Monthly Archives: December 2017

A Chief of Legend

This post is a old Navy sea story of mine and is really true. It is not for folks who are overly sensitive and certainly not for those who are politically correct.

He was notable, a legend amongst us, at least amongst Navy folks.

1970. Sasebo, Japan in mid-January. i was the new XO of MSTS (now MSC) Transport Unit One (gone with the wind of time) which road USNS troop ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back. He was the master chief corpsman. i cannot remember his name for now. But he is indelibly etched in my memory bank, how frail and sketchy that might be. i met this jocular, white haired master chief shortly after i reported aboard.

First story:

The master chief liked to gamble a bit. So he frequently visited the game room (aka slot machine room) at the Sasebo Chief’s Club. As we were getting underway for our overnight steam to Pusan, Korea, i spotted him with a large bandage around his head and jowls.

“What happened to you, Master Chief?” i inquired.

“I broke my jaw,” he tersely replied.

“How?” i asked just as tersely.

“This woman, a dependent wife hit me in the chief’s club,” he responded.

Somewhat astounded for several reasons, i pursued, “How could that have happened?”

“Well sir, i went into the game room and grabbed a stool for an empty slot…at least i thought it was unoccupied,” he continued, “Well, this woman apparently had had a winning streak and left her machine for a moment. When she came back, she got mad at me taking her slot machine and hit me.”

“She hit you and broke your jaw?” i stated, even more amazed, “Must have been one big woman.”

“No sir, XO. She was tiny. i think she was the Japanese wife of one the chiefs stationed here.”

“She was a tiny Japanese woman, and she broke your jaw?” i stated, totally flummoxed.

“Well, sir,” the master chief embarrassedly concluded, “She hit me with her purse. It was full of quarters.”

Second Story:

The Master Chief was single. He had decided to get a vasectomy. The Navy medical facilities did not provide for such procedures in 1970, but he had found a Army dispensary outside of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, arranging for the procedure on our next port call.   As we were departing Sasebo for our overnight excursion to Pusan, i went down to the ship’s infirmary to the unit’s two doctors who had become good friends. The master chief was working furiously on a cardboard sign. i suspected it had something to do with the red light district in Pusan where most of the single unit members frequented when our ship was in port.

“What are you doing, Master Chief,” i questioned.

“Well XO, this is going to be my last port before my  vasectomy, so i’m going trawling.”


“Yes, sir. Just before i go on liberty, i’m going down to the galley and get a whole chicken, thawed. Then, i’m going to tie it on a long line and this pole with the sign on it. When i get down to about the San Francisco Club, i’m going to walk down the middle of the street with that chicken at the end of my pole. i’m thinking i’ll catch me several of those women.”

Although wary, i still asked, “Master Chief, what does the sign say?”

He held it up so i could see. In big block letters, he had scrawled, “Get the last live load.”

Yes, he was a legend.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This old irascible curmudgeon was rolling into his “Bah, humbug” phase of Christmas. It happens about this time of year every year.

For reasons beyond his control, he has had this phase for about oh, say for about a half a century. It occurs when he realizes he yet again won’t be spending Christmas with someone whom he holds very dear.

Up until he left his hometown to wander (and wander he has, although nearly all of it was not planned; it just turned out that way), he spent Christmas with his family: his parents, his brother and sister, family in Lebanon and Chattanooga (Joe, Martha, Nancy, all of the Prichard’s, did they ever go to Florida for Christmas? He can’t recall although their is some vague memory of a warm Christmas in Daytona, perhaps another one of his illusions).

Then life and the world outside of our hamlet smack dab in the middle of Tennessee began to take him away. Several Christmases were spent away, far away completely out of his control: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Diego Garcia to name a few. The military can do that to you. Then there was this marriage thing and Christmases inevitably was divided between families. Then there were three families geographically separated (divorces and remarrying can do that, you know).

And that’s where it really started. When the world and life takes one away from the perfect Christmas. That was 1979. It was the first Christmas of not being with his daughter Blythe. Christmas has never been the same since then. That old humbug phase has been there ever since.

The closest he has ever gotten to that perfect Christmas began in 1992 when Maureen, three-year old Sarah and he went back to Tennessee, Signal Mountain most of the time, to be with his parents and his sister’s family. The Duffs have become his Christmas, and even though he is missing a daughter, a grandson, his brother and his family, and his wife’s family, it has been a beautiful Christmas every year.

Still that sadness is there as he has had to make choices about with whom he  spent Christmas, or rather who he misses at Christmas.

When they first started going to Tennessee again in 1992, he had family and friends housekeep for him and there was an abbreviated version of Christmas with Maureen’s family before they left. Even though the Southwest corner family still gets together for an early, abbreviated Christmas, the housesitting has evolved into someone looking after the pets on a daily basis. In those early years, they continued to decorate to the fullest although the tree was dry and crumbly by the time they returned. When the housekeeping stopped, they stopped the decorating. This was about when he created the legendary “NOEL” sign.

About four Christmases ago after Sarah moved to Texas, Maureen and he missed their house being Christmasy and bought a fake tree, something he vowed he would never do. So they decorated the tree, put up a minimal number of other decorations and of course, the “NOEL” sign.

But this year, Sarah is back home for a brief period. You get two sentimental and caring women together and you are going to have Christmas decorations, full-blown.

This year, they do.

No, he still won’t have that perfect Christmas. He will not be with his other daughter Blythe and his grandson Sam (and yeh, you too, Jason). It’s been a decision he has made every Christmas except one, trying to do what was best for everyone of his family he loves. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and do the right thing. He has bitten quite a few bullets in his day.

But this year, it’s a bit different, this curmudgeon humbug thing. The women decorated.He put Christmas music on the iPod and plays it frequently. It not only is beginning to look a lot Christmas, it’s beginning to sound that way as well.

The old curmudgeon humbug sort of got into the spirit. You know, the reason for Christmas, for joy to the world, for hope, for caring and giving., for children, and birth, and that star.

Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:

It is the season and the menorah is something Sarah made in elementary school. A Jewish family came to our Christmas party. The girl was a friend of Sarah’s. The wife was very thankful for us having that menorah card in our decoration. The reindeer was also made by Sarah a long time ago.


Then there are the music boxes Sarah has received from her aunt almost every Christmas. These are on the table in the alcove between the family room and the dining room.




These music boxes and the nutcracker are on the living room mantel.




These poinsettias in the entry are ones Maureen couldn’t resist. She had made me throw away the fake ones i got from Home Depot several years ago for five dollars. Oh okay, mine were quite a bit worn and they did look fake, but other than that they were fine.


That’s Santa and a bit undersized reindeer with a sled for Santa who won’t fit, but it holds Christmas cards nicely on our “daughter” table.


Then we have our stockings, acquired as a gift several years ago.





This has removed my stocking, which my mother made me about seventy years ago, from the in-house decorations. So i moved it to my work (hah, hah) space in my garage. i actually really like it here. i know Martha’s is in her home on Signal Mountain, and i wonder where Joe’s is in Vermont.




A cross-stitch is in the guest bath so we can relate the legendary Jewell-Hall story about why it is so…well, legendary.



Almost finally, there is the tree. With the fake one, we have options. i turn on the colored lights in the morning to welcome the wakers with a good feeling. In the evening, we turn on the white lights to add to the family room’s Christmasy atmosphere, also abetted by the fire…which is not fake.








The coup de gras is the “NOEL” sign, which after countless hours of wire cutting, splicing, soldering, and hair pulling (if i had hair). After completing then hanging of the sign, i hung it up and turned it on. The two light strings illuminating the letters are, we discovered two different whites. The “warm” whites are whiter than the clear whites. But i ain’t changing it out again this year. Maybe next. Meanwhile, the legend grows.

And all of this is really to say very few people have a “perfect” Christmas. Sadly, some people have dark ones because they are alone. But everyone, if they try, can get into the spirit, the real meaning of Christmas, and rejoice. Even this old curmudgeon humbug can have a merry Christmas.

May yours be especially wonderful this year.