Monthly Archives: June 2018

A Grave Situation

One of my favorite stories about Lebanon. Oh the unbridled energy i had, digging graves and mowing until knockoff, running to get in my uniform to play fast pitch softball for Texas Boot Company or American Legion baseball and doing it all again for four days in a row with Friday night off. In the column, i omitted that Mr. Martin, i think John, was the manager of the water plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike. i also erred in my time of employment. i worked at the water works for about three weeks and then went to Cedar Grove in 1958. This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat in the winter of 2010. The son of Mr. Bill sent me an email. i am looking unsuccessfully thus far, but when i find it, i will add that information about this column and this post. 

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 Cedar Grove Cemetery.

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.

My “Dad” Lament to Judy

There is this dear, caring, and very lovely lady who lives in Tallahassee. When i grew up, she was known as Judy Lewis. Today, she is Judy Gray. We have become close friends again, even more so than when we spent our youth in Lebanon, Tennessee. No, not “spent:” lived the hell out of our life in Lebanon. For reconnecting with her and others, i will remain on Facebook until they close it down because all of the younger folks are off chasing newer, even less literate things.

Well, this morning Judy posted a wonderful piece on Facebook. As it did with several of her other friends, it brought tears to my eyes. For those who are not connected to Judy on Facebook, i include her post here:

I wrote this to honor the fathers I know and respect who have taught me what it’s like to have a dad. It’s called Silent Witness. As they open this letter and wonder why I sent it to them on Father’s Day, let me explain.

I do not remember my father’s face or voice. I was one when he died in service to our country so I don’t have memories of him, I have questions. My lifelong habit has been to watch and learn, to examine and dissect clues of what life with a dad would have been like.

So I’m a voyeur, a hunter, a collector that captures and pins and frames tiny, precious moments in the lives of fathers and daughters.

I listen as you recount sweet stories of teaching her how to catch fireflies and frogs, to make sense of Geometry, to understand ballgames, books and boys. How to drive the car that will ultimately allow her to fly from your nest. How to protect yet give her heart.

I watch as you lift her high to see the fireworks, as you reach for her hand in the surf, how you hug her hello and goodbye at the airport. The tattoo of tenderness on your face as you look at her when she’s not looking. Your baby girl, whether she’s four or forty.

I notice how you cherish and celebrate your unique role as a dad. When I experience the bond between you, I am filled with awe and sweetness. It’s a beautiful vicarious thrill. Rather than dwelling on regret, I feel blessed to have been witness.

I say a prayer of thankfulness that there are men like you who know it’s important to make a little girl feel special and safe, to have set expectations of being treated with care and respect, to have given the experience of being greatly loved so she knows how to love and nurture others.

You have made all the difference in her world. And you have made a difference in mine. I’ll bet my dad would have been a lot like you.

With affection and appreciation, Judy Gray

Judy is an incredible, loving human being. She is also very successful in her career which centered on helping people be better in their work (if i have that right, Judy). She deserved to have her father with her while she grew up. Her mother deserved to have her husband with her to raise Judy. On the other hand, not having her father may have Judy more of a success in her career and in her life. i doubt it. She deserved him.

i still ache every day because of circumstances beyond my control i was not an every day, live together father for my daughter Blythe. It hurts and it will always hurt. Judy’s father never even had that much of a chance because of a war. That makes Judy’s post even more poignant for me.

All of the things that Judy describes as a “voyeur” are things i still miss not being able to do with Blythe. i don’t blame anyone. i think her mother and i tried to do the best thing we could for our daughter when the dissolution became inevitable. But there is a vacancy in my heart the minute i realized i would not be a “full-time dad.” i was fortunate to most of those things Judy and Blythe missed with their fathers with Sarah.

i hope with all of my heart and soul that i have helped in some way to make both of my daughters to “feel special and safe.” i worry that i haven’t done as well as i desire. i hope my decisions now and in the future will allow them to live as securely, comfortably, and with peace with themselves. i would wish for happy as well, but happy is a relative thing.

As for my father, he gets an A-plus but with a caveat. He had this woman Estelle who gave him the freedom to be who he was. Estelle was as much a part of who Jimmy Jewell was as much as Jimmy Jewell was. She was his support, his alter ego, his reins, his love, and he was her complete supporter and the father standing behind the mother in the family. Period.

Judy, i don’t know if i can match up to being what you imagine your dad would have been. i’m sure he would have been much like my dad. i’m also sure he is incredibly proud of his daughter for being the good soul she is.

So here is my affection and appreciation for you and a salute to your father. He (and your mother) created one wonderful human being.



Sunday Afternoon

Sunday, yesterday. Unlike The Kinks, i ain’t got no mansion nor a yacht on this “Sunny Afternoon,” nor do i have “a big fat mama trying to break me.” My mama is beautifully thin still, and if anything, i might break her (financially) by mistake, but we’re cool: we understand, and it’s worked pretty damn well for thirty-six years and change. Like the Kinks, “I love to live so pleasantly, Live this life of luxury (sic), Lazing on a sunny afternoon.”

It wasn’t planned that way. We thought we were going to east county — going to east San Diego county from Bonita would be a similar distance to driving from Lebanon to Cookeville — to meet our gardener and discuss the front yard landscaping redo (her idea, not mine: i do know when to keep my mouth shut…oh, no i don’t, but she understands; you know, that thirty-six year thing), but the nursery out there in east county is closed on Sunday, and the home our gardener wanted us to see for an example of his drought resistant landscaping skills will be there later.

So i changed course. i would work in the yard on seven-hundred, sixty two uber-gazillion things to do in the morning and then go to the library in the afternoon to work on my book before coming home to watch the taped (okay, millennial techies: “recorded,” not taped) Vandy-Clemson and Padres-Reds baseball games.

Well, it didn’t quite work that way. Surprise.

We had a nice breakfast, as always when Maureen is the chef and she is always the chef, out in our sitting area next to the vast and now very bald back slope. The sun was out, but typical for the Southwest corner the seaport coolness made it comfortable. We ate, then read the newspaper while watching hummingbirds feed on the coral tree and in the middle of it all, a starling chasing a falcon directly above us before they dashed toward the other canyon. i scrambled classical music on my iPod and turned the bluetooth speaker down low.

i never sit outside enough, and this morning once again begged me to answer why. One of the unsung glories of the Southwest corner is the absence of bugs. Oh, we have some gnats but they seem to stay up on top of our hill. There are some nasty critters but they lie low and don’t disturb us hardly at all. Best, there are no flies. The flies have chosen to spend their time at the horse stables apparently.

Then as usual, i cleaned up the kitchen. It is the daily duty i assumed when Maureen retired and took over the cooking duties almost entirely. i find washing dishes and cleaning up peaceful, satisfying.

Next, i went to this infernal machine and caught up with more sports, more news, and Facebook. In other words, i dawdled. i am a good dawdler. All the way to noon. Lunch. Another amazing sandwich from the chef queen.

The ladies went to a movie. As usual, i declined.  They  are movie fans. i’m not. i’m glad they are big movie fans. i am glad my friends like movies too. It’s just not my thing.

So because of the magnificent dawdling, i had to decide whether to go to the library or work on decreasing my task load, which probably will actually increase the tasks because i would discover at least five more things to add to the list while reducing it one or two. Bad math. Murphy would be proud.

Initially, i decided for the library and the book, but on the way out, i realized i was too sleepy for an effective library stop. So of course, i took a “NORP.” After all, i had Vandy playing for the baseball regional championship and the Padres were playing the Reds. i had to get whatever i needed to get done completed before the games. They both started at three Southwest corner time.

So i relocated a pile of wood, took out a faux concrete slab, long beyond its use.

Then i said to myself, “Hell, it’s perfect for lazing on a sunny afternoon.”

i dropped all my pretenses and went to the garage where there is a refrigerator initially placed there for my beer. Now the beer is reduced to a couple in a very small area in the door, cramped by all of Maureen’s cooking supplies. i grabbed one of the few amidst the flour, eggs, four hundred different kinds of pasta, and all sorts of liquid containers of which i never use or even have a clue as to what their uses are. Except for the beer of course. i then settled into a chair on the patio, and sipped my beer in the quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon, lazing. i am a good lazer (my word, not a misspelling of “laser” or some Turkish chewing gum).

The last two days have been Southwest summer, a good time for lazing. The seaport gray of May has disappeared. June gloom has taken a break before the marine layer reenters our days. Seventy with a breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Summer without the heat, humidity or bugs. Lazing. As i sat there with my beer, i thought of lazing on a sunny afternoon…in the summertime…in a world and long, long ago away.

i remembered lazing underneath the Chinese maple in our front yard in our front lawn on Castle Heights Avenue. We’d throw down the blanket, and pull out some board game or perhaps canasta, the old card game. Sometimes, we would take an un-mandated nap (Now, that “NORP” for me). Man, we were good at lazing.

i thought of George and Virginia Harding taking their sons along with a goofy guy out on the lake in their ski boat. We’d put in at the boat dock near Laguardo on the way to Gallatin off of Tennessee 109. George would drive us out to an island. We would ski, picnic, and then prove Henry, Beetle, and i were superb at lazing.

i recalled picnics, barbecue cooked on site in a pit at my great uncle’s farm. i once fell into the ice bucket holding the cold drinks. But Papa’s farm was perfect for lazing. Rocking chairs on the porch in addition to the old fashion swing. A swing made from a board hanging from the huge hickory tree in the front yard. Sunny afternoons. Lazing at its finest.

i finished the beer, went to the family room and watched the Commodores put on an incredible hitting performance and the Padres using a grand slam to beat the Reds (Yes, Jim Leftwich, the homer came from Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfro).

It was a good day…no, a great day made even better by lazing.

…and no movie.


Bugs Bunny’s Real Problem

Of all of my business leadership columns, this one will always be my favorite. It ran in three newspapers during my career. The last was as a column in my “Minding Your Own Business” columns for The Lebanon Democrat. i liked it even more when JB Leftwich praised it for being an excellent column.

Bugs Bunny’s Real Problem

Several thousand years ago, Aesop created the fable “The Hare and the Tortoise,” probably the most well known fable of them all.

Aesop made a star out of Bugs Bunny.

In an early Bugs cartoon, the fable was told with Bugs as the hare.  He is undone by overconfidence and underestimating the ability of his competition.  He loses the race to the tortoise.

Bugs acquired a new agent after that cartoon, and now he always wins over the likes of Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, and a whole host of other bumbling, though lovable doofuses.

My father at 96, occasionally still watches and enjoys Bugs’ cartoons.  My daughter, at 21, puts Bugs right at the top of her “to-watch” list.  My grandson at three received a “Looney Tunes” DVD for Christmas and loves Bugs and all of his buddies.  And I, somewhere in amongst the three of them, am among Bugs’ greatest fans.

Bugs’ Confidence

Bugs, after the agent change somewhere back in the ’30’s or ’40’s, succeeds in his cartoon quests in large part because of his confidence, which is also embodied in successful people in the business world.  Confidence in being right gives Bugs the power to uneven the playing field, to change the rules to his advantage.  But, as we learned in that old, scratchy rerun of Aesop’s tale, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

As a facilitator in Leadership Excellence while in the Navy and later as a consultant in Organization Improvement, I have studied traits, behaviors and attitudes of successful business people: bosses, managers, leaders.  I have discussed principles, which delineate between successful businesses and those that are not successful.  I have discussed the difference between success and failure at length with many associates, colleagues and friends.  The discussions always generate high energy.  Success and failure come in many packages, but I have never met a successful leader of any organization who did not exude confidence, confidence he or she is right

Confidence or Arrogance

One can be successful even crossing the line between confidence and arrogance.  In assessing the long line of bosses I have observed, worked with, worked for, or provided services to, a number were arrogant.  That is to say, I could not tell them anything because either it was something they claimed they already knew or considered it bad information.  Yet they succeeded because they believed they were on the right track and stuck to it.  In the short run, it gave them post-tortoise Bugs’ power.

When a boss crosses the line from confidence to arrogance, it may not affect the success of his or her business in the short run.  Yet it could be disastrous immediately and the probability for dysfunction is even greater for the long haul.  Arrogance inserts an imbalance into the equation.  Arrogance has no tolerance for listening to other possibilities of right answers. Unlike confidence, arrogance is blind and deaf.

Nearly every comment I have heard or read about Ray Kroc has been high praise. Ray’s success can be attributed to many factors.  The empire which has become MacDonald’s is a complicated, sophisticated, and overwhelming success, rising from the confident leadership of Ray Kroc.

Ray’s confidence was legendary.  He preached his mantra, “Quality, Service, Cleanliness, Value,” with the assurance of being absolutely correct.  There is no question his confidence was a major, if not the primary factor in his success.  Ray Kroc possessed Bugs’ kind of confidence. He was not often, if ever arrogant.

Confidence Wins

Bugs learned a lot from the tortoise (and perhaps the tortoise’s agent).  He now assesses his competition and the situation before confidently entering the event du jour.  When he is arrogant, he stumbles, but being Bugs and a cartoon character at that, he pulls through and always wins.

For me and the rest of you business leaders, owners, and managers out there, the connection is clear.  Avoid arrogance: get as much information as you can about the situation and the competition.  Then, move forward with confidence.

The next time you relax for a bit of television and settle back to watch Bugs take on another adversary, remember Bugs rose to fame because he learned the difference between confidence and arrogance.

“That’s all, folks.”


Football, a Legacy Gone South

i’ve been posting all sorts of stuff about all sorts of things here on this website for some time now. That is me enjoying me, but i kept feeling like i was missing something that once was here. In case you haven’t noticed, i love to write. Consequently, i can just go bananas and forget some things i meant to always be a part of this column, like an extension of writing “Notes from the Southwest Corner” as a weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat just shy of ten years.

Then for the last several days, Tick Bryan’s post on the “If You Grew Up in Lebanon, You Remember…” of the Tastee  Freeze shop made me realize what has been missing here: memories of Lebanon, Tennessee.

An integral part of my memories, was, of course, four years at Castle Heights. Although i did okay in Academics and so-so in the military side (ironic, isn’t it?), my focus was on sports. Sports dominated my thoughts (okay, okay, girls were pretty high in those thoughts as well) from when i can remember until i realized i wasn’t going to play any sport at the intercollegiate level. Football was my driver. The below is a column, i wrote for The Democrat in 2008 about those memories about football and Lebanon.

Football, a Legacy Gone South

SAN DIEGO – On my second birthday, after my father returned from the war, my uncle, Alvin “Snooks” Hall, gave me a football. In my mother’s albums, there is a snapshot of me at four in my cowboy hat standing beside a little red wagon. In the middle of the wagon bed is the football.

Even though I played other sports, football was my passion. I played imaginary games in the yard. On Saturdays, I could hear the Castle Heights announcer calling the Saturday afternoon games. I was Doak Walker, the Heisman award winner from Southern Methodist University; the triple threat star Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams, who was also married to Jane Russell (my aspirations were high); and Bobby Lane, the feisty quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

My father took me to the Lebanon High games at the juncture of Fairfield Avenue, South Greenwood Street, and East High Street, urging me to scream the entire game.

We would watch the Sunday games on the black and white television. Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost.” announced the games. On the radio, I listened to the Commodores and the Vols as well as the Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee Thanksgiving games. Occasionally, we would go to Nashville and watch Vanderbilt play at Dudley Field.

At Lebanon Junior High, I played two years with one loss in 16 games. It was my acme in football. but I continued to play with some notoriety as “Mighty Mouse” at Castle Heights (Mike Dixon, The Cavalier sports editor gave me that moniker) while my friends were having the Blue Devil magic undefeated season in 1961.

As a junior, five-six, 135 pounds, I incongruously played blocking back and linebacker. We traveled to Baylor, just outside of Chattanooga for an afternoon game. My aunt and uncle, who lived there, arrived at half-time. I suspect Coach Jimmy Allen saw them waving to me. Regardless, I was sent in on defense in the third quarter.

A signal from the sidelines directed us from our normal “6-2” defense into a “7-1” alignment, seven down linemen and one linebacker. Using the same reasoning which got me in trouble most of my life, I volunteered and stepped into a defensive guard position.

I split their right guard and tackle. Both were all-conference for two years. The guard weighed 240 pounds, the tackle topped off at 265.

I think I saw the quarterback licking his lips. As he called an audible, I rationally concluded they were going to run straight at me, deciding my only chance was to “submarine.” That meant I would dive low and hopefully split through the two mammoths in front of me.

Good idea. Unfortunately, the two giants in front of me also figured that out. They double- flopped on me, trapping me under more than 500 pounds of flesh and gear. I was spread eagle on the ground.

I squirmed and waved my arms as much as I could to breathe and to get the lummoxes off.

The halfback cut next to the massive pile with this puny linebacker underneath. As he cut, he tripped over my frantically waving left hand, falling forward for a one-yard gain.

As I retreated to the sideline, teammates pounded me on the back. Reaching the sideline, Coach Frank North rubbed my helmet. I could see my aunt and uncle smiling and cheering.

I thought, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

Yesterday, the San Diego Chargers played the Indianapolis Colts. As I write, the game has yet to be played. Amidst the hoopla, gauntlet of commercials, and incessant inane analysis, there will be some good football played.

The playoff game was in a dome, filled with fanatic, costumed crazies whooping as much to get on camera as to root for their team. The majority of the players far outweighed the two behemoths who flattened me 47 years ago. There will be more coaches and staff for each team than the players we had on the 1960 Tigers. The game was played in mid-January.

I will think how much more fun it was to get crunched by offensive linemen on a  perfect autumn afternoon with a sparse crowd in Tennessee than it will have been watching the NFL extravaganza.

Of course, I will watch. Somewhere in the course of the game, I will think, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

A Rant

i just collected our mail.

There were ten pieces of mail. One was a flyer from our neighborhood grocery store. One was an ad for a local hospital. The rest were various political ads for candidates or propositions.

i’m not upset about these yahoos sending me political advertisements. i don’t like them, but that is their right. What pisses me off — i was trying to come up with a more polite term but this one is just perfect — is i still don’t have a clue as to what the candidates are really for or against, what sets them apart from their competition and what the risks and benefits really are for any of the propositions.

It’s all bullshit PR — there i go again. i guess there is some statistics somewhere that claim these damn things get more votes, but i’m thinking if someone decides to vote on what i get in the mail, then they are a lot dumber than me.

Maybe back a long time ago, i.e. my time, political campaigns stressed positions, issues, etc. Maybe not. But quite frankly, i don’t give a damn about sales pitches. i want to make an intelligent vote for people and issues i believe in. To quote Nick Canepa in a column the other day, quoting Vin Scully, “Statistics are like a lamp post being leaned on by a drunk: They are for support, not illumination.”

Dammit, stop filling up my mailbox with crap. And that ain’t even beginning a rant about television commercials and news (sic) programs.