Monthly Archives: April 2018

Random Musings on a Thursday Night Before FMG

Another sunset on the Pacific tonight. The world is all right. The world is about as hosed up as Hogan’s goat.

And i…well, i am okay.

No, not okay. Good. Damn good. Thank you, people for making me feel good, all of you. For those of you who may have wished or even tried to make me feel bad, thank you, too. i would not have reached this place in my life without all of you. And i am in a good place.

My little garden, though in its infancy, is doing well. Oh, it’s not The Getty Center Garden, and it is just a start, but i find comfort in my new garden. i water and i think of my father watering his gardens in different aspects of his life. i recognize the feel-good he must have felt during the daily process.

The onions apparently has succeeded in keeping off the bobcat. The composter arrived this afternoon. That phase will begin in earnest next week. If all goes well, we may add more boxes. Thus far, it makes me feel good.

And the other yard project is finished, although Maureen or i will find flaws and correct them as we go along. The flagstone path to the sitting area has been set. It was more difficult than i anticipated. Roots were everywhere. It took about a week longer than i expected, but it felt good to wield a pick, shovel, rake, and hatchet again. Feel better. Even our gardener complemented the effort.

i have avoided home projects of any significant scope for quite a while, but i’m back at it, and it feels good. i think i will work on the seven hundred, twenty gazillion others i have on my list. i mean, this half-acre property has been ours for nearly twenty-eight years. It’s time to reassert to the earth, to nature, to all of those wild things out there it is really ours.

There are good things going on. Billie Holiday is here. i love to watch the alligator-hunting hound run with the joy she has, reminds me of my old lab Cass. She is a sweetheart. Sarah has trained her well. Billie’s eyes are eyes of trust. She makes me feel good. But she also has convinced me i will not have one of my own until old age restricts me in my capacity to wander.

i find myself enamored, maybe even entranced with nature’s creatures. My Friday Morning Golf buddies and i have watched and will continue to watch the various fowl along the coast, i.e. the North Island Naval Air Station golf course, Sea ‘n Air, as they live through the seasons. Canadian geese, ospreys, and pelicans are frequently spotted. This time of year, we watch the ducks pair off with the drake and the hen becoming a duo. Then, the ducklings appear. Maureen and i played Sunday with Nancy Toennies while Pete is on the mend. On the 17th tee box, we were greeted by this contingent.

Life is good even if my golf game sucks. But i will be at it again tomorrow just as i have been on most Fridays since 1991.

It is late. More ramblings to come.

Way up in the Wastach Mountains

Andrew Nemethy’s recent hiking trip and whatever else to Utah produced a message exchange between us. (Andrew, Rob Dewitt, and i shared forward officer’s quarters on our first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873) a long time ago). Our exchange made me decide to post this poem  again about my Utah experience.

Way up in the Mountains

way up in the Wasatch mountains,
where snow covered the Mormon pretense
one hundred, fifty years or so ago;
passages to the west were few
except in the warm months;
only the hardy would climb so high
with mules, packs, jerky, coffee
to mine the silver,
hunt the plentiful game
in the cold deep white of the mountain.

now the heights are a playground,
cleared groomed slopes skied down after
rides up the mechanized chair
where hunters and miners
persevered in the hard months,
now playtime in the rockies
for the masses.
the old town street running up and down
the hill called Main
was general store, haberdashery,
gin mill, assayer,
probably a red light house or two,
amidst the good, lord abiding citizens;
now
pizza joints butted against
boutiques, fashion salons,
restaurants with high cost haute cuisine;
only the Empress Theater and saloons
bear some resemblance to their former selves:
instead of grimy miners
swigging down the swill,
home brew out of pails,
rot gut whiskey.
now movie stars,
dressed to the nines
sipping wine
at the festival of cinema
named after an outlaw;
town and tourist drunks
drinking the trendy micro brews.

Still, in the quiet after a late winter storm,
there are tracks
of rabbit, mountain goat, even elk,
if one dares to climb so high.

A Major Leaguer and an Old Ballplayer

The above newspaper article brings back a memory, a good moment for me.

Dan Boone is from San Diego. His achievement noted in this article is nothing short of amazing. He had pitched for the Padres and in another major league team’s Triple A club in Louisville before falling out of professional baseball. He resumed playing in San Diego’s ADABA league (see the first bullet in the second column) before making it to the bigs again as recounted in this 1991 article.

ADABA is where we crossed paths. Bill Hammond, a Navy lieutenant, and a good friend who worked for me in leadership training, talked me into joining his team, the Rangers, in 1986. The minimum age to play in the league was 33. All of the other team members were just barely over the minimum age and a couple were younger, slipping under the radar. At 40, i was six years older than any other player on the Ranger roster.

Since i hadn’t played baseball since American Legion ball in Lebanon, i was a bit concerned about being able to play well enough to contribute. The first game i played was against the “Dodgers,” at the high school field in Ramona, about 40 miles northeast of our home. The Dodgers came out in LA Dodgers replica uniforms. But when they came out on the field, i laughed and knew i could play in the league. These guys, all in their Dodger uniforms all looked like Tommy Lasorda clones.

Then, the Rangers started their infield warmups. I was not starting, and although i was anxious to play, i was not unhappy i would slowly be back into the game i loved. Practice had proven to my teammates and me my old shoulder injury would keep me from making strong throws to first from my old third base position. i was fine with being the second base backup and third string catcher.

The starting second baseman was a doctor at UCSD. About my height, maybe just a bit shorter. He was called “Little Bob” to distinguish him from our big first baseman who was dubbed “Big Bob.” Little Bob was a baseball nut and had an early computer program where he could keep all of our statistics, individual and team. Our catcher had played what was then the “D” league for the Montreal Expos organization before becoming an insurance salesman. He was good. Period. He fired rockets to second base. When the pitcher completed his warm-up throws, our catcher shot his throw, a speeding bullet to second. It was a bit high. Little Bob, standing on the bag, realized the throw was high, extended both arms up, and leaped as high as he could (about six inches) to catch the high throw.

It hit him in the forehead.

i immediately became comfortable with the idea of contributing to the team.

i played for three years (it was year round league with a winter and a summer season). My last year was in 1989, quitting before the summer season about six months before i retired (sic) from the Navy. As usual, there are a number of stories about that experience to be told later.

But Dan Boone contributed to one of my finer moments. Dan was playing with one of the top-notch teams in the league. The one that went to the national tournament in Arizona almost every year. In my last season, we played Dan’s team at the San Diego “Cavers” high school field. Dan pitched a one-hit, 8-1 win against us. i did not get a hit, but i did get the only RBI in the games Dan pitched that season. One of our better players walked, he stole second. A fly ball moved him to third. I hit a hard grounder to deep second. It was good enough the second baseman could not stop the run from scoring and threw me out at first. It was the best non-hit i could remember in my storied (oh, okay, it was only storied in my mind) baseball career.

 

 

Southwestern Chili

We had our nephew, Bill Boase, over last Saturday for supper and watched the Padres beat the Giants on television.

Maureen asked me to make my chili, award-winning i might add, and cornbread, also praised by many. My secrets? Well, my cornbread secret is i try, failing miserably, to make cornbread like my mother did. My chili secret is i cheat.

It’s not really big award winning chili. When Maureen was working at Parron-Hall Office Interiors, they decided to have a party featuring a chili contest among employees and their families. Maureen liked my chili, but i think she didn’t really want to lower herself to make chili. i mean she makes this wonderful white bean chili, but i think she realizes it’s delicate, and ain’t nobody gonna vote for a delicate tasting chili. So she asked me. i did but didn’t go to the party. She came home and told me i had won. i laughed. i cheated. But i now can claim it’s “award winning.”

i learned how to cheat from JD Waits…or maybe he learned how to cheat from me. JD is a very, very good cook. His parents ran a diner in Houston for years. i don’t know if it was award winning, but it should have been. Their patrons were many and quite a few gave JD’s father and Wanda Pearl, JD’s mother, lots of bennies, like tickets to see Spike Jones (but that is another story, one of JD’s best and makes me think of Christmas Story).

The origination of our cheating chili came in what could be the greatest hail and farewell party in Naval history (at least for JD and me) — a hail and farewell party is a wardroom celebration on ships when a new officer reports aboard to relieve an officer who is rotating to a new assignment. JD and i offered to serve as hosts when a number of officers were rotating within several weeks of each other. At the time, i had an apartment on Coronado and JD moved in with me for several months before moving to his own place (there are many sea stories involving JD and i from 1981 to 1983 and beyond, only a few told here so far).

This was a big affair. At least fifty officers and wives attended, maybe more, and a whole lot more of the 80 officers assigned were anticipated. JD suggested it would be easiest to prepare a huge pot of chili. Not having a clue what would be involved in chili making, i readily agreed. i had a couple of pots, but nothing that would provide chili for the number of expected guests. So we went to a large discount house in National City, sort of a gigantic Pic ‘n Save (yep, there’s a story about Pic ‘n Save for later…if Maureen will let me post it). We found a six-gallon pot of questionable metal quality for five bucks. Perfect.

Then we went to the commissary and got all the fixings. The most secret of our secret ingredients were in one box. Some Texan named Shelby Carroll put the stuff in the box. The day before the Saturday shindig, we stir-fried the stew meat, about a half a cow’s worth, and put it in the big pot as well as a couple of the biggest pots i had and put the pots on the stove. Then we added the stuff Carroll told us to add and several things like a gazillion red beans, in the pot Carroll did not advise.

JD, a master at getting me in trouble, oversaw the mixing and set the temperature on the range. i was in charge of stirring. JD took a nap. i had a beer. i went back after the beer and stirred. There was something on the bottom of the pots. i had not stirred enough and the elixir on the bottom along with the meat had burned. Not realizing what it was, i scraped it off the bottom with my big spoon. When i picked the spoon up, i realized what the charred goop on the spoon was.

i called JD. “i think i ruined the whole batch,” i lamented.

“No problem,” JD cooly calmed me, “Just stir it into the rest. We’ll tell ’em it’s Southwest chili. They will never know the difference.”

The next morning, we sat a can of Hormel chili alongside bottles of Thunderbird and Night Train (“Serve Very Cold” for obvious reasons), a total outlay of six bucks. When folks expressed dismay, we assured them the Hormel can was just a joke. King Deutch, JD’s boss on Okinawa, showed up with his model wife, Jeannie. She insisted on having a glass of the Night Train. After tasting her wine, she assessed, “Quite elegant with a nice finish.” She laughed.

Most of the farewells were for officers transferring overseas or to the East Coast. Navy moving does not allow ammunition or alcohol to be included in a move. So all of the departing officers brought their entire collections of booze and donated them to the hosts of the party. JD and i were deliriously happy. After about six months, we became apartment mates again in the Coronado Cays condominium with the boat slip below our patio holding JD’s  25-foot Cal sailboat. When someone came to our double door entrance, they opened the door and became face-to-face with the best stocked private wet bar in the Southwest corner crammed with every kind of alcoholic beverages from all over the world.

Everyone loved the chili.

Now, i don’t burn the bottom of the pan. The pan itself is cast iron and is nowhere near as gargantuan. Some people even think it’s award-winning, which it is…to my way of thinking. And yes, it is cheating, but i don’t care. It’s good.

 

An Infant Protest

This morning, i donned my jeans for working in the yard. Levis. 501s, metal buttons for the fly, NOT a zipper. Been wearing those since 1956, maybe earlier. i recognized i must give in to this aging thing. Already have in some things. Like wearing a belt with jeans. Didn’t do that until a couple of years ago when the midsection began to bulge. Insurance, you know. But now i was considering getting a new pair with a zipper of all things. Old fingers, fatter than they used to be and certainly not as flexible demanded i change. Felt sad i had to put aside another something i had done most of my life.

i began to put the belt through the loops. Every time i put a belt in my jeans, i think about the protest.

It didn’t make the news. i’m not even sure anyone outside of the eighth grade class ever knew about it. i’m not even sure my mother heard about it, and as the secretary to the superintendent, she knew everything that went on in those three buildings, especially when i was involved. It wasn’t the first protest. Brown versus Board of Education (Kansas) was ruled upon in 1954. The ruling began school integration leading to violent resistance. The protest i’m recalling was certainly the first and perhaps only protest in which i participated.

It was in a small, country town almost smack dab in the middle of Tennessee, the county seat. It was the third year after the small country town had separated the seventh and eighth grade from elementary school.

Perhaps we were feeling our oats, being noted as older, more mature than those “children” in elementary school. Perhaps because the building had formerly housed the high school, we believed we were of that ilk, not junior high students. Perhaps because we weren’t in our school building proper, we felt we had more power, more independence. Who knows. Perhaps it had something to do with puberty.

It was in the basement cafeteria in Highland Heights Elementary School. Lebanon Junior High where the protest was fomented was across the parking lot in front of the gym.

It all began innocently enough. i don’t remember if the guy involved in the initial incident even knew he was doing something outside of the regulations. But the principle knew the regulation. And enforced it.

The guy was R Townley Johnson (the R was just there, no name associated with it, just “R”). He was a bit different than most of us. A really good athlete who didn’t have a lot of interest in athletics. He was into music. Big time. i played with him a lot, stick ball in the parking lot behind his apartment building on West Main, between Pennsylvania and Castle Heights avenues, if i recall correctly. We played on the Nokes Sports Little League team together. Townley hit home runs. i hit doubles.

Along with Bill Cowan, the three of us practiced being a band trio together. Great plans. But the piano player, me, really wasn’t good enough to play in a band.

Townley and Bill scoffed me when i suggested we play Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” “Too old fashion,” they said. The next year, The Platters made the song into a Top 40 hit.

Townley went on to be the drum major of the University of Tennessee marching band. He played or led a number of bands. i lost track of him until Henry Harding told me Townley had showed up and scared the beejeezus out of Henry’s wife Brenda due to Townley’s attire, appearance, and behavior. There are lots of stories about how and why he went downhill. i don’t know because i had taken off to roam the seas, unaware of the bands and Townley during those days.

Sadly, Townley died a number of years ago.

But he did cause this infant protest. Noble cause? Well, not really. All of us guys wore blue jeans, preferably Levis except when we dressed up. Townley went to lunch that fateful day without a belt in his jeans. That was the regulation Mrs. Burton was adamant about enforcing. She did. Mrs. Burton was a sweetheart, one of the best teachers and administrators i experienced through all of my schooling. A wonderful woman.

i don’t remember exactly what the punishment was. Probably Townley had to stay after school or something.

But we didn’t think it was fair. i don’t think we were old enough to really understand “Freedom of Speech.” You know, that Constitution First Amendment thing, which is the cornerstone of the idea of freedom, equality, and all of that stuff. Nah. We just thought it wasn’t fair.

So all of the boys got together and discussed it. i suspect Henry Harding, as he was likely to do, especially with me, quietly was the instigator of the protest although it could have been Bill Cowan, Mike Gannaway, Jimmy Gamble, Buddy Phillips, Bobby Byrd, or several others who came up with the protest event. i’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

But the next day at lunch, we all went to lunch in the cafeteria in our jeans sans belts.

My story must end there because i don’t remember what resulted in that protest. i’m guessing retribution was swift and made us recognize the errors in our ways, but that is just a guess.

Yet somehow i remember it every time i put my jeans on (with the belt). It makes me feel proud.

First row (left to right): Buddy Phillips, Clinton Matthews, Jimmy Gamble, Townley Johnson, Henry Harding, Jim Jewell, Milton Lowery; Second row: Phil Turner, LeRoy Dowdy, Malcolm Metcalf, Coach Miles McMillan, John Walker, George Summers.

Spankings and a Cat

My adventure with bobcats in the garden has entered a new chapter with another pile this morning. Although the latest pile suggests it just might not be a bobcat and could be a very exuberant tomcat, like the two our neighbor’s have roam the neighborhood. But from the size of the pile the first time, i’m still favoring bobcat. The onions didn’t seem to deter whatever it is. The strangest part is there are no droppings, just a pile. But i don’t think tomcats or bobcats are into cultivation.

So i am searching the internet, seeking friend’s advice, and thinking of all sorts of answers on how to keep any kind of cat out of my garden. Solution is TBD.

But the problem brought me recall of another cat of a long time ago in a far off place called Houston.

Before Facebook, a lot of connecting was done on email. i found this exchange, updated and revised here that addressed that cat and four spankings.

…I am relaying this story from one of my all-time favorite shipmates and adventure sharers, JD Waits.

About ten years ago (now about twenty years ago), JD and i were reminiscing (and bragging a bit) about our youth and our experiences in spanking. JD topped me when he said, “I’ll bet you’ve never been whipped four times for one thing.”

“No, I replied, “How did you manage that?”

“Well when I was growing up in Houston, we had this old widow lady as a neighbor, and she had a cat,” he began.

“I was in the eighth grade and my science project was growing tomatoes in our back yard, and that cat kept getting into my tomato plants. So I asked my daddy how I could keep that cat away from my tomatoes. My daddy told me to get a water pistol and wait for the cat. He said if I shot the cat with the water pistol when he got in the tomatoes, then after five or so times, the cat wouldn’t bother the tomatoes.

“I was a pretty bright boy, and i figured that if it took five or so times with a water pistol, it would only take once with a BB gun.

“So I got out my trusty Red Ryder BB rifle and lay in wait. When that cat got in the tomatoes, i plugged him once right in the ribs. He went back to the old widow’s house like a laser, screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Unfortunately, I had made a tactical error, and the old widow saw me shoot the cat. She came out of her house, yelled for me to get over there, and wore my britches out. Before I could get home, she had run in her house, called my mama, and told her what I had done.

“When I got home and before I could explain, my mama spanked me too, all the time yelling at me about how I could have given the old lady a heart attack.

“An hour or so later, my daddy gets home from work; my mama tells him about it, and he whips me.”

“But that’s only three times, JD,” I observed, “What about the fourth?”

“I’m getting to that,” he said. “Later that night, one of my friends came over and we were sitting on the front porch steps.

“After I told my buddy about my bad day with the cat, he asks me, ‘’Would you do it again?’

“I replied, ‘I’d do it again if I didn’t think I would get caught.’”

“Without me knowing it, my daddy had come out on the porch and was standing behind me when i answered, and…he whipped me again.”

Billie Holiday and the Goofy Guy Redux

i was giddy, like a tee-ball player whose team had just won a game (if they allow for such dastardly concepts as winning anymore) and he had found an earthworm in his digging around third base while the game was going on.

i was depressed like having eaten my last Tennessee Pride country sausage and discovering San Diego Navy commissaries weren’t stocking anymore — Fortunately, this has not occurred but it remains one of my worst fears.

i was…well, there were all sorts of emotions i experienced today.

You see, i thought all of the drama i wrote about in my earlier post about alligator hunting dogs, lizards, gardens, bushes, and flagstones was all over except for a recap i would post with photos of  tomato plants bearing fruit, strawberries right before i picked them, and a beautiful step-stone path to the backyard sitting area to prove my point i could succeed against some odds.

Today started out well. i wrote on my book a bit, enjoyed the sunshine, found one of my strawberry plants already has blooms. “Ho, boy,” i thought, “Today is going to be a great day.

i took up my tools. i hacked and hacked with shovel, hand axe, pickaxe and pulled with my hands at the stubborn roots but i was winning. Made progress. About a quarter way through the flagstone installation. Oh, of course, it’s me and will require a bit of finish work when done. Oh, okay, not a bit of finish work, but a hell of a lot of rework, but not exactly starting over. Never-the-less as i put the tools up for the day, i felt pretty good. A project going well. A real garden, not gigantic, but a good start. The old man can still wield a pickaxe and a shovel. Bending down is a bit tougher than it used to be, but man, i’m back at it.

i  picked up my tools, put them in the wheel barrow. Uh oh,  the tire on the wheel barrow was going flat. No problem. i’ll pump it up with my air compressor (you know, the one i got even though i didn’t really need it, but it’s loud and sounds impressive, like i knew what the hell i was doing). But i should have known it was an omen. A bad omen. As i approached the area i once kiddingly referred to as the dog prison (another story), i found my effort to ward off Billie, the alligator hunting dog, from attacking the lizard, obviously a small, very small, substitute for alligators, had not been successful as i thought.

i noticed the smoker cover, long since past its usefulness as a smoker cover, was still on the hardscape. i picked it up to throw it away and found  a very dead lizard. i said the appropriate words and buried him rather unceremoniously in the trash bin. i wrote of this experience to my brother and sister and told them my posting it was unlikely because of the sensitivity of my wife and two daughters (a plus attribute i’m thinking) but then thought the lizard should have his last moment of glory, like a viewing at a funeral. Of course, now i will have hell to pay. But that’s okay. The lizard and i are at peace.

And all was well…except i had let Billie out to play while i worked. She was running everywhere, seemingly all tuckered out, but still moving swiftly chasing whatever. i’m guessing it was tree rats because when i looked up and spotted her, she was destructing another bush where we know tree rats like to hang out. Besides that (and really being tuckered out), she looked deliriously happy). i’m pretty sure our tree rat problem has been moved off somewhere else. Now, i just have to figure out what to use to replace that bush. i don’t think one flagstone would look all that good, and i’m damn sure Maureen wouldn’t put up with such foolishness.

So i wrapped up on the outside and came in to work on my book and this post. But i forgot to take the photo of the flagstone work in progress. Hence another Billie moment.

We capture a lot of water in a bucket while we are waiting for hot water. We habitually set the bucket on the kitchen floor until Maureen uses it to water her roses. But Billie thought it was her water bucket…and that is what it became…until one morning about a week ago, i opened the door to go out. Sarah and Maureen make Billie sit and wait until given the go-ahead to go outside. i have done that also but frequently forget, like that particular moment.

When the door was ajar, Billie bolted for open borders driving through the bucket of water and spilling it all on the kitchen floor. We cleaned up and vowed i would not do that again. Unfortunately, it was Sarah and Maureen doing the vowing.

This morning, i noticed the water bucket was almost dry. i filled up just past halfway. That was a bit before i realized i needed another photo for this post. i looked; i swear i looked, and i didn’t see Billie. i opened the door and then boom! Billie dashed out. The kitchen floor look very much like it did a week ago except there was more water. i went into damage control, soaking up the water on the floor. i finished the recovery job, admonished Billie (to some degree). i started back to my home office for numerous reasons and very glad i was the only one here…except for Billie and the cats, of course. And there, blocking my route to the office was Billie.

And you know what i did? i laughed. i love this dog. She has a lot of me in her, just like ole Cass had a lot of me in him. She is becoming my pal, just like Cass did. She is a dog, a real, uninhibited, but better trained Cass. That, for me, is a good thing.

Oh yes, i haven’t seen hide nor hair of the bobcat since planting onions in the garden box.

Stand by.

 

 

Cedar Grove

And with the grave digging column and Billie and flagstones and bobcats and gardens, i decided to repost this, one of my favorites, which has some connections to all of that other stuff today:

Cedar Grove

I.
Dawn passed the old Leeville pike
where further west in Leeville proper,
the faded yellow, wood-slatted depot the size of a three-holer
stood forlornly on the old railroad bed turned pike
until sold to be a cleaned-up trinket in Fiddler’s Grove,
the historical,
reincarnated,
pasteurized
version of the past
at the county fairgrounds,
(also moved to bigger accommodations
across town from when i grew up and out).

Thunderheads rolled around the heavens to the east;
cool for June;
turning left on South Maple with
Old Murfreesboro Road running the other way
where the route to Chattanooga had been “thank-you-ma’ams,”
but
back toward town was Cedar Grove,
the cemetery
across the road from the county Memorial Park,
a bunch of acres dedicated to history and death
where both cemetery and park
brought any north-bound, cow-counting, road game
to a tie.

People get ready, there’s a train to Jordan
Pickin’ up passengers coast to coast.

II.
Long before Memorial Park,
the good citizens,
fully aware of growth and potential,
moved Cedar Grove too,
or rather,
moved the cemetery, bodies, caskets, monuments
to Cedar Grove with intendment
for the former graveyard
to become a church of christ
literally
until it was intendment again
for the congregation to move
College Street Church of Christ
west to Hickory Ridge,
changing the name to College Hills
as if that made it
right with the lord.

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

III.
In the mid-June early morning
ancestors lay in repose:
ordered rows of marble and concrete above, grave below,
adorned with plastic flowers, long term reverence,
but no less heartfelt
than in the Coolidge years when they rolled
the monolith of granite on logs,
pulled by mules and horses
from the railway for six days;

General Hatton eulogized with
the marble stele at the head of his grave
near the other marble tower honoring
Confederate dead
to complement Hatton’s statue in square center,
built over a creek and a spring.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored.

IV.
I knew these ancestors
from pushing mowers over the graves,
trimming around the edges,
even digging their graves
in the summer heat.

Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

IV.
My ancestors are here too:
kith and kin,
generations of father’s folks
are up in Statesville
behind a church
in a family plot
where Father triangulated the hills
from a photograph of his father and uncles
to find
his grandparents’ graves
to place
the headstone he had ordered;

in Cedar Grove, up gate three
lie Mother’s folks, grandfolks, and assorted kin
in a rectangular plot curbed off from the rest;

across the road:
later maternal and paternal kin
lie near;

friends lie amongst the kin:
parents of a close friend
are honored with a big monument
at the front of the memorial park;
does he, dying foolishly in a car crash,
lie close to his mother and father?
lord help us.

I heard the wreck on the highway,
But i didn’t hear nobody pray, dear brother;
I didn’t hear nobody pray.

V.
It is a quiet place with scarce visitors,
a place to contemplate old relationships
and what was
and what will be
and what won’t be,
and where,
in the middle of the day in the summer heat,
cheating men and women found
a haven for illicit affairs,
from which we quickly learned to steer
our mowers, clippers, and lively lads
far away if no one emerged from the car
to visit a grave:
there was another kind of visiting going on.

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world;
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

VI.
I cannot stay long as i have duties to tend;
leaving, i notice they have torn down
the small clapboard-sided house
north of Cedar Grove on South Maple
where the old man,
mostly toothless, tobacco chewing,
slobbering the dark brown juice
down his jowl,
would sit on the porch
in the rocking chair
next to the RCA Victrola
listening to the White Sox
before he would cajole me
into taking him to town;
he knew the people and the plots
when the records burned
in the attic of the courthouse fire
so the city kept him on the dole
well into his nineties,
letting him stay in the house
so he could tell us gravediggers
where to dig,
not missing more than once or twice
when we would strike the side of a casket,
having to refill and start over
a couple of feet away
for Christ’s sake.
he is probably now somewhere
in Cedar Grove himself
with the records straight from computer technology
where no one will strike his casket
digging in the wrong place.

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

VII.
Though i have placed
the planks to set their graves.
cut the sod,
dug through the clay with pick and shovel,
filled their graves with clods,
i am a wanderer among them;
i worship them, feel them,
but do not feel belonging;
on the east side there is a plot
where my buddy came home:
a sailor gone west to adventure;
i arrived first to find nickels on his eyes in
Rosarita Beach, Baja California, Mexico,
helping his widow get the body
across the border and back home
to lay beside his father:
he came home,
but i do not quite feel i belong. 

And when my task on earth is done,
When, by Thy grace, the vic-try’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave i will not flee,
Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.

VIII.
On South Maple heading south
before the Leeville Pike
is a stone house set back
from the road with outbuildings,
a truck with a crane
beside the sizable vegetable garden
with corn, tomatoes, beans, onions
in not quite straight rows,
much like the obelisks and headstones
in Cedar Grove,
but growing in the brown soil,
green shoots of life
while the rabbit and the cardinal
nibble at the opposite ends of the garden:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
and the voice i hear falling on my ear
the son of god discloses;
and he walks with me and he talks with me
and he tells me i am his own.

IX.
Cumulus clouds hover around the horizon;
morning remains cool for June;
the funeral procession turns off Leeville Pike
headed north down Maple Street
to turn left into the memorial park
while the residents lie silently on
both sides of the road.
The tent is set;
i know the ritual well,
but
i will not be a part of this burial
except
to stand, cap in hand, on the road side
as the hearse with headlights on
rolls on by.

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

A Grave Situation

This is my Democrat column i mentioned in my previous post from 2008.

SAN DIEGO – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to work at Cedar Grove Cemetery digging graves. A small guy’s work?

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

Billie Holiday and the Goofy Guy

i have said numerous times i would not have another dog until i was absolutely sure he (and i do want that last one to be just like my labrador Cass) was going to live longer than me because i never want to have to put another one down.

i’m not sure i will ever get another one, even after that probability of him outliving me hits town (which could be now, by the way). Too much trouble. Too crazy costs for caring for them. Too restrictive in my travel. Yada, yada, yada.

i have also said we need to quit worrying about prettying up our yard. We’re too old to worry about it, and it’s expensive, and requires a lot of hard work, and takes time to maintain. Yada, yada, yada.

So what do i do the last two weeks? i order a four by eight foot garden box. i dislike the destroyed bushes bordering our back yard lawn, and i spend a whole lot of time with Billie Holiday.

Billie Holliday is my daughter Sarah’s dog, not mine. But Billie, along with Sarah, is living with us until they can get their move to San Diego complete when they find their own place. So Billie and i have become friends. She is part German Shepard and looks it, but she is more Catahoula and acts it. You see Catahoula’s were bred in Louisiana to hunt alligators. Billie could do that. Below is the fence over which she goes to visit our neighbor’s dog Shadow, but mostly to steal Shadow’s toys and bring them back over the fence. We have been constantly apologizing to our neighbors. They understand and say it’s okay, but it still makes us a little uncomfortable.

Now, a Catahoula is also known as a swamp dog. i think that means she can leap tall buildings at a single bound. i’m not really sure about the tall buildings, but i know from observing she can leap a five-foot fence, like the one pictured here. In fact. that is the one she clears. It’s the fence bordering our yard with our neighbors.

But fence jumping and dog toy stealing is not the only attributes Billie displays. In case you weren’t aware of this, we don’t have many alligators in the Southwest corner. Not really any insects worth mentioning unlike back in Middle Tennessee, unless, of course, we include those ground crawling nasties like tarantulas and scorpions. And yes, we do have spiders, like black widows and brown recluses. But what the heck.

Where the destroyed bushes were.

Sometimes Billie reminds me of Cass. Both are irrepressible, sort of like Judy Gray’s “Brother.” Cass loved to do his thing, retrieve, hunt, body surf, and always give me a run for my money. Billie is a bit better trained. Sarah’s done a good job of that, but there is still some of that irrepressible in her. And since there are no alligators around these parts, she has found substitutes, like tree rats and lizards. We figured this out when she attacked the bushes bordering our back lawn and the path to our sitting area. i mean those bushes looked like the ents after the orcs attacked. So i took them out.

As for the lizards, they used to live under the things shown spread out from their usual places. i later put everything back in its place but then foolishly began to move the yard waste bin to the back yard where i was working. Foolishly because Billie was watching my every move. The lizard who had taken refuge under the bin scooted across the concrete and hid. He thought. i pulled Billie off, primarily because i didn’t want to have to clean up what was about to happen to the lizard. But the result was i had to put all of this stuff back in place again.

i think the lizard got away. However, i’m not too sure about the one who lived out by our chimney. We put a storage box (an old Navy cruise box from a deployment long ago) to hold yard things. i put it on some scrap lumber to keep it off the concrete. Lizards used to like to hide and rest there. No more.

And we still had the stolen toy problem. Now Billie’s favorite toy to steal is a yellow chicken toy with a squeaker — who the hell ever thought of putting squeakers in dog toys? Were they nuts? So Mister Brilliant decided we should get Billie a yellow chicken so she could have her own and not be prone to steal Shadow’s. Great idea gone south.

We bought the chicken, pretty close to a replica of Shadow’s prized possession. Billie was excited. We threw it. Billie retrieved it. Then, we learned a new Billie talent. This is all that Billie had left to chew on after about five minutes. The replica yellow chicken is gone to chicken heaven.

All of this was happening as spring was…well, springing. Southwest corner springs began in January with the blooming Asian pear trees and acacia. Next up will be the coral trees and then the jackaranda. But that’s a while from now. For now, i must deal with the bushes blooming.

Maureen and our gardener, Paul Shipley, chose wisely for the bushes  along our border fence. And then there are the others, which Billie believes harbors alligators.

These are near where i decided to put my garden. Good idea. So i planted my precious tomatoes and strawberries. For the folks back home, strawberries bloom pretty close to all year long out here in the Southwest corner. So i planted in my box, and all was well…except i had another job to do. Remember the destroyed and now gone bushes? So i set out to dig out somewhere in the neighborhood of a gazillion roots, turn the dirt, and add to the flagstone path to the sitting area. i can now tell you this is not an old man’s pursuit. i was axing, throwing that pickaxe and shoveling. i’m just glad it wasn’t four-feet deep like it was a long, long time ago when i dug graves in Cedar Grove Cemetery (my Democrat column about that will follow). i will post at least one photo of the finished product when it’s finished. i’m estimating that will be in about a century.

But let us not forget the garden. It was beautiful with great promise of a bountiful yield…until this morning. Maureen noticed something not quite right. She walked out and checked. It looked familiar. The pile (not shown here). Like in a cat litter box. Except it was a big pile. i mean a big pile. Equipped with a trowel and a very large litter box rake, i advanced. Carefully. You see as i have noted earlier, we have at least one bobcat in our neighborhood. One must not piss off a bobcat, even if you can’t see him.

So we read the bobcat litter box avoidance information. We talked to neighbors. And this afternoon after golf and in between checking the grill’s heat for our lamb chop supper, i planted onions.

It has been a hard two weeks, probably harder work for me in the last twenty years. Felt good. i am exhausted. Muscles are talking to me. Billie is smiling but i think she’s laughing. We have some considerable more work to do on the flagstone path.

And as for the garden and the bobcat…to be continued.