Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Big Shift

The following was written a number of years ago and another version was published in my Lebanon Democrat weekly column shortly afterwards. Good memories:

SAN DIEGO, CA. – Several weeks ago, I had my truck’s air-conditioning repaired before a golf outing in the desert. Driving back, I recalled learning to drive a standard transmission.

Jimmy Jewell, my father, had a career as a mechanic in Lebanon. In 1920 when he was six, he stoked the wood-fired boiler of the mobile sawmill my grandfather, Culley Jewell, operated for Wilson County farmers.

Jimmy Jewell started working for Donald Philpot’s Ford dealership in Lebanon in 1933, located where McDowell Motor Company, owned by J.P. McDowell, later occupied the northwest corner of North Maple and West Main. . He later worked for Bob Padgett’s Dodge-Chrysler dealership until he went to work for Jim Horn Hankins at Hankins and Smith Motor Company on East Main in 1940.

In 1955, he and my Uncle, Alvin “Snooks” Hall started their automobile repair business. Bill Massey later joined them and the business became the Jewell-Hall-Massey Garage. I remember the Mobile “pegasus” above the storefront on West Main. In 1957, my father and his life-long friend, H.M. Byars bought into Jim Horn’s business. Hankins and Smith became Hankins, Byars, and Jewell.

My father, as most fathers do, taught me how to drive. He showed me the rudiments of standard transmissions, but he didn’t teach me how to drive a “stick” shift. I practiced in a used car he brought home on occasion. But it was difficult coordinating shifting with the clutch, and I pretty much gave up on the concept. My driving lessons were in my mother’s 1958 Pontiac Star Chief or in my father’s 1955 Pontiac, both automatics.

H.M. was responsible for me learning to drive a standard transmission. He really didn’t teach me, but he was certainly responsible. In Height’s 1960 spring break, about six months after I had turned sixteen, I was working at Hankins, Byars, and Jewell, mostly pumping gas, checking tire air pressure, and washing car windows.

One afternoon, H.M. came out and announced he had to pick up a Johnson Dairy milk truck and bring it back for repair. He asked me to accompany him. As we came out of the Johnson Dairy office, H.M. tossed me the keys, stating, “I know you can drive a standard transmission, right?”

As my parents can tell you, I was a bit stubborn and thought I could do anything well. So I acceded I could drive a “stick.” H.M. tossed me the keys and left without another word. I vividly recall getting in the seat and looking at the ominous gear shift rising from the center of the floorboard with a black knob on the end.

I was faced with a rather significant dilemma: start the milk truck, learn to shift on the fly, and drive back down the busiest street in town, around the square, and back up East Main to the dealership. Or I could admit defeat, call my father and have him come and get the milk truck.

As usual, I chose the worst option.

I bucked and stalled my way from West End Heights, past Castle Heights Avenue, and over the railroad tracks and onto the square. On the square to a symphony of bleating car horns, I stalled twice and bucked continuously, until I emerged on the east side and reached the shop.

Miraculously, the milk truck and I made it unscathed without wiping out one vehicle, pedestrian, or storefront. In fact, by the time, I got the vehicle to the service bay, I felt like I might have gotten the hang of driving a “stick.” I thought I was ready for a GTO. I don’t recall anyone agreeing, but I don’t recall any significant problems driving a standard transmission after that.

I was adamant about teaching both of my daughters to drive in a vehicle with a standard transmission. Both are admired by many of their friends because They can drive a “stick.” Both had cars with standard transmissions and appear to be glad, maybe even a tad proud, their father taught them.

When their grandfather started driving, it was a bit different. They didn’t have automatic transmissions, and they didn’t have drivers’ licenses. Jimmy Jewell was grandfathered when they began issuing those symbols of big government. It is a big shift from when he and I started driving and my daughters’ driving experience.

I’m glad they didn’t have to learn on a Johnson Dairy milk truck. I am also glad H.M. Byars made me learn in that way. It taught me a lot of lessons.


It seems almost impossible.

He would have been 103 today.

It feels like he and i were working on a project yesterday.

Last year, i honored him with a photo of him and his wife in front of their new home in 1943.

i included a poem i wrote about him. He liked it. i intend to do that every year as long as possible to honor him.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Jimmy Jewell with his son, Joe, two of my four best friends (his wife Estelle and daughter Martha are the other two) in 2009.

Hands, circa 2009

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

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

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’34 before computers and units).
His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

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

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

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

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

A Sports Story

Although this is second hand information, i believe it to be true. i think i discussed it with the main character, Kenny Gibbs, but it was a long time ago, and my memory can play tricks on me. However, Kenny, if you read this, this is my story, and i’m sticking to it,

It was March 1965. i had become an integral part of The Nashville Banner’s sports department after beginning the previous September as an office boy and very cub reporter.

Waxo Green, or Dudley Green if you prefer the more formal, told me this story on a Monday after a most incredible weekend. Waxo covered Vanderbilt sports and golf. He was an old time sports reporter straight out of a Damon Runyon short story. His desk in the large room was directly across the door from Fred Russell’s office. He had just completed covering the NCAA Regional Basketball Tournament at the University of Kentucky Memorial Gymnasium (long before Rupp Arena replaced it) in Lexington, Kentucky. It was the state of the art basketball arena, seating a what was then a whopping 13,000.

Fred Russell was there likely in a premier seat. Waxo and the Banner sports photographer (sadly, i cannot remember his name as i write as he was a good guy and had taken me under his wing) were posted at the scorer’s table for all four games.

i was there also. i was there because i solved a dilemma. Obviously, this was long before we could send photos by email and social media. The dilemma was how to get the photographer’s photos to the Banner in Nashville before it went to print. There was some leeway because the Banner  was Nashville’s afternoon newspaper, but there was no way to get the photos back to the office before the deadline…except for driving the 180 miles immediately after the game.

Kenny Gibbs is third from the right on the back row.

In a brilliant move, i volunteered. i drove a 1959 Vauxhall sedan i had purloined from my sister. It was not a mechanical marvel except it would get me where i needed to go…most of the time. But most importantly, it would provide me a ticket to what i considered the biggest sporting event of my life (it still ranks way up there). i had been friends with most of the members of the team. People would laugh when they saw me walk across campus with our All-American center, Clyde Lee. John Ed Miller, the point guard, and Bob “Snake” Grace, the power forward, and i took architectural drawing together. Keith Thomas, the shooting guard, and i had spent some good times together. i considered myself friends with the entire team.

But i was closest to Kenny Gibbs and Jerry Southwood. Both were fraternity brothers. Jerry was the point guard behind John Ed, and Kenny was the center behind Clyde. The next year, they were both stars. Both were great guys and remain that way. i don’t see either of them enough. They were an integral part of one of the best teams in Vanderbilt history. They had won the SEC championship (there were no conference tournaments back then: college athletics was not quite as money hungry back at that time), a rare feat, which included winning both games against Kentucky, then as now a perennial national basketball force.

After the Vanderbilt tournament games, i picked up the negatives from the photographer and headed south for roughly four hours including getting to the car and out of the parking lot. For the semi-finals (There were only four teams from the field of 16, less than a quarter of the teams in the tournament today), the task was relatively easy as the Commodores beat DePaul in overtime, and it was relatively early in the evening. i got back to the Banner’s office around 1:00 in the morning, dropped off the negatives, and slept for about six hours before checking in with the managing sports editor, Bill Roberts and then driving back to Lexington.

Saturday was the big day. And i mean big. On Friday, at the Vandy-DePaul halftime i had wandered from my seat on the opposite side of gym from the scorer’s table to arrange for the negatives hand off with the photographer and say a few words with Waxo. i started back to my seat with the teams came out to warm up. As i turned to walk back up the stairs and over to my seat, i discovered the Michigan team,  awaiting to play in the second game, had come out to see the teams, one of which they would play in the finals. Michigan was ranked number two in the nation behind John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. When i turned, i found myself looking into the belt buckle of Cazzie Russell, the Wolverine’s star forward. Flanking him and just as imposing were his two main supporters, Oliver Darden and Bill Buntin. i slithered through the troika of basketball hugeness and headed for my seat.

My instructions for the end of the game were to ignore the craziness of the game’s conclusion, head straight for the end of the scorer’s table, get the negatives, skedaddle for the exit, and shoot toward Nashville as fast as that little malfunctioning Vauxhall would carry me.

It was an incredible game. It seesawed back and forth and Vandy had a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go. John Ed brought the ball down the court, stopped and in a move he used frequently, took a stutter step but not moving his anchor foot. The ref called walking. It was not. The team invited me to see the replay with them, something unavailable to the general television audience in those days, on Sunday night at the WSM studios, and we ran the footage again and again, pointing at the TV monitor and shouting, “you didn’t walk, you didn’t walk.” We all knew it but now we had proof. Michigan scored two goals and the Commodores lost 87-85.

Michigan lost to UCLA in the NCAA championship game, and i still believe with all my heart, Vandy matched up much better against the Bruins and Gale Goodrich, and might have won the championship that year if it hadn’t been for that blown call. Of course, it’s the right of a fan to revise history.

Although disappointed, i did not forget my mission, headed to the scorer’s table, picked up the envelope with the negatives, and headed for Nashville, cussing all the way. i arrived after 3:00 am. Made it.

But the Monday recollections with Waxo Green made it even better. About half-way through the second half after Clyde had picked up a foul, Coach Roy Skinner had put in Kenny to give Clyde a rest. On the first play after substituting, Kenny fought and claimed a defensive rebound off that huge Michigan threesome. On the next shot at the other end, they all went up, and Kenny came down in a heap, writhing on the floor and grabbing his head in anguish. The trainers and coach came in and Kenny was helped to the bench. The pain was temporary.

But when Waxo asked Kenny after the game about what happened, Kenny replied, “That damn Darden kneed me in the crouch.”

“In the crouch?” Waxo reacted, “But you were holding your head head?”

Kenny wisely responded, “Well, i was damn sure not going to grab my balls in front of 13,000 people and a nationwide TV audience.”

As i said, that’s my story, and i’m sticking to it.

A Near Collision…Not

With this post, i  have added a new category. i am going to try, i emphasize try to work on putting my posts in the correct category.

“Willie Nod” will continue to be children’s poems and poetry, which i now intend to self-publish within the year. i hope to continue to add to this category as time passes. Although my grandson Sam has almost outgrown such children things, i have six grand nieces and nephews i hope will enjoy them.

“Jewell in the Rough” is the wonderful phrase for a category Walker Hicks created as the title for this website. i am considering making this category about golf, my thoughts and golf stories.

“Notes from the Southwest Corner” was initially used to rerun my weekly Lebanon Democrat columns before the paper’s website made my columns more accessible. i have plans to revisit them and post columns from that era, which i intend to collate and edit into a book, primarily for folks back home.

“Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings” is a category i am thinking about adding later as my work on the book of that title gets some purchase. My idea is to publish chapters here after i conclude the first draft. In case you missed it, this is my take on the USS Anchorage (AD 19) deployment in 1983, the first for a US Navy ship to spend extended out of port time with women as part of the crew and wardroom,

And of course, the “Pocket of Resistance” category is for all things jim jewell with his rather bent, contrarian point of view.

i plan to go through previous posts with sea stories and move them to this “Sea Stories” category.

It was late summer 1975. The USS Anchorage (LSD 36) had just completed an unplanned month-long maintenance period in India Basin at the US Naval Base, Sasebo, Japan due to a stern gate mechanical failure. i had enjoyed Sasebo for that month almost as much as i enjoyed it when it was the re-supply port for the USNS Upshur (T-AP 198) and USNS Geiger (T-AP 197) when i was the executive officer of MSC, nee MSTS Transport Unit One, carrying ROK troops to Vietnam and back. We  spent roughly six days a month there throughout 1970.

But now, the Anchorage was underway again. It felt good.

My job as first lieutenant was the best job i ever had. Period. The first lieutenant on a landing ship dock is involved in almost everything. He is in charge of the deck department, which is responsible for most of the ship’s decks and spaces. The two ship boats, a motor whale boat doubling as the captain’s gig, and an LCVP, a small landing craft are also the first lieutenant’s. Add the two 60-ton cranes, the four 3-inch/50 caliber gun mounts (removed in 1980 after i was long gone) to the list as well as the well deck, the mezzanine deck, the magazines, and troops spaces for 600 marines. Any embarked craft such as LCM8’s and LCU, the embarked Beach Group  unit, and embarked UDT were under my responsibility, and i was in charge of all amphibious operations, including the well-deck loads, unloads, ballasting and deballasting and troop embarkation and debarkation. Oh yes, i was one of four Officers of the Deck (OOD) underway, the sea detail, and general quarters OOD, and because of previous Chief Engineer experience, filled in for ours when he was not available. Our CO, Art Wright, once declared the reason the operations officer billet was for a lieutenant commander is to ensure he was the senior watch officer so the first lieutenant wouldn’t have that job as well.

On numerous operations, i stayed on deck for 24 hours or more, the most being the 43 straight hours during the on-load of marine vehicles and equipment at Numazu before “Frequent Wind,” the evacuation of Vietnam off Vung Tau.

There were all sorts of weird assignments and loads. And you know what? i loved every minute of it.

But back to the story: the ship left Sasebo and headed north. i don’t remember why but as she closed on the Straits of Shimonoseki, between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu, i was relieving the OOD to stand the mid (0000-0400) watch, the operations officer, the OOD i was relieving who was damn near catatonic.

“She’s got all her lights on. All of them,” he almost screamed.

We were standing on the port bridge wing, and the lieutenant commander (who shall remain nameless here) was frantically pointing aft.

“She could hit us, she could hit us!” he declared in a higher pitched tone than normal, “Should i call the captain? What do you think?”

“i relieve you,” i said, “You don’t have to sweat it.”

i took a bearing on the ship, a very large cruise or party ship, from the gyro compass repeater on the bridge wing.

“I stand relieved,” the off-going OOD almost sighed.

“Mr. Jewell has the deck,” the boatswainmate of the watch announced.

i called the captain, told him i had the watch, that there was a ship aft not observing the Rules of the Road and looked like a party ship with all of the lights shining. i stated we were the “privileged vessel” and she was “burdened.” i explained this meant i should maintain course and speed and anticipated she would pass on the port side fairly close. i told him i would call him again after i took another bearing but combat (CIC) had already reported a slight right bearing drift with a CPA (closest point of approach) within 1000 yards. i asked him if he would like to come to the bridge.

“Ordinarily, I would come up,” Commander Wright replied, “I was getting dressed to come up as John Doe (the anonymous operations officer) called me three times and seemed distressed.” He continued, “I won’t come up now unless you need me or the situation changes. I trust you.”

“Aye, sir,” i replied dutifully and headed back to the port wing gyro compass. i took another bearing.

The bearing had increased about a half degree. i remembered one close call in the Mediterranean on the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7) when a “burdened” freighter crossed our bow (Luce was “privileged) within about fifty yards. That’s when CDR Richard Butts, the CO whom i had called to the bridge, said, “See, you are not going to collide if you have bearing drift.” He and i had taken bearings alternately for the past two miles of closing with the freighter and we saw  less than half a degree of bearing drift at about 100 yards (obviously, it increased rapidly as she moved closer and passed just ahead of our bow. . He was correct, but man, was it too close for me.

i explained this to the off-going OOD who i discovered was standing behind me.

We stood on the port wing together and watched the party ship as she passed just over 500 yards from our port side (500 yards at sea is close, very close, and usually dangerous, but not as dangerous in a passing situation). John Doe, obviously relieved in two ways went below.

i could hear the Japanese music and the shouts and laughters of those embarked. They were having a good time and the ship was doing about ten knots faster than we were. i continued to watch as she moved past our bow and slowly begin to pull ahead of us. About an hour later, she disappeared over the horizon.

My point is near collisions at sea happen. They all could and should be avoided. That lieutenant commander, although senior to me and better schooled in many ways, had not spent the time at sea i had. Nearly all of my training for driving steam ships at sea was from, guess what, driving ships at sea under experienced senior officers, especially the very best CO’s: Art Wright, Richard Butts, and Max Lasell at the time. i also learned what not to do from one or two bad CO’s, obviously not to be mentioned here. I did not have very much school house training for driving ships.

Ashore training is good, very good and should be with all of the technical tools we have now. But nothing, nothing can replace being at sea and OJT learning from capable and responsible seniors. All of this posturing about too much time at sea and not enough time spent with the family is hooey. When i joined the Navy in the 1960’s, there was the saying, “If the Navy had wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one with your seabag. If you are a mariner, you love being at sea. You and your spouse should work that out. Hard? Yes, it’s difficult, but a Surface Warfare Officer’s duty is to be at sea.

And not sweat the small stuff…just the close calls.


The Flag and the Anthem: One Perspective

i try to stay away from political posts. i have found reactions from all political positions twist my meanings and don’t really think about what i am trying to convey. My posts seem to create more hate and discontent, not less as i intended. Not worth it. As i have attested many times, i have friends on both ends of the political spectrum, and i don’t wish to offend them by writing something they will misinterpret through their political filters.

i don’t consider this a political post.

i remain amazed at the vitriol spewed by the manufactured hatred because one guy, a once good but not particularly great NFL quarterback kneeled during the national anthem and the raising of the United States Flag before the beginning of a football game.

People have drawn their lines in the sand, taken up their weapons, and are throwing their rocks in all directions. For goodness sake, professional football players are taking political stances and people are paying attention. Professional football players should be heeded by what they do on the football field, not after, before, or in-between when they are off the field, not even all of those stupid little actions they take to promote themselves (not the team) after making a good play. If they want to make a gesture, quit the high-paying game and join the military. We could use you in combat.

Now, we have those who do not consider any gestures other than their own reacting, taking sides, and blowing smoke, most without a clue.

Have at it. i’ll sit this one out.

But that’s an aside.

My concern is i just don’t understand.

Colin Kaepernick and everyone else who has taken up arms on either side have freedom of speech and the right to protest. All of you have that right because this country does not pay allegiance to any person, any king, queen, emperor, dictator, or even the government itself, including the president. And that right was created by an idea: the idea we could have equality, independence and freedom as individuals, not because of our skin color, our religion, our political party, the culture of our heritages, or our economics, but because we are human beings with certain inalienable rights (does that last phrase sound familiar?).

We are all subject to those inalienable rights because of that idea, that attempt by men who were flawed, just like all of us, to create independence from oppression almost 250 years ago, and in doing so, came up with the idea that they were subservient to the idea of independence and equality, not the other way around.

There are many ideas about what a “perfect” government should be.” And all ideas since the beginning of time reflect Mose Allison’s observation in his song “Mercy:” “Everybody’s crying justice, just as long as they get theirs first.” Except one government. This one. And it too is flawed in that it relies on humans to effect it, and humans seem to forget the original idea and fight against anything they perceive is not in their best interest and damn the interests of everyone else. And our humans have been screwing up ever since this government, based on this wonderful idea of equality, was founded.

Two things we honor and swear to in recognizing our flag and the national anthem represents that idea. The anthem, after the first stanza, is also flawed because it was written by a human. It is words, and it can and has been interpreted in many ways.

Every Friday morning when i am on the golf course at Naval Air Station, North Island (and have been for almost all Fridays since 1991) sometime around the fourth through sixth holes, i and my long time golfing partners and military retirees, hear the bugle’s “Call to Colors,” or “First Call,” and go on alert while continuing to hit our golf balls. Then five minutes later, we stop at the bugle call of “To the Color,”or “Colors” as we have come to call it. We turn toward a flag location we cannot see, take off our hats, stand at attention, put our right hand on our heart, and remain that way through the playing of the anthem and until the bugle call “Retreat” tells us to conclude our honors to…not the military, not the government, but to the idea.

The flag, or the Ensign as we in the Navy call it, has more significance to me: no words, an idea of independence, solidarity of the states to pursue equality of all men (including women) represented by a piece of cloth blowing in the wind.

It is the idea we defended for the major portion of our lives. Many of us died for that idea. We defended the idea of freedom of speech. We swore to defend that idea. So all of you folks with your noble concerns about inequality, oppression, abuse, when you do not honor the flag or the anthem are not properly showing your resistance to equality, to independence, but you are, in fact, making your symbolic gesture suggesting the idea of equality and independence for all, against the very things representing the idea.

i also don’t agree with those who are so bitterly opposed to those who choose to dishonor our flag and anthem, symbols of the very idea they are trying to express. That is the right of the protestors. There are many points of equality or inequality we need to address and make right, again for all human beings, or at least make the attempt, which in our current state is impossible because of the refusal to discuss rationally rather than taking the stance of us-against-them, the mentality which is raging in our country right now.

i don’t ask any of you change. You aren’t going to change regardless of what i write or say.

All i ask is you intelligently think about what i have written and decide what is right. What is the right thing to do? Think about what that flag and that anthem represents: the idea of freedom. We have the only government in the world based on that idea of inalienable rights for all, and we, all of us, are too intolerant to act on that idea.

Think about it.

A Sea Story: Sea Sick…Not

There are about a half dozen draft posts hanging around my computer and the cloud. Been in a funk. Not quite some things i’m ready to talk about. Not depressed. Just inert. Tonight, i, as an electronically, cloud challenged Neanderthal, i wrestled with about a gazillion duplications of my files on my computer, my portable hard drive (not working right of course), Google, and Apple, i ran across some of my early Democrat columns. i decided to actually post something, and for now, delete the copy i found. This column, reedited here, was the thirty second one for the Democrat back in 2008.

SAN DIEGO – This is a sea story about sea sickness. It is not for the squeamish.

Before 1963, my experience with motion sickness was limited to Wilson County Fair rides with Mike Dixon and George Thomas and fishing quests with my father, my cousin Maxwell Martin, and Henry Harding.

The fair rides didn’t faze me. The closest to my having motion sickness was those fishing outings. When we got back on dry land, my legs would wobble for a while.

Then in June 1963, my parents drove me to Nashville to catch a Trailways Bus to Newport, Rhode Island for my NROTC training cruise.

I had opted for a bus ride rather than the Navy scheduling my flight, even though it would have been my first plane ride. I reasoned I could make a few bucks for my own use. i didn’t save a dime.

The bus left noon on Saturday. I arrived in Newport 43 hours later, 7:00 a.m. on Monday with a perceptible aroma of travel.

The USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) was old school in 1963 when i rode her as a third class midshipman. A “FRAM II” destroyer, she had no ASROC, torpedo tubes, two 5″ x 54 twin gun mounts, DASH, and the amazing hedgehogs.

As an ensign and driver hustled me and other midshipmen into a van. I discovered my sea bag had not arrrived. Trailways said it was on the next bus and would be delivered before my ship, the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), got underway.

It didn’t.

It did get to a ship departing later and finally got to me three weeks later.

When I reported aboard I was escorted to the hedgehog deck (hedgehog was a short-lived anti-submarine weapon) with 20 other midshipmen  just below the bridge.

We were put in formation to stand out of the harbor.

As we passed Newport’s beautiful“Ocean Drive,” I learned the cruelty of sailors to landlubbers.

Paper sacks, or “barf bags,” were strategically in handrails around the ship. A seasoned chief took one to the chief’s mess and crushed graham crackers into milk, pouring the concoction into the bag.

Then he walked out on the hedgehog deck under the bridge wing where he could not be seen from above. With the curious midshipmen watching, he announced he always became ill when the ship got underway.

Saying that, he leaned over and made noises as if he was vomiting into the bag. After a sigh, he announced, “And there is only one way I can cure it.”

With that, he put the bag to his mouth and began to gulp the mixture with a large amount spilling down his chin and onto his uniform.

Within seconds, all but three of the midshipmen were at the lifelines, attaining a level of seasickness which could only be described as epic.

We weren’t even out of Narragansett Bay.

I was one of the three left standing in the puny formation remaining.

The sailors were not satisfied. At the evening meal on the mess decks, they served greasy pork chops and several old salts tied sardines (canned) to strings and walked through the mess decks swallowing them and then pulling them back up with the string.

The midshipmen were reeling.

Somehow, I remained okay.

My first assignment was the mid-watch (from midnight until 4:00 a.m.) in combat information center (CIC), a darkened space aft of the bridge. With no seabag, i was reeking of three days travel aroma.

The radarmen were determined to initiate me into the ways of the sea. I was assigned a radar scope and placed where I rolled with the ship, the worst position for motion sickness. For four hours, I sat staring at the dark round scope, rolling side to side. The watch section sensed I was near the anticipated moment. They lit cigars and took turns walking by me, stopping to check while blowing cigar smoke into my slightly green face.

Their effort to make me sick brought out my stubbornness. Even though I was beyond nausea, I refused to give them their laugh on me. I swallowed back my sickness.

I never came close to being sea sick again. I have been in sea state five oceans. I have encountered the worst possible conditions for inducing that terrible illness, but have been unfazed. There is no doubt in my mind, that first day at sea in 1963 was one reason, but also partially due to my stubbornness and a bunch of fishing trips to Center Hill and Old Hickory Lakes.

Post script: The next today, the radar gang found a sailor who had clothes to fit me. He gave me a couple of enlisted uniforms, including very smelly camel leather boots he had purchased in Israel. A midshipman gave me one of his “Dixie Cup” hats. I filled my locker, took a shower, and finally felt human again, although my feet smelled like camel for almost three weeks.

A Magic Place: For Sam

i had written the real “Climbing My Mountain” last night. i decided it was too deep, too dark, too me to put it out there, at least for now and a long time forward. i also noticed i was writing way too much about me, the old man. i get maudlin, sappy, or worse, angry. It ain’t really me. It’s just me groveling around in my dark recesses, especially during what i might consider dark times.

But i can choose. Dark or light. Good vibes or bad. i choose light and good vibes. It’s just sometimes it takes me a while to get there. When younger with the world and success and worry about being secure when i got old pressing on me, dark was often with me, a driver to get moving. But i am at the older stage now, and secure. Maybe not as secure as i would like to be, but old enough to realize i can handle it, regardless of what happens for the rest of this crazy, insane, beautiful (at least, to me) life of mine. So i wrote this for Sam, an adjunct to the autobiography i’m writing only for him, which i am likely to never finish since i started not quite two years ago and thus far have reached the end of grammar school (Bet they don’t call it that now). Sam, this is for you.

This morning, i took a shower after a run and walk, which would have embarrassed me ten years ago. Automatically, i reach for the third hand towel, a rag essentially, to do the deed i detest, the dictate from my bride of thirty-four years: squeegee the shower when you are finished. For forty years, i never squeegeed a shower. Until Maureen and i moved into our first home together. Been squeegeeing ever since.

As i was squeegeeing (that’s one hell of a word isn’t it: “squeegeeing”?), my age sort of hit me in the face again, thinking, of all things, about squeegeeing. i thought about my pre-squeegeeing days, and considered what folks nowadays might think of me now and back then.

My daughters and my son-in-law probably consider me old and eccentric, nice old man but a little screwy and not necessarily someone they should heed. i’m a little batty they might say. Of course, they are correct on that count. My grandson Sam would think i’m prehistoric. If i’m lucky, he might think i came from a magic place far, far away and a long, long time ago.

i did.

i came from a place where i was isolated from the world going bad. You said, “Please,” “Thank you,” “i’m sorry.” And you better have meant what you said or retribution would swiftly follow, like in my case a pinch somewhere it hurt.”

My magic place was for children, only we didn’t know it. After all, we were told, “Children should be seen and not heard.” And if we talked loudly or silly in public, we would disappear with a parent into some corner. Rear end whelps were the usual result. Now, the parents say, “Isn’t that cute?”

But we had freedom. So did our parents in many ways. i often wondered what the hell locks were for. We never locked our cars, never. We never locked our homes either, except my father would lock the doors before he went to bed and unlock them when he arose. That’s it.

We played. Boy, did we play. Outside. All the time except for school. In the summer and during Christmas vacation (we actually called it that: “Christmas Vacation.” It sounds sort of right. i mean that’s what we had it for; and i’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t a government holiday; just the schools shut down for a couple of weeks, sort of like they did it because it was the right thing to do; the grownups and their businesses just kept on truckin’ right up through Christmas Eve. In fact, i don’t think there were any Christmas ads or stores stocking Christmas gifts and decorations until after Thanksgiving. We wrote our letters to Santa, and he magically showed up, left our presents requested, ate the cookie and drank the boiled custard we gave him, and somehow got that sleigh filled with more than a semi trailer could hold off the roof courtesy of eight tiny (but very strong) reindeer without us ever seeing him regardless of how hard we tried to stay up and catch him.

Anyway, during those winter two weeks and three months of summer, we woke, ate breakfast as a family, and were outside in about ten minutes. We did have to dress , have our morning constitutionals although we didn’t know what a constitutional was until later, much later, wash our faces, and, of course, brush our teeth. Ten minutes. Tops.

Then, after being admonished in the winter to put on our coats and hats, which we did dutifully, and not go too far (some undefinable limit only a parent would know) in the summer, we were outside to play. Until dinner (in the South, i’m not sure i used the term lunch except for school. After all, i had a lunch box). That was maybe a half-hour ordeal (unless of course dinner was a peanut butter and jelly or banana sandwich: then it wasn’t an ordeal), we were back outside until, yep, you guessed it, supper (“dinner” was midday except for highfaluting folks or Yankees) . In the summer, we were back at it after we washed and dried the dishes. Outside. The hell with the mosquitoes. We were catching those lightning bugs (some misguided souls called them fireflies) and putting them in a mason jar with holes punched in the lid with Mother’s icepick.

Also in the summer, we wore the minimum. Boys: underwear and shorts. Girls: underwear, shorts, and a halter top. That’s it. The hell with bee stings on the feet. In fact, bee stings were damn near an initiation requirement.

We would put blankets in the shade underneath the front yard Chinese maple, our rendezvous place. But we were seldom in the shade. Tan was good. i don’t think i ever saw sunscreen other than an umbrella for old ladies until i was about…oh say, forty. Oh, women had tanning lotion. Baby oil and other concoctions to get a deeper tan. But not for us, even at the swimming pool.

And then we were gone. All over the neighborhood. Almost every home had one to five kids. Those that didn’t were considered weird, a place to avoid. We roamed.

We had a hole in the back fence where we could go play with the kids on Pennsylvania Annex and was later the shortcut for us and almost every kid within five miles. We could run through the sheets and laundry hung out to dry because we didn’t have a dryer.

But we better not get caught. If we did, we would be ordered inside, where Mother would pull down that well-worn paddle originally with a ball and rubber band attached by a staple, and we would get it. That, of course, was for minor infractions. For the big ones, like not coming home for one of those aforementioned meals or being late for bedtime, could be serious. And telling a whopper, or hitting someone who didn’t deserve it, well, that meant the old paddle was used to an extensive extent, and then, even worse, we were told in a menacing tone to wait until Daddy got home. A fate worse than death. And when he got home, he would sit down on a chair and direct me to go find a “good” switch on a bush outside and bring it in. And i would fetch the smallest twig i could find i thought might pass muster, and it wouldn’t. So Daddy would get angry when he had just been only severe, and tell me to get another one, and i learned (after about four or five of these experiences: i was a slow learner) to get a proper “switch.” Because if i didn’t, he would get angrier, and pull off his belt. Regardless, sometime after this hopeless negotiation on my part, i would be brought to bending over his knees after my pants or shorts had been lowered to a most embarrassing position, and my father, in what is a most accurate description of what happened, “wear me out.”

i am still amazed that when they said i was getting this diabolical punishment because they loved me i believed them completely. Still do. i was not so much in belief when they would often note it was going to hurt them more than it hurt me. Now that i’m older, i understand a little bit, but i still ain’t buying it.

And in June, we would catch June bugs. Of course. And we would tie a string around the June bugs leg and let it fly around our heads in never-ending circles. And we never even considered it might be cruel from the June bug’s perspective.

And we ate watermelon long before some agronomist or some such figured out how to make them “seedless.” Man, slobbering through a wedge of watermelon and spitting the seeds out was part of the joy and deliciousness of eating watermelon. Outside only.

But that was topped by homemade peach ice cream. The folks would invite all the kin over and dig the old wooden bucket with a crank handle on top out of some recess in the basement and bring it outside. Then they would put the canister filled with the magic elixir into the bucket filled with ice then surround it with dry ice and then cover all but the crank with blankets and we (one to three of the children, aka me) would crank the crank until we couldn’t crank anymore and one of the menfolk would take over until the ice cream in the canister was…well, ice cream. We would pull out bowls right there in the back yard and some expert would extract the ice cream from the canister into the bowls and the grownups would sit in the lawn chairs and the children would sit on the grass ingesting the best tasting stuff in the world, homemade peach ice cream.Consumed. Right there. On the spot. All of it. Gone. It was a mess to clean up but worth it.

We would walk to school and back by ourselves every day unless it rained or snowed when mother (Daddy was long gone to work before we left for school) would take us in the car. In the afternoons, we usually would congregate into a herd of first to six graders and walk together with young’uns peeling off when we reached their homes on the route.

At school recess (two a day, mid-morning, mid-afternoon to swing on swings and take them to the sky because you were a sissy if you didn’t get them parallel to the ground where they would slack and slam you back as you returned on the never ending arc,  or propelling the old metal merry-go-round to what we considered the speed of sound or just under the limit (most of the time) to a speed where we could jump on the bed without holding on to the handle and propelling ourselves out with possible grievous injury to ourselves and all nearby, or playing kickball on the diamond made a diamond by the constant running around the paths to bases formed from articles of clothing or softball at the diamond on the end of the playground which had a tree behind the backstop where someone — i don’t think it was actually him, for it was from relatively new knife cuts and he had died at the Alamo about six score years before i saw and worshipped the carving as a religious icon — had carved a terse, scrawling note: “D. Crockett, kilt a bear under this tree, March 1810.”

Walking home and especially at the above school recess, there was some things going on which today would be cause for twenty years behind bars or exorcism or public degradation, or some media outlet calling you out as despicable. There were fights, at least among the boys, and there was bullying and the bully got his upstart from the kids, like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt you” or “i’m gonna tell,” which was something akin to a death knell if you were a kid. Snitchers were the lowest form pre-prepubescent munchkins. The remarkable thing was we fixed it ourselves.

In fact, the whole town, this magic place, fixed themselves. Except for Doc Lowe (and others) of course. We would go in to the hospital, a whopping mile and a half all the way across town, and Charles T. Lowe, MD, would check me out, or we would go to his house two blocks away, or he would come over to ours with his little black leather bag and check me out. Nearly always, he would pat me on the head, have me pull down my britches (does anyone call them “britches” anymore? and if so, do they know what it means?) and lean over his knee (fearfully reminiscent those moments where my father would say “this hurts me more than you.”) and stick what i believed to be a footlong needle into my backside and shoot the juice they called penicillin into the most tender muscles of my poor but valiant rear end. i don’t recall any specialists, although they could have been hiding somewhere. All illness and varying damages due to child collisions: one doc. Brought me into this world, saw me through childhood, a most difficult task, taking out my tonsils at six and then ten. Yes, twice. Meant i got ice cream twice. But that either was awful smelling. It was a toss-up.

And i don’t remember counselors. Of any type. They may have been there, and probably were abundant in Nashville, but not in Lebanon, thirty miles and about 123 farms down the road east.

And decisions about school extracurricular activities? There were three sports. Football, basketball, and baseball. That’s it. Except up at Castle Heights where they were way more sophisticated and offered a panoply of athletic pursuits. But by that time, my other religious experience besides church on good Sundays was the other blessed trinity: Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. Fall, it all began again.

And when it rained, we played with wood scraps, from Uncle Snook’s work as a builder with his brother Ben, on the small screened in back porch or we played canasta until infinity with the old RCA Victrola record player blaring 78 RPM records such as Dennis  Day singing for Disney and relating the story of “Johnny Appleseed” or Phil Harris singing “That’s What I Like About the South” over and over and over.

And i would walk down West Main to the library into the old stately house turned book haven and wander through the shelves and pick out books, mostly about American heroes painted with a halo, because none did wrong in these books, and i would read two or three in a week and walk back down West Main and turn them in before they were overdue, of which the date for that terrible deed occurring stamped on the card in the small folder glued to the back of the cover, and if i failed and had to pay a penny for each day i sinned, out would come Mother’s wood paddle off the refrigerator one more time.

Then in 1952 came television when Roberta Padgett invited me across the field after school  so we could watch on her brand new twelve-inch screen black and white television, the latest thing. After Kate Smith sang “America, the Beautiful,” we could watch “Howdy Doody” and Ruffin Ready introduced Roy or Gene in their oater of the day. All before i would be sent home for supper.

And low and behold in 1954, an earthquake occurred at 127 Castle Heights Avenue when our father brought home our own television. It sat in a place of glory in the corner of living room next to the interior hall. The focus of the room changed and we would sit or lie on the floor, the latter with our chins resting on our hands while we could watch magic. In addition to the addictions i had acquired at Roberta’s, we would watch Milton Berle in “The Texaco Hour,” “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” “Red Skeleton,” and “Martha Raye.” Saturday mornings were child heaven with the “Sealtest Big Top,” the “Andy’s Show” hosted by Andy Devine and his squeaky voice with Froggy and Midnight and Buster Brown and his dog, Tige, who lived in a shoe, both of them, and then “Little Beaver,” “Red Ryder,” and “Sky King,” and “Lassie.” And we were, we undoubtedly knew, in heaven.

Magic place.

And they kept me away all that other bad stuff. Jim Crow, the segregatrion from other people with darker skins besides a babysitter, housekeeper named Vicey  Shavers, and the garbage man named Jake Hughes who came every Tuesday and parked his wagon with truck tires for wheels, reeking with smell, and pulled by his old mule, and he would walk to the back of the house and pick up the tin garbage can and tote it to the wagon, and hoist it up and empty the contents into the aromatic wagon bed, and return the can to its rightful place in the backyard far enough away so the aroma before next Tuesday would not waft into the house because we didn’t have air conditioning and the windows were open in the summer. And Jake, wonderful soul that he was, amassed a small fortune i am told. Good for him.

My magic place was isolated. It had a dark side i never really saw, and it was “Brigadoon,” only an ocean and a state and old bunch of world and time removed.

It was magic.

It was home, the likes of which i don’t think we will ever see again.

Climbing My Mountain

There is this need i have to explain myself when i write something. i don’t know why, but i’m pretty sure it all goes back to my second semester freshman English class at Vanderbilt in 1963.

Our “professor” was a graduate student. Fortunately for both of us, i don’t remember her name. She was not very pretty, which should have no bearing on her competence. That did not disturb me. She appeared very academic until i noticed she wore pads to catch sweat (i guess) under her armpits. Sadly, she still emitted a bearable but unpleasant aroma around her desk.

Again, that did not bother me or affect my estimate of her as a professor in any way. But the two of us encountered a problem between the two of us. Being she was the professor, the problem was mine. But i didn’t recognize the problem as mine. Come to think of it, i still don’t.

Our textbook was one of the best. Later, i bought a copy in order to refer to it when i needed some guidance on poetry. The textbook is Understanding Poetry  by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. It can make your head spin with poetry, criticism, guidance, and knowledge, although granted it didn’t take a lot to make my head spin back in those days.

My professor believed in that book. i think she memorized it. So about three weeks into the course, we had a quiz. The quiz paper had a poem at the beginning. My challenge was to find the symbolism in the poem and justify my answer. Fortunately again — for i might reread it now and find out the professor was correct — i do not remember the name of the poem.

Ahh, the problem. The problem was i really liked the poem the way it was. i loved the lilt of the verse, the rhyme pattern, the pleasure of the thought i experienced while i read. i was taken in or aback by the beauty of the poem. i saw no need to try and interpret what the poet had written or believe he or she had some other meaning deeply hidden in the words. Those words, i thought, stood just fine all by themselves, just the way they were. Also, i wasn’t really all that into symbolism since i had been out drinking and never read the applicable assignments where Cleanth and Robert Penn explained such things.

The real problem came when i had the temerity to suggest such a dastardly idea there was no need for symbolism in such a beautiful poem. My beautifully written answer the professor apparently found abhorrent.

i flunked the test.

i also did such brazen things as have a contest with my fraternity brothers (no pledge hazing involved; this idea came from my pledge buddies, myself included). We went to our various classes that early spring day to see who could sit through an hour class — labs were excluded because there might have been an opportunity to spit into some lab sink or worse — without spitting out our wad of tobacco. i made it through the class without spitting. After all, i had become somewhat of a tobacco chewing virtuoso while playing baseball or softball almost every day of every spring and summer in high school. However, i’m sure it was not very attractive, and although i don’t remember the professor asking me any questions, i’m sure either a: i refused to answer, or b: if i did answer it was a very ugly scene — i honestly do not remember; after all this was fifty-three years ago. Regardless, the ensuing ugliness of my retching on the campus lawn immediately afterwards negated my success at making it through the class without spitting tobacco.

Somehow, i miraculously got a “C” in the course, one of the very few as damn near every grade i got was a “D,” that despicable ignominious category like limbo, meaning i didn’t fail but i was a pretty worthless student in that class.

i have always regretted not getting a degree at Vanderbilt although i am completely convinced the knowledge i attained pursuing my English BA at Middle Tennessee was equal if not superior to what i would have achieved at Vandy. You see, i had heeded the wise caution of my mother and the officers at the Vanderbilt NROTC unit and changed my major from English in the Arts and Science college and declared for a civil engineering degree about a month before matriculation. Bad move.

i have sought to remedy that lack of degree thing several times. When i was required to go to shore duty, i requested NROTC duty at Vanderbilt or Texas A&M, thinking i could get a master’s in my off hours. With a marriage headed south, i opted for A&M with the reasoning my soon to be ex, whose father was an Aggie, would be close to home if things didn’t work out. They worked out all right and it was a good choice. She got her degree from A&M and stayed in Texas. So my plan for a Vandy degree was thwarted again.

Then after i completed my active duty of some twenty-two years, i began research on getting accepted to Vanderbilt for a master’s degree in English, which hopefully would allow me to teach at a junior college. After all, back then (and now for those of us who retired (sic) from the Navy, the pension required some more income come from somewhere. But alas, Vanderbilt had done away with an English/Literature masters and the graduate program only offered doctorates, an intense time consuming discipline, which i, now well north of sixty, was not ready to attempt. Thwart again.

But there was one last gasp of an attempt. While looking for that master’s opportunity, i discovered an elite Vandy program for a Master’s of Fine Arts in literature, either prose or poetry. i was all in. i worked diligently in assembling the required writing samples, the endorsements, the mass of forms required. For extra effort, i went back home and wandered into the office of the MFA program administrator in what we called “Old Science” building.

She did not appear happy to see me. Apparently, they frowned on extra effort and personal interaction. i left her office with my Vandy degree in the hands of fate.

Fate told me to eat it.

Vandy accepted younger applicants with more academic achievements i’m sure. After all, my academic achievements really didn’t amount to squat.

And after reflecting on my ill advised journey into the administrator’s office, i realized while in her office, i smelled a strange but familiar odor from long ago near where we sat. No. It couldn’t be. She was  way too young. But i had not checked for arm pit pads.

You see, the above, in my ubiquitous green italic font, was to be a short lead in to a post i’m working on. Then it took on a life of its own and has nothing to do with “Climbing My Mountain.”

Oh well.

Random Thoughts on a Labor Day Morning

It is later than usual for me to arise and write random thoughts. 5:45 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Then, by the time i grind the coffee and start the coffee maker, set the table, put up last night’s dishes, feed the cats, have our always breakfast with the newspaper, folding and stowing away the clothes Maureen washed yesterday (and put in front of my family room chair to uncompromisingly hint i had a job to do), it was mid-morning, long after i wrote the first words of random thoughts. But i always return and sit down to this damnable screen with keyboard i can’t escape. Screw with it way, way too much. It is becoming me, or at least an essential part of me. Maybe it always has been since i started banging on those keys on the old Royal on that worn desk in “The Cavalier” room, at the back of Armstrong Hall, just before the circle, aka the bullring in front of Main at Castle Heights under the watchful and demanding eye of Coach Leftwich.

i’m no longer particularly good at it. Age has given me the okay to ignore correct grammar, punctuation, and sometimes, more often that not, coherent thought. i fooled myself for a long time my stories, my thoughts might serve the younger set as good and bad examples from which to learn. But i’m even older now and have learned in that oldness that the younger set doesn’t have time to listen to oldsters. It’s a different time, different ways, too busy thinking about fixing the world their way and my stuff is from a past time, no good, obsolescent information, if not obsolete.

Boy, that past time had a lot of problems. Lots and lots of problems, but i’m glad it was mine. i was protected, reared in a pasteurized environment where we didn’t lock our cars or our doors; we played outside; we got our images from books, oaters, cartoons, and our imaginations. We didn’t wear shoes, or shirts for that matter from May until September. Shorts. We wandered from neighbor’s yard to neighbor’s yard playing.  We walked to school. By ourselves. From first grade on. No kindergarten. And we got religion. Man did we get religion. Bathed, dressed up in our Sunday best, starched clothes and us, hair slicked back en route to a full day: 9:00 Sunday School, 11:00 Church Service, 12:30 dinner out or a big one at home of us or kin, later for the kids 5:00 MYF the same time the men’s chorus had supper and rehearsed, and 7:00 Evening service mostly gospels. It wasn’t the church in the wildwood, but man, it had that feel, had that feel.

And i learned, and i believed. Later, it sort of got away with me. i had some hell to raise, a world to conquer (didn’t), life to live, women to wed, silently crying inside with divorces, children to raise (even if one was from long distance), wars to fight, seas to sail, sports to cover, dreams to chase, people to meet, friends to make and keep. That religion thing all came back in a different fashion again, later. Oh, i wouldn’t be called a church goer, or much of anything else, but i believe. i don’t proselytize because i know even mine is a belief, not a fact, and i get tired of all of those folks trying to prove a belief. Ain’t happening. It’s enough to believe if your belief is good. You know, Jesus like. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those without guilt throw the first stone (none should be thrown, but they are falling like hailstorms in a never-ending storm of hate and fear). Walk in the customer’s shoes, or something like that, but maybe that was what i learned in a leadership intervention i facilitated, which apparently is no longer in vogue with the corporate money-makers even though they wear it in their marketing like a hood ornament, but we know damn well it ain’t under that hood. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world (well, we pay it lip service, but i see the hate and the fear on all sides, protecting their own, throwing those rocks, spitting hate, meanness, small little people bent on being better by walking over all of those not like them, remembering the past as it wasn’t but what they want it to be to justify their hate.

But that place i started writing about. That place that taught me all that stuff. They protected me from seeing the underbelly. Oh, i knew. Somewhere, sometime, it dawned on me. i made some effort to be above it, be without a color line, even made some statements and behaviors that backed that up. Never, not even through today, understood it. My world taught me equality without observing it, taught me goodness with evil lurking like a imbecile child in the basement: Boo Radley, taught me responsibility without stepping up to the plate.

But no one’s heeding. That’s okay. i’ll just try to make some people, perhaps just those near my age feel good. And i will try to live a good life, do the right thing, ignore the smallness, try hard to be bigger in my thoughts. Play decent golf and not curse (well, maybe a little bit). This writing thing is there in me, deep inside, won’t let me go. Don’t wish to market or sell my wares on television, radio talk shows, but it would be nice to make a few bucks to pay for my golf and things for my wife, daughters, grandson, family, and friends. But it’s more important just to put it out there. Don’t know why.

*    *     *

i do have a worry. i don’t see much making things anymore, except paper money. i see the big shots and their offspring playing games, manipulating people, propagandizing for their causes. The masses marching, protesting, deriding all who do not fit their idea of equal, which isn’t equal at all. My daughter’s elementary school had it right with their slogan: “ICMM,” i can manage myself. Doesn’t seem like too many people deal with that: too busy fixing everybody else. After all, they know what’s wrong with the rest of the world, just not themselves or their causes.

*    *     *

Ahh, what a glorious weekend. Courtesy of Tick Bryan, i linked up to the Lebanon High School football game Friday night. Mount Juliet beat them handily, but watching took me back to damn near every Friday night from six or so until twenty-four. Blue Devils. Autumn. Me.

Saturday, Vanderbilt beat Middle Tennessee, but Middle Tennessee wasn’t embarrassed. Good, hard play on both sides of the ball. It’s always difficult, having gone to both schools. i was a Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Middle Tennessee football fan growing up. Listened to every game i could. Don’t think i saw a one on television until Vandy beat Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl, but had been in the stands for all three teams before i was 20. i wanted both the Commodores and the Blue Raiders to win. No tie. Turned out about as good as it could.

And delight of delights: The San Diego Padres swept a day-night double-header from the Dodgers, the team, like quite a few others, maybe all of them, attempting to buy a World Series, only with more money than most. Fans are awful. So are the Padre fans, but not quite as bad. Still it was sweet.

And Saturday, i went home. i went back to Tennessee in August. It was 97 here and humid, not dry like it’s supposed to be. All of my bragging about not needing air conditioning seemed a bit foolish. We were okay. We know how to cope. Being over the hill from the ocean gives us an edge with the sea breeze. But it was hot and humid. Like Tennessee. In August. When before AC there and then, Daddy had installed a large window fan in the upstairs hall window. That was it. i would lie in my jockey shorts at the end of the bed. No cover, no top sheet. Just me, my jockey shorts, curled at the foot of the bed where i was all in front of the double window to our room, maximizing what little air the fan pumped through the hall to out our window.

And yes, early season practice up the hill at Heights. Two-a-days. Heavy cotton jerseys over pads. High top cleats. Helmets. 95/95. Refusing water: hydration wasn’t a manly thing to do back then. But salt pills, that was good. 9:00 morning practice with a ten pound water loss; driving to Johnson’s Dairy at West Main and West End Heights where Walgren’s now sells drugs for a half-gallon of orange drink. Coming back to find the Carthage boys passing a jug of moonshine back and forth on the bunk beds. Afternoon practice. Same gear, same 95/95. Seemed longer. Sprints were a killer. Ten or more pounds gone again. Be back by next morning practice. And then, just like here in the Southwest corner, surprisingly, i could smell the rain on the wind. And it came. And it cooled down to what? 80? Still sliding in the mud of the practice field down Hill Street with the rain infusing its drops through every pore felt good, and we slowly trodding back up the hill to the locker room with mud-crusted uniforms, smelling to high heaven with sweat, and we laughed..

And yes, digging graves. 95/95. Work shoes and Levis. No shirt. Pick and shovel. Mr. Bill and Dub and me. Taking turns. Wiping brows. Tough work. Leaving on the dot. After all, Legion Ball or fast pitch softball (bad descriptor) down by that church at the Southern end of Baird Park where it seems i remember the preacher ran away with one of his younger parishioners. And catching in the gear and sweating until the uniform was soaked and at the end going out and finding Country Club Malt Liquor and drinking and smoking for the first time because i didn’t have football that fall and sitting on the side of a rock road, talking, laughing before starting it all again Monday digging graves. Hot and humid. Just like it was in the Southwest corner this past Saturday.

Good memories.

A Birthday for a Kin

There’s this kid…well, not really a kid anymore. In fact, he’s a grown man, my kin, nephew actually, but damn near a long distance son. He was a kid for a long time. Then, he grew up fast. Went from being a carefree bachelor to a wife and five children in less than four years. Speed record.

He knew what he wanted. He got it.

Intelligent young man, he is. My younger daughter is almost like his sister. They will have spent fifteen years of Christmases together come December.

i find it amusing he has become successful, albeit extremely busy, especially this time of year, in the business where i thought i would end up, sports journalism. He’s a good one. i send him books about Grantland Rice and Fred Russell, my heroes.

He has a wonderful wife, Abby. He has two stepdaughters. He treats them like actual daughters of his, and his parents treat those two like they are actually granddaughters of theirs. He and Abby had a beautiful young girl right after they married. They rounded out the group with two identical twin boys. Good thing they live on a farm, a farm on Signal Mountain, Walden actually. Good place for children.

He, like all of his cousins and his aunts and uncles and his momma and papa, has as special bond. His grandfather, Jimmy Jewell, and his grandmother, Estelle Jewell, in their home for seventy-five years naturally brought all of these folks, these kin together. Because he has this farm, he got a lot of the stuff his grandfather left behind. This man works with those tools like his grandfather did. Natural talent.

i’m proud, very proud of being Tommy Duff’s crazy uncle. Happy Birthday, Tommy. This morning, it occurred to me that not only am i proud of you, Grandma and Grandpa are proud of you also. i can see them laughing in happiness on your birthday.

And, if the truth be known, you are a lot like that ole man. i know. i’ve seen both of you operate. That’s also about the highest compliment i could give any male, being like him.

You, like him, are a good man. From where he and i come from, that puts you in high cotton.

Happy Birthday, Tommy.