Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Pocket of Resistance: Cedar Grove, a poem

i chose this to be the second poem to post on my new/revised website because it means a great deal to me and one of my favorites.

These poems will be appearing quite frequently as i restock the archives after the web-hosting crash took them all away.

For those who do not know, i worked at the Cedar Grove Cemetery for the City of Lebanon Public Works Department (Thank you, Jessie Coe). i dug graves, mowed, trimmed around gravestones, and performed other tasks in the summers during my high school years.

Many years later when visiting my parents in Deer Park, i frequently would go on a morning run down Leeville Pike to South Maple. At the crossroads, i would decide whether to turn south or north. If south was the decision i would go on a three to six mile run down Old Murfreesboro Road and Barton’s Creek Road and back.

On those runs, i often thought of Bobby Bradley, a good friend and Eagle Scout or some high level, taking this Boy Scout Tenderfoot on a five-mile hike through the woods off of Franklin Road. It resulted in what was probably the only merit badge i earned before they shut down our troop, i suspect due to rowdiness about town after our weekly evening meetings, no fault of Bobby Bradley or Major Lindsey Donnell, our troop leader.

If i chose to turn north, i ran between the two cemeteries and often stopped at one or both to visit grave sites of family and friends with fond memories. 

On one of those runs/graveside visits one morning, a funeral entourage, led by a Lebanon Police motorcycle came into view and passed me before turning left into Wilson County Memorial Gardens.

Afterwards, i resumed my run back to Deer Park thinking about my cemetery visit and the funeral procession. As i passed a small farmhouse with a garden in the side yard, the beginning of the poem popped into my head. Bu the time i reached my parents’ home, the poem was pretty complete in my head.

I still don’t know if it’s any good as poetry. It’s been rejected by periodicals several times, and i quit submitting it and others because i don’t do rejection very well.

But i do know it has a lot of me in it, and i like it.

Cedar Grove

Dawn passed the old Leeville pike
where further west in Leeville proper,
the faded yellow, wood-slatted depot the size of a three holer
stood forlornly on the old railroad bed turned pike
until sold to be a cleaned-up trinket in Fiddler’s Grove,
the historical,
version of the past
at the county fairgrounds,
(also moved to bigger accommodations
across town from when i grew up and out).

Thunderheads rolled around the heavens to the east;
cool for June;
turning left on South Maple with
Old Murfreesboro Road running the other way
where the route to Chattanooga had been “thank-you-ma’ams,”
back toward town was Cedar Grove,
the cemetery
across the road from the county Memorial Park,
a bunch of acres dedicated to history and death
where both cemetery and park
brought any north-bound, cow-counting, road game
to a tie.

People get ready, there’s a train to Jordan
Pickin’ up passengers coast to coast.

Long before Memorial Park,
the good citizens,
fully aware of growth and potential,
moved Cedar Grove too,
or rather,
moved the cemetery, bodies, caskets, monuments
to Cedar Grove with intendment
for the former graveyard
to become a church of christ
until it was intendment again
for the congregation to move
College Street Church of Christ
west to Hickory Ridge,
changing the name to College Hills
as if that made it
right with the lord.

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

In the mid-June early morning
ancestors lay in repose:
ordered rows of marble and concrete above, grave below,
adorned with plastic flowers, long term reverence,
but no less heartfelt
than in the Coolidge years when they rolled
the monolith of granite on logs,
pulled by mules and horses
from the railway for six days;

General Hatton eulogized with
the marble stele at the head of his grave
near the other marble tower honoring
Confederate dead
to complement Hatton’s statue in square center,
built over a creek and a spring.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored.

I knew these ancestors
from pushing mowers over the graves,
trimming around the edges,
even digging their graves
in the summer heat.

Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

My ancestors are here too:
kith and kin,
generations of father’s folks
are up in Statesville
behind a church
in a family plot
where Father triangulated the hills
from a photograph of his father and uncles
to find
his grandparents’ graves
to place
the headstone he had ordered;

In Cedar Grove, up gate three
lie Mother’s folks, grandfolks, and assorted kin
in a rectangular plot curbed off from the rest;
across the road:
later maternal and paternal kin
lie near;

friends lie amongst the kin:
parents of a close friend
are honored with a big monument
at the front of the memorial park;
does he, dying foolishly in a car crash,
lie close to his mother and father?
lord help us.

I heard the wreck on the highway,
But i didn’t hear nobody pray, dear brother;
I didn’t hear nobody pray.

It is a quiet place with scarce visitors,
a place to contemplate old relationships
and what was
and what will be
and what won’t be,
and where,
in the middle of the day in the summer heat,
cheating men and women found
a haven for illicit affairs,
from which we quickly learned to steer
our mowers, clippers, and lively lads
far away if no one emerged from the car
to visit a grave:
there was another kind of visiting going on.

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world;
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I cannot stay long as i have duties to tend;
leaving, i notice they have torn down
the small clapboard-sided house
north of Cedar Grove on South Maple
where the old man,
mostly toothless, tobacco chewing,
slobbering the dark brown juice
down his jowl,
would sit on the porch
in the rocking chair
next to the RCA Victrola
listening to the White Sox
before he would cajole me
into taking him to town;
he knew the people and the plots
when the records burned
in the attic of the courthouse fire
so the city kept him on the dole
well into his nineties,
letting him stay in the house
so he could tell us gravediggers
where to dig,
not missing more than once or twice
when we would strike the side of a casket,
having to refill and start over
a couple of feet away
for Christ’s sake.

he is probably now somewhere
in Cedar Grove himself
with the records straight from computer technology
where no one will strike his casket
digging in the wrong place.

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

Though i have placed
the planks to set their graves.
cut the sod,
dug through the clay with pick and shovel,
filled their graves with clods,
i am a wanderer among them;
i worship them, feel them,
but do not feel belonging;
on the east side there is a plot
where my buddy came home:
a sailor gone west to adventure, like me;
i arrived first to find nickels on his eyes in
Rosarita Beach, Baja California, Mexico,
helping his widow get the body
across the border and back home
to lay beside his father:
he came home,
but i do not quite feel i belong.

 And when my task on earth is done,
When, by Thy grace, the vic-try’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave i will not flee,
Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.

On South Maple heading south
before the Leeville Pike
is a stone house set back
from the road with outbuildings,
a truck with a crane
beside the sizable vegetable garden
with corn, tomatoes, beans, onions
in not quite straight rows,
much like the obelisks and headstones
in Cedar Grove,
but growing in the brown soil,
green shoots of life
while the rabbit and the cardinal
nibble at the opposite ends of the garden:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
and the voice i hear falling on my ear
the son of god discloses;
and he walks with me and he talks with me
and he tells me i am his own.

Cumulus clouds hover around the horizon;
morning remains cool for June;
the funeral procession turns off Leeville Pike
headed north down Maple Street
to turn left into the memorial park
while the residents lie silently on
both sides of the road.
The tent is set;\
i know the ritual well,
i will not be a part of this burial
to stand, cap in hand, on the road side
as the hearse with headlights on
rolls on by.

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

A Pocket of Resistance: A 101st Birthday

i decided to publish this a couple of hours early. That way i can celebrate all day tomorrow.

Today is my father’s 101st birthday.

I wrote very little on his century mark last September. I had lost him just over a year before and lost our mother nine months later. I was still in the stage of realizing what i really had lost. Now it’s time to reflect.

My brother Joe and our father, 2009...i think.
My brother Joe and our father, 2009…i think.

Included here is an article i wrote for The Lebanon Democrat in 2000 as a salute to him on his 86th birthday. In 2004, they moved from their home of 62 years a whopping four blocks away to a “condo” in Deer Park where they lived until fragility, infirmities, and old age required them to stay at Elmcroft, an assisted living facility on what used to be the southwest end of Castle Heights Military Academy.

In 2009, i honored his 95th birthday with a poem, the only one thus far published in my Democrat column “Notes from the Southwest Corner.” i still think it is one of the best poems i have ever written. He was surprised i knew so much about him.

He and my mother were born, raised, lived, and died in Lebanon, Tennessee, a place that seems to have kept most of the folks who were born there, a tribute to a small town.

allyson_odom_collingsworthIn what i think is an irony, my father and Allyson Odom Collingsworth share the same birthday, just a grunch of years apart. I fell in love with Allyson’s mother, the late Sharry Baird Hager, in our fourth grade class taught by Mrs. Major at McClain Elementary School. I never quite got over her.

That is appropriate because Lebanon seems to me to be a city of love. Oh yes, it has its problems. After all, politicians are a necessity, and politicians mean there are problems. There are criminals, some pretty rough criminals. The place keeps growing and that is not always a good thing, at least in my mind. It may sound a little squirrelly for an old salt to write of a city of love, and there probably is a more appropriate description, but all of my friends there seem to exude that quality.

My father was proud of Lebanon. He loved driving people, including me, around the town to show off the latest business, the latest industry that had settled there. Although he complained about the lack of common sense in new road planning, he was proud of those new roads.

He was part and parcel of Lebanon. I miss him and his Lebanon. I will think of both quite a lot today. i am a very lucky man to have had him with me for so long.

The Democrat column:

An Incredible Man

There is an incredible man in Lebanon. He was born September 28, 1914.

The first record of his family in America dates to 1677. His great, great, great grandfather came over the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and apparently was Daniel’s brother-in-law. His great, great grandfather moved to Statesville in southeastern Wilson County in the early 1800’s.

He had three brothers and three sisters. He is the only one left.

Jimmy Jewell, machinist mate (automobile) 1st class with his buddy in the 75th CB Battalion, Luzon, Philippines 1945.
Jimmy Jewell, machinist mate (automobile) 1st class with his buddy in the 75th CB Battalion, Luzon, Philippines 1945.

He has lived through two world wars, fighting as a Seabee in the southern Philippines in the last one. He has lived through the depression, the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.

He had to quit his senior year at Lebanon High School to go to work when his father contracted tuberculosis. He started as a mechanic, shared a business with his brother-in-law in the 1950’s, and then became a partner in an automobile dealership and a gas and oil distributorship. He retired in 1972.

He and his wife have been married for 62 years. They remain infatuated with each other. The first home they owned was a one-room house, adjacent to his wife’s family farm on Hunter’s Point Pike. They bought their next home on Castle Heights Avenue in 1941 with the help of a $500.00 loan from a friend. They have lived there ever since.

Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, 2014
Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, 2014

He and his wife put three children through college. They have five grandchildren. They have visited every state in the Union, except Alaska, where they were headed in 1984 when his wife’s illness forced them to turn around in British Columbia. Nearly all of their travel has been by RV’s, most in a twenty-eight foot fifth-wheel. When he was 84 and his wife was 80, they made their last cross-country trip to San Diego where they spent winters since 1985 with their eldest son and his family. They have made several trips up and down the east coast since then, and the fifth-wheel is still ready to go in their backyard.

They live comfortably in their retirement. Most people guess his age as early 70’s. Last month, he painted their master bedroom and sanded and painted the roof of his two-car carport. When he can’t find anyone to go fishing with him, he hooks up the boat trailer and goes by himself. Now he usually throws his catch back in. When he used to bring the catch home, he would clean the fish and give them away. He doesn’t like to eat fish, just catch them.

For years, he had the reputation as the best mechanic in Wilson County. He can still fix anything except computers and new cars because he has shunned learning the electronic advances.

All of this isn’t why this man is incredible.

He is incredible because he is such a good man.

He is a willow. He bends with the winds of change and the changes of “progress.” Yet he never breaks. His principles remain as solid as a rock. He is extremely intelligent but humble.

He seems to always be around when someone needs help. Everyone considers him a friend and he reciprocates.

He is not rich, financially. But he is one of the richest men around.

My generation’s fathers were family men. They lived through hard times and hard work without a whimper. They believed in giving a day’s work for a day’s pay. They kept their sense of humor. Their sons wish they could emulate them.

Jimmy Jewell, or James Rye Jewell, Sr., this remarkable man, remains my best friend. I am his oldest son. I have worshipped him since the first recallable thoughts came into my head fifty-three or so years ago. I still find myself wishing I could have his strength, his kindness, his work ethic, his love, his faith.

My father and I have had enough talks for him to know how I feel. But I’ve seen too many people wait until someone was gone before singing their praises publicly. I figure he’s got a good chance to outlive us all, but I wanted to acknowledge how much he means to me and how great a man I think he is.

Happy 86th birthday, Dad.


The poem:


When most folks meet him
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.

His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight,
His hands are firm and thick and solid,
a handshake of destruction if he so desired
he has used those hands to repair the cars and our hearts;

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour he made in a month
when he started in ’35 before computers and units).

His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands
and beyond;
the tales of grease and oil and grime
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;

they are hands of labor,
hands of  hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.

His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man i know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man i know
with hands that tell the story
so well.

I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than in this manner. He was an incredible man, and those hands…oh those hands.


A Pocket of Resistance: Here we go again

Welcome back.

Thanks to Walker Hicks’ incredible talent and effort, the “Jewell in the Rough” website is back.

A website hosting service shut me down about two months ago. Just turned me off in the middle of an afternoon.

This version will be a little different than the old one.

To start, my columns for The Lebanon Democrat, will no longer be posted here first. I will provide the link here, on my Facebook page, and if i am persistent enough on LinkedIn to the column in the on-line edition of The Democrat. For archive purposes, i will publish them here about a week after they run in the newspaper.

The bulk of the posts here now will be my rambling thoughts, some of my poetry, and finally serialized segments of several books i continue to attempt to create:

Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings
This is a narrative taken from documents and my personal logs as Executive Officer (second-in-command for those of you unfamiliar with Navy ship terminology) of the USS Yosemite (AD 19). The destroyer tender was the first Navy ship with women as part of the crew to spend extended periods out of port. The experience of a seven-and-a-half months deployment to the Indian Ocean provides insights into a unique period in the history of the Navy and women’s equality.

Willie Nod and Other Tales
This is a book of poetry and very short stories for children. It is a collaborative effort with Sarah, our younger daughter. She is creating the illustrations for poems (some converted to narratives) which i wrote first for our older daughter, Blythe; then for Sarah, and lastly for Sam, our grandson.

New Palestine
This is either a novel or a collection of short stories i have been writing since i left Lebanon, Tennessee for the Navy in 1967. Lebanon has been the inspiration and although many of the settings are familiar and there are attributes of characters similar to those of people i have known in Lebanon, this collection, whatever it eventually turns out to be is definitely not about Lebanon, Tennessee.

The Pretty Good Management Book
Many of the chapters of this book were included in my last website and were run in The Democrat and other newspapers. The idea of the book was jointly created with my old running mate, JD Waits. The idea is to provide some basic principles for running a pretty good business. Most business improvement writing claims to provide a perfect solution for running an organization. That is not going to happen. These posts will be designed to help in running a “pretty good” business.

mbj-jj-brennekesOur tentative plans are to transition to a subscription website. Originally, we were going to restart in that manner. But we need to get our feet on the ground and make sure what we have is a pretty good website you will want to read and enjoy reading.
Obviously, i hope you like it.

…Oh yes, my photo will be updated to include the woman who puts up with my idiosyncrasies and childish behavior and supports my writing efforts without question: the indefatigable, beautiful, and caring Maureen Boggs Jewell.

We’re back

Walker Hicks has gone beyond the pale to bring my website back up.In addition to being great in any multi-media work, he has a full time job, is Bryton’s Cub Scout leader, and coaches Bryton’s soccer team. Thanks, Walker.

This is the beginning. There will be more changes/updates and more frequent posts than ever before because i will be catching up. i am as excited as i can remember and this event dulls the recent memories of some pretty bad golf.

Stand by to let go all lines.