i awoke even earlier than usual. i went to bed early last night. In the depth of the morning darkness, i tried to go back to sleep to no avail because random thoughts kept filling up my head. Many of those thoughts seem to come from nowhere, not my experience, not from anywhere. They were pretty good, good enough to write about.
So i got up to do just that: write about those random thoughts. Of course, by the time i got to my desk and computer, i had forgotten damn near everyone of them.
However, there were a couple i remembered:
For about twenty-two years, my primary purpose in life was to meet the Navy’s Mission: “To conduct operations at sea in support of national policy.”
They’ve gussied up that mission statement since then. It now reads “To maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.”
In other words, the Navy has given itself more leeway to do other things besides support the national policy.
The new statement is much more political, bureaucratic, and undoubtedly modified with legal concerns.
i liked the old one.
i did that, meeting the mission, the old one. Twenty-two years or so.
It made life easy. Everything else fell in line with following that mission statement. It truly was the way i lived.
Then i retired. I bumbled around for quite a while. At first, it was easy. Sarah was born the day i retired. i didn’t write it out, or even qualify it in my mind, but my new mission for that period of time was to take care of Sarah. Then, we got a care-giver, Karen Escobedo. Perfect. Lived about three blocks away. She turned into more, giving Sarah a look at life with children across the board in race, religion, countries, and even children with disabilities.
It was time for me to bumble some more. Somewhere in all of that bumbling, i finally came up with my new mission statement: “To lead a good life, do the right thing, be a good man.” i can’t be the judge of how well i’ve adhered to that mission. i’ll let others do that after i’m gone. But i try.
Yet sometimes, i think it was easier with the Navy. i could be a good guy, sympathetic, understanding, fair, compliant, obedient, bad guy, tough, mean and angry, even unfair, cool, decisive. You see, i was to be whatever it took to meet the mission.
With my new mission, i often just sort of plug along being me, not adapting to meet my mission. Not good. It is hard to go against the grain, not modify my actions and behavior to meet my mission, especially when someone else’s interests and concerns are involved.
And in the Navy, my mission included driving large steam ships at sea.
It was glorious and easy compared to trying to lead a good life, do the right thing, be a good man.
One observation occurring after my Navy years. It never was an issue back then. After all, i had no time to consider such things when my primary goal was to meet the Navy’s mission:
Unconditional love and conditional love do not mix well.
After my post about our evening at the Belly Up Tavern last Sunday, my sister-in-law, Patsy Boggs, asked me to retell the story of how Maureen and i met. When i searched my archived posts, i realized the post about that momentous occasion had been one of the posts lost in the great crash of my website provider. Well, it’s a pretty good story, and it has resulted in 34 years together come tomorrow. That’s July 30. 1983. So here we go:
It was early March 1982. i was the Weapons Officer of the USS Okinawa (LPH 3) homeported in San Diego. The Weapons Officer billet was titled “First Lieutenant” on other amphibious helicopter carriers. Regardless, it meant i was charge in pretty much everything not aviation, engineering, operations, or supply related.
One of those responsibilities was being in charge of the quarterdeck where all visitors entered the ship. From previous regimes, we had a large red torah that spanned the entrance into the helicopter deck below the flight deck. It was impressive, but Captain Dave Rogers called me to his cabin one afternoon. “Jim, I want our quarterdeck to be the best quarterdeck on the base. I want it to be the most impressive and known to be the best by everyone homeported here.”
I, of course, replied, “Aye, Aye, Sir!”
i discussed how we could make the quarterdeck renowned across the waterfront with my division officers and Boatswain Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4) Ellis. The Bosun had a bit of a beer gut. He was married to a wonderful Filipino woman who macraméd a lanyard for the boatswain pipe the bosun gave me. She was about 4’8″ and almost that wide. Great lady, just a bit wide.
We came up with the idea of a sitting area next to the quarterdeck. At the time, when guests or visitors came aboard, they had to wait for the watch to contact whomever they were there to see. That sailor or officer would have to come to the quarterdeck to escort the visitor. Often, the time it took to get to the quarterdeck was lengthy.
So we decided we could create a sitting area with panels, some chairs, maybe a sofa, and hang framed photographs about the Oki on the walls. That way, the visitor wouldn’t have to stand around in the working bay of the helicopter deck. Great idea.
We had to decide where and how to get panels. Since the Bosun and his first class were going to make a supply run Friday, the next day, i asked them to check out panels while they were on their run. Liberty call was early and the Bosun and his first class left around 1300. They were dressed in their standard liberty civies. The Bosun had on Levis with a blue tee shirt with his thick black hair combed back as much as it could to resemble a ducktail. His first class had on his biker’s jeans, white tee shirt with a leather jacket and a silver chain dangling down from the jeans. He had straw blond hair also combed back and the gap of a missing tooth was the final touch. They left for their mission.
i had a bunch of paperwork to work through and continued on after liberty call. The bosun came into the office with several boxes of toilet paper (i never understood why he didn’t get it through supply).
“i didn’t think you would be coming back to the ship, Bosun,” i remarked.
“Well, i didn’t want to keep this stuff at home over the weekend,” he replied.
“Did you find any panels?”
“Well sir, we went to Dixieline (a local lumber and home center). They didn’t have them, but they told us to go to Parron-Hall.”
“Parron-Hall?” i puzzled.
“Yes sir. They’re an office furniture place downtown across from the county admin building. We went there, but that place was way too classy for us. They had desks in the showroom worth more than my house.
“You are gonna have to go down there and see about them panels.”
“Aww, come on, Bosun, i have a lot on my plate.”
“No sir, you are gonna have to go down there. It’s on Ash Street.”
Then he added, ” You know sir, the woman who waited on us was really pretty. i noticed she didn’t have a ring on her finger. i’m pretty sure she’s single.
“And she’s way too skinny for me.”
Midday on Monday, i drove down to Parron-Hall Office Materials. i asked the receptionist to see the person who had given her business card to Bosun. i stood at the entrance to the showroom. She came walking across with the sun shining in the window behind her (think Glenn Close in “The Natural” only prettier). She claims i had my piss cutter on my head. That, of course, is not correct: i am a country boy from Lebanon, Tennessee raised correctly by my parents and, by the way, an officer and a gentleman. My hat was off.
We had numerous discussions about the panels, which required about four or five “business” lunches over the five or six weeks for the panels to arrive. When the deal was done, i asked for that date to see John Lee Hooker at the Belly Up. We attended several events over the summer including sailing with JD in the “Fly a Kite” race where we became (or at least JD became) a legend. We went out to dinner too many times to count.
And, as i have noted before, one night up in Mission Hills, i was driving and just pulled over and parked in a residential area overlooking one of canyons. We talked. And i realized we thought a lot a like. It took until early February before we determined it was, as they say, it was meant to be.
So, that’s the story, Patsy, and that wedding took place thirty-four years ago on July 30, 1983.
i think it was pretty cool. Thanks, Bosun Ellis for determining she was way too skinny for you.
This was begun after we went to the Belly Up Tavern this past Sunday evening and completed over the next few days. There is at least one other post related to this one.
It is past midnight. Old men should have been in bed a long time ago. But tonight was different. 34 years of marriage.
We planned it about three months ago. We paid way more than we are comfortable for the tickets. We were going to cancel. Then, we said to each other, “What the hell; let’s do it.”
It wasn’t even the right date. Hell, it wasn’t even the right weekend. The wedding occurred on a hot afternoon on July 30, 1983 on Taft Street in Lemon Grove, Ray Boggs’ home where Maureen grew up . But a lot the event seemed to fit with our celebration.
The event was at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach where we went on our first official date. I had maneuvered to have quite a few “business lunches” right after i met her, but we were professional and even i shied away from anything more than a business relationship.
Then the partitions were delivered (as per her sister’s request, i will retell meeting Maureen later), and after two months of business, the deal was sealed. That day in her office, i asked her for our first date.
“Would you like to go see John Lee Hooker?” i asked.
“Who’s that?” she questioned. i sensed reluctance.
“He’s one of the legends in the blues,” i replied hoping to get her more interested.
“What’s the blues?” she asked.
“It’s the best,” i replied.
Surprisingly, she said, “Okay. But you have to understand i have a primary relationship.”
“What’s that?” i asked honestly.
After she explained primary relationships, and i told her about the blues, we worked out the arrangement. She met us at Lou Rehberger’s apartment in Solana Beach. Lou, his date, JD Waits and his date, and Maureen and i went to the Belly Up Tavern. John Lee Hooker was the main attraction that Saturday night. He didn’t disappoint.
The following Monday night, JD and his date, Maureen and i returned for Doc Watson’s performance.
Maureen was introduced to Blues and Bluegrass within three nights. She loved it. There were other dates to events but most of our summer, usually two or more nights a week, we went out to dinner. There was some reluctance to further the relationship on both sides. i was a very single lieutenant commander in San Diego with an apartment on Coronado and very pleased with my status. She, as you might remember, had a primary relationship.
But that wasn’t going real well for her and one of her closest friends asked her about that “sailor boy.”
We were married about ten months later. Thirty-four years ago.
When we came back to San Diego after an incredibly rewarding and final operational tour for me as executive officer of the USS Yosemite and the first year together in our marriage in Jacksonville, Florida, we again went to see John Lee Hooker at the Belly Up. He was even better than the first time.
We went one more time in the late 1980’s to see Taj Mahal. We weren’t disappointed but other factors including the Belly Up being on the opposite north/south ends of the county kept us away.
About a dozen years ago, we went to see a BB King concert in the outdoor stage a couple of miles south of us. We both saw Susan Tedeschi for the first time, and Maureen saw Buddy Guy for the first time. Unfortunately. Buddy’s lead-in show wasn’t over until after 10:30, which meant BB wouldn’t start until almost midnight. Maureen had a workday the next day. We bailed. We did see BB and Albert King at Humphrey’s. Maureen’s conversion to Blues lover was complete.
Then we saw the advertisement for Buddy Guy. At the Belly Up. Done deal.
Since our first forays up north, the Belly Up and Humphrey’s have become the rage. People fight to get into the concerts. Neither is the laid back fun place to enjoy good music they used to be. Now they are events. That means, of course, they have become outrageously expensive. It also meant there are long lines to get in. At the Belly Up, it appears they have reduced the seating and raised the attendance capacity. Seats in the middle have been taken out for perimeter tiered seating. It is so small it is still okay, but now there are over half of the crowd standing in the middle. For up to four hours. That’s after a half-hour to 90-minute wait in line. Not for this old folk.
But then, we were inside. i sat with this beautiful woman in the place where we had our first date in 1982. i put my arm around her. i did not do that 35 years ago. We listened to the blues like we did back then. John Lee Hooker is gone. BB King and Albert King are gone. Damn near all, if not all of those blues legends are gone. Buddy Guy was a bit different, a guitar wizard and more akin to Jimi Hendrix than Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. But the backbone of his guitar playing was the blues and he’s back.
It was just about right for our celebration.
Yet as we looked around, there was something just not quite right about the scene itself. Other than the bass and lead/rhythm guitarist and, of course, Buddy, the crowd of 600, the maximum, may have included a couple people who weren’t pale of skin, but i didn’t see them. The entire audience was pretty much middle and older “white” folks, perhaps remembering earlier times, perhaps there because it was a “go-to” event.
Old chubby men in cargo shorts, bad Hawaiian shirts, and pork-pie straw hats, bobbed their heads in appreciation but out of rhythm (think Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the bathroom scene of “Silver Streak”). These old men wore flip flops or white tennis shoes with white socks. Old women in knock-off muumuus and Birkenstock sandals swayed, also in questionable rhythm. The younger set in their forties (there may have been a few dipping into their thirties, but again, i didn’t see them) crowded around the two bars and were swigging them down like it was a race. They were talking in groups, not too engrossed in the music.
i mean this was Buddy Guy. His lead-in was this eighteen-year old “white” kid guitar phenom named Quinn Sullivan. He was good, real good, fast like Buddy. Buddy showed his eighty with talk of giving back, getting along, and a number of trips to his coffee cup at the back of the set while the band played breaks. He still has the guitar playing and the showmanship, using more profanity to shock and induce nervous laughter. But he is Buddy Guy.
The young folks would love him. The folks with darker skin would love him. Where were they?
The world changes. Places i love become popular, a few try to remain the same but seldom do. Prices rise. Worse, crowds searching for the new “in” make them…well, crowded and noisy. Sorta like cars: i buy one i really like. They become popular. The car makers make ’em plusher, add electronics, take away the sports ride so they will ride smoother, modernize the straight stick, and of course, raise the prices.
But for one evening celebrating an incredible 12,791 days of pretty much joy sharing my life with this elegant woman sitting next to me who is getting down, clapping in time, moving with the young Quinn’s and Buddy’s guitar playing, it’s okay. i’m not into those old “white” folks. Hell, i’m not even one of them. i’m an old blues nut, appreciating what has evolved from its roots. And to do so with Maureen makes just about perfect.
She had that Prichard grit right up to the very end, when she said, “You make the decision. I’m tired of making decisions.” With the support and counsel of my sister Martha — Joe, trying to get home from Ireland later supported and agreed — i made the decision. Mid-morning, the next day, she was gone. We all knew she was where she wanted to be. With him.
It has been a little over three years. i was going to include a bunch of photos of her from the farm on Hunter’s Point Pike to basketball player to war momma (me) to her with her family, that would be us including the two siblings who continue to make me proud, and some of her throughout her life, but quite frankly, it was getting difficult to find the ones i wanted. She would understand that. She had some problems with new technology and photos. Didn’t like it. So after a full day, i sat here considering what to do.
After all, it is her 100th birthday.
Earlier, my brother and my niece posted photos of her. Good photos. i really don’t need to do that now.
And i won’t write a lot about her. i think anyone who has read some of my stuff knows.
i will just go to bed thinking about her and what a wonderful impact she had on so many. And there were two who just always seemed to glow when they were with her.
As i was describing three scenes with Earl Major and his 1967 Porsche 911, i remembered one more. It would not surprise me to recall some other events with Earl and his Porsche, but not for now.
While Earl was in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard aboard the USS Fox and i was normally on the mole pier, pier 9, or the seawall at the end of the mole pier aboard the USS Hollister, we were constantly with each other when not on duty. Several times, Earl house sat for us while we went on various journeys, also taking care of the dog and cat.
The first time he did that, he woke up in the middle of the night with the bed shaking. He was convinced San Pedro was having a significant earthquake. When he got of bed, the shaking stopped except for the bed. Our Old English Sheepdog, Snooks (named after my uncle Alvin “Snooks” Hall) had gotten under the bed and couldn’t get out. Her struggles were making the bed bounce up and down. When he lifted the bed and let her out, they became best friends forever.
Once, Earl even kept our two-year old daughter Blythe when we made an overnight trip. We had mutual trust.
One of my fondest memories of Earl was when he came over to San Pedro one evening for dinner. As we drank a Dos Equis amber beer while Kathie was preparing dinner, he insisted on making his guacamole. He offered me a dollop on a tortilla chip. i tried it. It was almost as hot as San Diego’s Chuey’s chile verde, which remains the hottest dish i have ever eaten except for a lamb dish i had in a Manila restaurant in 1975. i commented on his guacamole being on my list of spicy hot foods.
“Oh no,” he claimed, “This guac is perfect.”
He took a bite and then another, big scoops on tiny chips. After the third, his face began to turn red and sweat was popping out on his brow.
“See,” he pointed out, “this stuff is just right.”
i did notice he drank almost a whole beer in about three quick gulps. It was good guacamole but not for the faint of heart.
On quite a few occasions while we were both in Long Beach, i ended up driving the Porsche. Most of the times, it was because Earl needed a bigger car to carry something. On one particular afternoon, i was in the Porsche delivering it back to Earl in the shipyard. i do not remember why but i was going north on I-405. The interstate ran right by the island, but our Navy housing (across the Vincent Thomas Bridge) in San Pedro was to the north. The Naval station and shipyard are gone, and Terminal Island and surroundings are completely different today than in 1974. Now combined with Los Angeles, the area is the second largest container ship port in the world (Alan Hicks, straighten me out if i got this wrong).
The shipyard and the Naval Station occupied Terminal Island. i took the exit ramp to Terminal Island. It exited off to the right and then arched left before curving right again into the surface road leading to one of the shipyard gates. The left curve was banked.
As i exited, i geared down to third. As i began the banked turn to the left, i began to feel i was being pushed down into the seat by an invisible force. Wondering what was wrong with me, i looked down at the speedometer and the RPM gauge. i was well over the 3000 RPM limit, which Earl had once cautioned me, even though i was entering a non-highway.
Then i looked at the speedometer. It read 95 mph and appeared to be going up. It finally dawned on me i was “pulling G’s.” The Porsche was handling the banked curve so well, i felt totally in control, but i figured with the G’s and the speed, i probably should slow down.
She was a lovely, lovely high performance vehicle.
The third incident with Earl Major’s Porsche 911 occurred on Saturday, January 5, 1974. i know that because Reagan’ 55 mph nationwide speed limit went into effect on the previous Wednesday and may have contributed to the confusion.
Earl’s ship, the USS Fox, had completed its overhaul in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, and the ship would be leaving for its homeport of San Diego on Monday. Earl was taking his personal possessions from his apartment on Manhattan Beach to San Diego, then driving back to be on the ship’s transit to homeport. He came by our Navy housing in San Pedro to say good-by, i think more to my wife; Snooks, the old English Sheepdog; BK, our great cat; and most of all Blythe who had a mutual admiration society with him.
He left for San Diego around 10:00 am. i felt sorry for him having to drive that wonderful road machine without exceeding the magic new limit of 55…and keeping the RPM above 3000. About an hour later, he called from a pay phone. The Porsche had died as Earl reached the I-405 and I-5 merge in Irvine, roughly fifty miles from our quarters. He had pulled into the safety island between the two interstates (new overpasses and ramps have eliminated that island). He asked if i could come help him. Obviously, i immediately agreed with Kathie’s concurrence and headed south in the small Corona station wagon. i reached him and the Porsche in, yep, about an hour.
The traffic was not as crazy on those two major freeways as they are now, but even on a Saturday, there were plenty of cars. Earl and i stood in the middle and strategized on the best plan to get him off the freeway. He had found a Porsche maintenance location just off off the next exit, which was less than a half-mile from our island. After checking the position of our bumpers, we decided the best solution was for me to push him to and up the exit ramp, then on to the shop which fortunately was about a half-mile from the exit.
We got in our cars and with hand signals while finding a spot with no traffic crossed the I-405 side of the merge onto the shoulder to proceed to the exit ramp. A highway patrol came up behind us. i thought how nice and considerate of the CHP to give us protection while we got off the freeway.
Then he turned on his flashing lights and motioned us to stop. We were less than 100 yards from the exit ramp.
He asked what we thought we were doing. We told him. He said that was against the law. We asked, “What law?”
He pondered and looked through some book he pulled out of his patrol car. “It’s unsafe and against the law,” he repeated.
We repeated, “What law?” then added, “We weren’t speeding. Is there a law for going too slow?”
“I’ll have to check,” he said and then made a call on his radio. Another trooper showed up. They discussed it some more and made another radio call. This was repeated until there were six patrol cars around us and finally the supervisor joined them. What traffic there was had slowed drastically due to everyone looky-looing to see what great crime against man and the laws of the Golden Bear state was being pursued by such a large contingent of CHIPS (remember that show?).
After over an hour, the troopers agreed, and the original trooper wrote me a ticket, but none for Earl. The trooper said, “It’s illegal to push a car on the interstates.”
i looked at the ticket and read i had been charged with speeding at five miles an hour. i decided not to argue and asked, “Is it illegal to tow one?”
“No,” he said. Most of the six cars had taken off. He quickly joined them.
Earl and i drove up to the nearest hardware store, purchased some two-inch line (rope for you landlubbers) and returned. We did a sailor’s jury rig on the tow line, and i pulled the Porsche to the repair shop. We went back to Long Beach and i took Earl to his ship.
i scheduled my court appearance at the Long Beach courthouse. Earl insisted he go with me and testify as a material witness. Kathie decided she would go with us in case she might add to the testimony. On the scheduled day, we dressed up as we thought appropriate. Earl and i wore conservative suits and ties, thinking our uniforms might look like we were trying to influence the court. Kathie also dressed conservatively.
We arrived at the courthouse and stood in a long line of ticketed citizens, most of whom probably had never owned a tie. Most in our line looked like they were either gang members, homeless, both, or worse. After about a half hour, we got to the window to check-in.
The clerk looked at my ticket and started to laugh. She said, “I don’t think you have much to worry about.” We filed into the courtroom, sitting near the back. The first several tickets were dispatched quickly with some pretty harsh fines. i was nervous even though the three of us had gone over our strategy a number of times. i was going to explain what happened to the judge and then call Earl to verify my testimony, and then Kathie, if needed, to vouch for our truthfulness.
They called me and i walked to the front, the bailiff was to the judge’s right. The judge read the ticket. “What is this?” he marveled. Then he turned to the bailiff and asked him, “Have you ever heard of someone getting a ticket for speeding at five miles per hour?”
The bailiff did not do too well suppressing his guffaw. The judge frowned at him and asked me to explain. I did.”
He looked at the ticket for a long time and then said, “Well, if it’s not against the law, it should be.” So he poured over a book of state statutes on driving laws.
“Well, i can’t find any law against pushing a car at five miles an hour. Don’t do it again. Case dismissed.”
Earl, Kathie, and i went to dinner at a nice place to celebrate. I now think it was sort of sad the Porsche was just a two-seater. We should have gone in it rather than the Corona station wagon. We laughed a lot about the whole thing.
This post began last night, so read “yesterday” when you read “today.”
Maureen went to a movie today.
Therefore, i agreed to go to the beach with Sarah.
Now you can’t just go to any beach if you bring a dog with you. There are at least three, if not more, “dog beaches” in San Diego. The one in Del Mar just made it a requirement to have the dogs leashed all of the time. They haven’t had very many dogs or humans there since then. My favorite is Coronado Beach. It’s close, convenient, and familiar. i used to run it every workday from the Naval Amphibious School across to the beach to the back security fence for the Naval Air Station, North Island, a run just over six miles. But most of all because that is where i would take Cass to retrieve his toy over the breakers and body surf back in for me to throw again, ad infinitum, until i made him stop fearing he has worn himself out and knowing that would not stop him from continuing.
It is an amazing place, this Coronado dog beach. The view is wonderful, even if it is overcast as it was this afternoon. The people are a cross-section of everyone. There were at least 200 dogs, all but one or two unleashed and all enjoying each other and the people. i think i saw just about every breed except a mastiff. i thought i wouldn’t see an Old English Sheepdog, but one romped onto the scene with fur, lots of fur flying right at the end.
Several views of the action:
The last photo shows a labrador who aspired to emulate Cass. His master, the older gentleman, had one of those throw-assist wands for a tennis ball he would cast into the surf. The lab would bound in, swim to the ball, and bring it back. Then he would drop the toy at his master’s feet, circle around and lie down in between his master’s legs, waiting anxiously for another round. The difference? Cass would require me to wade waist deep and hurl his ball over the last wave crest. Cass would then crash into the wave, fetch the ball, and body surf back in. But never, ever would Cass be as obedient at this one. He would shove the ball into my hand and then jump up and down at me until i threw it again.
Still it was a lovely day at dog beach with my daughter. Some guy even complimented me on my “Trevor Time” Padre long-sleeve tee shirt.
After a very successful ball where my wife at the time was admired greatly by the Destroyer School’s commanding officer, Earl dropped off both hatch covers and our mini-station wagon, which now would be labeled a hatchback. He got his Porsche 911 back unharmed.
To be honest, i was relieved.
i got both hatchbacks because both Earl and i had orders to Long Beach, CA, and it was easier to include them in our household goods rather than Earl putting one in his minimal personal goods shipment. Earl was reporting as Weapons Officer to the USS Fox (DLG 33), homeported in San Diego but undergoing a major overhaul in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. i had orders to relieve the chief engineer aboard the USS Hollister (DD 788), homeported at the Long Beach Naval Station adjacent to the shipyard. We were going to be co-located and our friendship would remain close for the rest of Earl’s life.
The last four weeks of destroyer school was a four-week stay in Norfolk where we would train on ships of the same class as the ones to which we had orders. Consequently, my parents flew to Providence, loaded up my wife, Blythe, the cat BK, and the Old English Sheepdog Snooks in that Corona station wagon and drove to Tennessee. My family then went to Paris, Texas and my in-laws home. Earl and i, after completing the school back in Newport, then drove to Lebanon in his Porsche.
In was in November 1974. We planned to stop in New York City and stay at the home of one of Earl’s friends, but late that night at a gas stopped and called his friend. The friend was out of town so we decided to drive straight through. By then, it was almost midnight and Earl had driven up until then. i took my turn at the wheel. i had barely pulled back on the road before Earl was sound asleep.
i’m no longer sure of the route we took, but i was driving through mountains on what i believe was I-81. It was in Pennsylvania. It was 1:00 am in the morning. Earl was sound asleep. There was nothing on the road except us and semis. It began to rain in the mountains. i found myself unwittingly racing semi after semi. 95 miles an hour in the mountains on curves in the rain. The Porsche was performing better than i. It was hair raising but i didn’t want to wake Earl and scare the hell out of him. It was one hell of a ride for about an hour. My knuckles were white. But i think i took a step up in my driving. As first light came about, we stopped for gas and Earl took over the driving duties and i slept.
i never told him, but it was certainly one of the most thrilling night rides of my life.
My recent travels and an article in the newspaper about a court trial generated some memories about a special friend and his pride and joy. i have told at least one, if not all of these stories before, but they have been lost with the great website provider crash a couple of years ago. Regardless, i love them and will tell them again and again. Earl Major was a special person in my life.
John Sweatt, Earl Major, and i are the only career Naval officers i know who were in our generation from Lebanon, Tennessee.
John was my mentor/protector/coach at Castle Heights and later gave me perspective in my grind of Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He remains a hero to me.
Earl was six months and one school year ahead of me at McClain Elementary and Castle Heights. We played ball together, baseball and football. We shared counselor roles at Tennessee Boy’s State. He and i were best friends until he went to Auburn on an NROTC scholarship and i went to Vanderbilt on the same scholarship. Earl carried it through to graduation. i found a different route, therefore welcoming John’s time and support at OCS.
But after Earl left for Auburn in 1961, he and i didn’t even communicate until 1973. When i reported to Destroyer School for department head training in Newport, Rhode Island. Earl was also there for the same course. We reconnected big time. He and my wife at the time and i became a trio of fast friends. This led to the first Porsche story.
Earl was a single lieutenant commander. Now having experience of that position, i know it is one of the best in the world. Bachelor Earl arrived in Newport in a 1967 Porsche 911. It was a dull orange and one incredible car:
Near the end of the six months of Destroyer School, the command put on a graduation ball. It was a big thing. The event was held in the “Marble House,” the other Vanderbilt mansion besides the famous Breakers. My wife purchased an evening gown and i checked out my dinner dress whites. Then Earl and i talked.
“I don’t have a date for the ball,” he said.
i marveled. Newport was famous for meeting women. i had met one of the most wonderful women in my life when i met Kathy McMahon, now Klosterman. The Tavern, Hurley’s, and a couple of other places were great meeting places. But i sensed Earl wasn’t too keen on the ball, so i just mumbled something about being sorry.
“Oh, no,” he said, “I’m fine with that. In fact, the reason I was calling is I am going to New London. They have a scrap yard there with old liberty ship hatch covers. I’m going to get one and refinish it for a coffee table.”
“Wow,” i responded, “What a great idea.”
Then Earl admitted “I’m calling because a hatch cover won’t fit in my Porsche. I was wondering if we could swap cars for the weekend. You could have the Porsche to go to the ball and I could take your wagon to New London. I’ll get you a hatch cover for $25 and we’ll call it even.”
Hmm, let’s see. i loan Earl my 1970 Toyota Corona station wagon and get a liberty ship hatch cover, and get to take my wife to a formal dance in Porsche 911.
“Okay,” i agreed.
Being very fond of his Porsche, Earl offers to drive to our Navy housing at Fort Adams on Saturday morning and proposes we trade cars there and drive across town to the Navy base to be sure we are okay with my driving the Porsche and Earl driving the station wagon. Good idea, especially if you are the owner of the Porsche.
Saturday morning, Earl arrived at our housing unit as promised. We swapped keys and agreed to meet at the base exchange. As we walked to each other’s cars, Earl advised, “Remember, you should always keep the RPM over 3000.” He forgot to clarify that requirement as for being on the highway.
Earl jumped into the Corona and took off. i got into the Porsche feeling like a Le Mans racer, opened up the roof panel, and started after Earl.
Now the route from Fort Adams to the Naval Base takes you through the heart of Newport, the centuries old town with narrow streets. i dutifully tried to keep the RPM over 3000, shifting continuously and scaring the hell out of at least two dozen New England drivers. i nearly wrecked the Porsche and killed myself on at least a half dozen occasions through the narrow streets for about five miles, vroom, vroom all the way. i finally gave up figuring the Porsche was not worth my life.
When i reached the exchange, Earl asked me if the car drove all right. i told him of my experience. He apologized, telling me about the 3000 RPM limit being for highway driving.
All else was a success. The liberty ship hatch cover has undergone a bunch of transitions and is now Maureen’s work table in our front room, holding a sewing machine and serving as a platform for Maureen’s textile art projects. i think about Earl every time i pass that room.
The Porsche 911 was beautiful car. And Earl was a beautiful human being.