was the water table was just a shade deeper than four feet, and they could not dig much deeper without risking filling the grave with water.

After the second round of digging, the two stood back-to-back in the middle and cleared off the ends. Standing in their new positions at opposing ends, they worked toward the middle again. The earth became progressively harder, and the depth of each layer dug correspondingly decreased.

The grave was for one of the older ladies in New Palestine. Mrs. Lucinda Mae Quarry had been a staunch, militant member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1928, she had led the irate Daugh­ters in a march on the old yellow-brick courthouse when the first proposal to move the statue of Gen­eral Lucas Hougenby from the middle of the town’s square was tendered.

Mrs. Quarry’s husband, Bernard, had been killed by a mule’s unfortunately aimed kick at the turn of the century. The owner of the square’s largest store, Bernard had been buried in the old cemetery, one block from the square itself, only to be exhumed and relocated at the present site in 1923. The Church of Christian Elders bought the old cemetery acreage from the city to construct a new building, forcing the city to move the bodies to the new location.

When Bernard had been unearthed and moved, Mrs. Quarry had her father’s CSA ring nailed to the coffin. Her father, Charles S. Stetson, had been a cook for General Hougenby. Several years after Bernard had been relocated, she began to claim her husband had been a lieutenant for the South. She neglected to point out in her accounts of his valor that he had only been eight when the conflict ended.

It was as if the ring, nailed to the coffin, had transferred the glory of battle to the dealer of harnesses.

The work slowed with the progression of the afternoon. Boaz had taught Hite that brute strength was less effective than smooth, rhythmic motion. The boy still tired much quicker than his tutor, but his anxious desire to finish early this afternoon in order to catch the bus drove him to work quickly.

It was approaching three when the two spotted Mr. Johnny slowly working his way through the tomb stones with a cane, more to steady himself rather than required for walking. His gait was tempered by the frailties that hinder the aged.

Hite was thankful it was his turn with the pick when the old man arrived at the diggings. “You know, I got to thinking this afternoon,” the old man’s voice quavered.

“I ain’t rightly sure the plot wasn’t three feet to the left.”

“Goddamn,” the exasperated Boaz exclaimed, “You mean we might have dug this damn thing in the wrong place?”

“I just ain’t sure is all,” Mr. Johnny apolo­gized. “It looks like you all are about done, so there ain’t no trouble evidently. I just recollec­ted about some trouble with the stone about twenty years ago, and we moved it a couple of feet.”

“Well, goddammit, which way did you move it?”

Boaz persisted.

Hite’s pick struck something hard, pene­trated and stuck.

“Boaz, I’ve got something besides dirt.” “Goddammit,” the black exclaimed again, scram­bling into the hole. He took the pick from the boy, pried it several times and jerked it loose. The ensuing odor almost choked Hite. He could almost see the gas, and he believed it had to be green, a vile and sickly pale green.

“I knew we moved that stone,” the old man mut­tered almost smugly as Hite leaped from the grave for air while Boaz stood futilely holding the pick at his side.

The odor slowly dissipated. The boy controlled his coughing, and the three figures stared down at the broken earth.

“I reckon we hit a side of the casket or straight on,” Boaz observed. “If it ain’t straight on, we’re going to have one helluva time getting it ready by tomorrow afternoon.”

“I just can’t recollect how far we moved that stone,” Mr. Johnny contributed.

“Well, the only thing to do is to scrape away the dirt until we know exactly where we are. Then, we’ll have to figure what to do,” Boaz said.

“I just hope we’re flat dab on top because then we can fill it up and start on the old lady’s again.”

“Damn,” Hite thought, “I’ll never get to that bus on time.”

Mr. Johnny took Boaz’s tombstone seat and the two diggers began to gingerly remove the loose earth.

After several moments, Boaz said, “Looks like we’ll be all right.”

Hite’s shovel was scraping across the top of the wood when it caught and held. “Feels like a root, Boaz.”

The boy leaned down and caught a reflection of light. It was a stone, a gem, surrounded by a dirt-encrusted ring. Inexplicably, he picked up the ring and quickly put it in his pocket before the two men saw the ring or noticed his action.

“Man, whoever built the coffin didn’t do it like they regularly do,” Boaz said as he examined the nail which had pinned the ring to the coffin. Mr. Johnny had left his seat quickly and was bent over the grave, squinting down.

“Let me see. Let me see,” he said excitedly. “What’s wrong with you, Mr. Johnny?” Boaz queried.

“That’s where they nailed the ring,” the old man said for an explanation.

“What ring?” Boaz asked.

“Old lady Quarry had her father’s Confederate ring nailed to the coffin when they moved it up here from the old cemetery.”

“That’s crazy,” Boaz dismissed the possibility.

“And besides, if it’s so, where’s the ring?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Mr. Johnny said. “It should be there. Look for it,” the old man commanded.

“Why should we?”

“Because it’s worth all sorts of money, dammit,” Mr. Johnny said. “Look, if we can find it, I can take it to this man in Nashville I know and he can sell it for us.”

“Old man, you’re dreaming,” Boaz said.

Hite, with his hands jammed into his Levi pockets, fondled the ring with his right hand.

“Come on, damn you,” the old man said.

“You’re as dumb as all the rest. I made a lot of money doing this before I was too old to dig. You’re too damn lazy to ever amount to anything.”

Boaz appeared to swell upward. The anger brought to his countenance a fierceness triggering Hite’s thoughts of beerhall fights with Boaz as the center figure.

“Now listen, old man,” Boaz seethed through his lips. “I’ve taken your guff for seventeen years and now I’ve got you.

“I don’t give no damn about no ring. Hite and me are going to fill this grave up and then we’re going to start on the old woman’s grave.

“And if you give me any trouble, I’m going to tell people down at the city about your grave rob­bing. Now you get the hell out of here, old man, so we can get this work done.”

The old man stood motionless for a few seconds as if vexed at his position, then turned and with the aid of his cane, hobbled off without speaking.

Boaz and Hite began to fill the grave without any discussion. The work went quickly.

As they were tamping the last returned dirt, the boy checked his watch.

“Boaz, do you mind if I leave now? There’s only thirty minutes left until quitting time and I’ve got to catch the team bus. “

“No, you go on,” Boaz said. “I’ll get this other one started, and we can finish up tomorrow morning.”

Hite walked back to his car studying his prize. It was gold with a red stone. Around the stone, “Confederate States of America” was engraved. On the inside, the letters “C. S. S.” were faintly visible.

As he pulled out of the cemetery onto the highway, Hite saw the distant figure of Boaz persistently digging out the beginnings of the new grave. Then as he passed the house bordering the corner of the cemetery, he saw Mr. Johnny rise from his porch chair, next to the old radio, and wave frantically at the car.

But Hite turned his head and drove past.

Crossing the small bridge over the creek that even­tually ran through the center of town, back past the cemetery before spilling into the TVA lake, he checked to see if there was any traffic in either direction. When he saw there was none, he slowed at the middle of the bridge and tossed the ring over the railing into the swirling water.

He smiled when he checked his watch while accel­erating. He could even eat a sandwich and still have time to make the bus.

 

Murphy’s Law

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

Arthur’s First Law of Love: People to whom you are attracted will invariably think you remind them of someone else.

Goofy guy’s perturbation concerning Arthur’s First Law of Love: In my early days, some folks thought i reminded them of  Bobby Darin. My wife thinks i remind her of my mother.

Clay Wilson: A Story of New Palestine

This is a bit different from most of what i post here. When i find i’m not applying myself to other things , especially when i’m hung up  on writing my book about women at sea, because of many reasons and become frustrated, i now am weaning myself from going to playing spider solitaire mindlessly. Instead, i turn to this group of stories i began probably in high school about a fictional town called “New Palestine.” i am fully aware it may never be finished. i’m not even sure what to call it, a book? It is just something in my mind with no connection to anything other than they are ideas i want to write about. Just write.

i again would caution folks from my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee they should draw no connection to the characters in these stories. Although the people and the locations are drawn from folks and places i know and love, the connection stops as soon as they become part of my little town of fiction. When Maureen read this one last night, her comment was she was surprised, that it was a bit different. It is different for me. Don’t know where it came from other than when i was top-40 deejay at WCOR a young girl called me and did invite me to come to her house and meet her (i did not do that and have forgotten her name). i hope those that read this enjoy it, but i put it here more to be an archive for me. i do like it.

Clay Wilson

Well, I am going to tell you it was all in my head. I mean I didn’t know whether it was real or not, but I was a’thinking all the time it was all in my head.

I just don’t how I got that way, thinking about them things like that, but it scared the bejeezus out of me, and I just didn’t know; I just didn’t know what to think, or even if I was a’thinking.

It all happened on the wrong kind of night for things like that to be happening, you know. It was early September. The hot, humid summer had finally given away to those crisp, dry, autumn days with a breeze: Tennessee autumn at its best.

I was back home after that one forlorn, lost, and pretty well misguided idea I was going to be some academic wonder kid. Duke and I didn’t get along. They expected me to study, and not go all slobbering after all those educated and prominent-family skirts with the long legs and blond hair and big tits, and join in all the hell raising to excess when I had pretty much been banned from any kind of that shit from knee-crawling, snot-blowing, diaper -crapping, upward bound redneck upbringing because that was who I was.

And I went all ga-ga and chased the women with no success and raised hell and drank like there was no tomorrow, and picked up a book every two weeks or so to flunk the exams and laugh and have another bottle of Jack Daniels before crashing in the dark night and getting up and starting all over again because I had gone too far from what I was and where I come from and who I is then and now.

So they told me to go home because there weren’t no way in hell I was a gonna get a degree in engineering because I didn’t know shit about math and calculus and physics especially only working on it more than a couple of hours a week, and they were right, and I tucked my tail between my legs, bowed my head down low hoping no one could see me, and took that long Trailways bus ride over the Smokies back to the heart of Tennessee. I had hung on for that last summer hoping to get the grades up to at least go to college somewhere, but I pretty well screwed that up too because I still was attracted to those skirts and long conversations with Mr. Jameson of Irish whiskey fame because I had told Mr. Daniels to go bite himself and his charcoal.

So I wasn’t functioning all that well and looking for a job in New Palestine and my momma talked to the radio man and he said I could work FM at night if I got a license, so I did and back then, FM wasn’t much more than classical music and public service announcements till I showed up and started playing all kinds of music and talking about the music and where it came from and such and some people – I really don’t have a clue as to how many – started listening and occasionally called in, especially when I left my mic on and cussed, and I did a good enough job that the radio man put me on the AM on the weekend afternoons. It was a hick station all right, and they played news and religion and county music , not necessarily in that order, except on the weekends when they let me play Top 40 stuff from noon to sunset, and I did even though I didn’t like that bubble gum rock shit and I snuck in a lot of blues. While I was at it, I went back to college. New Palestine Junior College. Got my associate degree and was in my last year at Jordon River College.

But it was hard work commuting  to college and working because it was just me most of the time in the station ’cause that third class radio engineer license allowed me to turn the whole station on and off and no one else was there on the weekend, so I was working both AM and FM, putting on some bullshit light classical LP on FM and running down the hall to do the AM show and rushing into the back breeko block closet where the AP news wire was and ripping it off and reading the headlines and the weather (which was always wrong, but I read it all the way it was except for the temperature when I would run outside and look at the big thermometer and notice there weren’t no clouds like I was going to read about and did) and run back in and read the news and after the commercial put on a forty-five knowing I had two minutes to run up the hall, play an public service spot and put on another LP and run back down in time to do my thing when the forty-five was over.

But it was fun in a way because I could talk about shit while I played music I liked (most of the time), and I didn’t really care who was listening.

After a while, people would call in every once in a while and ask for a song, and I would hunt through the stacks of forty-fives and find it and play it and make some joke like “This is the Four Seasons’ hit ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and even though I think that’s a funny place to be ‘cause I imagine it itches like heck, but we’re playing this as a special request for Betty Jo,” and things like that.

This had been going on for about a year, when one Sunday afternoon, the phone call started it all. She had a sweet voice when she called that first time.

“You sure have a great show on weekends,” she said, “I love the music you play.”

“Why thank you,” I said, “Is there a song you would like me to play?”

“No, I like everything you play,” she said.

Then she said, “I really would like to meet you.”

“Oh, that would be nice,” I lied, not knowing quite how to respond.

“My name is Mary Beth Perkins,” she said, “Would you like to come out to my house after you get through with the show today?”

“Uh, I’m not sure,” I fumbled.

“Our house is behind the Route 127 Motel and Cafe,” she went on, “My daddy owns it. You just take the drive before the motel coming out of town, go up the hill, park out front, and knock on the front door.”

I was a bit flummoxed ‘cause no girl had ever asked me out before, and I just flat didn’t know what to do. I also was wondering what she looked like.

“Hey, can you call me back?” I stalled, “I’ve got to read the news and work FM.”

“Sure,” Mary Beth laughed

I’m thinking she ain’t gonna call back. I knew Elmer Perkins was the guy who owned that diner and the motel where a lot of clandestine and shady deals happened, not too mention it was a place where frowned upon copulations occurred. That girl is just blowing smoke, I thought. So I just cued the 45’s and ran the cassette ads. As a Motown hit was playing, I remembered her from a high school football game I attended. A looker; a real, young looker.

Then about two forty-fives later, the phone rings and it’s her.

She said, “Daddy’s out until late tonight, and I got some beer and sandwiches if you would like to come on out.”

And I guess that’s when I lost all of my senses and said yes, dreaming of things happening that never would.

When the sun set, because back then, some AM stations due to FCC rules had to shut down, I guess to eliminate interference with the more powerful stations. I mean I really don’t know, but that’s what one of the other deejay’s told me, and I headed out route 127.

I drove around the diner and the motel and drove up the gravel road to the house on the top of the hill just as it was turning dark. Mary Beth was on the porch a’waving at me. I got up and went inside. She offered me a can of PBR out of the refrigerator, and there weren’t no way I was gonna pass up a big blue. She guided me to the couch in the living room and after one sip of my beer, she took it out of my hand and laid a wet, tongue probing kiss on me before I knew what she was doing.

Well then we got serious, but I kept a thinking, calculating how old she was and if I was gonna get in trouble I couldn’t get out of. But I gave in and we started getting real serious.

We still had our clothes on, but were down to humping on the couch with me feeling her up and she grabbing my junk.

But her daddy had a deal go sour and came home early, really early. Seeing my car, he was ready when he slammed through the front door.

“Mary Beth, what is this son-of-a-bitch doing to you. Get to your room, right now.”

She collected her stuff and quickly shuffled out the hall door toward what I presumed was her room. I was watching her go and then turned to see Elmer pointing an Army .45 caliber pistol at me. I knew the weapon well, having learned all of its capabilities at my ROTC courses at the military prep school in town. I could still take it apart and put it back together while blindfolded, although I never figured out why I needed to do that until my daddy told me about trying to clean his carbine in a dark corner of the carpool on Luzon when the Japs were hitting his Seabee unit and the power had been shut off.

But this was no drill.

Elmer shook the pistol and motioned for me to get up.

“Come on, boy, we’re going for a ride.”

I was pretty sure it wasn’t for a pleasant look at the country side.

He directed me to the shotgun seat of his Ford pickup and climbed into the driver’s seat, holding the 45 pointing toward me and the steering wheel with his left hand, turning on the ignition and working the stick shift with his right. We drove east, toward the old Bethlehem stone quarry, which they had mined to death and left a cavernous pit, now filled with squalid, dirty water about forty or fifty feet deep and another thirty or forty feet below the top.

Old Elmer didn’t say a word, and I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood to start a conversation. He turned off the old highway onto the gravel past the long-abandoned operations tower and pulled toward the rim.

I was a’thinking. I remembered this crazy characteristic of those 45’s Sergeant Tilley taught us in that sophomore year of ROTC about the safeties on the pistol. They all made sense to me except one, which was if you pushed the barrel back, the gun wouldn’t fire. And I thought that was about the craziest thing it could be ‘cause who the hell who push the barrel back, presumably with their palm and risk getting their hand blown off.

But at this point in time with Elmer a‘fumbling with the steering wheel, the brake, the clutch, and the gear shift, I thought that crazy safety might be my only chance. If i could keep the gun from firing, i might be able to get it out of his hand and me out of the car and run like hell. So I reached across the bench seat, shoved my right palm at the barrel hoping to enable the safety.

Didn’t work.

Elmer turned and jerked the 45 away from me. My hand hit the side of the barrel pushing it up and away from me. Trying to recover control of everything, Elmer pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the bottom of his chin and out the top of his head. Blood and brain spattered everywhere as Elmer, or what was left of him and his head, slumped to the steering wheel. I recoiled and sat there for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. I got out and found an old towel behind the bench seat. I wiped the blood and stuff off of me and my clothes as well as I could. Then I wiped as much of the truck I could where my fingerprints might have been. After I thought i had gotten my prints off of everything, I sat down on the rear bumper and thought about what to do.

I knew Elmer ran with a bad crowd, bootleggers, johns, and who knows what. I decided I would just leave him there. But the gun; what about the gun? I wasn’t sure I had gotten any of my prints off of it. So I walked up to the quarry pit and threw the 45 into the deep dark pool below.

With that, I started a long walk.  I had to get back to town and circumvent the square where I surely would be seen and turn northeast to 127. It was about a ten-mile trek. I kept a’thinking how I was going to explain what happened to Mary Beth. But when I got to the diner and motel, I walked up to the back and only my old Vauxhall was outside. Elmer’s ’59 Plymouth, his other go-to-meetings car was gone. I went up on the porch and called. When there was no answer, I took out my bandana I always carried in  my back pocket and tried the door handle. It was locked.

I called a couple of more times and when there was no answer, I got in my car and drove home.

They found Elmer in his pickup the next afternoon. Then, Mister Blaylock, the bus station manager, said a pretty young girl calling herself Mary Buford had bought a ticket to Pensacola, Florida late the evening before. He remembered her because she had three suitcases and needed help boarding the bus. The New Palestine police found Elmer’s old Plymouth in the parking lot behind the bus station. The authorities traced Mary Beth to Pensacola but never could figure out where she went after that.

They finally decided Elmer had gotten into a bad deal with one of his whiskey partners who killed him. They never found the gun. They never found the killer either.

I worked at the radio station until I got my degree almost a year after the incident. Knowing the draft was going to send me to Vietnam as a ground pounder, I applied and was accepted to Navy OCS.

I left New Palestine and never came back.

copyright jim jewell 2020