Monthly Archives: July 2018

Put a Kõln in the Slot

As you might have noticed, i have not been in a particularly good mood today. Without taking any pot shots at anyone else, i was grumbling as i moved about the house this morning and early afternoon.

Of course, i took on a task to worsen my mood. i don’t know if you might have tried this, but if not, avoid at all costs re-gripping a putter with a wood shaft with a leather grip that has been in place for oh, about thirty years. About that long ago, Maureen and i went to a golf store to buy her father a left-handed wood mallet putter with the Saint Andrews logos. In the course of the purchase, Maureen picked up a wood shafted putter and walked over to the indoor putting green and sunk about thirty putts or so with no misses. Done. We walked away with two hundred smackers worth of putters. Ray loved his and Maureen’s putting has become legendary, so it was worth it, but i was gulping at the time.

Needless to say, today it didn’t feel like the two hours plus i spent on a task it takes me about ten minutes with newer metal and graphite shafts. i will find out if it was worth it when we play on Tuesday. i’m betting if she misses some putts it will be my fault for putting on the new grip.

So i come into the house for more chores.

And then, came peace and calm.

As i do all too rarely, i pulled out a two record LP, which was Maureen’s before we got married. i now claim it. i had never heard of Keith Jarrett, much less had a clue Kõln was a city in Germany. That’s where Jarrett sat down at a grand piano before about a gazillion Germans in 1975. The Americanization of Kõln is Cologne and the performance was in the Kõln Opera House, and the gazillion was really about 1400  people jammed into the venue late, late at night.

There are a huge number of piano players in  this world. Good ones. i think favorites are a personal choice. My favorites do not keep me from listening and enjoying other pianists (there is a great joke about this only eclipsed by the story of Maureen trying to tell the joke, which i undoubtedly will post here later). Bill Evans immediately comes to my mind. Then there is Ray Bryant, still the one i could listen to all the time. George Winston’s new age stuff is relaxing, and Granny Prichard and Aunt Gussie (she and her children preferred her to be called Barbara) who could play…what should i call it? honky tonk gospel piano, which i loved.

But Jarrett and the Kõln concert is something else. i put it on and i am entranced. Chores, television watching, book and blog writing, reading stop. Stop. i listen. i am calm. i am at peace. i am entranced.

i am not providing a link here. You can find it easy enough and there is a free copy to listen to on youtube. That is for you to decide.

But it the midst of all that is going on in this world, i find Keith Jarrett and the Kõln concert something to take me away with artistry.

And make me smile in peace.


Now i am no longer in a position to address this as a general topic since i don’t go to church unless i’m back home in Lebanon, but i suspect what is going on down the hill and back up from our house at Corpus Christi Catholic Church will be pretty much true at most churches regardless of denomination.

Passing the church on Saturday afternoons and Sundays from about dawn until mid-afternoon, either on a walk/run or in my car, i am convinced there is an adjunct to church going. i think it’s vehicleligion (my word). From the way the attendees fight for parking spaces on the public roads closest to the church and even illegally put their vehicles in danger at all of the corners where they extend into the turn lanes, they must believe their vehicles get religion by osmosis and being closer to the sanctuary makes them better vehicleligionists (my word, again). i’ve seen them fight for parking spaces right in front of the church on Corral Canyon Road when there are numerous parking spaces in the church parking lot but would require them walking…oh about thirty more feet to the cathedral.

i’m guessing some come way early to get the prime spots and park in a way to keep anyone from parking close to their vehicle, thereby eliminating numerous spaces on the road from the excess space they take up. These folks, i’m guessing again, probably are the ones who emote grandly in the singing of hymns, who sit in the first couple of rows and nod their heads wisely, and put on this act of being pious. After all, their cars need religion too on Sundays.

But you know, people need religion. It might keep ’em straight, and i am glad they are going in droves to hear about Jesus. In many ways, i envy them their faith. Jesus was a good man with the right idea.

i’m just not sure all of the teachings  coming out of the sermon and the sacraments apply to cars, SUV’s, and trucks.

Apparently, i once again have missed something.

Golf Ain’t Just About Hitting a Little White Ball In a Hole

There are good days…and then there are good days.

This morning, after a wonderful anniversary dinner last night, i played golf. A little muggy with a high of 77. So i won’t whine or brag about weather in the Southwest corner. We had the usual great views of the Hotel Del Coronado, the majestic Point Loma, the Fort Rosecrans  Military Cemetery, the beach, and oh yes, the Pacific. My golf was better, something i could call passable after a bunch of rounds that weren’t.

However, this round was special.

Al Pavich, who has had just about every malady known to man, a very rough childhood who then became a hero on swift boats in Vietnam, went from seaman recruit to commander and after retirement became the driving force behind creating the best program in the United States for bringing homeless, often drug and alcohol addicted veterans back to a good normal life, played with us for the first time in more than a year and sparingly before that going back to the 90’s.

i know Al well. We were not only officers together on the Amphibious Squadron Five staff from 1980 to 1982. We share a stateroom for most of a nine-month WESTPAC deployment. We played about 782,456 games of cribbage, we worked together, we played together, and yes, we golfed together. He is one of the best golfers with whom i’ve ever played, maybe the best when bets were involved.

Our foursome today was Al, Rod Stark, Pete Toennies, and me. We played in about three-and-a-half hours. My kind of golf. We sat on the patio of the Sea ‘n Air club and drank some beer, a ritual we have been observing for twenty-seven years almost every Friday.

Seemed just right.

But we missed Marty Linville on a cross-country drive with his wife Linda.

Driving home, i got to thinking about golf. i have often said i have played golf for about fifty-five years. In all of that time, i have only played with about five people who took away the fun. Of course, i have never understood how so many assholes have played either in front of or behind our groups.

There have been some special people with whom i’ve played. Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, Jimmy Nokes when we all picked up the game in 1968 at that cow pasture turned golf course. Dave O’Neal, the best man at our wedding and my fellow conspirator as Air Boss and Operations on the USS Okinawa. Jim Hileman, Mike Kelly, and all of the telephone guys. Frank Kerrigan, the guy with whom i formed a lasting friendship on USS Yosemite and golf courses. JD Waits, my roommate when we were both single on Coronado, and my co-conspirator in many plots. My father-in-law Ray Boggs. And of course, Maureen and Nancy Toennies, who with Pete and me, have shared many great rounds.

i’m sure i’ve left out a grunch.

Marty, Rod and i forged a golf partnership while at the Naval Amphibious School, Coronado, the last tour of active duty for ae ll three of us. That golfing friendship has continued and we have extended it to a bunch of folks. Every Friday morning. Early.

But having Al back with us is something special. He, not golf, not the views, not my other friends, made my day.

Thanks, Al.

It Ain’t Easy

i was thinking about growing up in Lebanon, Tennessee, a small town back then to be sure. i had it easy or at least i thought i had it easy.

i was washing, rinsing and drying dishes somewhere around six or seven and did so with my brother and sister until i left Lebanon for good (but never in my heart), likely for the good of the town folk and me) in 1967. i started mowing and trimming (badly) our yard around eight and began mowing and raking — oh the raking — of the large maxi-leaf bearing trees (elms?) totaling somewhere over an acre of land between the yards of the two adjacent neighbors across the street. JB and Bessie Lee Frame and Fred and Ruby Cowan were the neighbors who contracted me at nine and then my brother after me for the yard work. My father allowed the use of his mower, which required us to care for our yard as well.

i was paid ten dollars for the job and did it almost every week between sometime in April until sometime in October. This would have been good money for a boy back then, but i spent most of it on 45 RPM records from the bins at Simm’s Magnavox on South College, baseball cards, sugar water in wax bottles looking like cokes, candy cigarettes, and Three Musketeers candy bars from Mr. Jackson, who ran “little” Eskews on the corner of West Main and South Tarver, stopping on my way home from school.

i never got an allowance. i did vacuum the tiled and carpeted floors in our house, strip the wood floors and then wax, and once cleared all the cinder or clinkers out of the crawl space in between the basement and the floor of the house. My father had thrown the cinders there rather than take them outside when clearing the coal furnace. This was after he had used the cinders as the surface of our driveway. i also washed all of the windows of our home, inside and out.

During high school summers thanks to Jesse Coe, i worked at the waterworks shoveling the shifting sands in the filter for purifying city water and then dug graves and did the mowing and trimming in Cedar Grove Cemetery. i also did the inventory of the parts in my father’s service area of Hankins, Byars, and Jewell Pontiac, nee Hankins and Smith. i pumped gas and serviced vehicles at the adjoining “full service” station when all the stations did it and didn’t call it “full service.” Later, i worked full time as a cub reporter and office boy for the Nashville Banner’s Fred Russell, the sports editor while i was in between colleges. After a rather pitiful scholarship performance at Vanderbilt, i paid for my college completion at Middle Tennessee while living at home and working as a the county and sports correspondent for the Banner, the weeknight FM and weekend AM deejay for WCOR AM and FM, as well as selling clothes during the holidays for Jimmy Hankin’s Men’s Clothing Store.

i’m sure there are several tasks i left out. In high school, i also played football, baseball, and basketball. While digging graves during summer “vacation,” i also played fast pitch softball Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights; American Legion baseball Wednesday and Saturday nights; and for a brief period baseball in a county summer league on Sunday afternoons.

i went to Sunday school, church, youth fellowship, and the evening service every week and often went to other church events during the week.

i hand wrote all of my homework until i learned to type (oh okay, my mother typed nearly all of my papers when i was under the gun because i had procrastinated until the last minute). i figured all of my math problems on paper until i got a slide rule my senior year in high school. i got all of my books from the library and did my research in the card catalogues of the Dewey Decimal system. i had to make calls from home or use a pay telephone. i used maps to drive places previously unknown to me.

We didn’t have air conditioning in our home until the mid-1950’s and didn’t have it in our cars until the 1956 Oldsmobile. i stole my sister’s Vauxhall from her when i went to work in Nashville . That’s when she was given her Volkswagen bug my father had made from two totaled VW’s. My brother’s clunker (okay, Joe, my old brain just farted and i can’t remember the make or the nickname, but i do remember it was a worn green). Those three cars did not have air conditioning.

i walked to school and back. No, it wasn’t five miles, more like a half mile to McClain Elementary and about one quarter mile, if that, to Castle Heights Military Academy

i never thought of growing up as hard. i goofed off a lot.

Although i wanted lots of things and had impossible goals for my dreams, none of which actually occurred, i did not consider myself disenfranchised. i wasn’t expecting anyone, including my parents to help me financially or otherwise once  i graduated from college, and not a lot after i graduated from high school. i thought i had to do it on my own.

This is not some diatribe about how tough i had it compared to the youth of today. I cannot judge that. i come from a different place and a different time. There are moments i actually think they have it a lot tougher than i did. They have to grow up faster. Their paths are not as clear. There are more people and cultural movements and internet information, both true and false affecting their decisions. What they have to achieve to obtain independence is a far greater leap than mine.

It just seems to me everyone, those my age as well, keep trying to make things easier, trying harder to “keep up with the Jones’, wanting to be more engaged with everyone else.

i keep remembering another line from Dave Carey. i don’t think it’s in his book. i remember him saying it to the senior Navy officers attending one of our seminars on leadership.

“Easy?” he questioned.

“Life ain’t supposed to be easy,” Dave explained, “There is always something happening to make it hard.” Dave, the former POW, should know.

“Life is dealing with the hard things confronting us as well as we can,” he said: i’m paraphrasing here as i don’t recall Dave’s exact words.

That’s my point. i don’t believe we reach the satisfaction of living a good life by obtaining wealth and a lot of things to be admired (we think). i don’t think we gain satisfaction by going on an eternal vacation, sleeping in, lounging around, playing at things we like to play.

i think there is a much greater satisfaction coming from dealing with the harder things popping up in our life and working well. Work is not something to escape. Work is a place we can excel. Working hard.

Another thing: your or my solution, your or my political philosophy, your or my religion, are not going to make this a perfect world. If you try and fix it your way, or they try to fix it their way, someone is going to be left out, someone is going to get hurt. Laws, policies, programs are imperfect. That doesn’t mean we should quit trying to make things right for everybody. That just means to me we need to fix things in our own relationships first. To quit looking for the guilty, quit accusing those of different opinions of being evil.

i can’t fix all of the things wrong in this world. i would like to be a part of improving them, but i can deal with all of the people i come across in this world as individuals, good people with good intentions.

Yes, there are some bad people out there. A few are actually evil, insanely evil. The vast majority are basically good people. Yet we focus on finding something wrong with people who don’t meet our expectations, our perceptions, and then disparaging them, beating them up with accusations not knowing the real intent or actually what happened.

In yesterday’s (Tuesday, July 24) San Diego Union-Tribune sports feature “Off the Wall,” there was an item with the subhead of “Rush to Judgement.” It was about a video that went viral on the web. The video shows Will Venable, the first base coach of the Chicago Cubs catching a foul ball, walking over to the stands, and making a soft toss to a boy in the front row. The boy doesn’t catch the toss; the ball rolls under the seats behind the boy and the man in that row picks up the ball and hands it to his wife.

End of video. Beginning of vilification and damnation of the man. i too was pissed at this callous fellow and in extension all Cub fans — if you are a suffering fan of the bumbling Padres, you don’t like Cub fans, especially when they show up more than your fans when the two clubs play in San Diego — for being so wrapped up in their Cubbies and themselves (oh okay, my brother-in-law and nephew are huge Cub fans and at least they aren’t that bad). Regardless, it looked bad. So bad.

What really happened? Earlier in the game, the man had caught a foul ball and given it to the boy. The boy’s mother told the man if he caught another to give it to another child; her son had the one the man had given him. The video cut off before the man’s wife did give that second ball to another child.

Shame on us. So how many times do we jump to conclusion and excoriate someone before we know all the facts and that person’s intent? Pretty much all the time, and damn near all the time when it comes to politics and religion. There are enough villains out there who need castigating and banning and deleting from our lives. We don’t need to be calling out the wrong folks.

So that’s today’s rant of the old man: Life ain’t easy. Deal with it. Don’t go around blaming folks when you don’t have all the facts. Live your life doing the right thing and treating people the right way.

Back off the insanity.

For My Mother

Ode to Three Sisters and Their Mother

The old lady came busting out of the old century;
where she had been
an exquisite china doll of immeasurable beauty;
young men chased her
to allowable limits in the Victorian South
after we turned from reconstruction
while Teddy was roustabouting with Spain
in that little skirmish we often forget.
Remember the Maine.

But Granny came busting out;
fire in her belly, grit in her craw, pluck in her spirit, gleam in her eye;
with the handsome man who won the chase,
taking her and his bloodhounds
to the retired circuit rider’s farm out on the pike
where Granny’s circuit rider father would
preach occasionally without the horse or mule
in the hamlet of Lebanon,
smack dab in the middle of Tennessee,
Where some bright folks built the square
over a cold water spring
they discovered in “Town Creek”
in yet an earlier century.

…and the children would come around wartime,
dropping among the years of the first big one
we resisted until the Luisitania
took its hit and sank like a rock;
…and the children came,
five in all until one died
as young family members often did
in those pre-antibiotic days.
The handsome blood hound man who chased
criminals through the woods
took his own hit,
a decade after the war.
So the little maelstrom with grit in her craw
packed up the chillun’s and the belongings
making the trek to the groves
of central Florida
for a couple of years to
escape the sinking of the hound man
and the attendant feelings thereof.

In thirty-two, they came back home,
each with some grit in their craw.
Granny, the queen of grit,
went to work,
taking care of those who needed care
outside the family in order
to take care of her own.

…and the children grew up early,
cooking the meals, washing the clothes, cleaning the house,
gathering eggs, milking the cows,  pulling the weeds;
before playing ball,
earning money until
they went to college in the little town,
or went to work,
or both.

The second big war came, again
in a wave of terror,
This time in an atoll’s pristine harbor,
taking hits, sinking to the shallow harbor depths.
Remember the Arizona.
The brother went off to war after marrying
a woman of another religion from down the road,
west a bit, in the big city.
He flew a plane named after his lady Colleen,
returning to the Tennessee hamlet, still
with fire in his belly, grit in his craw, pluck in spirit, gleam in his eye
before leaving for the orange groved paradise
he found on the southern trek several years before.

The preacher man was gone;
The hound man was gone;
The brother was gone;
The three sisters and their mother,
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes,
with their three new men
stared at the world,
staring it down straight in the eye,
wearing it down with their labor
until the world cried “uncle,”
admiring their fire and grit and pluck.

There were circles entwined with circles of family;
the circles orbited around the threes sisters and their mother:
all was well.
…and the world rolled on;
Granny finally gave up her pluckish ghost with grit in her craw;
no longer would she braid the waist long hair,
tying the braids atop her head
as she had done for so many years;
the three sisters rallied with
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes.

The grandchildren of the matriarch
spread with the four winds, remembering.
When the circles got together,
the three sisters remained the constant,
demanding the world stay in their orbit,
and the world was warm with laughter and love and
a sense the world was safe
as long as they all inherited
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit; gleam in their eyes.
The world is older;
Granny is gone;
the youngest sister recently joining her,
the oldest failing fast:
The three sisters leaving us slowly with
the fire waning to embers, but still there is
grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes;
staring down the world.

Such a lovely world they have shown us.


No, not the California scenic highway, or the highway that used to be scenic in more places.

101. That would have been her birthday today. Estelle Prichard Jewell.

She was spunk. She was matter of fact. She was an encyclopedia of family and Lebanon history. She was athletic. She was strict. She was love.

She was part of a remarkable lineage of grit (i’ll post my poem about her mother and her siblings yet again in a post later today).

She was remarkable.

i’ve written quite a bit about her here. i am hoping to have some surprise news about her in the near future. i will finish this with just photos.

She is my mother.

i miss her.

Estelle and her older sister, Evelyn Prichard, circa 1919.
The Prichard family, 1926. There is a great story about that pony.
The Hall of Fame basketball wonder, 1935.
The Prichard family, 1937.
1933 before one of her first dates with Jimmy Jewell.
The newly married couple, late 1930’s.
For 75 years, 1 month, and 12 days, they were inseparable. But nine months later, she fixed that and joined him. i’m betting they are celebrating her birthday together today.






























































Estelle Prichard Jewell











There were no photos on the internet that i could find — of course, there are ton of things on the internet i can’t find: i remain technically challenged. In fact, there was no mention of Hurley’s at all.

Looking at a Google map, i believe it was on Brewer Street, off of Thames Street. The Tennis Hall of Fame was on the other side of Thames. There was a grocery store on the opposite side of Brewer, if that was the name of the small street, almost an alley.

And there was Hurley’s. In Navy Officer Candidate School, it was Quebec Company’s go to place, or at least a certain group of Quebec Company, actually three of Quebec Company’s OC’s, Lanny Harer, George “Doc” Jarden, and moi.

Lanny was a big guy from North Carolina and UNC who went EOD. He and i went from OCS to Key West where the two of us shared a room in the BOQ.  Lanny went through basic underwater swim school while i was in Anti-Submarine Officer School. We had a ball but lost track of each other after Key West.

Doc was the hippie’s gift to Navy Officerdom out of Philadelphia and Duke. He showed up on Friday, September 15, 1967 with his head already shaved, which pissed off the first class OC’s who were our DI’s (drill instructors) as well as the barbers in charge of embarrassing us by shaving our heads (except for Doc’s). Doc was not only my barracks roommate on the fourth deck of King Hall, our service numbers were only two numbers apart (Doc’s 726236, mine 726238 — service numbers had not yet been replaced by SSN’s, which is now a taboo thing because we are so advanced and so are small mean people who like to cheat people rather than make a real living — Doc’s father was CO of a top secret, innovative minesweeper out of Charleston, South, Carolina (which fortunately was never deployed, another story). Doc’s orders were to the USS Guam (LPH 9), homeported in Norfolk. My first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873) moved her homeport from Newport to Norfolk in July 1969. We hooked up again which resulted in several other stories to tell.

We lost track when i headed west, so west it’s called East, Southeast Asia to be specific. But a grunch of years ago, we reconnected. Doc was in NYC with a converted barn for a home on Long Island. He had wandered around Bali for a couple of years and ended up as a television writer and producer.

We again lost touch. This morning, however, i did a couple of internet searches and found Doc had moved to Wilmington, North Carolina and, although i did not find Lanny, i found this younger guy named Lanny Harer in Raleigh, who just has to be his son. Attempts to reconnect will follow.

But this, after that typically long-winded explanation about who we were, is supposed to be about the three of us and Hurley’s. After Saturday’s Pass in Revue and personnel inspection, the OC’s got liberty from around noon until taps and then again on Sunday until 1700. Big deal. We made the best of it.

We tried the Viking where they had loud bands and a bunch of young folks dancing but the women seemed to prefer the civvy-clad guys compared to the guys in the goofy looking OC uniforms.

We ended up at Hurley’s.

Outside, Hurley’s was not impressive, just another building. Inside it was tables, a small dance floor, and a bar with a stage back of it. On Saturdays, the music was mostly up tempo jazz with some popular stuff mixed in. We would hit Hurley’s early. It was the Northeast version of Mexican Village in Coronado where women could meet Navy officers and sailors. Lanny met a girl from Fall River and they got a thing going. Today, when i see “Officer and a Gentleman” is on some television channel, i think of Lanny.

But before the girl, we would drink and listen to the music. On the way back to the barracks where we always, always arrived just before liberty expired, we would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. There we would get a dozen jelly-filled buns.

Being somewhat less than pristine, we would report aboard the barracks and then go hide in a stairwell. Some poor smuck OC had pulled duty and had to conduct a security check of the barracks every hour. We would hide in the remotest ladder well on the deck above the smuck’s route. When he looked in the ladder well, we would pelt him with the sugar coated, glazed donuts, and run before he could see who it was. Of course, he would get back to the quarterdeck and have to explain how he was covered in powered sugar, jelly, and shards of pastry.

Then Lanny met this girl. They hit it off. Lanny asked her to meet him the next Saturday. i mean this was serious stuff. She said she would love to meet him again, but she had a girlfriend who came with her from Fall River and Lanny must provide someone to accompany her, a double date, if they were to continue to meet.

Lanny, Doc, and i put our collective heads together and came up with a plan. The friend was not particularly good looking. i got elected to be her “date” but with a twist. We decided to explain i was from the German Navy on a new program to swap officer candidates and i could only speak German. Doc, we claimed, was my interpreter.

This was somewhat difficult to pull off since Doc nor i could speak a word of German. We spent about two hours in Hurley’s that Saturday evening with my producing guttural syllables i thought might sound like German and Doc explaining to my date what i was saying while Doc and his unsuspecting girlfriend listened. My German and Doc’s interpretation became more and more absurd with each pursuant cocktail. The three of us  spent most of the two hours suppressing our laughs until Doc informed the group he had to take me back to the barracks because i had to call my family in Germany (time difference, we explained).

Then there was Sunday afternoons at Hurley’s. i know Doc or Lanny accompanied me, sometimes both, but it seems i always went to Hurley’s on Sunday afternoons. i would sit at the bar for the entire jazz jam session. The regular band and quite a few other musicians would show up and play some great music. My favorite song to which they jammed remains one of my favorite songs of all time, perhaps because of my Sunday’s at Hurley’s. They had this woman in the band, the singer, who nailed “My Satin Doll.”

i would sit at the bar, twirling the ice in my bourbon on the rocks, and feel lonely when they would perform a ten-minute or more set of “My Satin Doll.” i was romantic. i was alone. i was sad. But it was good because “My Satin Doll” was consoling.

Strangely, it made me feel good.

Hurley’s is gone now.

The three amigos are spread out. i don’t know if Lanny’s girlfriend’s friend really bought my German act. i don’t eat jelly filled buns.

But i still listen to “My Satin Doll” and remember.

Tribute to an Old Man

Tomorrow, there’s this old guy who is going to have a birthday.

i know because he’s six months and one day younger than me. Old. i mean old.

We have been been more than friends for fifty-six years. In some ways, this is rather odd. In other ways, such a friendship is entirely predictable.

i, as you should know, am from a small town called Lebanon in Middle Tennessee. My parents and their families didn’t have a lot of money, but always got along okay. In fact they were very secure in their life. Out of Castle Heights Military Academy, i was lucky enough to get a Navy scholarship to Vanderbilt. That’s where i met this old guy.

He was from a big city. i mean, it was a big, big city. New York. 95th and Park Avenue. His father was a successful and very good doctor. His mother was a banjo playing starlet. They had three boys. This old guy was in the middle. He started at Vanderbilt the same time i did.

Then we had to go through Kappa Sigma pledge period together. Whatever one might think of the Greek fraternity and sorority system, one must accept a pledge period can bind a bunch of young men or young women together for life, just like it did for twenty-four of us. Then there was this Navy thing. The old guy enrolled in NROTC because he was interested in the Navy, or rather was or became a scholar about all kinds of ships. He was intrigued with them. Still is. For some strange reason, we got hooked up as a pair making a model of a 5″ 38 twin gun mount, the kind that was on destroyers. i don’t think it was really very good, but it got us by.

Somewhere along this time, some connections came out. The old guy’s parents were originally from Rockwood, Tennessee. My family spent a number of weekends in Rockwood in this wandering Victorian home up on the hill. It belonged to my uncle’s mother. My uncle’s father, the Presbyterian minister, had passed away before our family rendezvous’ in Rockwood began. i never met any of the old man’s family on these trips.

But the connections just kept on coming. Sports. Both the old man and i loved watching sports of any kind. Music. We both loved music, particularly bluegrass. White socks. Yes, white socks. That’s what these two, one from the country, one from the big city wore proudly when they matriculated only to find out white socks were definitely not cool.

Parents. We didn’t know this for a long, long time, but sometime in the late 40’s, early 50’s, the old man’s father was doing some doctoring stuff in Nashville and decided to go to Rockwood before heading for NYC. His car broke down in the early evening right outside Lebanon, Tennessee. So the  good doctor went to the only open auto shop, which was where my father was closing up. My father fixed the doctor’s car in two or three hours. The two talked a lot. When the doctor paid the bill and left, he gave my father a ten dollar tip, in silver dollars. i have them now. At the time, no one knew the old man and i would end up spending a lot of time together.

We probably should have lost track of each other. After all, he was in Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco, D.C., and New Jersey (ugh). i was all over the map and all over the ocean. Then we ended up out here on the left coast. We reconnected. We still liked the same things. Our wives got along famously. It was karma.

i could go on about the old man. He’s pretty special. He’s done some amazing things in his life, but remains low key. His sense of humor is just about perfect.

Oh yeh, i should mention the old man is Alan Hicks. He’ll  be seventy-four tomorrow.

He ain’t too bad. In fact, he’s one of my best all time friends forever.

And i was just kidding about the old man stuff.

Happy Birthday, Alan…and thanks for being my brother.

Oh yeh, his brother Jim ain’t bad either except for the hummingbird thing.

Alan Hicks with two beautiful women, Maureen and Maren in the HIcks’ Sonoma home, 2016.

The Commander, the Ensign, and the Flagpole

One more iteration. One more…okay, maybe two or so.

But it’s back up. Back in its place at the top of our slope.

Up. First time in six months. Yeh, it’s temporary. When Paul gets back from his venture, he’ll come over to redo the front yard (another story) and bring some steel pipe that will fit inside. We’ll add a section or two…or three if it doesn’t give Maureen a heart attack.

It’s been a saga.

About thirty years ago. i got this idea of an ensign on top of our slope for me to admire and the neighbors to see. No, no, no, not the Navy officer standing up there. Ensign is also a Navy term for our United States flag. i went and got some plumbing pipe and made a flagpole. It was about twenty feet high with a union half way up. Didn’t last long. Rusted. Union broke. Gave it up.

Then in 1999 when i had to put Cass, my all-time buddy to sleep, i decided to try again. Ordered a flag pole. Aluminum sections. i built a concrete base. Put the urn holding Cass’ ashes inside. Added a bakelite plaque. It’s still up there: “Cass, A Good Dog, 1985 – 1999, To his and our freedom.

So up went the pole, 25 feet of it. Up went the ensign. It was no little thing either, eight by six. We could see it from about five miles away. So could a lot of other people. There was this guy who lived the bottom of our hill. i’ve written of him before. Jesse Thompson. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor. We had a number of them around here back then. After all, this is a Navy town. Jesse got a group of them together. Turned his home into a Pearl Harbor museum. The group met every Wednesday. He came up the hill one day when i was out, knocked on the door; told Sarah who he was, and asked her to thank me for my ensign. He said the group all agreed it reminded them of Mount Suribachi. That made me feel good, real good and proud.

In those days, i was good at maintaining protocol. Lena, our replacement for Cass, and i would go up every morning at 0800, raise the ensign, and observe colors. In the evening, we would go back up, lower the flag exactly at sunset, and observe colors again. It was a nice way to start and end the day. It was nice view. i even saw two green flashes during those sunsets. Lena enjoyed her walks.

My brother-in-law was temporarily living with us at the time. He kept the house while we went somewhere. He was watching the flag in a winter storm. He said it was beautiful holding stiff into the strong wind, bending the flagpole.

That’s when it broke the first time.

i got another section to replace the broken one and strengthened the pole. The winds can get strong coming off the ocean to the top of that hill. i bought a PVC pipe to fit inside the sections, cut it to the flagpole length and got some neighbors to help me put it up. Looked good.

A neighbor from down the hill came by and stopped when she saw me working in the front yard. She said she was a teacher and seeing my flag each morning on her way to work made her feel all was right with the world. She handed me fifty dollars, for maintenance she said. i tried to refuse, but she was insistent. i finally gave in.

Then the Santa Ana came. Fifty knot winds. The PVC wasn’t that strong, and once again, the flag pole toppled. Next. Paul suggested the thicker PVC. This one needed some muscle no longer available in seventy-year old men. Paul and his boys, with my feeble assistance, got it in place.

Until the winds this past winter. January.  Winter storm. i knew the pole could withstand the projected 40-knot winds. i checked it out. Beautiful sight it was, rippling against the wind, resistant, Suribachi-like. Maureen asked, “Aren’t you going to take the flag down?”

“Ensign,” i corrected her. “Nope, i said, “She’s doing fine.” “Don’t worry,” i said, “She’ll withstand forty knot winds.”

i went inside. The wind gusted to seventy: down went the pole with my ensign.

Six months, i waited. Now it’s up. And until Paul gets back, it will be a bit shorter.

But i don’t care. After all, it’s become a landmark in Bonita:

College Station, circa 1977

Escape. That’s what this is. i was trying to get into work. Budgets, book writing, sorting, organizing. That sort of thing. Gave it up when i came upon this one in a folder i had misfiled a long time ago. What the hell. Here it is.

College Station, circa 1977

a spring day whistles into the middle of Texas winter:
i gaze through the campus greenery
from the window of my antiseptic office
recalling a Newport winter several years ago
where sleet with biting cold predominated;
the hoary wind gnashing its way
off of Naragansett Bay
inside it was warm,
candles lit the upstairs apartment;
bare trees haunted from the yard
before Easton Bay
with disdain;
wine was poured,
long before i knew its worth,
to be sipped while the bay wind
beat the sleet against the windows.

where have all the smiles gone
which once accompanied the sleet, the wind, the cold
the wine?

i turn from the window
looking out at winter,
what we, back then in Newport,
would have called early summer;
the secretary reminds me to return a call;
i pause with the receiver in my hand
remembering the winter smiles
before returning to the business at hand.