Monthly Archives: October 2018

A Wonderful Woman: History

i have been sitting here for a couple of hours trying to come up with something to write a bit different about my sister. She is 72. Today. 72.

i am at a loss for words…not really, just can’t come up with anything adequate about how i feel about her, her husband, her son, her daughter-in-law, her grandchildren. i mean i can’t talk about her without talking about those other folks.

So i just thought i would revisit some times of hers over 72 years. And regardless of her age, she will always be my younger sister.

A few years ago.
Add one and you’ve got one hell of a family.
Our mother was so proud she made a calendar and handed them out as Christmas gifts.
And the brother and sister were best friends.
And the she went to McClain School.
And then, this other guy came along, and they became best friends. Still are.
And the two of them played together in all kinds of weather while the goofy one of the three was playing sports.
Then, she went to college and became a beautiful school teacher.
And the three gathered at the old homestead for special events.
They all grew older and remained close, even after those rather incredible people in the middle left us.


And she loves both of my daughters and became like a second mother to this one.
And she goes on, overcoming physical ailments to hike and have fun.

Martha Jewell Duff is my sister. She is very special, very special. But she won’t ever be older than me.

Happy Birthday, young sister. i love you.

Musings on an Early Saturday Morning

i am tired. But awake.

i woke up a bit earlier than usual, and even though it is a Saturday, i did not roll over and try to go back to sleep, an “iffy” proposition all the time, but not an option today.

You see, Maureen has to return a favor. A friend of hers took us to the airport about ten days ago for our trip to San Francisco. She picked us up at 11:00 a.m. Her flight back east and beyond was around 8:30 a.m. and she, like most women i know, especially my wife, wanted to have a buffer in time. So Maureen is to pick her up at 6:55 a.m.

Come to think of it, Karen is a bit more daring than Maureen. For an 8:30 a.m. flight, Maureen would want to be at the airport just after midnight before the flight but will compromise. We would have left home at 5:00 a.m.

So i made sure i got up and didn’t roll back over to dreamland in order to make coffee for when Maureen arose (i was also the backup alarm). One should not ever have to deal with Maureen without an early coffee or when she’s hungry. i’ve learned that.

The coffee has just finished percolating (i like that word: percolating). i started this when it was not quite alarm protection time. The coffee is done and i have retrieved the paper from the driveway.

Getting up this morning was particularly tougher this morning. i watched the Aztecs squeeze out a win over Air Force, 21-17, in a game extended an hour by a lightning delay.

Lightning delay! In San Diego! With rain! Who’d a thunk! Rain. i had almost forgotten what is was like. So much so, i made an excuse to go outside when it started so i could feel it, taste it, smell it. It was all good.

By the way, the game was a defensive battle in the rain, the kind i really like including the Tennessee rain-soaked Alabama 10-9 victory in Neyland Stadium in 1966 when Stabler was the quarterback and Louis Thompson was the super duper defensive tackle and when Tennessee had driven down the field with seconds left on the clock and missed a short field goal by inches and some nut sportswriter asked Bear what he would have done if the field goal attempt had been good and the Bear said “we would’ve blocked it and the game was mostly punts the rain and mud, the kind i like — after all, i was a diminutive linebacker in the dark ages. The Aztec win was marred by lots of miscues, the kind announcers feast on because they can blame somebody for something rather than crediting the other side for making it happen. Still, i’m a long-distance San Diego State football fan. They are fun to watch.

Even in the rain. The joyous, glorious rain, something everyone back on the right coast is getting too much of. A blessing here. i think about that a lot. i love San Diego weather, a big reason we stay here. It is high desert on the ocean front and the best weather year round for anyplace i’ve been in the world (and i have been to quite a few places in this world). i miss the seasons even though we claim to have them, and there is a subtle difference between the “summer” six months, and the “winter” six months. We can even detect a minuscule bit of spring and autumn. But it ain’t like back home.

i love rain. i like to walk in it. i am even known as a “mudder” by my golfing friends because i golf better in the rain. Rain and i have a long love affair.

i remember smelling it on the wind in Lebanon’s Augusts, a respite from the summer heat, especially around early football practice.

i remember it as a welcomed interloper into grave digging at Cedar Grove, where we would have to stop (but knowing digging in the wet clay was going to be a bear when the rain stopped).

i remember Henry Harding and i in a golf cart (why weren’t we walking at that age?) sitting under a small structure when a lightning storm caught us on the fifth hole.

i remember running in it during a Hash House Harriers run with the Aussies in Columbo, Sri Lanka, and sliding down the side of a a virtual cliff in the mud, clinging to vines to slow the descent because the downpour made the normal route impossible to traverse and then running through the road for the last mile in water up to my shins to reach the huge open shelter where the Aussies had steaks on the barbie and yanking one steak off and a Fosters out of the ice cooler and gnawing and gulping with the rain still dripping from my pores.

i remember the driving rains in the storms at sea coming down at a slant and the roar of the frothing, turbulent waves crashing over the bow and rolling down the main deck, and just how incredibly beautiful, even haunting the rain was in those moments.

i remember running my lunch circuit in Coronado during my last assignment, the circuit being modified by one of those rare rains and having to climb a temporary fence near the Hotel Del Coronado because the staff didn’t want anyone to walk through the foot or so of water collecting on the sidewalk. So i ran through it and climbed the fence and felt proud of myself for some curious reason.

And with what is my most poignant memory of the rain, i remember running in my street clothes (what a strange term for just clothes) in the rain until i thought my lungs would burst, running down West Spring Street, stopping and looking up for what seemed like an eternity, screaming, screaming as loud as i could. It was my freshman spring at Vanderbilt. Henry and Beetle’s mother, my beloved Virginia Harding, had passed away way too young. i did not know why. i didn’t understand. i felt cheated. i looked up to the heavens and screamed with the rain pouring down, onto my upturned face. And the rain was soothing.

i’m sure my love for the rain is not grasped right now by the folks who just went through the wrath of Michael. There are family and friends who live in Michael’s path whom i’ve not heard from yet. i try to imagine the grief, the scary future, the emotion of dealing with such destruction and loss. i can’t quite manage absorbing the enormity. i grieve for all of them.

And at almost the same time, San Diegans (i’m half San Diegan, half Lebanonite) were joyful, even with the rain delay of the football game, at less than a half-inch last night, hoping for more today, hoping the wildfires would be less of a possibility.

Weather is awesome, unpredictable, different…and strange.

*     *     *

Maureen has left, taking her coffee with her. Good. Karen will be glad she is on time. i suggested i meet Maureen on her way back from the airport for breakfast at Donny’s. Donny, a former professional bike racer in Spain, has the coffee shop with the best coffee in the world and several years ago added sandwiches to the offerings. And breakfast, good, good breakfasts. Maureen said that was a good idea but she had thought about making pancakes. i immediately nixed any more discussion about Donny’s. Nothing, nothing beats Maureen’s apple and blueberry pancakes. Made me want to run down to the Navy commissary and get some Tennessee Country Pride sausage. We’re out. Mild or hot is fine with me. Tennessee sausage with pancakes. Best breakfast in the world. i’ll settle for Maureen’s pancakes without my Tennessee sausage this morning.

*     *     *

And i wander in and out of these musings. In between i read my email. One came from my brother-in-law, Daniel Boggs, lives in Crossville. Tennessee. This native San Diegan fell in love with East Tennessee and moved there. Loves it. Dan is a music lover. He shares his love of music with Bob Hurt, another San Diegan gone to Crossville, who has had some gigs as a deejay on an Anaheim jazz station. They both know their stuff.

Dan sent me a “You Tube” video of an Aussie playing “Deep River Blues.” Tommy Emmanuel is the Aussie. i watched, but more importantly listened. i could not imagine someone matching Doc Watson playing and singing “Deep River Blues.” i couldn’t even imagine anyone trying.

Tommy Emmanuel is one hell of a guitar player. His introductions praises Doc, his inspiration. Then he plays and sings the song. Rather incredible. He even did some stuff Doc didn’t do. Impressive. Enjoyable:

i have a lot of friends and family who are music lovers. There are several: Andrew Nemethy (guitar and piano), Rob Dewitt (banjo), Alan Hicks (banjo), Cy Fraser (mandolin…well, a little bit), Evan Fraser (the things Evan does with native instruments from all across the world as a member of Dirtwire and several other bands is phenomenal), Tommy Duff (guitar), Martha Duff (piano), Tim Prichard (guitar) to name a few who are accomplished musicians. Sarah, my younger daughter, is pretty good on the guitar and piano as well.

i, on the other hand am about in dunceville. i played the piano for about four years up until high school. i was okay, but didn’t have a great ear and was only so-so reading music. i now sit down and stumble through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” followed by my short composition inspired by Jody Williams’ “Endless Sleep,” a rockabilly tragedy tear jerker in 1958. Then i pull out the Cokesbury Hymnal, and pick out the gospel songs i really like such as “I Come to the Garden Alone,” “Amazing Grace,” and several others with my left hand in my lap. When i play those hymns, i wish i had paid more attention, practiced enough to ingrain the left hand, almost boogie-woogie accompaniment my grandmother, Granny Prichard and my aunt, Barbara Jewell, played and demonstrated for me.

As for the guitar, i’ve had one since the mid-1950’s. Fooled with it pretty much ever since. To no avail. So i pick at a single ditty i invented that sounds like the beginning of a couple of songs i’ve heard, play some other simple things i made up and maybe a terrible rendition of the Beatles “This Boy.”

Didn’t really learn either instrument. Didn’t practice. So now, i try to play both with everyone out of earshot. Just for me.

But i have worshipped Doc Watson since i first heard him. i believe Rob DeWitt introduced us. On the USS Hawkins in 1969. Maybe it was Andrew Nemethy. Or both. i listened. i began collecting Doc’s albums. Think i have four or five now, not counting Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s collection “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” where Doc is one of the star performers.

i saw Doc live about a half-dozen times, about two hundred thousand times too few. He played for Maureen and i on our second date when i took her to the Belly-Up Tavern again. She too fell in love with his music. And as good as Tommy Emmanuel is, perhaps even more technically advanced than Doc. He ain’t Doc. There’s only one:

Thank you, Danny.

*     *     *

These musings have gone from the dark of early morning to the promising but stubborn clouds unwilling to bring more rain. This is way too long but i’m into it, winging it, not wanting to stop, i think of ships.

In a not-yet-post piece, delayed by my inability to quickly resize photos, i inserted some comments about our San Francisco trip. i won’t elaborate here except for my last Saturday experience: My gracious Vandy brother Alan Hicks got tickets for a San Francisco “Fleet Week” event. We boarded the Jeremiah O’Brien around 1000. The O’Brien is liberty ship. She carried cargo when she participated in D-Day. Remember D-Day? That may seem like a silly question to someone my age, but i don’t know how much younger folks actually know about that war long ago.

Regardless, the O’Brien was in the midst of that day of death on Omaha , Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches some three quarters of a century ago . Impressive. My nostalgia loomed large as we walked down the pier. A ship like her, modified to carry troops instead of cargo, carried my father and his fellow 75th Battalion of Seabees from Gulfport, Mississippi through the Panama Canal to San Francisco where the remainder of the battalion boarded — and i’m thinking that happened at Fort Mason down the Bay in the Marina District from the Fisherman’s Wharf pier where the O’Brien was moored last Saturday — and then on to the South Pacific.

Her three-cylinder reciprocating engines with two 250-pound boilers were an older vintage engineering plant than my last ship, the USS Yosemite’s  400-pound, four-boiler, geared turbine plant. O’Brien was a year older. Two of my destroyers, the Hawkins and the  Hollister were of the same vintage with four 600-pound boilers, steam turbine plants. Still as Alan i descended into the bowels of O’Brien’s engine room, the heat filling our lungs, i was taken back to those days on destroyers and the tender. The roar of the boilers and clanking of the reciprocating engines sung in my heart as if it were thirty, forty, even fifty years ago. At sea.

The O’Brien got underway right after we talked to the pilot. “Maritime, or Coast Guard?” Alan asked of his training and qualifications.

“Hawsepipe,” the pilot responded. He seemed a bit embarrassed. We were impressed. i let the term simmer in my mind. “Hawsepipe:” he had learned the ropes by coming up through the system. The term took me back again. That hole in the bow where the anchor chain rolls out in thunder and creaks back up, dropping and retrieving the anchor. “Hawsepipe:” where the anchor is housed while underway. Oh, sweet sea. Oh, sweet ocean. The lady of a fierceness and beauty just laid out an unimaginable swath of destruction but can be like glass in the doldrums, but always, always beautiful.

“Hawsepipe,” he said.

The O’Brien, with the help of two tugs, slid from her berth and traversed a large part of the Bay, under the Golden Gate and back, holding steerageway off of Alcatraz as the Blue Angels did their aero-acrobatics in F-18’s, aircraft just coming into the military when i retired. Impressive.

But not as impressive as the Jeremiah O’Brien. She was magic. She was magic. She took me back in time.

We docked and disembarked about 1600.

*     *     *

i hope this lengthy, rambling musing has not put you off. i was on a roll. That often happens when i hit upon music i like, recalling rain, or falling in love with the sea again, even if it is from long distance.

Maureen is back home. We had her wonderful pancakes and read the paper. The house is stirring. Vanderbilt’s game against Florida is about to begin. i plan to watch, then take a nap, a bit longer than usual.

i will sleep well.

Wayfaring Stranger

i have probably expressed it here before. i certainly have implied or suggested it several times. But i keep trying to find the right phrase to describe my feelings about where i am and who i am and where i’m going. i think.

Strangely, the phrase hit me this morning. Then last night, in one of the last songs on the Banjo Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was Emmy Lou Harris singing the song with the first line of the lyrics of the phrase which had struck me as a good descriptor.  In fact, all of the lyrics seem appropriate:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
A traveler through this world of woe
But there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that fair land to which I go
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over home
I know dark clouds will gather round me
I know my way is rough and steep
But beau-teous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep
I’m going home to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home
I’m just a going over home.

It is a lovely song sung by lovely people (i remember Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Willie Nelson in addition to Emmy Lou) with a sentiment to which i cling.

i feel that way. i do. Wayfaring stranger. A traveler through a world of woe.

It struck me again on one of the best weekends of each year.

i think i’ve been a stranger, or at least felt like it for most of my life. Songs seem to address me often. Another song, this one by Waylon Jennings also pretty much nailed me:

I’ve always been crazy and the trouble that it’s put me through
I’ve been busted for things that I did, and I didn’t do
I can’t say I’m proud of all of the things that I’ve done
But I can say I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone
I’ve always been different with one foot over the line
Winding up somewhere one step ahead or behind
It ain’t been so easy but I guess I shouldn’t complain
I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane
Beautiful lady, are you sure that you understand
The chances your taking loving a free living man
Are you really sure, you really want what you see
Be careful of something that’s just what you want it to be
I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane
Nobody knows if it’s something to bless or to blame
So far I ain’t found a rhyme or a reason to change
I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane





disenfranchised. muffled.

To Maureen

She has not seen this.

i wrote it early this morning. i had intentions of writing something quite different, but this just hit me as i prepared for another day at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

i often leave a note for her when i’m leaving early for golf, it nearly always has a line or two about loving her.

She and Marin Hicks will join us later in Hellman Hollow. 

Since i didn’t want to wake anyone with a printing, i have chosen to leave my note here this morning.

‘twas at the bitter end of winter in eighty-two
although in this place
winter has no teeth like it does
damn near in all of the rest of the world
when she walked into his life
from her cubicle down the showroom
to where he stood in the reception area.
the sun glowed through the window behind her
framing the cameo silhouette of her:
not intentional, not suggestive, above erotic,
just…just beautiful,
when she reached him, her face
framed by dark hair falling
was from the angel’s palette;
he pursued her after the sale,
avoiding the professional and personal
relationship complications,
and then
she allowed him the pursuit.
Some thirty-six passages of the winter,
they laugh at each other’s foibles
then laugh together,
they care for all they have met
on this continuing wild ride,
they love those from the journey,
even past loves
those who have chosen to drift away;
they love each other
like there might never be another late winter
they laugh in glee.

Time for an Honor

i’m sitting in Forest Hills overlooking Golden Gate Park and San Francisco. Surprisingly, it is foggy (just kidding about “surprisingly”).

As is my custom, i awoke early, around 5:00 a.m. i’m the only one of the folks in the Hicks’ lovely abode on the hill (what else? Folks, this is San Francisco) who is awake. i’ve completed my morning ablution, made coffee, and sat down in front of this machine rather than doing some stretching exercises i should be doing, vowed to do them later, and forget about stretching well before noon.

The coffee, as is everything in the kitchen of one marvelous Maren Hicks, is really good.

And i am happy. No, i am really excited.

i recently learned some great news about my mother, Estelle Prichard Jewell. i have waited until a couple of news media cleared me announcing it here. They said “okay, but keep it basic.”

So basic it is, at least as basic as old never-write-one-word-when-four-paragraphs-(most of which has nothing to do with the word)-can-be-more-confusing.

The Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball team will honor my mother for her basketball performances at Lebanon High School from 1932 to 1935. i will leave most of the particulars for later. However, she held the Blue Devilette records for points scored in a single game and a season for over a quarter of a century and was one of the inaugural inductees into the Lebanon High School Sports Hall of Fame.

The honors will be made at the Vandy-Tennessee women’s basketball game Sunday, February 3, 2019 in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium.

The way it happened, the connections, the memories are bouncing around in my head like a steel ball in a pinball machine gone bonkers. i’m keeping it basic for now but will revisit all of that later.

For now, i wanted to let folks know who might not ordinarily read Vanderbilt’s press releases or The Lebanon Democrat’s newspaper early in order for family and friends who might like to attend — after all, that bunch pretty much covers the entire U.S.A. — early enough for  them to get there.

Estelle (left) with her sisters Evelyn and Bettye Kate, 1921.

Heroes Mine

Last Thursday evening, three couples had dinner at San Diego’s Wine Vault and Bistro.

Pete and Nancy Toennies, Peter and Sandra Thomas, and Maureen and moi enjoyed the three courses of unique  splendid gourmet servings with paired wines. Maureen and i have been there often either by ourselves, with other friends and family, and every once in a while with one of the other couples.  Thursday was the first time with the six of us together.

It was about as good an evening of dining i can remember.

As we savored the food and the wine, we told stories, we shared information, we learned more each other, and we laughed. Oh how we laughed.

All three of the wives are engaging, independent, intelligent, strong women who can tell stories and laugh like nobody’s business. They are all a delight.

As we sat there, i thought of how fortunate i have been in my life. i mean, it’s like my father said, “i have a good wife, great kids and  grandkids (singular for me). i’ve had a good life. All i want now is to go quick” — He was 87 and lived another 12 years, and yes, he went quick.

Although i’m okay with going quick, i’d like to hang around for a while. i’m pretty sure i won’t get near my father’s longevity of just shy of 99 and not even sure i want to. Yet, i would like to spend some more time with my family and my heroes.

Growing up, i had a lot of heroes. Roy Rogers; LeRoy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch; Bobby Lane; Willy Mays; Nellie Fox; Don Hoak; Roberto Clemente (and the entire Pittsburgh Pirate team); Bob Steele; Clifton Tribble; David Robinson; Don Franklin; Tennessee’s Johnny “The Drum” Majors; Vanderbilt’s Phil “The Chief” King; Elvis; Ricky Nelson; on and on; my three uncles, Snooks Hall, Bill Prichard, and Pipey Orr; and of course, my father.

By the time i got to college, i had pretty well got out of the hero mood. There were athletes i admired; there were some friends and others i looked up to, and my male relatives a generation older (yes, i had heroines also, but that is another story).  But i really was out of the hero worship thing.

i lived a life i’m guessing was like many males of my generation. i did some good things, i did some bad things although not intentionally to hurt anyone. i made some good decisions and i made some mistakes that will live with me the rest of my life. To me i was/am no hero. i’m not only fine with that, i prefer it that way. i like to think i’ve lived my life as well as i could and never with ill intent, always trying to do the right thing. i like people and have all my life. i try very hard to never, ever categorize groups of people in any way, good or bad. i’ve seen enough to know there are well-intentioned people and people who lean toward self-interest in every grouping.

But as i have grown (i hope) through my years, i have once again revisited this hero thing. It’s not like my younger years. My heroes are not folks whom i idolize or wish to be like. i am satisfied being in my own skin. But i have met a lot of folks who are my heroes for what they have done in their lives.

The two guys i had dinner with last Thursday are two of my heroes.

Pete and Nancy Toennies: golf at Coronado Municipal with the Jewell’s.

i met Pete Toennies in 1979. Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. i think i’ve told that tale before. It was one of the wildest, most successful, most fun deployments in my Navy career (and i had quite a few of those, but this was the best). The two of us (and later, Nancy, who took care of me as well as Pete) ran together, played together, and just had fun.

Pete was an incredible athlete. He was an All-American swimmer at St. Johns, winning, what? six of the ten events he entered in the NCAA tournaments. He was the epitome of a Navy SEAL: 6-7, 220, 4% body fat, and goofier than just about anyone but me. He was fearless. He excelled at any athletic endeavor he took on (okay, okay, maybe not golf). He was a tireless worker, buying small houses, renovating them all by himself, renting, buying more before rolling them over into apartment complexes. A financial success. But more than anything else, he cared. He helped others succeed.

In 1983, we lost track of each other. We briefly connected in the mid-80’s but  for ten years, we just disappeared for a while. The Navy can do that: Surface, SEAL, coasts, deployments, often same places, different times.

But he took a shot and invited me to his retirement in the mid-90’s. i got it. i went. We were back on track and have been close friends ever since, my best friend in San Diego.

Sometime in the mid 2000’s, he and i were discussing a whole bunch of philosophy stuff — that’s dangerous by the way: Pete and i should not talk philosophical — and he said, rather surprisingly to himself and to me — we thought alike. He was right. We don’t agree on everything, but we can talk about the disagreements because we think alike. Good deal.

Pete is one of my heroes.

Peter is also — i call one Pete and the other Peter to keep from getting me confused. Peter Thomas is also an incredible athlete, even in golf. He has run about a gazillion iron man competitions including London, Rome, Paris, and the big one on the Big Island in the early 80’s, finishing second in the military division. Even after hip replacements, he was the U. S. number one in the 50-plus category in Xterra marathon (where it’s an iron man but in cross-country running, off-road biking, and rough water swimming.  As for golf, he won the U.S. all-military European Championship four years in a row and played in the British Amateur. There are a lot more things to list in his athletic achievements, but i’ll save that.

Oh yes, he was a pretty good sailor also. He was a nuclear machinist mate, a diver, good enough to become the 1982 Pacific Fleet Sailor of the Year. He became an LDO when he worked for me as the best Leadership and Management facilitator i ever knew (and i knew quite a few). He rose to the rank of commander as a submarine maintenance officer and, if it hadn’t been for Navy politics, would have made captain (should have). Since retiring, he has been an incredible success running maintenance programs for several military contractors and is now the vice-president of Life Cycle Engineering in charge of submarine maintenance work across the Pacific.

He met his wife Sandra when he was the repair officer on a submarine tender in Holy Loch, Scotland. Sandra is one of my most favorite women on earth. They are perfect for each other.

Pete and i have been involved in leadership training and information since we met in 1985. We share a lot of ideas about what makes a good, effective leader. Several years ago, i asked him what was the one thing he would say was most important to be an effective leader. Peter replied, “Do the right thing.” He’s right.

Pete and Peter have one thing in common: they never lost to me in racquetball from what i remember. i might have occasionally won a game; i don’t remember that happening; but they always won. And we played thousands and thousands of racquetball games.

Yet they are my heroes, not so much because of their success (and they have been successful in athletics, careers, and life) but because they are my friends.

Thank you, Pete and Peter.