Monthly Archives: August 2017

For Sam: A Story of Long Ago With Some Semblance of Truth

This is a story sort of wrapping up Willie Nod. i wrote it recently. i have sent it to my grandson already.

i haven’t found any more Willie Nod poems but expect i will run across some in some cranny of all the files i have. i intend to write some more. But i thought you might want know how Willie Nod ended up…at least temporarily.

i should stress this is the first draft and Sarah’s drawing is her first draft. As with all Willie Nod works, the writing is mine, copyright jim jewell 2017, and the drawings are Sarah’s, all copyright Sarah Jewell 2017.

For Sam: A Story of Long Ago With Some Semblance of Truth


This is a story that began in my mind a long time ago after one of the most difficult times in my life and just before one of the most magical times in my life.

The hut in this story was real. In 1969, that hut was off of First Beach right behind the house where i rented the upstairs apartment. I think someone actually lived in it.

It was down the rocks from the back yard of my apartment, an old big house really, in Newport, Rhode Island.

A great deal of this is fiction, but it is based on actual places and things in my mind i still believe.

It was really just a hole dug a bit into the hard sand underneath the rocks someone had cleared around the hut’s front facing the beach. The roof was makeshift, made from corrugated tin sheet the builder apparently found somewhere. The rocky shore slanted toward the waters of Newport’s Easton Bay with First Beach to the right, or northward. The tin roof was almost unrecognizable as tin with seaweed and seagull droppings piled upon the roof and only the very front edge of the tin was visible, shakily held up by four by four timbers of ancient vintage. There was a chimney, a metal pipe sticking up near the front with a rain cap of tin beaten into an upside down vee. Old colored glass fishing floats and ramshackle, worn wooden lobster pots littered the rocks above and on the sides of the hut.

Jake Wilson noticed it right after he had rented the upstairs apartment in the large, run-downed old big house at the end of Tuckerman Avenue, which circumvented the point jutting out south into the Atlantic between First and Second beaches.

But Jake had rented the apartment because it was affordable, less expensive than the nicer apartments in Middletown and downtown Newport. He had stumbled onto this place and fallen in love with it.

The small porch off the bedroom’s apartment looked straight across the bay to “The Breakers,” Cornelius Vanderbilt, II’s famous summer mansion. The apartment living room was about twenty-five feet long and fifteen feet wide with an ornate fireplace at the north end. The fireplace inlaid, ornate tiles were hand painted. The rest of the apartment was cramped to say the least. The bedroom itself could barely hold the double-bed. The kitchen was the size of a narrow closet and the kitchen sink served double as the bathroom sink. The bathroom itself was just big enough to turn around amid the shower and the toilet.

However, the view of mansion row across the bay, the rocky shoreline, and the feeling of being next to the sea appealed to Jake. He would wake up in the morning and immediately walk out on the porch and take in the view. It mattered not to him if it was sunny, calm, cloudy, stormy with driving rain, hot or cold. In the evening on return from his ship, he would go directly to the porch and again survey his view from the beach where folks might still be digging for quahogs in the wet sand to the Cliff Walk where couples would be walking past sunset to the mansions down Ochre Point to Land’s End on Sheep’s Point, and of course, the ocean. Before he hit the rack in the evening, Jake once more would return to the port and take in the night lights.

It was three weeks before Jake noticed the hut. It was a warm autumn Saturday morning when he walked out onto his beloved porch with his cup of coffee after breakfast. He was testing the weather, thinking he might drag a chair out on the porch and read through the morning. The weather was just fine, dry, clear, warmer than usual for that time of year. Jake scanned the view he had come to love.

He then noticed the pipe chimney and beaten rain cap for the first time. He spied the lobster pots and glass floats before but assumed they were just debris or possibly jetsam that had floated ashore and up into the rocks at high tide. But seeing the chimney, Jake looked closer. He made out the roof. He wondered when the structure might have been built and why. He guessed it was a really old, abandoned place, maybe even once a playhouse for the children of previous residents when it was a home, not broken into apartments. Jake’s telephone rang inside. He went in to answer and forgot for the time being about the strange construction.

About a week later when the weather had turned cooler and sea winds were brittle and harsh, Jake walked out on the porch in his rain gear. He was a Navy officer and like to think of being on the open bridge of a ship in bad weather. As he was staring out at sea from his porch, he caught a flimsy trail of smoke out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to see the source of the smoke, he discovered it was coming from the pipe chimney of the hut. Someone was living there or at least was using it for a temporary shelter from the wind and the cold.

The next Sunday, he decided to check out the hut and figure out what was going on. The hut sat halfway up the shoreline’s rocky slope. The rocks were slippery, especially when wet. Just seeing the smoke wasn’t worth finding out more about the hut. It was just a relic, he thought, probably someone walking the beach and decided to take a break from the cold. It wasn’t worth the risk of falling to find out. But during the week, Jake stopped at The Tavern on Memorial Avenue for a beer after coming from the ship. He sat at the bar and began talking to a local sitting next to him. The guy told him about the rumors about the hut. He said a whole bunch of folks thought there was a ghost haunting the place. Others said they had seen a bedraggled old man wandering around the beaches and claimed he, whoever he was, lived in that hut. Now Jake wanted to know just exactly what was happening in that hut. He guessed it was most likely a homeless man who holed up in the shelter during bad weather. But he wanted to know for sure and decided he would risk scaling down those rocks to find out.

That Sunday, Jake finished his breakfast of sausage, eggs, and grits (he had found the grits and Tennessee sausage in a small grocery on Thames). He sat in the middle of the large living room with the Sunday edition of The New York Times spread across the floor. He pored over each section until the sun had warmed the autumn morning. When he had finished his reading and his coffee, he pulled on his sneakers, he went down the stairs and out the back entrance to the house, which was actually the front of the house because it faced the bay and not Tuckerman Avenue.

Jake carefully maneuvered down the slick rocks until he reached the side of the hut. “Halloo,” he yelled, “Anybody here?” When there was no answer, he shouted the same query again, only louder.

With no answer again, Jake slid further down and across the rocks to the front of the hut. The old, faded-white door, like it used to be an interior door, was ajar. Jake, inching closer carefully, peered inside. He could make out the “Ben Franklin” stove connected to the old pipe chimney. Further back in the hut was an old canvas cot with blankets and pillows piled high. Jake moved a little closer and saw an old wooden sea chest with brass bindings next to the cot.

Feeling a bit embarrassed like he was intruding into someone’s home, Jake climbed back up the rocks. Once back on the house lawn, he peered up and down the shoreline but saw no one. He gave up and went back to his apartment.

Jake continued to watch the hut closely at every opportunity. Several nights, he spotted smoke coming from the hut’s chimney. It was always late. He never saw anyone coming in or out.

After about a month, Jake was ready for his enjoyable Sunday morning routine again. He had eaten his breakfast of eggs, grits, and sausage. Before breaking out his copy of the Sunday Times, he grabbed his cup of coffee and walked out on his porch. As usual, he scanned the view. As he looked toward First Beach, he spotted the man by the water’s edge below the hut.

As quickly as he could, Jake got dressed, ran down the stairs, ran across the lawn and as quickly as he deemed safe climbed down the rocks.

Halfway down, he stopped to get his bearings. He again located the man at the water’s edge. Jake gasped when he realized the man was leaning over the water. Immediately below the man’s head was a dolphin. The two seemed to be talking to each other although, because of the sound of the surf, Jake couldn’t be sure they were talking.

He studied the man and the mammal. The man appeared to be old but was lithe and agile in his movement. The man had on worn jeans and boat shoes, and a heavy wool sweater. His very long beard was dark rust. His head was covered with a sailor’s heavy weather wool knit cap, a watch cap the sailor’s called them. As the dolphin bobbed up and down, his nose got very close to the man’s face. Jake now was certain the two were talking to each other.

Jake moved closer and yelled, “Halloo!”

The man and the dolphin turned toward Jake. It seemed to him they nodded okay. He moved closer.

Before he got next to them, the old man greeted, “How are you doing on this fine day?”

“Fine,” Jake replied, “How about you?”

“We are just super fine,” the man nodded toward the dolphin who nodded his head and made a dolphin squeal. The man added, nodding toward the dolphin again, “This is my friend Eddie.”

Not quite sure just exactly he should respond to a man and a dolphin, Jake responded, “It’s nice to meet both of you.”

“Eddie says it’s nice to meet you as well but he needs to get back to fishing,” the man translated.

Jake was sure Eddie, the dolphin rose a foot or so more out of the water, nodded his head once or twice, twisted as he dove into the water and disappeared.

Still a bit stunned and a bit unsure of himself, which most of us would be if we met a man talking to a dolphin, Jake apologized, “I’m sorry if I bothered you and interrupted your time with…er, Eddie. But I saw you down here from my apartment up there, and I was curious about what was going on and wondering if you were the one who stayed in that hut up there,” nodding his head up the rocks toward the hut.

“No problem with Eddie; no need to apologize,” the man said, “He and I meet here quite often and talk about things.

“And yes, that is my home up there, also nodding towards the hut.

As they talked, Jake studied the man. He decided the man was not as old as he looked initially, maybe in his fifties, early sixties.

“Wow,” Jake exclaimed, “How long have you lived there?”

“Well, let’s see,” the man mulled, “The original owner of that house where you live…I think his name was McDougall, gave me the okay to dig out this place, make the hut, such as it is, and stay as long as I wanted. I think I have the deed, he wrote out, maybe in that sea chest, but never no mind, I guess to answer your question, I’ve been living here, off and on, for about twenty-five, thirty years.”

“So what do you do?” Jake asked, “How did you live here that long?”

The man expounded:

“Well, when I finally grew up, I joined the Navy and sailed on a bunch of ships. Can’t complain. I saw a whole bunch of the world in about ten years, met a bunch of different animals from all over.

“But I got tired of it, and when my last Navy ship, a destroyer, pulled back into here after a deployment, I just said ‘adieu’ and gave it up.

“I worked on fishing boats and chartered sailboats for a while, but that only lasted for about five years.

“I’ve been sort of wandering around since then. But I always seem to end up back here. This is really the only real home I’ve had since growing up. And it’s one of the few places left where I can talk to my friends.”

Jake was trying to absorb the man’s story, trying to decide what was factual and what was fantasy.

“So what friends do you talk to?” he asked.

“Oh, not as many as I used to,” the man replied and continued, “one of my very favorites, the old silver bird, sort of gave up on me. When I got older, I couldn’t hold on as well. So he and I decided I shouldn’t ride with him on his flights. He just sort of left like Rabbit Smith left me out in the desert a bunch of years ago.

“But there were others,” the man continued, “Most left because I got older. They said they couldn’t trust a grownup. Grownups, they said, are selfish, not as honest, more concerned about getting rather than getting along, they said. They said grownups like to blame others for their problems and just don’t get along with each other, plus they are pretty mean to animals even when they are trying to be helpful.

“Of course, my animals didn’t have it exactly right. They, like us humans, never get it exactly right. Like Rabbit Smith, I think i finally figured out the problem: There’s a difference between caring and worrying. And animals, just like humans, can’t quite figure that difference. At least, Rabbit Smith didn’t worry that much.”

“But anyways, the animals started to not trust me because I became a grownup. So they left.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Jake responded, “Who are these people? The bird who wouldn’t take you flying, was he a pilot? And this Rabbit Smith guy, was he a sailor? And if so, what were you two doing in the desert?”

“Oh, I guess you don’t understand,” the man acknowledged, “The bird really was a silver bird, beautiful, kind old fellow. He used to put me on top of his wings and take me flying. Oh, how we loved to fly together. The first animal I really talked to, outside my dog and cat, of course.

“And Rabbit Smith?” He was a long-eared, Southwestern jack rabbit. Crazier than a loon. Hard headed old coot. But he was a great friend.

“You see, when I was young, I discovered I could talk to a lot of animals. Now I only talk to a few. My dog and cat, and of course, Eddie.”

Jake was flabbergasted, but he decided to trust the man and not question him much further. The man asked Jake about who he was, where he came from, and what he did for a living. They talked for an hour or so. Then Jake climbed back up the rocks and went to his apartment where he turned on the television and watched the Sunday afternoon professional football game.

Jake went down and talked to the man sevneral more times after that. Twice, it was when Eddie was there. Jake would listen to the strange sounds between the man and the dolphin. Then the man would translate. Jake couldn’t come close to learning how to talk to the dolphin.

After a while, Jake’s ship deployed to the Mediterranean for ten months. He had to give up his apartment. When his ship returned, Jake drove over to Tuckerman Avenue and parked on the street next to his old apartment. He walked around the house to the rocky bank down to the shore. He scaled down the rocks to the hut.

There was no sign of the man. The hut was abandoned. The cot and the sea chest were gone. The chimney was broken and the whole place was in disarray as if no one had lived there in quite a while. There was graffiti scrawled across the old, now broken door.

Jake stood outside the hut, staring. He didn’t look at the beach or the mansions across the bay. He looked out to the Atlantic Ocean and wondered where the man had gone.

Staring at the ocean, Jake remembered one of his last meetings with the man. The man had scratched his long, thick beard and then talked about what Rabbit Smith had told him when the two had spent time together in the desert:

“‘Well, Willie,’ Rabbit Smith said to me, ‘if you don’t have a lot of other people to worry about, you don’t worry about yourself so much.’

“Rabbit Smith went on, ‘I’ve never been too much of a worrier; so one day when I was all wrapped up in worrying about all of those other scrawny, bug-eyed rabbits, I decided I was worrying too much. Took off; headed east.’”

Jake wondered if that was what the man had done: got to thinking about worrying about Jake and taken off.

Jake then remembered in their last discussions, Jake had finally asked the man his name. Jake remembered thinking it was a weird name, but seemed fitting for the man, who had replied:

“Willie Nod.”

Ghost Story

i think i’ve posted this before, but i ran across it today and liked recalling the days of my youth, often misspent, but always a learning experience. The beer in this story was Country Club Malt Liquor.

Ghost story

once upon a time, in a place far away, a time long ago,
us’n boys were old enough to drink beer
after obtaining it illegally from the store man way out in the country,
pee on the side of the roads with the cigarettes we couldn’t smoke at home
hanging out the sides of our mouths:
oh, we thought we were grown up
young enough to still believe in ghosts
at least some of us still believed,
there was a run-down log shack out on Hickory Ridge Road,
on the corner of a rock road they now call Crowell’s Lane
the baseball players were goofing around in a 1953 sludge green Studebaker,
when they decided to mess with George:
they told him the shack was haunted by the black man who died there 

they were young and in the South in 1959;
so it ain’t likely they said “black man”
but, as i recall we did use the proper term of “negro,”
not the now infamous slur

they dared George to go into the shack to check it out;
not knowing the plot, i felt sorry for George,
volunteered to go with him into the haunted shack,
like the dunce that i am,
i asked him if he would like me to go with him;
somewhat frightened it seemed to me, he agreed
while my buddies urged me to let him go it alone;
i did not
when we crossed the threshold of the log hut,
the old Studebaker peeled out, gravel flying,
George and i were alone in the country, sitting on the threshold of a ghost shack:

a half century later, i do not recall the meat of our conversation,
i remember after the boys returned in an hour or so laughing as they picked us up
i realized George was a great guy
i learned more about him than i would have ever known
had i not joined him in the dare to enter
the ghost shack.


Willie Nod and Benny Rattler

This poem was not part of the original book i created for Sam in 2014. i keep finding strays like this one and will post them here if they are “pretty good” enough. i think Sarah had some accompanying drawings,but i can’t find them this morning.

Willie Nod and Benny Rattler

Willie Nod finally stayed home for a while.
His parents had a nice home with a large hill at the end of the backyard.
Willie Nod liked to walk up to the top of the hill.
He thought he could see the world from the top of the hill.

One day in the heat of summer, Willie Nod walked up the hill to see the world.
He heard the sound first.
It sounded like a high speed drill his daddy would sometime use in his workshop,
But then Willie spotted the rattlesnake.
The snake was coiled up with his rattlers on his tail shaking and forked tongue hissing.

Now Willie Nod, as we know, had the ability to talk to many animals,
But he had never talked to a snake, especially a rattling, hissing, poisonous one.
Willie Nod had heard snakes can’t hear, so he was worried.
Without many other options, Willie Nod decided to hiss
Because he didn’t think he could rattle.
He still didn’t know if the snake could hear or understand his hissing if the snake could hear.

Surprisingly, the hissing worked. He began talking to the rattlesnake:
“Snake, how come you are being so hostile?
“Why are you acting like you want to bite me with your poison fangs?”
The snake replied,
“I don’t want to hurt you;
“I just want to see the world from the top of my hill.”

The snake relaxed a little bit from his coiling and the rattling ceased.
“I’m not being hostile,” the snake said in his hissing way,
“I’m just being defensive;
“After all, it looked like you were going to step on me
“While i lay on this path with the sun warming me,
“And that would hurt, if not kill me.”

You see, snakes are cold blooded so they like to be warm
like to bathe in the sun when it’s shining to keep warm.

He continued, “And don’t call me ‘Snake’;
“My name is Benny Rattler
“And i’m proud of it.”

“Okay, Benny Rattler,” Willie Nod returned the hissing,
“Then why is it everyone talks about how dangerous you are?”
“Well, you see,” the snake responded,
“We snakes are dangerous when we are threatened.
“I’ve got my wife snake with twelve little rattler babies
“Down in that hole a ground squirrel dug for us;
“If i have to protect them, i am very dangerous.
“But most of the time, i’m just trying to get along
“And not cause any more trouble than a normal snake.”

“Of course,” Benny Rattler continued, “We have a few of us
“Who mess everything up for the rest of us,
“Always trying to cause trouble, hurt people when they haven’t done anything.
“These bad act snakes think they are most important
“And keep trying to prove how big they are when they really are
“Very, very small, not big at all;
“Just big bullies.”

“And then,” Benny Rattler continued and continued,
“A lot of people think all of us are like the bad snakes,
“And they make up tales about us,
“And tell stories about people falling into snake pits,
“And then make movies about us,
“And it scares a lot of folks, especially women,
“But all we really want is to be left alone.”

“Do you want me to leave you alone, Benny Rattler?” Willie Nod asked.
“No, Willie Nod,” Benny Rattler exclaimed,
“I like you.”

So almost every day, Willie Nod walked to the top of the hill.
In addition to seeing the world, Willie Nod and Benny Rattler
Would meet at the top and hiss about all of the things
You think a little boy and a rattlesnake would talk about,
they became good friends.

But Willie Nod never, ever tried to scare Benny Rattler
Nor make him think he was in danger.
their friendship lasted a long, long time.



Oh please, please, please get a grip

When the USS Fitzgerald collided with the ACX Crystal roughly forty nautical miles southwest of Tokyo Bay, i was involved with a flurry of emails among retired Navy Surface Warfare Officers like me. There was a lot of information we didn’t know and still don’t, but we all generally agreed the Commanding Officer should be relieved for cause. He is ultimately responsible for his ship. That, of course reached fruition several days ago. Complete information remains either undisclosed or the investigation is not yet complete. Seven sailors were killed in the incident.

Then Monday, the USS John R. McCain collided with the  Alnic MC, a 600-foot, Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker east of the infamous Straits of Malacca and Singapore. There is one sailor confirmed dead and nine still are officially listed as missing as i write. From what little i know, the McCain may not be as much as fault, but it is way too early with so much more information required to determine fault of either ship.

The ensuing reaction of higher command was as expected. The Fitzgerald’s CO, XO, several other officers and senior enlisted were dumped. A Safety Stand Down was ordered throughout the fleet. Investigations, studies, and all sorts of other reactions are de riguer in such cases. The senior chain of command even dumped the commander of seventh fleet, a three-star who was close to retiring.

And already, folks are positioning to find blame or an excuse to push their projects ahead. Flags are saying it was predicted because there are not enough ships, deployments are too long and taxing, hours make for poor decisions. It all translates to: “See, we told you so. If you gave us the ships and the money, money, money we want, this would never have happened. It wasn’t our fault.” The link to the article i read is at the end of this post.

i am a bit frustrated. i reached out to one of my former commanding officers who replied to my emailed questions. Excerpts from that email are below. i will leave the respondent anonymous because he did not expect his comments to be made public. i have the greatest respect for him, and am pretty sure the best surface commanding officers under whom i served including this one would have responded in much the same way as he did:

The Navy is embarrassed and a big head had to roll to get everyone’s attention…lack of fuel for steaming hours and touchy-feely meetings about social issues under the previous SECNAV sure didn’t help improve seamanship. My guess the Navy problem is a combination of a number of things but the responsibility for the safe navigation rests with the Captain and the watch he has entrusted with the safety of the ship. I believe each of us can remember close calls so I hesitate to point fingers.

i agree with his comments concerning responsibility of the CO and his entrusted watch standers. i also agree the Navy hierarchy felt it necessary to make a statement by firing Seventh Fleet after the incidents of McCain, the Fitzgerald, and the two other ships, the Antietam running aground in Tokyo Bay and the Lake Champlain colliding with a South Korean fishing vessel since the turn of this year.

This is all puzzling to me. i served on ten ships. As my commanding officer noted, i and every Surface Warfare Officer i know who spent time at sea have experienced close calls. i remember about a half-dozen extremely close encounters of the sea kind when i was the officer-of-the-deck. They were close, too close, but there was no collision.

After i was commissioned, the standard deployment to the Western Pacific or the Mediterranean was ten months. Later in my career, the Navy reduced it to six months. That’s hardly enough time to get over there, wherever that is, and get acclimated before turning around. Nor does less time at sea improve safe navigation.

Sailors belong at sea. i suffered from the “mid-cruise” blues (roughly the half-way point in a deployment where sailors realize there is still a long way to go before they get home) on every deployment. When they reduced the deployment time, they reduced time at sea. On numerous deployments, it was not unusual to stand “port and starboard” (six hours on watch and six hours off) for extended periods of time. When difficult operations or exercises were underway, i frequently would be up on watch or at work on station for 24 hours and more. The long periods of unrelenting pressure did not diminish my performance. They made me better the next time.

i am not sure if “ship swaps” are still in vogue. The submarine force has had blue and gold teams for as long as i can remember. They swapped out on deployments with the “off” crew preparing and training for the next one. i am old school and i never liked this plan for surface ships. Our ship was a breathing, living organism we learned to appreciate if not loved. We knew our ships and we knew their eccentricities. We were part of her when we navigated her through dangerous situations.

i am all in favor of an equal opportunity Navy. Women being assigned to ships was a positive from my perspective. i’m even writing a book about my time when the program was in its beginning and i was the XO of the USS Yosemite during an Indian Ocean deployment when she was the first ship with women assigned to spend extended out of port time at sea. It worked extremely well.

i do not care what gender or sexual orientation sailors are. As long as they contribute to the mission. The Navy should not be about making everyone feel good. The military should not be a social engineering experiment. The purpose of ships at sea is to meet the Navy’s mission. Period. The Navy should reflect the cultural mores of the country and should be above the biases and prejudices that cloud judgement. However, spending all sorts of time with training should be time spent in training for the being at sea.

Driving a ship was one of my greatest thrills and one fraught with danger. There is no responsibility greater than that of a commanding officer being ultimately responsible for the safety of his/her ship. There is no more of a sacred trust than when the commanding officer qualifies an officer to stand watch in his stead. Nearly all, if not all collisions at sea can be avoided if a ship takes proper action in a critical moment of time. But it takes constant vigilance, constant awareness of the situation in relation to the Rules of the Road. To attain that vigilance, awareness, and capability to execute in a timely manner requires the team to spend countless hours at sea.

Oh by the way, i had two shore tours during my active duty. They were good tours, but they were two too many for me. i wanted all of my tours to be on ships. i am positive the amount of sea tours made me a better mariner. Surface Warfare Officers are required to have subspecialties and Washington tours. Getting promoted and being attractive for flag is as, if not more important than successful sea tours. Staying at sea, i belatedly found out is not career enhancing. That, i believe is the problem. Surface Warfare Officers and their enlisted counterparts should be spending more time at sea and their shore time should be preparing for that.

But then, i am an old salt, a mariner, a surface warfare officer, and not a politician.

Willie Nod Growing Up

This was the last poem in my Willie Nod book for Sam at Christmas in 2014. i will add others i have written later. i wrote this while i was in Newport, Rhode Island for “Prospective Executive Officer” training at the Naval Destroyer School. i was at a critical point in my Naval career and headed for my last (although i didn’t know it then) operational tour. i was to be married in two months and facing the fact i might actually have to grow up. Blythe was eleven. i was thinking she was growing up also. So i decided i’d write about how Willie Nod felt about growing up.


Willie Nod Growing Up

Willie Nod
Has been thinking about growing up.
Not that he’s made up his mind,
Mind you:
Just thinking about it;
Thinking about leaving his friends,
Those dogs and cats, ponies, lions, ducks and rabbits,
“Where would he go?
“What would he do?”
You ask?
Well, he would drive his car to work,
Play with lots of paper,
Argue with people,
Not laugh very much,
Drive home again.
Maybe not yet.
Maybe Willie Nod
Won’t even think about it yet.


Willie Nod and the Duck

i wrote at the very first of 1981 just before i flew to Honolulu with Captain Bruce Brunn, USMC, both staff members of Commander, Amphibious Group Five to plan the Hawaii exercises with the composite Marine Air Group and the Marine Landing Force who would board our ships in Pearl Harbor, and after the exercises proceed to the Western Pacific.

It was the year i spent ten months either going to and from or out there, way out there. i loved it, but as i was leaving i was sad about leaving my daughter Blythe and wrote this for her.

Ducks seem to drift in and out of my life. When JD Waits and i were writing our still unpublished leadership book, The Pretty Good Management Book, JD came up with the title of one chapter, “Never Take a Duck to a Cockfight Expecting to Win.” Every time i read “duck,” i think about Willie Nod or JD’s duck.

Willie Nod and the Duck

Willie Nod and this duck got together.
It was a most improbable place where they met:
No pond of water was within miles.
They quacked together for a while
(Willie had learned quacking
On a farm several years before).
They discovered, Willie and the duck,
They had a lot in common.
Willie had lost
All of his other animal friends
Because he moved around so much.
The duck couldn’t tell seasons very well;
All the other ducks in his flock
Had flown off and left him
One spring day.
The duck didn’t mind moving either.
So Willie Nod and this duck got together,
Which is right back where we started.

They were walking down this long flat road
In New Mexico in the summer.
The duck still couldn’t tell seasons.
Willie Nod spoke to his friend,
Quacking of course,
“Duck, do all the things in the world
Seem silly to you?”
Duck replied,
“A little sad perhaps,
“And always funny,
“But never silly.”
In spite of not being able to tell seasons,
He was a wise duck.
Willie Nod and this duck
Were together for a long time
Although the duck couldn’t tell
That it was a long time
For ducks tell time
By the passing of the seasons,
And now we all know
This duck’s problem in that area.
Then one day in autumn,
The duck quacked to Willie Nod,
In his own peculiar way of quacking,
“I’m feeling a chill.
“I do believe my season-telling is coming back.
“I think I’ll fly north.”
Some ducks can never get it completely right.

Willie Nod tried to convince the duck
He still didn’t have season-telling quite right yet,
He should wait
A couple of more seasons.
Duck quacked, wisely again,
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
“It may not be right for everyone else,
“But you know when it’s right for you,
“And if you don’t do it then,
“You may never get the chance again.”
With that, the duck took wing,
Flying north on that cold fall day.
Willie remembered the duck’s words
As he watched his flight for the last time:
“A little sad perhaps,
“And always funny,
“But never silly.”


Willie Nod and the Geese

Willie Nod and the Geese

Willie Nod was on the eastern seaboard
traveling as Willie Nod was prone to do
more often than not.
Gray November, blustery Thanksgiving eve winds
buffeted against Willie Nod’s wool clothes.
Willie Nod liked the layers of wool clothes:
he felt snug.

As the winds blew, Willie Nod looked up to the gray, close sky.
a small gaggle of geese, seven or so, he figured,
flew low in their formation of vee
heading into the wind, dead south beeline
as they were prone to do,
in November’s gray-slated skies,
much as Willie Nod was prone to travel.

Willie Nod spoke duck and rabbit
but had not much luck with camel,
so he thought he would try goose
quacked to the low flying vee
in a variation of duck.

Surprisingly, the vee veered off its course;
the gaggle rolled over in unison,
banking back toward Willie Nod,
dispersing the vee,
flappingly landing around.
Once aground, they crowded around Willie Nod.

“Hi,” the closest and largest goose honked to Willie Nod in goose.
Willie Nod recognized the difference between duck and goose.
Soon they were all honking in goose about pretty much everything.
The geese told Willie Nod a lot.
They wondered why humans considered them to be noble.
“After all,” they honked,
“We mate for life,
“Tend to each other,
“Take turns at the point of the vee,
“Not because it’s extra right or noble.
“It’s just the way we are.”

Willie Nod noted that it was still rather nice
the world would be much better off if
humans acted more like geese,
although he did admit
the noise might become unbearable if humans honked instead of talked.

The eight geese nodded, bobbing their heads in agreement.

Finally, they noted it was time to be on their way again.

“South, i know,” Willie Nod observed.
“but where south?” he asked.

“Honduras,” the fattest goose replied.
“We use to winter in Florida,” he explained,
“but the old people fed us too much and we got too fat,
so we found this lovely lake up in the Honduran mountains
where people don’t come round very much.”

The geese rose flapping and honking,
quickly forming their vee in the gray sky,
heading south with an occasional good-bye
honk to Willie Nod.

Willie Nod watch the vee
get small in the southern sky and
mumbled to himself,
“Sad that geese don’t get to spend time
in deep snow,
or feel snug in layers of wool clothing.”


A Labor of Love

Sometimes i feel extremely lucky being old and regret i didn’t appreciate my past when i was younger. i was also lucky in that i began to appreciate my past when my father and mother would travel to the Southwest corner to spend a month or more with us to miss the harsher time of winter back home in Lebanon. They began that annual sojourn in 1986. My father was 72, my mother was 69. We shared many tales of our and Lebanon’s past for fifteen winters.

i don’t think most younger folks really understand the beauty and worth of family memories. i certainly didn’t. After all,  i had things like the Navy, three wives, two daughters, and many other distractions. And of course, they were old fogies and my generation knew how to save the world and themselves. Even though it didn’t happen. It seems the following generations are faring no better and perhaps worse in learning from their predecessors.

But who knows? i am too old to worry about it. i will just keep writing and talking about memories and my lessons learned and hope some of them will take just a little bit, maybe on anecdote to make the young’uns  lives a little better.

i usually post old photos in Facebook albums, primarily as an easy way to make the photos accessible to a wide array of relatives from both sides of the Jewell-Prichard family. Hopefully, family will appreciate the past and my using my post to share family memories.

But these photos are a bit special to me. You see, about sixteen years ago, my parents made their last fifth wheel run to the Southwest corner to miss the harshest part of winter in Tennessee. They began that tradition in 1985 and ceased making the trip in 2001, three years shy of my father’s ninetieth birthday. On this particular trip, one or two before they gave it up, a photo album was created. It was a compilation of old Jewell and Prichard photographs. What is really special about it is Maureen and my mother worked on it together.

i can see them putting it together. The descriptions of the folks in the photos written to the side is Maureen’s handwriting. i can see them taking each photo out of one of the cardboard boxes we have kept to organize all of our photos together. i can almost hear my mother telling Maureen a story behind each of the photos as they slide them into the plastic sheaths to protect them.

So when i look at the photos, i not only see some slices of history from our past, but i see these two women, so special to me, working on the project. Maureen and Estelle Jewell had a wonderful relationship. They truly loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company. It was always a great pleasure to watch them together.

There are lot of photographs here. i almost stopped several times. My inability to do proper layouts in WordPress is discouraging. But there was a stubbornness that overcame me and i was determined to finish. Maybe a bit of Estelle Jewell wore off on me. The captions here are mine.

And every time i look at the album or this post, i will think of the love these two shared. And i will be happy.

Again, i apologize for the layout.

So here are the photos:

My cousin, Johnny Orr, just before i was born in 1943
Uncle Pipey, James Orr, with me in front of our home on Castle Heights Avenue, 1944.
Aunt Evelyn, mother of Johnny and Nancy, wife to Pipey.










Cousin Jon, nee Johnny Orr on the Webster farm on North Cumberland.
Cousins, 1945






Three cousins, again, 1945.
Cousins, 1944.






Granny (Katherine Webster Prichard with three grandchildren, 1945.



Cousins, 1946.









The Orrs, Red Bank (Chattanooga), 1958




Uncle Pipey, Aunt Evelyn, and Jon, 1966.





Jim with the Winklers, Jay, Nancy, Kathy, and Johnny in Cocoa Beach, 1973(?).






Ann Orr, Estelle Jewell, Evelyn Orr, Mama Orr, Granny Prichard; Red Bank, c late 1950’s.















Jon, Aunt Evelyn, and Uncle Pipey, 1970.
The Orr’s, Red Bank, c 1970’s.








The Jewell’s. san Martha, Rockwood, c 1960’s.








Estelle, Blythe, and Blythe’s mom Kathie, 1977.








The den on Castle Heights Avenue: Maureen with Tommy, Jewell siblings, c1985.








Mother and Daddy’s 50th Anniversary party. Too many people to list here.








Cousins Jon Orr and Nancy Winkler, c 1980.








Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, Evelyn and Pipey Orr; the Smokies, 1980.








Dr. Kate Jewell Hansen, several years before the Hansen and “Dr.” were added.










Happy couple in the first home they owned, c1987.









Uncle Pipey Orr, none better, c 1980’s.








Aunt Evelyn and Jon Orr; Chattanooga, 1985.








One of the last Navy photos of goofy guy, 1987.









Beautiful woman with goofy guy, 1987.







3 sisters with lots of grit still left: Estelle Jewell, Evelyn Orr, Bettye Kate Hall, c1993(?).








Lena, Sarah, Oliver, Christmas, 2004.







Jon Orr’s obituary, 2004.









Charlie Jewell. Jimmy Jewell’s great uncle. i’m guessing this was in the 1880’s/1890’s.











Martha being pulled by a goofy guy, 1949.







Beverly and Roberta Padgett with Martha and three goofy guys, two of whom would melt, 1950.








Christmas at the Jewell home, 1948.









The Jewell children, 1955.







The Jewell children, dressed up for church obviously, 1955.










Estelle Prichard about the time she started dating Jimmy Jewell, 1933.










Betty Joy (nee Hall) Jasahke’s birthday at the Hall farm, July 22, 1953; Joe Jewell, Barbara Leftwich, Gary Hall, Betty Joy (5 years old) Randy Hall, Martha Jewell, Ann Chenault; the goofy kid in the back is the oldest one there.










Jimmy Jewell on his first date with Estelle Jewell, 1933.
Estelle Jewell on her first date with Jimmy Jewell, 1933.









Wesley Wayne Jewell with a baby even goofy at that age, 1944.










The goofy kid, 1947.









David Hall, a sensible young man with the goofy kid, 1946.










Granny Prichard with her flock: goofy kid, Johnny Orr, Martha Jewell, Bill (Butch) Prichard, Nancy Orr, 1947.








Jimmy Jewell, showing off for his girlfriend, 1933.
Lovebirds, 1933.









Evelyn Orr and Estelle Jewell; Paris, TN, 1945.









My great grandparents, Bishop Joseph Webster and Katherine Webster, his wife, 1932. Annotated in the album, Maureen wrote at my mother’s direction, “Mama and Papa Webster.”












The dapper Jimmy Jewell, his high fashion wife, Estelle. The car, i believe is the one they carried the blocks of ice on the front bunker for the ice box (now known as a refrigerator) in their first home, an upstairs apartment in a home on North Cumberland, 1940 although by the time of the photo, they had moved into the one-room home he built on the corner of her grandfather’s property.
















The man! Joseph Webster, Methodist circuit rider, reverend, bishop, and a fixture in the Lebanon community. One of his last services was to marry Jimmy and Estelle (his granddaughter) Jewell in 1938. i’m guessing this was in the 1890’s.

Willie Nod in a Foreign Country

This Willie Nod poem was written for Blythe after my adventures in Somalia while aboard the USS Yosemite just after the 1984 New Year. That yarn is already done elsewhere and will be retold in my book about that tour. However, the poem was generated by a drive across the equator to a dinner with a Somalia plantation owner. It did look like West Texas to me, and our chauffeured early sixties Datsun damn near ran into a camel in the middle of the road that was eating the leaves off of an overhanging tree. The ship did go south to Mombassa, Kenya after the stop in Kismayo, Somalia…but Willie nor i talked to any elephants.

Willie Nod in a Foreign Country

Willie Nod
off and went to Somalia,
a land on the equator that looks a lot like West Texas;
he took no friends with him
because he hoped to make new friends;
unlike West Texas, he found Somalia
had lots of people and animals.

But then, Willie Nod did not wander off the road in Somalia;
he figured they might have snakes like West Texas,
although Willie Nod liked animals
could converse in most animal languages,
he hadn’t quite learned to handle hissing.
so, Willie Nod stayed on the road.

since there seemed to be only one road in Somalia,
Willie really didn’t know if all of Somalia looked like West Texas
except for all the people and animals
walking along the roadside and sometimes in the middle of the road.
from that one road, Willie Nod saw herds and herds of camels and goats;
there even were packs of wild boar with fierce-looking tusks
standing along the side of the road chewing grass.

Finally, Willie Nod, being a lover of animals,
could stand it no longer
stopped when he came upon this one lone camel
standing flat in the middle of the road
reaching for some leaves high in a tree overhanging the road.

Now, Willie Nod fancied himself quite a talker with animals,
and as a general rule,
he could talk with animals about as well as anyone:
he quacked with ducks,
roared with lions,
neighed with horses,
silenced with rabbits.

But even though
Willie Nod wanted to talk to camels, especially this one,
standing in the middle of the road,
he had one big problem with camels,
which wasn’t the same problem he had with snakes
(he wasn’t really too hot about learning how to hiss):

He just wasn’t quite sure how camels brayed.
he had brayed with some donkeys down in Mexico once,
camel braying was a great deal different from donkey braying.
Willie Nod’s problem with this particular camel
was made worse by the fact camels,
unlike donkeys (or for that matter, ducks),
are really quite dumb.
i mean, would you think anyone smart would stand
in the middle of the road to eat leaves off of trees?

So Willie Nod looked into the big, soft brown eyes of the camel
tried out some braying on him;
the camel just looked at him with those big sad eyes,
cocked his head to one side every now and then,
rolled those big lips up to show his bucked teeth.

When Willie Nod finally figured out he wasn’t getting anywhere,
he just headed on down the road, the one road in Somalia.
he didn’t stop anymore to try and talk to the wild boar,
or goats,
or even the people
using the road, or rather the side of the road.

Willie Nod decided to go see all the lions and elephants in Kenya
(he really wanted to try and talk to the elephants)
south of Somalia.

Willie Nod decided Somalia
really wouldn’t be all that bad if you liked West Texas
knew how to camel bray.
because there sure were a lot of camels to talk to.

Willie Nod was glad he visited Somalia
he wasn’t too anxious to go back anytime soon.


Atlantic Ocean

March II, 1984

Willie Nod and the Moon

Willie Nod and the Moon

Willie Nod walked with the full moon tonight.
He sailed across the dark heavens with no birds to carry him.
He had no wings as he flew past the stars and the planets.

Willie Nod saw the earth,
the people singing and laughing;
knowing it was good,
Willie Nod was above all of that.

He and the moon held hands
walking across the heavens.
They never laughed at the earth
or the people
or even the sunbefore it took their night away.

Willie Nod waved goodbye to the moon
As the sun took away their night;
He greeted the sun hello.
Willie Nod did not walk with the sun.
He saved that joy for the moon.
No one could take the joy away
from Willie Nod and the moon.