All posts by Jim

The Eve of Something Different and Something Old

Well, it ain’t over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. The horse may know the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifting snow, but we ain’t gonna be on that sleigh this year.

As i have listed probably to the limits of your boredom, i have experienced Thanksgiving in many ways, but not like this one. It will be Maureen, Sarah, and me. Oh, sister Patsy and nephew Mike will drop by to pick up their share of the dinner. But when we sit down to that dinner, it will be three of us. Alone.

This pandemic stuff has given me a lot of time, perhaps too much, to think about the meaning of Thanksgiving. i began sending out some messages to special friends and family, thanking them for what they meant or have done for me: gave up when i realized i was going to be writing those things well into next week. And man, i gotta go play some golf, not enough time.

My last “Thanksgiving” post for this year will be tomorrow (maybe). But tonight, the three of us in our own weird way will be at peace on Thanksgiving Eve.

With much grunting, groaning, and disagreement along with a few surprises, like i need a new egg knock-off grill, i have prepped the ill grill for smoking the turkey tomorrow. i also have taken a five-gallon paint bucket, cleaned it to perfection (after all, it used to hold paint) placed the turkey in it, put in all of my magic and always off-the-cuff ingredients, and filled it with water. Now getting that bucket with that turkey and the water out to the garage ain’t no piece of cake. But with Sarah’s help and a complete space-condensing rearrangement of the contents, got the bucket in there.

i’ll pull it out early tomorrow morning and start the smoking process. It’ll be ready to go in the early afternoon — of course, if i don’t screw it up.

But tonight, i started the fire in the hearth, and made my version of an old fashion.

i discovered this version in Seattle in 1980. As current operations officer of Amphibious Squadron Five, i had flown to brief the captain and his Coast Guard cutter about their role in an Amphibious Landing Exercise at Camp Pendleton (there is a rather amazing story about that i will share later…if i ever get around to it). i brief the captain and his key personnel and checked into a Sheraton down town, i don’t remember exactly where.

It was late. i just wanted to have a drink and retire to my room, perhaps order a sandwich there. i did not want to go to the big, crowded, noisy fancy bar. As i walked toward the elevator, i passed a kiosk, a bar with about four seats. There was a guy at one end, finishing his drink and paying. i sat at the other end. The bartender came over and asked what i would like to drink.

She was a pleasant looking, middle-age woman who smiled when she asked. i responded with my own question, “What would you recommend?” She smiled and said, “An old fashion, I make a good one.”

“Well, let’s do it,” i said. Then, i watched her stir the powdered sugar into a small amount of water, then add the whiskey. She took a quarter slice of orange and maraschino cherries and muddled them. She sprinkled some bitters on top. put in a couple of ice cubes, add a bit of water and served.

i was enchanted.

The old fashion was good. \

i’ve been making mine like that for nearly forty years. i have had many old fashions, special, they say. i like them if they are done well, but generally avoid them in restaurants and bars because they are tough to make right.

That lady in that kiosk would smile tonight if she tasted mine.

i sit by the fire after Maureen’s lentil soup and pan bread have gone down splendidly. The fire will need one or two more logs for the evening. i plan to watch the San Diego State Aztecs play UCLA in basketball tonight…if i can stay awake. i am at peace, and at my age, peace can make me sleepy.

i will rise pretty early, set up the smoker, carry the turkey around from the garage, and begin smoking. With the “kamado” grill, it will take less time than the old way.

Throughout the day, i plan to thank folks. In fact, i start here. Thank all of you who read this for being my friend. Your friendship is important to me.

Thank you.

Another Thought on Thanksgiving with a Missing Piece

i wanted to post old posts or Democrat columns about Thanksgiving this week. When i found this one from three years ago, i confess i got a lump in my throat. Ben Regis died last month well into his 100th year on this earth. He is Nancy Toennies’ dad. i miss him. But it was a wonderful Thanksgiving. And this post sums up my thoughts on a terrific bunch of guys and their wives who  remain as close as brothers…total curmudgeons, who take being called “asshole” as a complement. And as Rod Stark wrote in an email about our Black Friday round two days from now, being in that group is a blessing for which i’m thankful.

The Thanksgiving weekend is winding down with Saturday football rivalries, which out beloved sports media has blown all out of proportion again. The Santa Ana, which brought about one of the warmest, if not the warmest turkey day in recorded thermometer readings history. Christmas…er, holiday decorations are blooming all over. And i’m rededicating myself to get through this Christmas season and our annual trip to Signal Mountain without gaining twenty pounds. Fat chance. No pun…oh yes there was a pun intended.

But before we kick Christmas preparations into high gear, i have one more thanks to give. It’s sort of general, but it’s really specific.

As i was driving home from Friday Morning Golf yesterday, it occurred to me i have a second family, not an official one of course, but no less real. There’s this group of men i’ve been lucky enough to have run into over the last thirty-eight years. We are not an official organization although we have made fun of ourselves in that regard, calling ourselves the curmudgeons, even having a celebration of the “Order of the Curmudgeons” and unanimously electing Marty Linville as “The Grand Whiner” culminating with anointing him with a fez embroidered with the group name and his moniker.

The closest thing we’ve got as a regular  meeting is that Friday Morning Golf outing, taking place every early morning of the fifth day of the week since the spring of 1991. But the closeness of the group goes far beyond just golf and nineteenth hole beer every Friday. It has expanded. Our wives have been included. Others have become satellite members or  are totally included, nearly always through golf. There is no limitations on group affiliation except for the requirement to have a very thick skin. No one escapes razzing, name calling, put downs, and must laugh at themselves along with the rest of the group, only to plot how to get revenge in the same manner.

The initial affiliation came in 1979. Pete Toennies, Al Pavich, and i ended up on the Amphibious Squadron Five staff for a WESTPAC deployment. Afterwards, we all kept rotating in and out of the Southwest corner, and never missed a chance to get together, nearly always golf was involved somehow, although racquetball and running were also joint ventures. And oh, i forgot, we partied, dined, and consumed quite a bit of adult beverages. You see, that was an intrinsic part of our culture.

JD Waits, who later was my shipmate on the USS Okinawa and roommate in perhaps the most perfect apartment and setting for single men since the beginning of bachelorhood, became part of the group. Of course, we blew that and both became engaged and married instead of fulfilling the potential that condo with a boat slip occupied by JD’s twenty-five foot Cal promised.

Then, during our last tour of active duty, Rod Stark and the aforementioned grand whiner, Marty Linville, became my golfing partners on weekends (the gestation of Friday Morning Golf). Pete Thomas was also at the Amphibious School in Coronado and has become a permanent satellite member.

Jim Hileman, whom i met through Maureen at our wedding, is also a significant contributor and full-fledged member, often one of the primary…er, excuse the French, shit tossing initiators of the curmudgeons. He fits in.

Our golfing skills have eroded. For that matter, so have our racquetball and running skills taken a hit. Most of us have had major surgery or some damnable condition that comes with growing old. But we still play every Friday.

But it’s much more than that. We could call it camaraderie, esprit de corps, even friendship, but we don’t spend much time fooling with that kind of name-calling. Yet there is no doubt in my mind each one of us would help out any of the others of us if needed, and sometimes not even if needed.

But as i drove toward home and a major NORP, another Friday requirement driven by the early, early morning round, i thought about the guy and his wife who deserves special mention from me.

When Pete and i returned from that 1979-80 deployment, i was a renewed bachelor having gone straight from Texas A&M to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia to join the deployment in progress. i had no place to live except on the ship. Pete and Nancy didn’t think that was right, and they insisted i stay in their small home on I Avenue in Coronado. i stayed in the makeshift bedroom, which had been the dining room for about a month before finding my own place. Pete and i played innumerable evening games of racquetball, ran together, and i was even invited to play Sunday beach volleyball with Pete’s SEAL buddies.

The three of us have wandered in and out of each other’s lives since then with Maureen joining us after our marriage. We’ve spent numerous vacations together, usually staying in one of their time-shares. The results have been legends unmatched with laughter.

The Toennies have helped either Maureen, myself, or our family members on too many occasions. Pete has instigated a number of actions to gain employment for friends and family…and the two of them are always there.

As they were two days ago. Our plans for the holiday were somewhat discombobulated by a number of factors. We were leaning on going out, but once again, Pete and Nancy intervened, asking us to join them. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. Nancy’s 97-year old father and former UCLA quarterback and pro-player (and Georgetown basketball player), an interesting man with interesting tales, Ben Regis, and Dan, the Toennies’s son. Sarah joined us.

Damn near a perfect day.

And i really couldn’t ask for more. Thanks, Pete and Nancy…for everything.

Nancy, Maureen, Pete, Sarah, and the goofy guy.
Dan, Ben, and Nancy
Dan and Ben.

More Thoughts on Thanksgiving

With all of the craziness going on, it’s easy to forget what is going to be here Thursday. Ours has been even crazier in that when Maureen felt ill last week, the three of us went and were tested for COVID. It took a couple of days before our results came back negative. i was dreading two weeks, which some time ago, i had heard was the length for getting the results. But even four days can change your idea about self-quarantining. Still, we stuck to it because we simply did not want to endanger anyone else even if there was only a slight chance we would be doing so. Crazy.

But we, especially moi, didn’t forget. i like Thanksgiving, the whole idea, regardless of which history to which you subscribe about its beginnings or how your celebration might differ from others. It is still about giving thanks. So i’m going back and posting some past thoughts about Thanksgiving. This one was written during the 2016 Thanksgiving week.

Have a wonderful turkey day…and give thanks.

Note: the photo below was taken that Thanksgiving.

Christmas is the big family deal. Several of mine have been away from family. Navy, you know.

But i’ve pretty much blown the roof off when it comes to missing Thanksgiving with the family. Actually, it’s not that much. i have spent six Thanksgivings with shipmates either at sea or in some foreign port where whatever Thanksgiving there is is celebrated is on-board.

They were okay. Bittersweet and oh so lonely amongst my Navy friends, but okay.

There also have been about four or five where the celebrating has been with just my wife. This duo celebration seems to have increased in the last decade. That happens when you live in the Southwest corner and are growing older. i have found these to be almost as nice as the ones with large groups of family and friends. After all, i can be happy anytime i am spending time with just Maureen.

i like Thanksgiving. It is not an absolutely silly requirement to honor someone when we should be honoring those people all of the time, like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, President’s Day, Neighbor Day, Sibling Day, Fifth Cousin Day, Trash Man Day, and Lord knows what other group day. Thanksgiving doesn’t have the somber celebratory tone of Easter. It is not one of those national things we have hyped up to give everyone free time to play instead of work on Fridays or Mondays. It is not celebrating the birth of our nation like the Fourth, or honoring those who served like Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

It is not like Halloween, which has become sort of weird party for the kids to get all of the things they shouldn’t eat and now get them at some school or church instead of hitting all of the homes gone gonzo decorative with tombstones and bones of body parts sticking out of the yard — has the number of kids stopping by your house for “trick or treat” dwindled to a handful like it has at ours? — Still Halloween is fun for the kids and the kids in us so i’m okay with it.

And it’s not like Christmas, the big daddy of them all. Celebrating the birth of a savior, having as many family together as possible, waiting for the gift openings, hoping for snow, singing carols, giving each other more than just presents. Yeh, that one is special.

Thanksgiving is one i really like as well. It has morphed into a thing of itself from those pilgrims and indigenous folks getting together to thank each other (what a concept, huh?) with a big meal. Thus far, it hasn’t reach the massive ad campaign of just about every other holiday. There’s this appreciation factor that may be in the other celebrations but seems to get lost.

My favorite Thanksgivings runs the gamut of different settings.

One away from home that sticks in my mind is the one in Seoul, Korean, 1970. i was with Blythe’s mother’s family in their comfortable senior officer housing on base. The Lynch’s were always great at throwing parties and this one sticks out. We got up at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night to watch the Texas, Texas A&M football game. Blythe’s mother and i weren’t even engaged yet. The Lynch’s were allowing me respite from my cycle of carrying Korean troops back and forth between Pusan and Vietnam.

Then there was the one in Naples, 1972. In August, i had returned to active duty and flown to meet my new ship, the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7) a month after Blythe was born. i don’t even remember the onboard celebration, but i do remember the loneliness when i called from the Naples base phone exchange and talked to wife and family. There’s not many things more lonely that hanging up a phone late on Thanksgiving night after talking to the mother of your infant daughter.

Then, there was the one on Yosemite. Man, that was a some feast. We were anchored off of Masirah, Oman (a total of 55 days at sea). Our supply department did us up fine. We even had that Martinelli’s sparkling cider (white) and apple-grape (red) instead of wine. That wardroom of forty-four officers celebrated just like we were family…because we were.

Then there were the quiet ones with Maureen. We always picked one of our favorite restaurants. And we thanked each other for being each other and together. Doesn’t get much more thankful than that.

The Tennessee Thanksgivings will remain special in my memory. They were in all of the places of family. There were those at our house. The old folks and the older children were crammed around the dining room table. Before the family room had been added, the younger kids ate on a card table in the breakfast niche, then later at the oak table in the breakfast room. The womenfolk cooked like there was no tomorrow and it was all good.

Then there was the same going-ons when we held our celebration at the Hall’s home on Wildwood and later Waggoner. We would go to Red Bank in Chattanooga where the Orr’s hosted the feast of Prichard women, almost like the two in Lebanon, but quite a bit larger (we all sat at the dining room table) and a bit more elegant. Then on numerous Thanksgivings, we would travel to Rockwood to be with Mama Orr. It was an incredibly fascinating Victorian labyrinth of a home with a downhill across the street where we would find large pieces of cardboard and slide down (or without cardboard simply roll and roll and roll down that hill.

Ah, memories.

But far and away, there was one Thanksgiving i love the most. Here. The Southwest corner. 2007. Sam was seven months old. His first Thanksgiving. My family was together. Maureen’s sister and her family joined us. i smoked a turkey. It was a warm and dry day, not the full-blown beyond hot and dry today, but nice. Our family was together. That was enough.

Later today, we will drive over the bay bridge to Coronado. We will celebrate with Pete and Nancy Toennies and their family. After all, we are about as close to family with the Toennies as anyone can get.

It will be a nice way to give thanks.

i hope everyone i know has a wonderful Thanksgiving in their own way. i hope all of us will stop for just a minute. Not watching football. Not eating a ton of turkey. . Not pontificating about the state of the world and our country. Just pausing to give thanks for what we have had and what we have.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

A Turkey Tradition, at least for me

For those of you who may have missed it, this post is a tradition, as much as honoring “Coach” JB Leftwich as it is something i cherish. The dog in this story is one of my best friends ever.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING…in trying times.

Last year’s post is below in it’s entirety. i should note i did try my “egg” grill knockoff last year and the results was one of the best smoked turkeys yet.

Wow! i have a tradition.

Actually, i have a bunch of traditions, some of them are closer to superstition, some are just to keep some folks happy, and a few, like this one, are mine, all mine.

The more i think about it, the more i like this tradition. It’s sort of in line with JB Leftwich, the Coach’s tradition. Every year about this time but just a tad later, Coach would write one of his weekly columns for The Lebanon Democrat about a fruit cake recipe. i think it was a fruit cake, and i’m pretty sure it was his mother’s, but i am too lazy to look it up this morning. But i like the idea of following in Coach’s footsteps. It’s hard to go wrong that way.

The below is from last year’s post. i should add i still cling to Mr. Dickel’s version of sour mash even though the Prichard brand with a distillery up in Kelso, Tennessee, must have some family connection. Both Jo Doris and Estelle carried the maiden name of Prichard, and it’s without the “t,” which makes them fairly unique. Someday, someday, i will find the Prichard family connection among the Leftwich’s, the Jewell’s, and  the distillery.

This, i think, is my new tradition.

i wrote this recipe (sic) in 1990. i now am the Turkey Smoking Go-To at the Jewell household whenever we have Thanksgiving here with more than two people (If it’s just Maureen and i we find a very nice restaurant usually without a turkey dinner).

i have published this a couple of times in The Democrat and posted it here several times. There is a more serious version with more exact directions, but i forget where it is every year and wing it. i was going to blow off putting it out in the newspaper or on the web this year, when Bill Goodner described how he smoked his turkey, i remembered turkey smoking being a JB Leftwich family Thanksgiving or Christmas tradition for Jim and Jack to smoke a turkey while tending to it with a Prichard whiskey in  hand (it used to be George Dickel, and i still stick to the Tullahoma brand). My brother-in-law Daniel Boggs and my nephew Bill Boase, pride themselves on technically correct smoking.

Well, i ain’t technical. i use an old Weber smoker, not as good as my smaller original like Jimmy Lynch used back when, but my smaller one rusted out about twenty years ago and you just can’t find them anymore. So now i add charcoal and chips throughout the process.

A couple of months ago, we got a new Komodo dragon grill…just kidding: it’s  a knock off of a “Big Green Egg” smoker Char-Griller dubbed the “King Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker” (“kamado” is the term used for a Japanese smoker, which looks like an egg). Therefore, i could become more technical. But i am a sentimentalist, and getting up in the wee hours of the morning to start the coals, top them with the soaked hickory chips (i tried mesquite chips once, but i’m from Tennessee: hickory chips are the only chips), put the turkey on the grill, pour the marinade from the bucket over the turkey and into the drip/water pan, and then tending to the fire and chips randomly and very carefully throughout the day gives me a sense of fulfillment.

i am learning the awesome powers of my Komodo dragon knockoff grill and have found grilling steaks, pork chops, etc. is great, and i plan to to expand to seafood, fish, and Cornish game hens in the near future, but i think i’ll stick to my old smoker for the turkey.

So Bill, i don’t think i can be of much help on electric smokers, but it i thought you might like this recipe. This year, there is no dog. When i put Lena, my last one down, i vowed not to have another dog until i was sure it would outlive me and put me down rather than vice versa. i still want to have a dog again, but not for helping me smoke a turkey.

Dec 10, 1990, 10:36 pm

SAN DIEGO—Holidays, except for the weather, are pretty much the same for me out here in the southwest corner or back in Tennessee. To start, no one will let me smoke the turkey.

When I was growing up in Lebanon, and every time I return there for a holiday, my mother cooks the turkey. When there are only a few of us there, she makes a chicken taste like a turkey. She roasts the turkey, or the chicken, in the oven, and it comes complete with dressing and gravy. When we have a holiday out here, my wife cooks the turkey the same way my mother cooks the turkey. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I volunteer to cook the turkey. Every year, whether in Tennessee or out here in the Southwest corner, whoever is in charge of turkeys says no. They profess to love the turkey the way I fix it, but they say another time would be better. They say they want a traditional turkey.

I picked up turkey cooking while I was spending some considerable time about two-thirds of the way between here in the southwest corner and Tennessee. The Colonel, grandfather of my oldest daughter, lived up in Paris, Texas, and he fed me my first smoked turkey. I loved it. Since then, I have modified his recipe somewhat and do cook one fine smoked turkey. Since I can’t have it out here or in Tennessee, I thought someone with fewer traditionalists in their immediate family might like to have the recipe to try for the holidays.

Smoking a Turkey

INGREDIENTS:

  1. This is fairly important to the success of the whole affair. Pick a good one. The critical part is to make sure it will fit in the smoker
  2. 1 container large enough to hold the turkey and cover it with the magic elixir. I’ve been known to use a plastic bucket, but sometimes the dog gets upset as we normally use it for his water dish. This is okay as long as we stay out of biting reach of the dog for two or three days.
  3. 1 smoker, probably any kind that claims to be a smoker and any number of possible jury rigs would work; however, if I were using a “Weber” or like vessel, I would make sure that there was extra water in the smoker).
  4. 1 bottle of beer. Beer in longnecks is preferable but one should not become too concerned about the type of beer as “Lone Star” is a bit too elegant for this type of cooking. Besides, we wouldn’t want to waste a beer worth drinking on some dumb turkey. If one is desperate and doesn’t mind subjecting oneself to abject humiliation, it is permissible to stoop to using a can of beer.
  5. 1\2 cup of Madeira. Again, I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the quality of the wine, and in truth, any red wine is probably okay. However, I would stay away from “Night Train” wine as it has been known to eat through barbecue grills, smokers, and anything made of material weaker than that used in hulls of nuclear submarines.
  6. Angostura bitters
  7. Worcestershire sauce
  8. Chili powder
  9. Oregano
  10. Sage
  11. Honey
  12. Molasses
  13. Undoubtedly, there are numerous items that I have forgotten to list here, but that’s okay as it really depends on what your individual taste is — I don’t suggest substituting low fat milk for the beer, but most everything else is probably okay — and if it’s really important, I’ll realize I left it out when I get to the narrative of how to use all this stuff and include the forgotten ingredient there.

PREPARATION:

Thaw the turkey. Take all those weird things that they put in those plastic packages inside the turkey and cook them in a skillet without the plastic packages, turning them frequently. Then feed what you just cooked to the dog. It might placate him enough to keep him from biting you for taking away his water bucket. If there are traditionalists in the bunch, give the stuff to them rather than the dog and let them make gravy.

Put the turkey in large container. Pour beer and Madeira over turkey. If you have not allowed about 24 hours for the turkey to thaw or about 8-12 hours for marinating the turkey, call your invited guests and advise them that the celebration will be about two days later than indicated on the original invitation.

Sprinkle other ingredients over the turkey. Be plentiful. It’s almost impossible to get too much.

Crunch the garlic cloves I didn’t mention in the ingredients and add to the container. I normally use about four normal sized cloves for a normal sized turkey. Also add the previously omitted bay leaves, about 6-8 for that same normal sized bird.

Add enough water to cover the turkey although it probably wouldn’t be a disaster if a leg partially stuck out. Then put the container in a safe place, unless of course, you want the dog to be rapturously happy and not bite you until long after his teeth have fallen out.

Allow to sit undisturbed for 6-10 hours (longer is better and ten hours is not necessarily the upper limit but exceeding ten hours may have some impact on when you either eat or get tired of the turkey taking up all that safe space).

Put the turkey on smoker grill above water pan after lighting the charcoal (one or two coals burning well is the best condition for the charcoal) and placing soaked hickory chips, which I also forgot to mention, earlier on the charcoal — again, be plentiful — after soaking the chips for at least 30 minutes. Pour remaining magic elixir over the turkey into the water pan. Add as much water to the water pan as possible without overflowing and putting out the fire below. Cover. Do not touch. Do not look. Do not peek…unless it doesn’t start to smoke in about thirty minutes. Then peek. If it’s smoking, leave alone for at least six hours for a large normal sized turkey. It is almost impossible to overcook if you have added enough water at the outset. You should check and add water or charcoal throughout the process. I have found that mesquite charcoal is the best, as it burns hotter. Regular charcoal will do fine but will require more checking.

The secret to the whole process is to cook extremely slow, as slow as possible and still start the fire.

Serve turkey, preferably without the garlic cloves or bay leaves. Now is the time for “Night Train” wine or the good beer. Serve “Night Train” very cold as indicated on the label.

The turkey’s also good cold.

Shoot the dog.

Good Golfers Gone

It seems i’m always making excuses to you, and myself as well, about why i’m not posting more. i have five posts in the hopper, one of which is a summary of the others. Book writing, responding to comments on my website, home projects, paying attention to my wife, connecting and reconnecting with friends and family. And of course, there is a lot of golf in there.

For this, i can wait no longer.

The news came a couple of days ago. i’m still dealing with it. It hit me harder than some others. Frank Novick passed away.

It was unexpected, staph infection and sepsis. He suffered for about three weeks. From my perception, Frank was one of the healthier of our group of golfers, primarily old telephone guys. He was one of the nicest guys in the group. He would distribute grapefruits from his tree to the other golfers. Just a caring, nice guy.

Just over a month ago, he noticed the face of my putter was scraped. He gave me one he had just like mine. The last time i saw him, i showed him how i had switched shafts and was putting better. He told me to keep it until he asked for it back, and then he said it was mine. i offered to pay for it and he said if i wanted i should get the trade-in price from Golf Mart and that would be fine.

i still have the twenty bucks in my wallet (the store told me they would give me $14.00). i have committed to using that putter for the rest of my golf playing in honor of Frank.

Before Frank became ill, that golf group lost another. James Clark was fun. He was the treasurer and one of the folks that made San Diego Telco Golf work. James had battled kidney problems for a number of years. He certainly wasn’t a great golfer but he loved to talk about his game, and he was a loyal part of the group. And boy, did he enjoy a good laugh, even if the joke was on himself.

i thought he was doing okay with his illness until that bad news came.

Damn.

There are other friends and family who are gone and many who have serious illnesses and physical ailments. They are in my age group, although most are younger than me. It happens. I am old. My two golfing groups have been around for longer than thirty years and we weren’t spring chickens when i joined them.

As i mulled my sadness at my loss of these golf friends and others, i remembered a poem (sic) i wrote after observing my parents in their mid-90’s one evening:

Waiting Grace

the old folks sit in the too warm room,
television images blink randomly,
the mute button silences the room
although they do not know as the hearing aids
lie on their respective tables with other
paraphernalia required for the elderly;
they sit knowing the time will come soon:
waiting grace.
Noble,
Sad,
All is right with the world.
They and the remaining few of their generation
know how to demonstrate
waiting grace.
No threat, no fret, no fear
shows in their continence:
they do what they can and
what they can decreases perceptively daily,
faculties fade and with the fading,
the joys of their industry escaping slowly:
waiting grace.
They have endured the test of time when
times were harder and
simpler and
they hold to those codes of right and
simplicity and
goodness to the neighbor, friend and
to service:
waiting grace.

i just hope i have the strength, the hope, the patience, and the grace of my mother and father in these coming years.

 

oh brother, oh brother

oh brother, oh brother,

oh brother, oh brother,
what is to become of me?
i find myself a’drifting
on a ship in the black wild sea;
the night is dark,
the wind conflicted,
the seas confused,
like me.

oh brother, oh brother,
do you hear my plea far, far away
from where we used to be?
as the strange calm is brewing
what i suspect is the center of low,
i face the wind on the starboard wing
throwing my right arm back
to find where that center ought to be;
the nefarious wind keeps shifting;
in turn, i spin in fruitless pursuit
of finding the eye’s beginning
when i realize my ship and i
are amidst the eye a’spinning.

oh brother, oh brother,
this is not dire history
similar to Wordworth’s Leonard and James,
yet Time is intertwined with the sea,
beautiful in its calm,
beautiful in its fury,
with Time merged into the deep, dark waters.

oh brother, oh brother,
one of us did not wander
onto the waters of Time,
nor lose his soul in the spume of the waves:
that was me;
you remained on solid ground,
helping others find their souls,
not losing yours.

as Time slips by and never slips at all,
as age grows upon us,
i have returned from the sea,
my ships are scrapped or down,
down, down in the deep;
the winds on the main have calmed;
the seas are rolling gently;
i can see the stars:
they are Time as well;
the heavens sparkle away the dark;
Time is here,
oh brother, oh brother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Stuff

There are a lot of things not right with this world right now. It’s been that way pretty much throughout history: a sine wave of good and bad. Right now, it seems we are on the deep end of that curve. Our country keeps missing the fact we are pretty much evenly divided on how we should run this country and each side trying to bully their way into dominance rather than sitting down, conversing, and trying to do what’s right…for all of us.

Sad.

In the meantime, there is a college athletic program that is struggling. The minor sports are doing well but football and basketball are trying to compete in an environment not conducive to the true “student-athlete” concept of college sports.

Yet this school keeps trying. One sport is, according to moi, doing it the way it should be done in all of college athletics. The coach, Tim Corbin, is a model for doing it “the right way, the Vandy Way” as David Williams, a man who lived his own motto to perfection, described perfection.

This afternoon, Larry “Coach” Creekmore sent this link to me along with other brothers from our fraternity days at Vanderbilt . The bunch remains close, mostly through Vanderbilt sports, which more and more revolves around Vandy Boys baseball.

i am trying to put myself back at 13 with all my dreams and not anything near the athletic talent of Dylan Adams but sharing those dreams of being a college athlete. But i never reached that goal, not close. i certainly didn’t have the obstacles Dylan faced in his final days.

So Creekmore was right when he said i needed to pull out the Kleenex. This is a story of the way it should be, sad but positive.  Vandy’s baseball coach keeps proving an athletic program can be successful doing it “The Right Way, the Vandy Way.”

i don’t care what college team in any sport you root for, or even the professional sports teams you choose to follow.  Your team should be motivated to be what Vandy was for this young man and his team, and his community. All coaches, managers, directors, support staff, and the athletes themselves should strive to recognize their impact on so many fans.

Coaching icons were and are wrong when they promote “winning is the only thing.”  Grantland Rice was correct when he wrote “it’s how you play the game.”

i think this story and Vanderbilt baseball proves Grantland Rice and David Williams were right on.

Thank you, Dylan Adams; thank you, Coach Corbin; thank you, Adam Sparks of the Nashville Tennessean.

It was a good cry.

Let’s keep trying to do it the right way:

https://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/college/vanderbilt/2020/11/05/vanderbilt-baseball-uniforms-dylan-adams-cancer-kumar-rocker/6073456002/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=keywee-retargeting&gps-source=adkwtnr&utm_content=dolookalikegeneral&kwp_0=1801974&kwp_4=5271536&kwp_1=2248219&fbclid=IwAR1IKDIA4jie3xKZvNuR2zUlCrbK0vhz7ZeSHXPc-DvLIPVl3XtWPOFsd1c

Remembering a Veteran on Veteran’s Day

i have a number of photos my father gave me, not included in the family albums, not those he sent back to home to his wife, mother, and other family members. Some of these he gave me I will never show to anyone other than my brother or very close male friends. They are photos of war.

This one is not very clear. It may be my favorite.

It is the picture of a man in a world so far removed from his own world in the middle of Tennessee, a good man with only good intentions in his heart, a half world away from all he knew, including a newborn son he had seen for about three or four days before he boarded a “liberty” ship to sail.

He stands in a seascape. From my stops in that part of the world, inland from the scene is most likely a jungle. He is alone…almost. There is another sailor, most likely another Seabee, a silhouette on the beach behind him. The scene is pacific, but the specter of war and death for another cause of domination surrounds him.

Yet he stands proud, at attention, a sailor committed to defend his way of life with all of its goodness and flaws he hopes can be addressed and resolved.

He is there fighting for his life, his country, and in his mind, for the goodness of us all.

There is no such thing as a great war. But this one was the last fought for defending freedom, independence from tyranny, and equality of all men, even when all of us (and I use the term “men” in the sense of all human kind) were not considered equal. It was the last war in defense of us, not for vengeance or our protection of others on our side as all the wars and combat after that one have been. Those lines of what is necessary to protect our country are now blurred.

He and his brethren did not fight for a political party, not even a religion, but for a way of life that promised freedom in the belief all men (again the inclusive term) have inalienable rights.

So here he is, my father, on a hill beyond a beach in the South Pacific. I’m guessing it’s in New Guinea, one of his stops, 1944.

This is a photo of a defender of rights and freedom.

For twenty-two years, i too served to defend those things my father supported. But my service was a choice. His was a willingness to leave his way of life.

Yet all veterans chose to sacrifice the life they knew to serve. I am proud to say there is a lineage from my father to me to my son-in-law.

Those folks should be honored today with a moment of silence, of thanks.

God bless all of you who have stepped up for good, not just us or our country, but for all of mankind, again the inclusive term.

Harvest Time

this used to be the time for bountiful harvest;
not so much anymore;
today’s crops have been treated to yield in phases
around the world,
gathered with giant machines, temporary labor;
chemicalized, vacuumed, colored, plasticized, trucked
to the not so super markets
and
it ain’t the same as it once was —
your call on better or worse,
not mine;
but
i remember
and
tonight, coming home from an alfresco dinner,
the declining, reclining sunset red dipped beyond
the horizon
where i used to steam west
chasing the dying red sunset
while tonight,
the waxing gibbous moon,
only a couple of days
from becoming the full harvest moon,
hung from an invisible heavenly string,
over what we now call Mexico
defined by a line
turned into a wall
to keep people out,
not like in Berlin
but no less restrictive from fear,
a yoyo with the string
held by mars overhead, glowing red
as it had for the ancients
who named it the red planet
and
the night was clear and chilled
as if the night knew
it really was harvest time
even if
we have the luxury
to forget.

 

Strange Brew

Written last night, edited this morning.

i am in a strange place tonight.

i froze on writing my book today, just couldn’t get into it. But hey, i am beyond retired and can do what i want, but quite honestly, doing what i want does not sit well on my shoulders.

Then after my whining about many things created by a new world, i realize i am now a bona fide in-the-flesh curmudgeon, modeled after those two old grumps in the Muppets routine.

So i begin to work on making an outdoor chair, rustic of course, very rustic, and i pick through the collected old scrap wood, which should have been tossed years ago, but i, the old curmudgeon hang on to stuff. Memories, you know. Even scrap wood.

So  i wander around the house looking for something that would delight an old man. Give up. Put my clubs in the car and drive to the driving range. Feel better. i mean it’s not quite like lowering your head and shoulders to catch a running back or receiver right in the gut, driving him backward into the ground. Ahh, satisfaction. Nor is it like running at full tilt on a racquetball court for a return and slamming into a corner for a rollout. But at my age, hitting balls on a driving range is close. It’s close.

So i come home and put the trash out. Then, i ask Sarah if i could help her and when she would like to leave. Tomorrow, she goes to Austin to be with our other daughter, son-in-law, and grandson for Halloween. i long to go with her, but it would not be prudent.

So i wander around, and for some inexplicable reason wander into the front room slide the cover back and sit down at the piano. i play the only instrumental i ever created. It is not recorded anywhere and as Don Williams once sang, it’s a “Simple Song.” But it lets me relax, get into it.

Knowing a piece of my heart will be flying to join the other pieces without me is a bit unsettling, but considering these times of uncertainty, it was the right choice — and i continue to be amazed when on the surface the right thing to do can hurt so much. So playing my song helps.

Mrs. Gwaltney had gotten me to a point i was decent on the piano. Could read music and could play both hands pretty well. But what talent or skill that might have been there, perhaps only in my mind, has atrophied over the years of staying away from those 88 keys, and the hands are not so flexible anymore.

My simple song is over. i sit and think about my children not children anymore, and my grandson growing into that time where young men wish to stretch themselves, not with old men at their side. i open the Hoagy Carmichael songbook i bought years ago with the aspiration to learn to play all of the contents. i can peck my way right-handed through “Lazy Bones,” but it’s no fun. The only real playing comes from one song, my most favorite of many from Hoagy’s compositions, “Stardust.” i used to have it almost down, but that too slipped into the pile of untouched piano music. Now, when i open to the worn pages, 30-33, i play slow, very slow. Still the melody haunts my reverie and brings me warmth.

It’s Hoagy’s chords, i think.

i sit on the bench. No World Series tonight. i no longer watch what they call “news” nowadays, which it ain’t like John Cameron Schwaze or Walter Cronkite. We’ll find an old movie tonight. Good.

Then i reach up to the top of the pile and the book with the frayed binding and faded lettering, “Christian Service Songs.” Upon my request, i think my sister Martha may have given it to me, although it might have been my mother who responded with the gift. Except for when i go back home to the Lebanon Methodist church or Signal Mountain where my sister plays the bells and sings in the choir, this is the closest i get to worship nowadays. In a way, sitting with this hymn book is closer worship than the services i rarely attend. They don’t play gospels too much anymore. The music is more grand. But for a “closer walk with thee,” i turn to the gospels we sang at the Sunday night service. i can’t play ’em like Granny or Aunt Barbara. Those two had magic left hands and it was mostly by ear. i have given up on the left hand notes. Too involved. i pick out the keys with my right hand, and if i play it well enough, i sing along.

The book opens up naturally to my favorite. Even now, the book seems to know. i bend over, reading the notes. i do not need to read the words. i know most of them by heart, and if i get lost, i will Ella Fitzgerald my way through the rest. The chording is beautiful, the notes bring calm to me. i am home, away from all else, home more than a half century ago.

Beautiful:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice i hear,
Falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share
As we tarry there
No other has ever known.

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share
As we tarry there
No other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Tho’ the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go
Thru the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share
As we tarry there
No other has ever known.

Some things seem right and lasting. E’en in these times of tribulation.