Monthly Archives: February 2018

A Good Day Along With a Return to the “What the hell was that?” Kitchen

It was just one of those days just about perfect in my mind. You know, like Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Our House:” two cats in the yard (except ours are in the house; predators, you see). And it was even better as we returned to a long ago (well, by my standards; by my daughters, it is more like ancient) ways we worked in the evenings…and yes, i lit the fire while she put the flowers in the vase.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It was cool and rainy, like the Southwest corner used to be in February. Not Tennessee rain, mind you, not at all. In fact, it really didn’t rain. It was more like heavy mist (but that is another story, a golfing story). Last night, we had about a quarter of an inch, more than we’ve had in about two months. More is predicted today. Our highs for this week proper are only touching 60, a veritable blizzard. But again, that is another story.

Yesterday for some reason, i was more productive than usual, on a bunch of fronts. i was proud of myself, and then came dinner. Maureen was at a meditating class. She says they are teaching her about history and the different kinds of meditateion. i declined to join her. Six Mondays of studying meditation just doesn’t quite strike me as fun. So going back to those old days, i once again cooked supper.

Once upon a time in the old west…well, at least in the old Southwest corner, i had some sort of control  of the kitchen. Or at least, i thought i did.

It was when Maureen’s and my marriage really began. My time on the Yosemite and our year in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach really, had been beyond magical.  We were married July 30, 1983 and then i was gone for nine months. You know, those deployments Navy folks just seem to get caught up in. So the really married stuff began in 1985.

We came back in late April. That’s when the real married stuff began and lasted for …well, i was going to say “a year,” but it really was for the rest of my life.

When we returned to the Southwest corner in 1985, i  cooked supper quite a bit when Maureen worked, but i then realized cooking was an escape for her, something she loved to do. She’s damn near a gourmet chef. When she cooks, which is nearly all the time now except for grilling, we have dinner. When i cook, we have supper.

Boy, did we have supper last night.

Here’s what we had:

Jim’s Stuff he makes with okra but zucchini substitutes for okra…or what is better known as “What the hell was that?”…and there is a story about that as well, but not for polite folks.

Diced tomatoes
Yellow onions
Worcestershire sauce
Seasoning (critical but what strikes me at the moment)
Siracha sauce
Soy sauce
Bay Leaves
Mustard (doesn’t have to be the fancy kind, but it helps)
Molasses (sorghum, of course)

Cut it up,

Cook it slow in a cast-iron skillet

Serve with cornbread and rice or potatoes and red wine

It helps to have a martini while  you are doing it, makes you more creative. Bombay Sapphire up with olives in a chilled glass. But i gave that up a while ago. So i had a beer.

Maureen and Sarah loved it. Me too. i may get called on to cook supper more frequently, but not dinner.

Sarah retreated to her room. i lit the fire. Remember “Déjà Vu”? We never turned on the television. i did not write, i did not read. i sat in my chair next to the fire, propped my feet on the camel saddle Maureen had made into an ottoman, closed my eyes, and listened.

A rare moment.

i have a lot of music in my history. It’s sort of like my life. i like them all but i’m not an aficionado in any of the genres. But i do have my favorites. And last night it was my classical favorites: Handel’s “Water Music” — to this day, i remain thrilled my daughter Blythe chose that for her wedding music — and Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.” Cy Fraser introduced me to both back in 1963.

i listened quietly and thought:

The world ain’t all bad, and i am one very, very lucky man.

Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Baseball

As early as my third Democrat column over ten years ago, i began my public rants about professional sports.

i remain torn.

i have loved sports, including professional sports, since as long as i can remember. With joy i remember Charlie Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals (yes, that’s right, you youngsters. The football Cardinals were in Chicago with George Halas’ Bears, then moved to St. Louis and then to Arizona) breaking into the clear on the black and white screen when a defensive back dove at him to make a shoestring tackle and Charlie (back when the pro rules said “down” meant you were stopped from moving forward) does a summersault and continues running for the touchdown. And i remember Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams; Bobby Lane of the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers who is reputed to have played several games sober or without a hangover; Dick “Night Train” Lane who not only was a superb defensive back for those Chicago Cardinals and then the Detroit Lions but won my heart when he married Dinah Washington, one of my all time favorite singers even though the marriage lasted less than a year; even Red Grange as the play by play and analyst for the television game, and Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns tackle who also kicked field goals with Otto Graham and Jim Brown and on and on and on; and then Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Smoky Burgess, Nellie Fox, Roberto Clemente (the best right fielder who ever played the game), Don Hoak, Bill Mazeroski, Dick “Dr. Strange Glove” Stuart, Harvey Haddix, Elroy Face and his fork ball — notice how this list is heavily slanted with old Pittsburgh Pirate players — and on and on and on.

Now, my season tickets are long gone. i am still a Padre fan and watch most of their games on television but rarely go to a game. On of the games i attended with Maureen, parking, three beers, one water, two hot dogs, and one bag of peanuts cost over $70. We were guests of neighbors and didn’t pay for the $70 worth of tickets.

i love sports of all kinds, but the commercialism and outrageous money being made at the expense of fans is totally out of kilter and i rant too much about it if i keep watching it and i will keep watching and hope i can muffle my outrage just to enjoy it, but won’t, so this is my first public declaration of rantsville:

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over.

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs.

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee.

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers.

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball.

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century.

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host.

Fred Russell would be sad but find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

Proof of One of “Murphy’s Laws”

About two weeks ago, i began to post on Facebook daily “laws” from my now defunct “Murphy’s Law” desk calendars. My Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr sent me one of those calendars as a Christmas gift in 1979 while i was deployed to WESTPAC. They sent me one every year until my cousin, Nancy Schwarze, sent them while her mother still was alive. When my aunt passed, i began to get my own calendar and wrap it “from Santa” every Christmas until this past Christmas when they quit publishing the annual desk calendar. Fortunately, i cut and pasted the laws on my notebooks and scheduling paperwork for many years. i now share them on Facebook.

Then last week, one such post read:

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives – “Pfeifer’s Principle: Never make a decision you can get someone else to make.”

i have an example of how this works out in practice.

Something happened a long, long time ago in a land far away, even farther away than my hometown from the Southwest corner. Watertown, New York, 1972. i had just taken over the sports editor job at Watertown Daily Times, living a dream i had since JB Leftwich taught me how to be a decent sports editor on The Cavalier, the Castle Heights Military Academy’s award-winning newspaper. A year before, i had concluded (i thought) my active duty obligation of serving three years as a Naval officer. My folks, Castle Heights, JB, a learning period (in many, many ways) of college and work, and the Navy, taught me well, especially my parents and the Navy about responsibility and accountability.

There are no guilty parties in this story. Every one of the characters were doing their job as best they knew how. They behaved in a manner they believed was best for their newspaper and protecting themselves. They were good people and good friends. Then there was me. The troublemaker.

One of the things really annoying to me then and just as much so now was the previous day’s results and scores of sports contests not being posted in the next day’s newspaper. This made me glad to have worked for afternoon papers. The Times did a good job posting national scores and any local scores covered by staff — at the time of this story, i was the sports staff; so only one sports event was covered live each day. So the results of a significant number of local events were reported a day late. The now ubiquitous answering machine did not become widely used until the mid-1980’s, and of course, voice mail, and mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction in 1972.

i wondered how we could get results in time to publish in the next day’s paper.

After some research, i discovered no one had charged local high schools to call in the results of their games and matches because there was no one at the newspaper to take the calls. Everyone went home when the afternoon paper had been put to bed. i myself, after getting to the office each morning between five and six, went home between two and three in the afternoon, took a nap, and covered a ball game about half of the evenings.

i puzzled over what to do. The local coaches seemed delighted, even anxious to designate someone to phone in their results. i went to my boss, the publisher-in-waiting, super friend, and college brother John B. Johnson, and asked if i could get some part time help, perhaps a high school student. John thought the idea was great and gave me permission. i think he suggested the young man whom i hired.

Before my help came to work, i laid out my plan. i would have him come to work around five, man the switchboard until around 11:00 so the designated person, even the coach, could call in results and statistics of their contests. My plan was to have calls forwarded to the sports desk, but the system could not automatically forward calls to an extension. So we would have to answer the calls at the switchboard. Obviously before this could work, he and i had to know how to operate the switchboard.

The morning before my assistant’s first evening, i went to the switchboard operator to learn how to operate the switchboard so i could train my man on his first night. It was a relatively simple thing, but when i asked the operator, she said, “I can’t do that without permission of the business manager.”

i thought she made a good point. And even if she had the authority to let me use the switchboard, the business manager should know the situation. i went to his office and explained.

He said, “I can’t make that decision. The general manager will have to give me the okay before we can do this.”

Good point. The general manager should know, i agreed. i went to the general manager.

He said, “That is not my decision to make. It’s the business manager’s area of responsibility.”

i left his office perplexed and stood in the hallway considering my options. i did not want to pull strings and go over their heads to my friend. That seemed a little awkward to me. Then i had an idea. i walked back into the general manager’s office and asked:

“If the business manager says it’s okay, then it’s okay with you, right?”

“Of course,” the general manager genially replied.

i trekked down the hall and entered the business manager’s office.

“The business manager said it was okay with him if it’s okay with you. Okay?” i suggested.

“Great,” the business manager genially, even enthusiastically replied. After all, the two managers were sports fans.

i went to the lobby and approached the switchboard operator.

“The general manager and the business manager both said it was okay for us to man the switchboard at night. So is it alright with you?”

“Absolutely,” she genially replied. She was a sports fan also. And with that i was trained and my man began his part-time job and scores of local high school sports event began to be printed in the next afternoon’s newspaper. It was a great success.

No one realized no one had actually given me the go-ahead, and no one was the wiser.

Taking a break

The below is my second column for The Lebanon Democrat. i had written an article or two for them when the big wildfires hit San Diego just over ten years ago, which led to the column gig. We were never really in danger, but we opted for caution (and me not having to deal with two very concerned females, my wife and my younger daughter, for a whole night, maybe longer) and drove over to our friends’ house on Coronado. Again, Peter and Nancy Toennies were our port in a storm, so to speak. Although there was no imminent danger, to leave one’s home taking items you deem the most important, can have an significant impact on how you think about life. i did need a break.

i should add there will be several additional columns about hair. If you have seen me lately, you will know this topic is pretty much OBE for me. About five years ago, i gave up. i am essentially bald; hair is gone. So i bought an electric razor, put in a number two guide, and cut what’s left of my hair about once a month. i am considering going to just the razor without the guide. That way, i figure i can make a razor job last at least six weeks, maybe two months. i will not shave my head. That is work. It also, as every vain man who does shave his head each day  has proven it is a waste of time. They still look as dumb as i do, if not dumber.

But the hair stories will show up later. This is a break.

SAN DIEGO, CA – I need a break.

Often when my wife recognizes I need a break, she sends me back to Middle Tennessee to visit family and friends.

Right now, all three of us need a break. Although we personally escaped from the blazes, we have friends who have lost homes and had their lives altered forever. We are considering taking in one of the newly homeless families until they get their feet on the ground. Our daughter is looking for ways to volunteer to help other evacuees.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local talk and news radio station today, the chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Yet at this writing, only seven people have died from the fires.

Returning from our own voluntary evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and then place them back from whence they came. We must clean up an incredible amount of ash on and in the home, inside and out, without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (this is from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

My taking a trip back home for a break is not an option.

So I am taking a break with this column.

I started writing this about a week ago. It was from old notes comparing the Modern Barber Shop and Pop’s Barber Shop of my youth to one I have frequented out here named Alberto’s Barber Shop. While writing, I expanded the idea into some good stories about barber shops.

Today, my break is to indulge in these two stories: your break and mine. I will discuss the barber shops themselves at another time.

The first is a true story which I witnessed in Alberto’s. While I was waiting for a haircut, a man who recently had retired came in. Bob, one of the barbers, stated rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, John.”

John affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

John replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

John, obviously pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

One of my favorite stories has taken on many variations as Polish jokes become Texas Aggie jokes, and so on. My version is about a barber in a small town in Middle Tennessee. A sailor was en route to his new duty station when he stopped for a haircut.

When finished, he asked the barber what he owed. The barber told the sailor it was free because of the service the sailor was giving to the country. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop, he found a six pack of beer and a note of thanks from the sailor.

About a week later, a Navy Chief Petty Officer came by, also while en route to his new duty station. The chief also received a free haircut. The next morning, the barber found a bottle of Jack Daniels and a thank-you note.

Several weeks later, a Navy lieutenant showed up with the same result. The next morning gift was a bottle of a fine French Bordeaux.

Finally, about a month later, an admiral shows up. After giving another free haircut, the barber was excited about what he would find on his doorstep. The next morning he hurried to the shop and there on the door step were a dozen admirals waiting in line.

My break is over. It is good to laugh, even when things are tough. I hope you enjoyed the break.


My Connection, an Introduction to a Beginning

i have a lot on my plate today and i am a bit too tired: i slept well and long last night, which for some reason makes me sleepy in the mornings requiring a nap, both the joy and the bane of old people. i mean, you may be only as old as you feel, but right now, i feel old. Tomorrow, when my Friday morning golfers tee off just past dawn i will feel young again (for about three holes when reality will set in). i also have been posting here much less frequently than i intended. i also am feeling homesick and hope this new idea reconnects me with back home. i plan to re-post the best of my Lebanon Democrat columns here on a yet to be decided frequency.

This is the first column of my “Notes from the Southwest Corner” written in October 2007. i wrote 500 of them, one every week for just shy of ten years. It certainly wasn’t for the money: i payed for a round or three of golf with my monthly fee. But it was one of the most satisfying things i’ve done in my life. Thank you, Amelia Hipps, Jared Felkins, The Lebanon Democrat, and the dear hearts and gentle people of my home town. i hope you enjoy revisiting those halcyon days of column writing.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: My Connection
by Jim Jewell

SAN DIEGO, CA – I live in San Diego. My home remains Lebanon.

I live here because I married a native, a rare breed when I met her. Yet I am more of a Middle Tennessean now than when I left for the Navy in 1967.

I like San Diego. In Tennessee, I cannot see Navy ships from the top of my hill. My home does not require an air conditioner. But Lebanon has a charm which won’t let go. I have said many times, the song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” describes my feelings.

I am torn between two worlds.

I probably have had more jobs than almost anyone. The Navy was largely responsible: I was a first lieutenant, anti-submarine officer, and shipyard coordinator for a sonar suite installation on a destroyer; executive officer of a Navy unit aboard a merchant marine troop ship; anti-submarine officer on a guided-missile destroyer leader; a destroyer chief engineer and shipyard overhaul coordinator; an NROTC associate professor; current operations officer for an amphibious squadron; weapons officer, overhaul coordinator, and training officer on an helicopter carrier; executive officer of  a destroyer tender; director of leadership training, and facilitator for an excellence seminar. I was also sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times in New York between my first Navy obligation and reinstatement to active duty.

Fifteen jobs in twenty-three years.

Generating the list, I also considered other jobs I’ve had, starting at ten years old. This includes yard maintenance; newspaper delivery; water plant worker; grave digger; service station attendant; auto parts inventory worker; camp counselor; clothes salesman; sports writer; newspaper correspondent; and radio announcer. Eleven jobs in fourteen years.

After the Navy, I carried on job instability.

A life-long job was created when my wife gave birth to our second daughter the day I retired. In a little more than a week, I went from being a commander to “Mr. Mom.”

In this capacity, I chased more occupations: writing the first draft of a friend’s book about his Prisoner of War (POW) experience in Vietnam; organization development consultant; energy regulatory newsletter editor; facilitator for Department of Energy nuclear site reorganization; career transition consultant; automobile sales trainer; customer service trainer; business development manager; military training marketer; business management columnist; awards shop manager; and executive coach.

The jobs in this phase total fourteen, bringing the grand total to forty jobs. That’s pretty close to being a jack of all trades. I believe “master of none” also applies.

Underlying all of this flitting about have been three constants. I have a great love for my family, who remain my top priority. Lebanon has always been my home, and I remain connected. Finally, I have always had the desire to write.

This column attempts to tie the three together. “Notes from the Southwest Corner” is intended to give my perspective on Middle Tennessee, a recollection of my youth, and other thoughts I would like to share.

I want to describe places I’ve been and people who affected me. There will be some thoughts about running an organization and some “sea stories.” I plan to present similarities and differences between life on the “left coast” and in Middle Tennessee.

I won’t tell you HOW to do anything. Most of you are as smart as me and can figure it out on your own. I will refrain from political comments. Also, I don’t plan to make any religious pitches.

My goal is to write well for a place I love. I am shooting to give you anecdotes and thoughts which you can use as you see fit to your benefit.

From birth until 1967, I lived across the street from J. Bill Frame. He was the publisher of the Lebanon Democrat. He was the most intelligent, knowledgeable person I have ever known. He was also kind, and understanding. The Democrat was journalism as I knew it then, and he may be the reason I have this drive to write. J. B. Leftwich, while a professor at Castle Heights taught me journalism.

So in a way, I have returned home. It is with joy I write for the Democrat. It is with pride I write where J. Bill Frame once ruled. It is an honor to write alongside J. B. Leftwich, who taught me and many leading journalists in the country.

Writing here is real close to coming home.

I hope you enjoy the read. I know I will enjoy the ride.


When i grew up in the newspaper business, i typed on an old royal typewriter with rough light brown draft paper, two-column format so the editors could make pencil corrections before sending the copy to the linotype setters. The editing version of short hand included the writer showing the copy was concluded used the shortcut “-30-.” i still catch myself putting this shortcut at the end of my drafts, although i stopped using it for the column about halfway through when i realized it was just extra work for the editor. You see, they had gone to cold type a long, long time ago and such editing notes on paper were superfluous.

Hmm, maybe there is some deeper meaning in there for me.

And i should add after this was written, i was also the Programs Director for Safety, Environmental Regulation, Military Liaison for Pacific Tugboat Service in  San Diego: it’s been a varied and mostly enjoyable life.



There in Spirit

i’ve been whining to Maureen for about a month now, maybe longer.

You see, Satruday afternoon, in a magic place far, far away from the Southwest corner, magic took me there again, but not really. A bunch of two classes of my Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers gathered at that magic place of long ago. They call it Memorial Gymnasium. They call it “Memorial Magic.” Saturday, it was both.

i whined to Maureen about my not being there was her fault. She, of course, knew i was kidding. That i was the one who made the decision it was just too hard for my taking off to be there. But i needed to ease my pain. So Maureen caught the brunt of my whining, but shrugged it off.

i don’t think she has yet to appreciate “Memorial Magic” or even college basketball, which has always been my favorite sport to watch, even more than football because that was the sport i wanted to play, not watch, but i did plenty of watching that as well. i tried to make Maureen and Sarah Vanderbilt basketball fans and would have tried with Blythe, but she is not too interested in sport and certainly more for Longhorns than Commodores. With Maureen and Sarah, i actually took them to some games when were back home for Christmas, but the games were against teams like Northern Louisiana, the students were gone, the stands were half empty, the cheerleaders were from area high schools, and there was no spirit band. Hard to get the mojo going in that situation. i don’t think they understood.

Maureen, like today, will sit in the room while the Vandy game is on the air. She’s reading a book and will occasionally look up and ask a question about a play or a player, but more to make me feel good than to get into the game. i even mutter or yell suddenly when there is a great play or a bad play or a bad official call or a missed foul shot (i hate missed foul shots unless it’s the other guys missing). Then i realize i am yelling, muttering, even talking to myself.

Yet today, she got into it. We, over 2,000 miles away, had a whiff of the magic. This was in spite of announcers who think what they think is more important than focusing on the game and the producers who throw a bunch of junk on the side to promote themselves and upcoming events. But it didn’t matter today. We could still get that whiff of magic.

But my brothers were there. Flat, smack dab in the middle of it — i think that word “brothers” is often overused in fraternity talk. i am about as much as a brother to the Kappa Sigma Grand Master as i am to Hogan’s goat. But those guys in my five years of close association became more than friends. They became my brothers. i don’t know how to explain it. It even sounds a little hokey as i pen the words. But that’s what they are.

We were a bit different from the norm i think. We were somewhat a “pocket of resistance.” Like me. We made fun of the pomp and pomposity of the Greeks. We resisted being categorized. We were crazier than hell, and a couple of us, so caught up in all of it didn’t get to the finish line, but we were still brothers, still deeply, deeply enthralled with the magic.

A goodly part of that magic was  in Memorial Gym. Basketball. i didn’t miss a game. Even with exams the next day. Even with papers due, unfinished but put off until the game was over. And they were good back then. “Snake” Grace, Clyde Lee, John Ed Miller, Roger Schurig, Keith Thomas, Jerry Southwood, Kenny Gibbs, Bob Warren, Gene Lockyear, and on and on and on played like wonders.  Like winning the last five games in 1962-63, including an upset over Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats, 69-67, in Nashville. Then, 1964. They beat #3 Duke, 97-92, in overtime and a legendary betting story was born; and they turned around and beat #1 Kentucky 85-83 in a good but not great season (19-6).

Two of the highlights (Well, maybe not “highlights” but i do remember them well) of that 63-64 season was when the South Carolina bench was giving Roger Schurig a real ragging throughout the game. Then towards the end of the second half, a Vandy defender stole the ball and passed to Roger on a snowbird. When Roger hit an easy, unopposed layup at the South Carolina end of the court (because of the elevated court, the teams sit at opposite ends of the court, not on the side as with most basketball arenas), he ran the baseline in front of the Gamecock bench and shot a bird and held it the length of the bench.

The second highlight when Vandy surprised the Wildcats with an upset in Memorial. The Commodore fans gave the Wildcats’ Cotton Nash a razzing throughout the game. When the clock ran out, rather than getting in a line and shaking hands with the opposing players, Cotton walked to the middle of the court, shot two birds, his arms high in the air and slowly turned a complete circle to let the fans know what he thought of them. i still laugh when i think of both of those moments. Maybe bird humor is a favorite of mine.

i should know about those seasons. i went to every home game. i might have had one of those papers due or even an exam the next day, but i wouldn’t let anything interfere with my watching my friends play basketball.

When the next season, 1964-65, rolled around,  i was not in attendance at the “Harvard of the South.” i was the cub reporter, office boy, bowling editor, and figure 8 auto racing editor for Fred Russell and the Nashville Banner  sports department. i managed to see most of the home games and volunteered for one of my favorite weekends ever.

Vanderbilt won the SEC season and was playing in the Mid-East regional. The Banner photographer needed a way to get the game photo negatives of the NCAA Mideast Regional from the new field house for Kentucky in Lexington back to the Banner’s office in time to run in the Saturday afternoon paper. i volunteered to drive up, watch the game, and then drive back with the photos. i had purloined my sister’s 1959 Vauxhall for the year. It could top out at 95 downhill, which was good because the ensuing shaking kept me awake.

Vandy had a close opening round game, but beat DePaul, 83-78. Back then, there were only sixteen teams in the tournament. The major conference season champions (they didn’t have the money-grabbing conference tournaments back then) were given a berth and the other teams of independents and non-major conferences were chosen based on their records. And believe it or not, the regionals were comprised of only teams from that region, the East, the Mid-East (Vandy’s region), the Mid-West, and the West.

The trip between Nashville and Lexington back then was about 250 miles and took a little around five hours (at the speed limit). During halftime of the DePaul game, i walked down to the sports reporters table on the other side of the arena to talk to the photographer and Waxo Green, who covered the Commodores. As i walked to the corner of the end court returning to my seat, i looked back at the photographer while the teams were warming up. i turned around to head up the stairs, and i was staring into a clothed belly button. Cazzie Russell (it was his belly button), Oliver Darden, and Bill Buntin, the Michigan stars had come out to see what their opposition might look like on Saturday. They seemed to be gargantuan. i thought i was going to have to circle the field house to get back to my seat, but they were courteous and let me sidle through the mass of humanity to take the more direct route.

After Vandy won in what was a surprisingly close game, i grabbed the envelope of negatives from the photographer — i do wish i could remember his name: he was a great sports photographer, a great guy, and took me under his wing — and took off in my sister’s trusty Vauxhall. Except for through the towns (i took US 62; interstates didn’t go between those two cities yet), i had my foot down to the floorboard of the chugging British bundle of bolts. i left the field house around 9:00 p.m. EST, arriving at the Banner office before 2:00 a.m. CST. Had the trip not crossed from Eastern to Central time, i might not have made it, but i did.

Being a glutton for punishment and basketball, i turned in the negatives, got about two hours sleep, went back to the office to see if all was okay and help Bill Rogers, the managing sports editor with the makeup. i caught another two hours and then headed back to Lexington, arriving in time for the championship game between the Commodores and the Wolverines.

It was an incredible game with Vandy losing, 87-85, on one of the worst calls ever. Many experts said (of course, there was a slight Vandy bias), the Commodores would have matched up better against the Gail Goodrich UCLA team, which easily defeated Michigan, 91-80, and had a better chance of winning the championship than the Wolverines.

i believe, i believe.

i also know, as in really know, the refs blew it. i think i have written of how i know earlier, and i will pass on that story for now.

But i was not required to bring the negatives back that night. The Banner was Nashville’s afternoon paper with no Sunday edition. i spent the night in Lexington (funny, i don’t remember where, but i’m pretty damn sure i didn’t pay for it as i didn’t make enough to pay for it). i headed back at a much slower race on Sunday morning. When i hit Bardstown, Kentucky just after noon, i decided to take a tour of the Jim Beam distillery. This was a long time before it was a chic thing to do.

A portly old man with white hair for what was left of it, finally opened the door. He took me through the distillery explaining the process. We were the only two souls on the property. i think he was the janitor.

As we neared the end, he stopped and looked at me.

“Be careful, son,” he admonished, “That stuff can do some bad things to you.

“I know,” he continued, “You see, I started out as a youngster, younger than you are, drinking white lighting, corn whiskey. Damn near killed me.

“In fact, have you ever heard about folks who drank too much seeing pink elephants?”

“Yes, sir,” i replied.

“Well, they are out there. I see them all the time. Not just pink either. All kinds of colors, these big elephants in my head. I see them all the time in my head. Terrible.”

As we neared the door, there was a small souvenir shop. i bought an ashtray etched with a bucolic scene with the Jim Beam logo across the scene. i kept it until i quit smoking almost forty years ago.

Just before the old man closed and locked the door behind me, he once more warned, “Be careful with that stuff, son.”

Of course, i didn’t pay too much attention, but i haven’t seen any elephants in my head…yet.

But that was long ago. A magic time. College basketball at its finest before it became a money game. Memorial Gym magic.

Yet Saturday, i sat almost 2500 miles away and watched my Commodores win a thriller with a Memorial Gym fandom raising the roof with “Dynamite” like yesteryear a half-century ago. i was there.

i kept looking for my friends wishing i could experience Memorial Magic again first hand. i never found them. Analysts and ads cut into the possibilities. No matter. They knew. Shortly after the ‘Dores had put the game away in the final minutes, i got a call. My friends were on the floor with the student body still celebrating.

It was magic, Memorial Magic, once again.

My friends included Alexis as one of the attendees. Alexis Stearns is the daughter of one Bill Stearns, one of our gang. The boys believe she brought them and the Commodores good luck. i got to thinking about it. Every time i have gone back for a game with my friends, my team took it on the chin. Yet this pretty young lady brought them luck.

Maybe next time, i should give her my ticket, stay 2500 miles away and watch on my flat screen. That should give Vandy double luck.

Regardless, the magic was there one more time Saturday.

From left: Cy Fraser, Mac Koch, Don Bouldin, Jim Hicks, Larry Creekmore, Alan Hicks, Alexis Stearns, and Bill Stearns. Great game. Great magic.


Mingling with the Olympians

No, not those kind of winter Olympians. And no, not those that actually occupied the real Mount Olympus.

i’m talking about two who are just as impressive as any Olympians. And they have energized me to write a series i’ve been considering for some time.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t like the Olympics. It was just a golf round. It was on one of my favorite courses in the world, Singing Hills’ Willow Glen course (it is now Sycuan Golf Resort, bought by the native American Kumeyaay tribe a number of years ago: but man, i still love that descriptive name of Singing Hills). It was three older guys playing golf, one  a really, really good golfer; one another incredible athlete, and this older goofy guy who sort of kicks it around the course.

As this goofy guy looked more than his age whacking the ball like it was an old rug on a wash drying line in the back yard. But he was thinking.

You see, i’ve been thinking about writing about my heroes. Back, oh about a million years ago, Cyril Vaughn Fraser, V, and i were goofing around in Maple Manor, a college story that is damn near a book of its own, when i commented to him it seems to me my fate was to be around incredible people so i could write about them. i didn’t call Cy incredible, but i was thinking about him.

Before continuing on this line, i am also thinking about writing about heroines. But i put women on a different pedestal. So that is for later.

But playing golf today, i decided it was time to write about my heroes.

i will not elucidate on the two who played with me yesterday. They are special friends to me in many ways for many reasons. i will write about  them at length later (and perhaps have them worrying about what i might include later). But they are heroes to me as well as close friends. Both were world class athletes. They could play any sport they attempted although one got started a little late in golf and injuries have kept him from getting to the highest level like the other one.

But this round of golf was with two special people. Heroes. Got my blood a’pumping about this series of posts i’ve been contemplating. But Pete and Pete are not just great athletes, not just the highest performers in their chosen Navy regimens, not just really intelligent and caring, not just two guys who gave me inspiration about what to write and how to live. They are good men.

And they are my friends.

Thanks, Pete and Pete. You made my day.

Pete and Nancy Toennies in Kauai with us at Brenneke’s, 2015.








Peter Thomas with his grandchildren, 2018.

Rambling Thoughts of a Crazy Man on Trash Day

The Tuesday routine is set.

i get up early. i’m programmed that way. i believe, probably falsely, it’s the product of so many morning watches (0400-0800, but not really: i was awakened around 0315, got to the bridge and relieved the off-going watch by 0345, and because of breakfast and the morning routine was relieved by 0700, three and a quarter hours or watch standing; not bad, but man, did i need a NORP by the noon mess), but i suspect it’s more likely produced by going to bed early.

Regardless, i awake, get ready, make coffee, collect the trash and recycle receptacles from around the house and the garage. i take a up of coffee to the garage, get the supplies, come back in the house, replace the litter bags in the cats’ two litter boxes, then take the old bags out to the front. i retrieve the yard waste recycle bins and put them off the curb. i move the trash bin to the front of the garage and empty all of the smaller containers into the big black bin and set it alongside the waste bins. i collect the newspaper, sort it (all that ugly news stuff for Maureen, sports and comics for me), retrieve the recycle bin from the side yard and deposit all of the recycle stuff, and once again, move the bin along side the other three.

My day has begun and the normal daily routine of setting the table, putting away the clean dishes goes into effect.

This morning, it was cloudy with only a few holes of light blue emerging through the gray after first light. Cool…well, cool for here, 55. Need rain. The Southwest corner folks are like farmers back home, watching the weather. Reminds me of Commander Lou Aldana, my first Commanding Officer aboard USS Anchorage. When i first reported aboard March 1975, Lou informed me, “You are just like a farmer: any time it’s not raining, they are working in the field; when it’s not raining, you will have your deck department painting everything exterior. And we did until we got to Hong Kong and gave Mamazan Mary a bunch of brass for her crew to paint out the ship for us.

This morning, i was not thinking about Hong Kong. It seems a long, long way away in time and space. It is. i was thinking, of all things, about Abraham Mazlow. You remember him, don’t you? He’s the guy who came up with the theory about the hierarchy of needs. You see, the top level of that pyramid of needs is self-actualization where i am working at a level which gives me personal satisfaction of doing the job well…or something like that. i thought it strange i reached a level of self actualization by taking the garbage out. But i do enjoy it, the whole thing, although occasionally i wish Jake Hughes were still around.

A few folks in Lebanon may remember Jake Hughes. He was our garbage man long before the city’s brand new and shiny (for a very short time) garbage trucks put him out of business.

Seems like when Jim “Beetle” Harding and i began our summer work for Jessie Coe at the city’s public works department, it was a toss-up as to what work we would be assigned. This, of course, was after we took the mini-scooter with a bed on the back and drug the big dead dog  out from under the porch, took it to the dump, returned to where the driver, aka me, hit the railroad tracks just west of the square on West Main too hard, launching the vehicle and it’s two occupants, when there was only suppose to be one, into the air and down on the fire hydrant outside Henderson’s Florist shop, slamming Beetle’s head into the frame of the cab while somersaulting me through the plastic windshield knocking me out and coming to with a beautiful blonde nurse who had been buying flowers holding my head in her lap and i swear for a few seconds i was in heaven tended by an angel only to be loaded into an ambulance with Beetle and being given crap by one selfsame Beetle for driving like a maniac and both of us laughing hysterically thinking of how Wilson Denny (that was his name wasn’t it, Henry?) would be pissed when he learned the mini-pickup scooter he considered his own had been wrecked. Outcome: Beetle had quite a few stitches on his forehead, which the cab frame had gashed open; i had some clamps on my right eyelid, which you can still faintly detect, from the plastic or the parking lot gravel engaging my head after the somersault out of the front of the vehicle.

Well, it turns out i went to the water treatment plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike before becoming a grave digger for three summers. Beetle was assigned to a garbage truck for a short while.

Regardless, back to Jake. Jake had a wagon bed with car tires installed instead of wagon wheels. The contraption was pulled by Jake’s mule. Every Tuesday, Jake would pull his wagon up to the front of our house, walk around to the backyard, retrieve our trash can, take it out to the wagon and deposit the contents into the bed. Then, he would return the  trash can to its proper place. i’m told, and i believe, Jake got rich doing that before the city took his business away. His place was out on Hickory Ridge Road and as you drove around a bend, you could smell Jake’s pile of garbage. It’s a real nice house now. i don’t know who owns it, but there is no longer that aroma around the place. Good thing, too with it being so near the new high school.

Did i mention Jake had a darker skin tone than mine. i admired the man, his hard work, his ingenious wagon with car tires, and the mule. i’m glad his hard work was rewarded. i am sad i did not get to know his family.

But my whole point was not about Jake Hughes or Beetle’s and my wreck, or the garbage truck, but about ole Abe Mazlow and how i related this morning when i went out in the dark and gathered the bins and collected the trash and looked down the street and up into the sky where the sun slinging low on the Mexican border’s horizon could only give it’s morning’s soft glare from behind the gray clouds and how, somehow how everything seemed right with the world and ole Abe was right: that self-actualization stuff is real, no shit something we can all achieve even at routine daily tasks if we let it take us there, that top level of the pyramid.

♦     ♦     ♦

Yesterday afternoon, i was reminded of how close to the way it used to be. i am constantly reminded of this and recently had an exchange with my sister and brother about which location, Signal Mountain, Vermont, or the Southwest corner had the fiercest wildlife. i think it was a draw. Out here i talk of coyotes with whom my old lab loved to chase and scared the hell out of a whole bunch of them. But we have hunters out here in droves. Southwestern Rattlesnakes, Hawks, falcons, foxes. And just to prove my point, i was in the kitchen yesterday with Sarah’s dog Billie Holiday when i looked out the breakfast room window. There in the middle of the backyard, strutting around as if he owned it, was a bobcat. i would have taken a picture, but i was too busy trying to keep Billie from crashing through the window. So i hit the internet to come up with a photo of one. This one yesterday, except for the backyard green grass looked just like this. He was about average for bobcats, about two-fee tall and weighing about twenty pounds (We had one here about ten years ago who ruled the neighborhood; he was huge, more like three-feet tall, and i’m guessing about 35-40 pounds). This one yesterday looked up when Billie went beserk, shrugged his head as if to say, “Come on out here, dog; i’ve been needing to shred me some dog meat.” Then he casually strolled to the back of the yard and then cleared the six-foot fence with a graceful bound. Impressive.

He was a reminder we are not far from a harder existence than we have now. The Southwest corner was not a kind place to live for many years. Then, the weather, the bay, and lord knows what else, lured folks to move here, add water from mostly Arizona’s Colorado River, and grow and grow and grow, and  the development men built houses where houses weren’t intended to be but it met a demand and lined those development men’s pockets with silver and gold, la la, la la, la la, te da.

Now i am not so much of a romantic to wish we could go back to those earlier years. This place is a pretty damn nice place to live. But every once in a while, like when a bobcat strolls through the yard on his afternoon outing, i think of how beautifully wild it must have been.

Navy Chiefs, Part III

My personal introduction to chiefs came in 1963. It was on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. That is at least one, if not three or four stories in itself to be told later.

My next real recollection of a chief petty officer was the senior chief quartermaster who taught navigation at OCS. We learned quite a bit even though much of the course was movies the senior chief let us watch, nearly all as i recall being from the “Victory at Sea” series. But what i most recall was at the end of one class, the old senior chief tells the class, “Yeh, you guys are leaving here and going to the evening mess formation about the time i’ll be reaching over into the back seat of my car on the Jamestown bridge for the first of the six pack of Budweiser i have in the cooler.”

The Hawkins, nested outboard.

But then there was the Hawkins where my real lesson in chiefdom began. i have already written about Boatswainmate Chief Jones. He was my chief as First Lieutenant and first division officer from when i reported aboard until he retired in August 1968. His best buddy was also instrumental in teaching me how the Navy worked.

Unfortunately, i do not remember his name. i do remember his unique rating. Back in the late 1960’s for a short period of time, the Navy had created the rating of SP for chiefs at the E-8/E-9 level. Machinistmates and Boiler Tenders, when they reached the E-8 level became “Steam Propulsion Specialist.” Our man was an E-9 so his rating was “SPCM.” He was so good he was the Main Propulsion Assistant or in Navy lingo “MPA,” normally a junior officer’s billet, but Paul George, CHENG, didn’t want any JO between him and the SPCM when it came to running and maintaining the plant (until my good friend Rob Dewitt took over). He was still very much in charge before i moved from first lieutenant to ASW Officer.

He was a very a large, swarthy, black-headed chief who hung out in the engineering log room, the office and brains of the engineering plant off of the main deck passageway almost amidships. The first lieutenant and his first division were responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of that passageway, which ran most of length of the main deck.

We began a major program of taking up the tile on that passageway, re-tiling, and repainting the passageway. It was a demanding work requirement, and i was constantly checking on how it was progressing. One workday, around mid-morning, i found my personnel not up to my standards in their work effort. i don’t remember what i did to address that, but i very clearly remember it was wrong.

The SPCM, hearing whatever it was i did or said, emerged from the log room, put his arm on shoulder, looked at me sternly, and said, “Son (not “Mister,” not “Ensign,” but “Son”), let’s have a talk.”

With that and his arm still around my shoulder, the SPCM led me out on the port side of the weather deck amidships. It was there, i got the best lecture on leadership i ever received. the SPCM talked to me about the world, about the Navy’s world, and how it all worked.  i think he gave me the best perspective i could ever had achieved on how to be a good leader.

Although i don’t remember his name, “SPCM” is a tribute to him, and i will never forget.

Navy Chiefs, part II

As noted earlier, BMC Jones was my entry into chiefs taking care of division officers. Ensigns and even Lieutenant Junior Grades (LTJG). BMC Jones was my chief when i was an ensign and first lieutenant on the good ship Hawkins.

We had a chiseled seaman apprentice in first division, who also thought he was a good sea lawyer.

The Navy was different back then. One difference was liberty cards. Normally the ship was in three duty sections, of which one  took the duty and remained on board every third day. When liberty call came, the two enlisted duty sections not on duty had been given their liberty cards, about the size of business cards, to show to the quarterdeck watch, a requirement before being allowed to leave the ship. These cards were usually passed out by the division’s leading petty officer at quarters each morning. If you didn’t get a liberty card, you didn’t go ashore.

Seaman Joe Shit the Ragman (a title we gave problem junior enlisted) had done something wrong and the LPO, BM2 Carrier, had not issued the sailor a liberty card even though he didn’t have the duty. To make it worse for Ragman — Back then, junior enlisted were addressed by their last name only. Petty Officers could be called “Petty Officer xxx,” but usually called by their last name only as well; Chiefs were called “chief,” “senior chief,” or “master chief.” Junior officers were called mister, like “Mister Jewell,” until they made commander, then they were called by their rank, as in “Commander Jewell” — it was Friday. That meant Ragman had to stay on board for the weekend. This was an unauthorized but common form of a sub-rosa justice system. Ragman, the sea lawyer, took offense.

Just before Friday liberty call, i had walked down to the first division berthing compartment in the after section of the ship. i was checking the material condition and the state of the berthing compartment. Ragman saw his chance to haul out his sea lawyer skills on a green ensign. He was ranting about the illegality of not allowing him to go on liberty. i was mulling over how to handle this situational ethics situation (even though i had no idea a term for this kind of thing even existed): i wanted to support my leading petty officer; i was sure Ragman had deserved having his liberty card “lost,” but i also was supposed to uphold justice, fairness, and adherence to regulations.

As i briefly pondered my quandary, Chief Jones, who had been looking for me, slid down the ladder to the compartment. This wiry, small man, with a cigarette hanging outside of his mouth, stopped Ragman’s rant by merely holding up his left hand toward him. Then he asked me what was going on. i responded.

BMC Jones turned, grabbed Ragman’s blue chambray shirt with his right hand, pushed the fabric he had grabbed up to Ragman’s throat, and pushed him up against the bulkhead. i swear Ragman, all 180 pounds and six feet of him was quivering.

“Listen, you little shit,” Chief Jones said evenly despite being red in the face with veins pulsing, “If you ever pull that kind of shit again, i’ll see to it you never leave this ship. Ever.”

“Got that,” the chief concluded.

Then he turned to me and said to me, “Sir, let’s go up to the main deck. i want to discuss when we are going to retile and paint the main passageway.”

He turned and quickly ascended the ladder out of the compartment.

This ensign meekly followed, shaking my head in amazement.