Monthly Archives: December 2016

Coming Back to the Promised Land

We just had a trip, not exactly from hell, but it was not a sublime experience.

Yet we made it. My sister and i talked into the wee dark of the morning, solved damn near every problem in the world, and i should follow her to bed.

But i am compelled to make some comments first.

Our transfer flight from Dallas to Nashville was delayed. We had a shuttle reserved to ride to Chattanooga to meet my sister and our arrival time made making that shuttle unlikely. The next shuttle was two hours later. Maureen contacted the shuttle company, unnamed because of my desire not to denigrate the shuttle service or get any of their employees in trouble. The dispatcher told her unequivocally no, the shuttle couldn’t wait past it’s departure time.

We landed with less than 15 minutes to the shuttle departure. i told Maureen and Sarah to wait inside the security area while i went to the shuttle area. There were no food services outside the gate area. i headed for the shuttle, found it, and spoke to the driver. He agreed to wait 15 minutes to see if our luggage arrived at the baggage area. It did, and we made the shuttle. He had waited about 15 minutes, but with the Nashville commuter traffic, the 15 minutes didn’t matter.

As we drove out of Murfreesboro where we had another stop and toward Tullahoma, Maureen thanked me for talking the driver into waiting. i said it wasn’t difficult. i know Tennessee people and although the dispatcher was obligated to follow the rules and hold to the schedule, the driver, face-to-face would be a nice person and make every attempt to help out his passengers.

After we went over Monteagle mountain and were running along I-24 with the mountain soaring up on my side of the van, i looked through the fogged window. There on the side of the mountain was a clapboarded house. It appeared to have no more than two or three rooms. Smoke was rising from the chimney. There in the small, front window was a Christmas tree, lit with multi-colored light.

i tried to imagine the family there, maybe a couple with two or three children, trying to eke out a living, maybe the man going into town working at a labor job while working his plots in the side of the mountain. i thought of them clothed in flannel on Christmas eve, hanging the stockings over the fireplace, the children with wide eyes looking anxiously out the window.

Perhaps there was a wreath on the door; minimal decorations compared to the big houses in town: meager but enough. Presents also limited but again enough. i thought of the children waking on Christmas day and rushing into the room with the fireplace and the tree, finding the gifts Santa left by the hearth along with a note thanking them for the milk and cookies put out the night before on a small table nearby.

It is a wonderful season, and there is no place that captures the spirit like the shuttle driver and the family in the modest house on the side of the mountain.

After all, this is Tennessee.


Merry Christmas in all of its glorious meaning.

The hearth at the Duff’s home, Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

Improvement Gone Bananas

I’m sitting in the Dallas Love Field airport watching the herd mentality at its worse because our flight is currently being portrayed as 35 minutes late ETD. It is rather amazing how air travel used to be a nice experience for the most part. Now it’s like stupid on hormones. What happened?

This led me to the bizarre antics of well-intentioned people who started with a good idea and screwed it up. Yesterday, i made the mistake of going to the Exchange/Commissary section of the 32nd Street Naval Station. It was amazing, amazing. When the back entrance  on 28th Street was blocked by about 75 cars trying to get in the gate, i made a left-hand turn and went to the main entrance on 32nd Street. It was worse. Fun.

For the majority of my time in the Navy, shore patrol and base security was manned by sailors in different ratings being assigned to the ship’s shore patrol or TAD by commands to the Base Commander to perform those functions.

Some brilliant bozo, probably a lieutenant commander who had not real promotion probability came up with the idea of establishing a permanent security force by establishing the “Master at Arms” (MA) rating. He actually sold the idea to a Flag Officer and lo, it came to pass.

Entrance to bases is now a nightmare, much like flying. Security, the professional MA’s, figured out how to be secure and thus have established one of the easiest targets for terrorists available anywhere.

By my estimate, there were at least 200 or more cars waiting to get onto the base through the “secure” screenings by the gate guard. With two well-placed explosives or two semi’s, terrorists could easily wiped out around 300-plus Navy personnel and dependents without ever having to breech the base territory.

Good thinking.

This all reminds me of one of my favorite AND TRUE sea stories. It has run here before. Years ago, my command sent a third class gunner’s mate (ratings have been abolished by current Navy regime, thus eliminating a system that has been part of our history since before our Navy was established. Another brilliant attention gaining gambit by a flag.

Anyway, this gunner’s mate was immediately assigned as gate guard for the morning. About mid-morning, an admiral being riding in his command sedan by a duty driver arrived at the gate. An increased level of security had been put in effect, and the gate guard had been ordered to check everyone’s id card.

This new kid halted the vehicle, approached the driver’s open window and declared, I need to see your id’s, Admiral.”

The admiral huffed and puffed, and shouted, “Can’t you see who I am, young man? I order you to let us through.”

The gate guard petty officer, thought for a minute, and then said, “Admiral, excuse me sir. I am new to this security stuff. Am I supposed to shoot you or your driver first?”

The admiral and his driver showed their id cards to the guard, and he waved them through.

And that’s what you do when you are waiting in an airport for a delayed flight.


Another Tennessee Christmas

i took a photo of a rose in our front yard for this post, but i really didn’t do it justice. So the photo didn’t make it. i’m sad because it seemed the perfect photo for this post.

The earth will shake a little tomorrow around 11::45 Greenwich Mean Time. Maureen is getting up to get ready for, are you ready for this, a 15:55 GMT flight. That’s rising at 3:45 with a flight departing at 7:55 by the Southwest corner clock. Maureen never gets up at 3:45 anytime, anywhere. That’s my job.

i mean she is rising four hours and ten minutes before the flight departure. We are packed except for her toiletries (and this computer), and it’s a twenty-minute ride to the airport. i’ll give 15 minutes for the transportation from car parking to the airport. And we are, thankfully, “PRE TSA,” thankfully because i didn’t get down to the office to pay my blackmail to get it all the time.

So i figure, i’ll have not quite two hours in the boarding area. i plan to drink a lot of coffee…and maybe a bloody mary.

Had it not been for her being a wonderful part of this Christmas tradition, i would have been packed tonight, awoke at 5:30 and gotten to the airport to check in, cleared security and have about 15 minutes before boarding.

But i love her for eccentricities; or maybe she loves me for mine; or in spite of…

Regardless, we are going to Tennessee for Christmas. Again. Signal Mountain. A house that screams Christmas at you, makes you let go, feel free, sit by the fire next to the Christmas tree,  think about good things, love everybody, feel toasty, and want to sing carols…or at least hum them.

i won’t go too much further on this because my Democrat column tomorrow is on this very subject. However, i think we all need to take a break. We cannot meet everyone’s expectations, or even our own, at Christmas. As wonderful as it is, we can get wrapped around the axle about who is not with us, to whom we didn’t give a gift, why someone didn’t call or write, wondering who we left out of calls, gifts, cards.

i’m guilty on all counts.

But you know what, that kid who was born under that star about 2,016 years ago had it figured out. And it spread to those sheep herders and wise camel riders, and they celebrated.

Regardless of your religious preferences, this thing called Christmas began because the world was given hope it could be better. We keep struggling with that concept, but in spite of all of the rhetoric rolling around in the media and in our heads, it is getting better.

But even if you think your future, our country, the world, your finances, and life as you know it is going to hell in a hand basket, it’s time to give it a rest.

Think goodness. Think Christmas, and celebrate goodness, or the closest thing we’ve got to it.

We are leaving the Southwest corner tomorrow, something we’ve done for twenty-four years. i loved our Christmases here. We would find a pretty tree and set it up in the living room. Maureen has this incredible flair for creating beautiful trees. The weather was always Southwest corner delightful. i smoked a turkey. We spent a lot of time in the afternoon outside. Ray Boggs, my father-in-law, brought joy, laughter, happiness to Christmas. i loved my Christmases with him.

It was different. But it was still Christmas.

Sometime in the next day or two, i will sit by that fire underneath those stockings and that huge wreath up on the mountain, and  i will have a toddy. i will hope all of you rest from all of that stuff that sticks in your craw and have the most wonderful Christmas and remember where it all got started.

i don’t think that’s restricted to Christians. i think everyone should celebrate. The goodness, i mean. The goodness of Christmas. The hope.

After all, that’s really what’s it all about.

Merry Christmas to all of my family, all of my friends, and everyone else as well.

And i mean that.

Mea Culpa

     Last week, my post about using a modified version of an old children’s prayer to help me go to sleep resulted in some objections.
     i was on a a roll like i can get when writing, and my explanation of why i was not part of a formal religion was much harsher than i intended. As someone very dear to me pointed out, i need a good editor.
     i do need an editor, you know. i am a terrible proof reader, and need someone to corral my grammar and my thoughts on paper. i have long recognized this fault of mine. In fact when i was executive officer on the USS Yosemite, Frank Boyle, the captain, and i would switch roles: he would give me his thoughts, then i would write the correspondence draft, and he would do the final proof reading and editing.
     But i didn’t have an editor when i wrote that post, and i didn’t consider how negative it could be interpreted.
     So here goes:
     i explained my not being involved with a formal religion with “This is primarily because of formal religions’ exclusion factors, recruiting tactics, pomposity, hypocrisy, and continual insistence of trying to prove something they believe..”
     The “exclusion factor” is my big hangup. i do not believe someone who lives a good life and does what is right will be excluded from “heaven” because he did not believe in a certain religion. i believe the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, is innate within each of us and this knowledge is very close to what Jesus taught in the bible.
     i can only buy into Jesus being the “gate” in a symbolic sense, certainly not a literal one. That is a big hangup for me.
     But i am not a biblical or religious scholar. i don’t know enough about other religions to pronounce them good or evil across the board . i don’t even know enough about the Christian religion to be a source of information.
     As for the other comments, certain Christian sects and individuals keep trying to recruit me and others by “proving” their beliefs are right and mine (and others) are wrong.  Some, both sects and individuals, also are elitist, pompous, and hypocritical. This turns me off and i don’t wish to associate with these kinds of people. That should not have been a condemnation of religions in general even though it certainly appeared that way in the post.
     i have the utmost respect for Christians and people of other religions. There are many outliers who corrupt the core beliefs of goodness, but i don’t consider them true religions.
     In fact, i admire churches where people believe together and take care of each other. i have the greatest respect for the church and  the people who believe and behave trying to carry out the teachings of Christ. i wish i could be with them, especially the camaraderie, friendship, and even the family aspect. i don’t have that and i feel alone. i think it is a wonderful aspect of religion, especially Christian congregations.
     If i have offended anyone, confused, or misled them with my post, i apologize.

A Sleeping Trick

The purpose of this post is at the conclusion. It will need some explaining before you get to it.

i am just over a month away from turning 73. i am trying to dedicate the rest of my life to giving back with things i’ve experienced or discovered in the hope those who might come across my giving back can use it to make their efforts to live well easier.

In case you are not aware of this, i must reveal i am not formally religious. This is primarily because of formal religions’ exclusion factors, recruiting tactics, pomposity, hypocrisy, and continual insistence of trying to prove something they believe, which sounds oxymoronic to me. i consider myself spiritual, believing in a higher power which i, or any human, past, present, and future for that matter, cannot define. i do believe at the core of that higher power is the goodness in side of all of us (and recognize many people never experience their own goodness and grovel in self-protection and no empathy with others).

i must quickly add i respect everyone’s religion as long as it is not fanatic, and even envy some Christian groups, especially Lebanon’s First United Methodist Church in which i was reared and which has given so many people comfort, succor, and a ring of true friends. i sometimes enjoy going to services there as it reconnects me to my past and my parents.

And i should add that the words of Jesus Christ (as recorded by his apostles or others) strike as the closest to what i feel is right except for the exclusionary passages and the ones subjugating women.

The words below were generated by my aging creating a problem i never had growing up, and i really grew up somewhere in the last couple of years. The problem is not being able to go back to sleep. I wake in the middle of the night for many things connected to old. Then i can’t turn off my brain and start thinking of many, many things. i can’t stop thinking about whatever flies into my brain and consequently can’t go back to sleep.

My initial tactic to overcome this problem was to think of something else. Once again, i relied on the recommendations of my “coach,” JB Leftwich. In one of our many conversations in my visits back home, he mentioned he had problems sleeping and began repeating the names of people or things in his head, sort of an intelligent version of counting sheep. JB told me of being able to name all of the presidents and vice-presidents. It turned out he memorized many more lists trying to go sleep, like remembering Tennessee congressmen, etc. The Leftwich offspring can enumerate.

So i learned the presidents in order and can tell you their full names, except i can get the Harrison’s mixed up and i often, for some reason skip Warren G. Harding. I also learned the capitals of all of the states. I was going to learn the counties, and perhaps the county seats in Tennessee, but i gave that up. Too much work.

After i got good at it, repeating the memorizations lost a lot of its efficacy for going to sleep. I then tried counting my breaths, but i would always think of something else in the middle and lose count.

Then one night, i remembered a simple child’s prayer i repeated nightly for a long time in my younger days. Going over the words today, it seems a bit morbid for young boy to repeat every night. But for someone my age, it has a sensible message and resonated with me.

I tried during a couple of sleep interruptions, but it didn’t seem quite enough. After thinking about it too much to allow me to sleep. I came up with the below.

Quite frankly, how well it works is hit and miss, but either way, it makes me feel more comfortable and my mind and my body rests even if sleep doesn’t come.

i wanted to share:

Now i lay me down to sleep,
i pray the lord my soul to keep;
If i should die before i wake,
I pray the lord my soul to take.

…and i pray the lord
help me find
the wisdom,
the courage,
the strength,
the patience
to do
what’s right
for the rest of my life.