Monthly Archives: March 2017

Blues Can Move Me

Bill Cook, a Lebanon neighbor and car restorer magnifico, shared a video on Facebook. These were my thoughts as Maureen and i watched and listened:

Thank you, Bill Cook.

Before there was sparkle and glitter, explosions, smoke, backup dancers galore, mosh pits, earbuds, sound systems that can blow you out of the venue, and fans trying to take over the show, there was this thing called the blues, and the musicians played their harp and bass and harmonica like they were singing to their women, and it was deep, suggestive, and enchantingly beautiful at the same time, and everyone closed their eyes and listened to the blues men and women singing their hearts out to the one they loved, and the blues folks and the listeners swayed in time, and thumped their feet against the floor and then rocked back and forth and quietly mumbled in time “ahh,” and “yeah,” and they believed; they all believed in the blues, perhaps because they had contracted the blues and understood; and one of the greatest of all the bluesmen was Howlin’ Wolf.

It was good to see you again, Mr. Wolf, and listen to the blues the way blues was meant to be, and sway back and forth and, even at my age, believe in the blues, perhaps even more so than before. It is gone now, at least the way it was born. But i remember. Oh yes, i remember.

Thank  you, Bill Cook.

“Sean of the South,” Nursing Homes, and the Sad Act of Vanishing


Recently, one of my best friends whom i wish i had asked for a date in high school, Judy Lewis Gray hooked me up with Sean Dieterich’s blog, “Sean of the South.”

Nifty name for a blog, i thought.  Then i read “The Ball Game.” i related. Then Judy sent me another link to Sean. “Good Eating” was the title. i mused about how it should have been “Good Eatin’.” (Man, i wish somebody could teach me the real rule about quotation marks and periods). i read and i identified again with what Sean was writing. i signed up.

If you are from the South and do not wish to wallow in the quagmire of political positioning, then you might consider checking Sean out. Unlike me, Sean is a polished and professional writer. He tugs at your heart strings…in a good way.

Today, i got this email letting me know he had another one. He called it “American Singers.” i identified again. In many different ways. You see, i’m from the South, too, just not as deep as Sean and a bit of my South has worn off what with a Navy career and living in the Southwest corner and learning the ways of the more sophisticated in art, cooking, interior design, and landscaping from my wife.

Sean described singing at a nursing home. i sang a bit at church when i was high school. i even sang a solo in the men’s choir a couple of times, and in the eighth grade, Henry Harding, my best friend and i sang two songs for the weekly assembly in the high school auditorium. But that’s about it. Except for in the shower and in the car, my singing days are pretty much over. The high notes hurt and i can’t hit the low notes. Apparently, Sean is much more professional than me in the singing category as well.

Yet, i identified with the folks to whom he sang. i’ve been there. About ten years ago or more, my brother, sister, and i checked out the assisted living-to-hospice places in Lebanon. My mother was 90, and my father was 93. We felt it was time they gave up their living by themselves. Our mother had some health issues, and we believed assisted living would help our father take care of her, easing up his responsibility. We also felt he would take to the environment like a duck to water because with all of the folks around him being his age and with his natural talent for talking to folks, the contact would please him.

They had been in a condo (actually a duplex, but i let folks from back home call them anything they choose) in a development for only over-50 folks for five years after moving from their home of sixty-two years about three blocks north. We studied the possibilities. i checked out the three best places in Lebanon for them to move, and narrowed it down to three. i gave them all of the information. They, of course, had friends in all three and knew those three senior residences pretty well. They chose Elmcroft. My Aunt Bettye Kate Hall had stayed there before passing away, and more importantly, my mother’s hair dresser’s salon was located inside the Elmcroft facility.

They agreed to make the move, but they retained the condo because my father wanted to be able to drive there every day and check on it.

We moved them in. It was one of the loneliness and saddest things i’ve ever done. i said goodbye to my mother in their suite. Daddy walked out to my rental car with me. i hugged him and said goodbye. As i pulled out of the drive headed for the airport, i looked back and saw him looking like a lost soul, one of the few if not the only time i’ve seen him without his confidence. It took all of my resolve to not turn back, take them home, and move Maureen and Sarah there to live with them. The pit of my stomach was churning. The drive to the airport was a bit blurry from the tears welling up in my eyes.

It lasted a month. i’m not sure whether my brother, sister, or i received the first phone call. But with mine, it was short and sweet.

“Son,” Jimmy Jewell said to me, “I’m doing all of the things we are paying them to do. We’re moving back home.”

They did and lived there until he contracted pneumonia prepping his garage floor for painting in 2013 Southern June. He was ninety-eight. He died just over two months later, forty-two days shy of ninety-nine. i had often thought be might replicate in human form “The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay,” from a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But he wouldn’t make it to the century mark. We had moved him and his wife back to Elmcroft. He was actually there for about two weeks after another couple of weeks spent in the hospital. Estelle Jewell lived for nine more months in Elmcroft before giving it up in May 2014, living nobly i might add, until a month shy of her ninety-seventh birthday.

While she was there, i spent a goodly amount of time with the old folks in residence. They were, as Sean pointed out, the living remainder of the town from years ago: the bankers, the tailors, the utility men, the one-hundred-and-five year old minister, the grocers, the teachers, the town that made it through the depression, the big war, the cold war…and thrived.

Sean’s post brought me back to something else i’ve been thinking about, growing old and all. i’ve been trying to figure out what to throw away and what to keep in a crowded garage, closets, and drawer space and what to keep for relatives and friends to have. My father-in-law and my parents left me a ton of stuff to go through. i even have my aunt’s photo albums and memorabilia from both sets of grandparents. Then, there is rather ungodly collection from a quarter century of living no more than two years in any one place (except for three-plus at Texas A&M and my last tour, also over three.

There is no ego here (i hope). Perhaps this need to catalogue or toss stuff has been driven by my unfulfilled dream of knowing my grandfathers. They both passed away before i was born. i have a lot of facts about them, but every time i brought up the questions of what they were like, what did they believe, how did they treat people, what did people think of them, my parents would give me facts or tell a story that really didn’t give me a sense of who my grandfathers really were. i just don’t want my only grandson and any other grandchildren who come along after i am gone to wonder about who i was, what i was like, what did i think about. i don’t want them to have the void i have.

While sorting through all of that stuff, i occasionally hit something that gives me pause.

Like those two photos above. The first is a Jewell infant. It was in my grandmother’s stuff, mixed with my aunt’s stuff my cousin gave my father who passed it along to me in a big cardboard box. There are several  studio photos like these. Many, like this one, were turned into postcards. All i’ve found so far except this one have names attached. All are my cousins.

This post card has no name for the baby, nothing except the name of the photographer, “R.C. Vantrease” and his location, “Watertown, Tenn.”

The couple in the second photograph are my aunt and uncle. Elizabeth (Bess) and Gus Lancaster were married in the 1890’s and lived in Nashville. My brother and sister probably know for sure, but i must guess East Nashville. They had two daughters, my older cousins. Elizabeth and Leola Lancaster moved to Washington, D.C. when they were in their twenties and worked for the government. Elizabeth married late and her husband died much earlier than she. They had no children. So when they passed away, they left what they had to my mother and father. i’m pretty sure this is where this photo came from, although it could also been in my grandmother’s things.

That baby and that handsome couple as well as their daughters are gone. There is no one who is directly related. They never did, as far as i know, anything to make them historic figures except in family history, and all of that, except for these photographs, will be gone once i and my generation of Orr’s, Prichard’s, and Jewell’s have also passed from the scene. i could toss these in the round file and no one would ever know or even care.

But every time i look at them, i just can’t toss the photos. i identify with them. i wonder what happened to the Lancaster’s from then until i knew them. i wonder in what way i am kin to the infant and what was he or she doing in Watertown for a sitting, not Seat’s Studio in Lebanon, the family go-to for studio photographs along with being the studio for nearly all of the town folk.

And then, i think, “What does it matter?” i’m no different than these three relatives from the past. i think i owe to my children, grandchildren, and other younger relatives to leave something, but they would be fine with nothing.

That’s when i reach the conclusion it doesn’t matter what i leave behind. What matters is how i live, and quite frankly unlike a large number of folks, i don’t intend to spend my time trying to convince others how to live right. i have enough to do trying to figure how to live doing the right thing by myself. All those other folks are just gonna have to do right on their own, without my help.

So i’m just an observer,  a rememberer, and god help me, i hope my observations and my memories are about the good things, the right things. Perhaps there will be a few that are not “good,” but something bad i did or experienced that might help someone else do gooder (my word: it just seemed to fit).

i’ll just keep on sorting, trying, as Bob Seger once sang in “Against the Wind,” what to leave in and what to leave out. After it all, it keeps me busy.

And no, i won’t be throwing these photos away. It’s just not in my genes.

Revisiting Captain J.C. Hayes

Just over a year ago, i wrote one of my favorite sea stories here about one of my favorite Navy men in my career. Then two days ago, i received a comment on this blog, which blew my mind. Robert Rininger commented: 

Thank you for your story. I also served under Captain Hayes on Belleau Wood and remember the incident you refer to. I was Boatswains mate on the bridge at that time. Many fond memories of a truly great man.

Now, the Belleau Wood was a very large ship, in fact  the largest at the time after carriers. There were a lot of sailors on her. But on the bridge entering port, there wasn’t more than a dozen, if that. So here, twenty-seven years after the fact, some guy somehow out of the blue reads my post about Captain Hayes. Robert has to be one good guy. After all, he read my post, he was a boatswainmate, one of the oldest and best ratings in the Navy, and he admired Captain Hayes.

I repeated the sea story to Maureen when i told her about Robert’s comment.

It is a small and good world if we just let it be a small and good world. i enjoyed it so much, i decided to repost it.

Have a good night.

Captain J. C. Hayes is someone i will never forget.

I met Captain Hayes in August 1980.

I had been high-lined from the USS Cayuga to the USS Belleau Wood as Amphibious Squadron Five was en route to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I had been serving as executive officer of the Cayuga for two months due to the standing XO having a breakdown (another story). When the new XO arrived, i returned to my job as the staff’s current operations officer (by high-line).

Captain Hayes had just relieved as commanding officer, and was senior to our commodore, Captain Jim McIntyre, an E2 pilot who preferred to be known by his aviation handle of “Silver Fox.” This seniority business made things, i later found out, a bit awkward.

After the high-line and settling back into my quarters, i made my official visit to the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Hayes, in the late afternoon. He was a big man. We hit it off. The captain was from Easley, South Carolina, which made it easier. I enjoyed our visit and decided i liked him. The surface line officers stuck together in the amphibious environment where many senior aviation officers went to get their major sea command tours for furthering their careers.

I later was told in World War II, Captain Hayes had been a coxswain of an LCM3 (5 generations earlier of the landing craft LCM8, which were the state of the art during my service). His ship was involved in the invasion of Okinawa. Captain Hayes, then a third or second-class boatswainmate, took supplies into shore after the beach head had been established. As the story goes, when he returned from his run, he could not locate his ship: Japanese gunnery or a Zero fighter had sunk it.

He also was in a underwater demolition unit (the origination of Navy SEAL’s) in the Pacific, was awarded a masters degree in nuclear physics from the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, and was in Admiral Byrd’s command in the admiral’s last exploration of Antarctica.

He was legendary among surface sailors and had been known to go out on a bridge wing and cuss out the line handlers on the forecastle several hundred feet away. And they heard every word. He was an old school surface mariner, my kind of Naval officer.

After getting back on the Belleau Wood for the next couple of days, i was deeply involved with catching up on my duties. I had been on Cayuga for over two months. I saw little of anyone except at the morning message meetings with the staff.

After we entered Puget Sound and set sea detail for going into Esquimalt, the Canadian navy base, the staff assembled on the flag bridge directly below the ship’s bridge. As the Belleau Wood closed to the harbor entrance, we received an intercom message from the ship’s bridge. The boatswainmate of the watch told us the port master wanted to talk to the commodore on the bridge-to-bridge UHF radio, which was not on the flag bridge.

The Commodore was loath to leave his post and directed me to go up to the ship’s bridge and talk with the port personnel.

I climbed the ladder to the bridge, feeling a bit awkward. The port should be talking to the captain of the ship, not the commodore, and there was this aviation-surface tension, not to mention the reverse seniority awkwardness. As i arrived, Captain Hayes in his gravelly booming voice directed his junior officer to give me the microphone to the bridge-to-bridge radio.

The port officer pointed out crosswinds had picked up significantly, the harbor entrance was narrow, especially for a ship such as a helicopter carrier, and the tight berth would be difficult for ship of such size with the wind to moor without some damage. He then asked if the commodore would agree to going to anchorage, a mile-long liberty boat transit for the liberty party.

Feeling proud of myself for my tact, i pointed out to the port officer the commodore was not in charge of the ship, but i would ask the commanding officer, Captain Hayes, what he thought was best.

“Thanks, Lieutenant Commander,” Hayes began, “Tell them i won’t enter the harbor and will go to the assigned anchorage.”

“Aye, sir,” i replied. Then hitting the transmit button on the bridge-to-bridge, i told the port officer, “Captain Hayes said he can’t get the ship to that berth in these conditions and will take the ship to the anchorage.”

Then i heard Captain Hayes in full force:

“GODDAMMIT BOY, I DIDN’T SAY I COULDN’T GO TO THAT BERTH, I SAID, I WOULDN’T!”

“Yes, sir,” i replied meekly. “I apologize,” quickly retreating down the ladder.

The ship went to anchorage. I went on liberty, caught a hydrofoil to Seattle, rented a car and picked up Blythe, my ten-year old daughter at the airport. She and i spent a day in Seattle, rode the hydrofoil back to Victoria, stayed in the Empress Hotel, one of my all time favorite places, took a ferry to Orcas Island where we stayed with my long-time college friend Cy Fraser, spending the night in sleeping bags on the small patio of his log cabin to wake up and watch the deer grazing between us and the rocky beach of Puget Sound about thirty feet away.

Blythe and i went back to Seattle where i put her on a plane back to Austin. It was one of the nicest weeks i have ever experienced, all because i was with Blythe.

And to this day, i feel a kinship and understanding with J.C. Hayes. He taught me the difference between “can’t” and “won’t.”

Captain Hayes retired in 1983 after 40 years of active duty. He returned to his home in South Carolina where he passed away last year.

Sleep well, you wonderful mariner.

Jewell…the puppy, not me really

The past week has been rather busy for an old man. We are redoing the front (bonus) room. It has been Maureen’s arts, crafts, and work room. Now it will be the same, just glorious.

This renovation, of course, put me in the high gear of puttering: painting, sanding, erecting shelves, wall mounting a television, and then, even being electronically challenged, dealing with hooking the damn thing up to the cable, DVD, etc. All of this also meant my space in the garage has been filled with the old front room contents, and my car was required to remain in the driveway. i don’t even like a garage in the front of the house, much less having to leave a car, my car in the driveway.

About a week before this all began, our neighbor, Terri Dillon, without knowing it, tempted me greatly.

Terri is an extremely successful, knowledgeable, and beyond competent real estate broker. She is also a very nice person and an animal lover. A little while ago, Terri became involved with “Dog Fur Days.” This non-profit is dedicated to finding dogs in shelters, assigning them to volunteer foster homes, and then searching for new owners. Terri is a volunteer. As usual, she is very successful in her volunteer work.

Just shy of two weeks ago, i was going out to my car, parked in the driveway. Terri was coming down to retrieve her mail. The shared mailbox for eight homes is next to our driveway. Terri had three labrador mix puppies bounding around her. She told us about how much she enjoyed them, and Maureen and i played with the two males and one female. When Terri returned home, the puppies bounded all over the place but generally found their way back to Terri’s home.

i told Maureen had there just been two pups i might have argued strongly for us adopting them. But there were three, and i just couldn’t take two and leave the other one for someone else. Plus, i vowed i wouldn’t have another dog after putting our last one, Lena, down until i was sure the dog would outlive me. i don’t want to have to do that again.

i’m not quite sure i’m at that point yet, but i’m getting close. Eventually, i will have another dog. i hope he’s like my Cass, my labrador who was more my best friend than my dog.

So we didn’t bring it up, this puppy adoption thing, to Terri. She kept us up to date, and soon those three beautiful puppies were adopted.

Then in the middle of the craziness of renovation, Terri sends me a message. She has another foster pup. This time, just one. She decided to name it “Jewell” after me. i was honored.

Then yesterday, Terri and i met again at the mailbox. She had brought Jewell along to meet her namesake. She was small and cute as a button. She was also a little shy, but boy, she could make you giggle just like a puppy should.

Today, Terri sent me another message. Jewell has been adopted.

Now that makes me happy. Jewell has a good home and i won’t be tempted…until, of course, Terri and i meet at the mailbox again.

Truth

i was driving around San Diego on my way home from lunch with one of my all-time best friends Pete Toennies when i started to thinking about truth. The thought was initiated during lunch when Pete and i discussed the many sides of politics passing each other without even knowing the other guy was going the other way.

Pete and i are about as different as you can get in most ways. Pete is 6’6″ in incredible shape; he was an All-American swimmer at St. Johns, a UDT and SEAL officer, retiring as a captain. He has attained financial success through hard work in buying houses, renovating them by himself, renting them out and then doing the same again and again until he ended up with two apartment complexes, one of which he sold for a tidy sum about a dozen years ago. His financial acumen is on spot. He is a health nut, swims three nights a week, works out every day, and practices golf every day he’s not playing. He is a successful leader and what i would like to label an independently thinking conservative.

i am an enigma. i am about as short as Pete is tall. i work out occasionally and have never had much interest in finances. i golf with some weird belief i will get better through positive thinking. That ain’t happening. i am, in my niece’s terms, a putterer, and in my older daughter’s term, a contrarian.

Not only do Pete and i get along; we understand each other and like each other even more because we understand. So after our delightful lunch that we had not done in quite a while, i thought about our discussions. i thought about “truth” and tonight, i wrote this poem (sic);

truth

what is truth?
is it your truth? their truth? my truth?
is your truth better than their truth?
i already know you think your truth
is better than my truth;
after all, your truth
is based on facts;
of course, they are your facts
based on your truth,
and
their truth is based on facts;
of course, they are their facts,
and
lord knows,
you or they can’t ever, ever
consider their or your facts worth a damn
because they conflict
with your or their truths;
and
you and they aren’t ever gonna consider
talking to each other
to understand the difference
and
come up with a truthful solution;
while my truth lies in some long abandoned
cubby hole of reasoning
because
my truth doesn’t rely on facts
or
even truth;
my truth, i hope,
relies on compassion; equality/ freedom in their purest form, understanding,
and
what my folks taught me
about doing what’s right,
and
although i am not a practicing formal Christian,
i think that guy Jesus
pretty much nailed it
when he reportedly said
“do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”
and
“he who is without guilt cast the first stone;”
but
that is another truth entirely,
which most of the folks in this world
just ain’t gonna deal with,
and
i look around to watch all of those stones flying in the air
and
wonder
will we ever get to truth?
right now, i am not real hopeful.

Bonita, California
March 1, 20-17