All posts by Jim

Right On; Right on…

i was scanning the news headlines yesterday, as usual skipping any of the bad news, pretty much of all of it, and reading a paragraph or two when i actually found an item of interest.

The headline caught my eye: “US Open commentators better shut up.” The columnist who wrote the text is Phil Mushnick of the New York Post. i need to meet him as he not only expressed my disdain of golf commentators, but all sports commentators.

Mushnick’s column was particularly appropriate as i watched 12 innings of Vanderbilt scrapping and clawing their way to a 7-6 win over Arizona. It was sweet. It was long, five hours long. But boy, was it sweet.

Except for two things that caused me to turn off the sound repeatedly. The commentators and the play-by-play announcer just couldn’t shut up, just like Mushnick’s golf announcers. They couldn’t wait to point out how a player had screwed things up, how the coaches made bad decisions, how the umpires missed calls even though replay showed the umps got it right. And boy, can they just wax non-stop about a play or something totally unrelated to the play of the game.

And then there’s this Vandy fan who has been around for years. i guess some fans like it because they respond to his whistling, his shrill continually annoying, disruptive whistling. He reminds me of that rainbow hair guy that used to stand behind the tee boxes on televised golf with his sign that read John 3:16. There are places for whistling and signs, but not during a sports event.

Between the announcers and the whistler, my sound will be muted for the U.S. Open in San Diego today and Vandy’s next CWS game Tuesday.

Thanks, Dave.


A Repeat for Father’s Day

i won’t elaborate. i have done enough of that. He would not be pleased by too much adoration. As i said in my post about my son-in-law earlier, he liked this poem i wrote about him.

That’s enough.


when most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility; his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands: Durer, if he saw them,
would want to paint them.

his hands are marked from
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors, starting in ’34 at twelve dollars a week.
He has used those hands to
repair the cars and
our hearts;

his hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of Bougainville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

his hands have nicks and scratches turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life;
tales are etched from
grease and oil and grime,
cleansed with gasoline and goop and lava soap;

they are hands of labor, hands of hard times, hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring.

his hands own wisdom,
passing it to those who know him with a pat, a caress, a handshake.

his hands tell the story
so well.

The Other Father

i have written a lot about my father.

He was a good man. i respected and loved him. He reciprocated love and respect for every human being he met. i will post the poem about him that he not only liked but after reading it for the first time, he asked, “How did you know all of those things about me?”

But this is about another father in my life: the father of my grandson.

i never stop being amazed at how lucky i am to have Jason Gander as a son-in-law. When he married my daughter Blythe, i made my toast at the reception and noted their love for each other was similar to the love of one of the most incredible marriages that i knew: my parents, Blythe’s grandparents. i was not wrong. The two relationships are different in many ways but very much alike in the most important ways of love, understanding each other, and patience.

But that’s not the reason for this post on Father’s Day. Jason is undoubtedly the best father grandson Sam could have. i don’t gush about a lot of things. There’s Maureen, who occasionally produces that gush of feeling about our love. There’s that gush of love and happiness when either two of my daughters do something spectacular, which is often. And of course, anytime i hear from or get information about Samuel James Jewell Gander — and it is appropriate to point out today the “James Jewell” in his name is for my father, not me: perfect — i gush all over myself at what a terrific young man Sam is. i called him the unifier of a nuclear family when he was born, and he still is.

Jason, you are amazing.

…oh, and thanks.

Happy Father’s Day.

Fabric of a Beautiful Cloth

i knew this guy when we were both little. 

i was a bit older, not much. He didn’t seem interested in the things that interested me. Football, baseball, basketball, and finally girls occupied my mind. School, church, and other activities were just requirements i had to work around.

Really, the only thing i knew about this other guy was he was really a nice guy.

We are older now. 

I have wandered from home. He stayed and made home a better place.

He has continued to make it a better place, and even though he’s retiring as the Associate Minister of the Lebanon First United Methodist Church Sunday today, i’m pretty sure he’ll keep making home, and everywhere else he happens to land, a better place.

For those who may not know, my roots include the Methodist Church. My great grandfather, Joseph Webster was a Circuit Rider in Middle Tennessee and became a bishop in the church. He was the minister for my mother and father’s wedding. My brother Joe is a retired minister of the Methodist Church. He served his Lord in New England where he still resides today. He was the minister for my marriage to Maureen. My sister Martha and her husband, Todd Duff, are mainstays in the Signal Crest Methodist Church on Signal Mountain, Tennessee. She is in the choir and plays in the bell choir. 

Every corner of my life until i left home for the Navy in 1967 had some association with the Lebanon United Methodist Church. We attended Sunday School, the Sunday Service back when there was only one at 11:00, the Sunday evening Methodist Youth Fellowship, and the Sunday Night Service where the Men’s Choir sang gospels, and the Wednesday night service until it went away sometime when i was in elementary school.

Throughout my association with Lebanon FUMC, there has been a rock who was always there. We grew up together there. He has helped me and my family through many difficult and sometimes sad times. i relied on him in many matters, not just those that were church related. When back home for a visit, i went by to see him and while waiting, noticed the plaque with brass name tags for the deceased members of that men’s choir (Unfortunately, the men’s choir went away with the changing times). There were several members who had passed away not included on that plaque. This guy fixed it.

That’s the way he is. He never took charge to put his name on an accomplishment. He wanted to help me (and others) in getting to the right place, do the right thing.

i am a bit sad i will not be there for Bucky Hesson’s retirement. I’m pretty sure i won’t be missed because i know there are a passel of folks who will be who feel the same as i do about Bucky.

Bucky, i don’t think i could ever adequately describe how blessed i feel to have had you at our church. Back when my mother passed away nine months after my father passed away (both times, you were a rock for my family and me), i wrote a column about how the fabric of back home, Lebanon, was a little more frayed. Well, the fabric will be stressed a bit more after your retirement. It is a beautiful cloth with many colors, many stitches holding it together. i’m sure the frabic will remain beautiful, perhaps even a bit more beautiful because of the aging, changing process. You have added to that beauty.

Thank  you for your service to the Lord, our family, the church, and the community back home. You will be missed.

Driving: a Learning Point and a Universal Truth

The escape trip is almost over. It has been successful, delightful, and we are encouraged to repeat it somewhere, sometime with some modifications learned on this one.

One learning point and a recognition of a universal truth came from driving a rental car somewhere over 1,100 miles through the South:

The Learning Point:

On my power drives across this country in pretty much every direction, i always cursed under my breath when i had to stop for gas. i wanted to get there as soon as possible, and my Navy watch-standing days had steeled me for long periods of awake. My longest straight solo drive was the 1,400 mile journey in twenty-two hours from the Southwest corner to Austin, Texas, made several times to see my daughter Blythe quite some time ago. There were a bunch of operations on ships that kept me awake for forty-plus hours. But now, new cars and me have changed the dynamic. The learning point:

The need for a gas stop is longer than pit stops required for men my age.

The Universal Truth:

It does not matter where i am driving, freeways in California big cities, highways and roads in New England, Interstates in West Texas with speed limits of 80 miles an hour, the South’s highways, and byways, anywhere in the Continental United States, Hawaii, Ireland, and Scotland, the Universal Truth applies:

Every driver on the road in front of me goes slower than i want to go and every driver behind me goes faster, or wants to go faster than i want to go.

A corollary to this universal truth:

i never, ever drive at a speed of which my wife approves.


It was early, just at dawn when i walked down to the lobby, allowing Maureen to get some more sleep.

There was this old man at the counter, getting information about Asheville, i suppose, from the clerk. i walked past and picked out my paper cup by the large coffee urn. The old man came up. i motioned for him to go ahead of me. As he poured his coffee, i noticed the ball cap he wore noted he had been in the Navy and the ribbon that adorned the side of the cap indicated he had served in Vietnam. As we exchanged pleasantries after we had both poured our cups of coffee, i asked the old man when he had served.

He gave me a detailed accounting of how he had been a medical administrator in Newport, RI, Subic Bay in the Philippines, and in Vietnam, adding he had been in from 1965-68.

After i told him i had made a career as a surface warfare officer, he queried me about my homeports and regaled me with more of his stories about the rest of his life.

Nice guy, this old man.

Near the end of his tales, he said he was eighty years old.


He’s only two years older than me.


Journal of a Trip Acknowledging the Original Thomas Wolfe, Part I

“All things change.”

As we were driving through my home of Lebanon, Tennessee, she said that, a modification of what i’ve said frequently for the past…oh fifty or so years ago.

I would have said, “The only constant is change.”

She said it as we were driving to our place to stay when we came back home almost two weeks ago.

That too was a change: this “home” thing. It ain’t the same. Never is. Thomas Wolfe knew it and wrote about home and change in his home and in the guy who left that home. No, not the Thomas Wolfe called Tom who got all gussied up in white suits and claimed his dress was “neo-pretentious” and created or impacted the New Journalism, which i’ve never quite bought into because it turned my love of print journalism upside down and allowed inuendo and subjectivity into old style fact based news reporting. Upside down. 

No, the Thomas Wolfe i’m talking about was the big North Carolinian who wrote on the top of his refrigerator (i’m sure his refrigerator was not the gargantuan things we have today and may have even been an ice box where you went down to the ice house to get your block of ice and tied it to the bumper and drove home and carted that monster up the stairs and put it in the insulated ice box when most of your food was stored, home-canned, in the root cellar out back). Old Thomas wrote wheelbarrows full of words on legal paper on top of his refrigerator or icebox, which even when pared down by the editor, produced long, long novels called Look Homeward, Angel, something i have done since heading for the Navy in sixty-seven, and You Can’t Go Home Again, which i thought i had done since then up until this trip back when i realized as i drove through what i had once known like the palm of my hand that in many ways, i had not come home but to a different place.

Oh, the folks who stayed have lived with the change, and it’s still home to them although they recognize it’s different. They are good folks, good friends, solid stock, good citizens, don’t seem to have changed very much except we are older now. I can pick up conversation with them from years past without missing a beat and often reflect what it would have been had i returned after my first hitch at sea and lived here, this home of mine for the rest of my life and not thinking about the change of home but the change of me. And when our conversation moves to maladies we and other friends of our generation have endured back home, it’s natural, but the talk underlines the change.

We had dinner with four of the closest friends who stayed home one night last week. Two are Brendas, Callis and Harding. I was in the Harding Brenda’s wedding, and actually thought then i was pretty sure i really had come home. This Brenda is a perfect fit for Henry. It is wonderful to watch them together.  Brenda Hankins and i go way back. My father was the mechanic for Brenda’s dad and later became his partner along with HM Byars. Eddie is the maestro for the class of 1962, both Lebanon High and Castle Heights townboys. He and i did not go to school together: Eddie went to Flat Rock for elementary school through 8th grade, and i went to McClain, then Lebanon Junior High, and finally Castle Heights. Still, Eddie and i have become close friends. But of course, just about everybody who knows him considers Eddie a close friend.

As much as i have spoken of change, there is one thing that has not changed. George Henry Harding, IV.  Henry. He was born three months after i was born. We were christened together on VE Day. We went to church with each other. I practically lived at his house. Even though we went to different high schools, we remained close, doing just about everything not high school related together. When we email each other, talk on the phone, or meet face to face, the dialogue simply picks up where we left off through seventy-seven years. He claims when we are together, i always get him in trouble. i suspect the perpertration is just about equal.

To me, he hasn’t changed except he looks just a wee bit older.

Then there’s this place where Maureen and i stayed this time around.

You see, since i went to Navy OCS in September 1967 and when i came back home it was to 127 Castle Heights Avenue and then 312 Castlewood Lane in Deer Park, an over-50 condo development two blocks from where my parents lived for 62 years. But my parents have gone on. When i was growing up Castle Heights Avenue ended at the campus entry on West Main and ran out somewhere around Franklin Road — my father once told me when they moved into their new home on Castle Heights Avenue in 1942, everything just past Spring Street was farmland, and Hartmann Drive wasn’t even around or not large enough to be noted for the larger part of the time i lived there. Now, they are major routes around the city. Houses everywhere. Apartments everywhere. 

This time, by chance, we stumbled across a bed and breakfast inn called Cedar Grove Inn (not Cedar Grove Cemetery) run by Kim and Rich Papineau who moved from Michigan, 2009, i think it was. The inn is about five miles north of the square on Cedar Grove Road off of Hunter’s Point Pike and i don’t care if you call it US 231 North or North Cumberland, to me it will always be Hunter’s Point Pike, just like West Main becomes Nashville Pike about where the old rock quarry was located. The couple and their family are delightful. The breakfasts are incredible, and i, being the earliest riser in the world except for farmers, would sit on the back porch with my coffee in the early morning and talk with Rich of old times when my “Papa” would wake this drowsy young boy in the dark of night and the two of us would go to the south pasture while Aunt Corrine would be in the chicken coop about twenty yards from the back porch and she would collect the eggs from the nests, cradling them in her large white apron and at the fence, Papa would call the cows with a call that resembled “sooey” for calling hogs but wasn’t and those bovines would follow us to the barn where Papa would milk about four of them while i would induce about three squirts in the bucket which would produce a week twang on the bucket’s tin sides and Papa would laugh and we would head  back to the farmhouse where i loved when it rained  because i could fall asleep listening the sound of raindrops hitting the tin roof and we walked past the root cellar to the screened in porch with cotton balls filling the holes in the screen and on wood tables with rough white linen covering the food stuff on the tables there and sit at the table in what seemed to be a cavernous kitchen and eat sausage made from the hogs and eggs from the coop and grits from…grits, and drink buttermilk from the churn and all the world was waiting for this lad and his Red Ryder BB rifle and afterward he would walk through the fields trying to be as stealthy as the indians before “native american” was part of our lexicon and hunt the game and feel as if he were in the wild west and be stupid enough to try and rope the calf in the barn which bolted and blistered the palms of his hand with the rope burning as the calf carried it away.

But that was long ago and Rich needed to feed the chickens and check the garden and so in the afternoon, i would sit there and the chickens and roosters, about 100 of them were allowed to run loose in the afternoon before being cooped for the evening and the morning — oh, i wondered how you might herd chickens into the coop but didn’t ask, deciding they followed the food in the evening — for out on Cedar Grove road, the chicken hawks are on the fly but not in the afternoon when the chickens and especially the roosters would join me on the porch and peck away at the floor and i would remember there apparently was no concern about chicken hawks on Hickory Ridge Road across town years ago ’cause chickens and roosters were everywhere on that farm running wild, clucking and crowing.

And the inn was restful for me, good to be back home even though it was changing.

Like it was when we went to the  Wilson County Memorial Garden to visit our folks of generations past and tend to the gravesites and go across the old Murfreesboro Road which began at the cemetery, known as South Maple until it reached the cemetery and then was rerouted and known more as the 231 South, but that was a long time ago.

And across the road past the old stone fence in the city’s “Cedar Grove Cemetery” (not the inn), the maternal family’s plot was pristine, and parked a couple of hundred feet from us were three city pickups where nearby about a half dozen workers in lime green safety vests had their weed whackers whacking around the monuments and i laughed remembering how the cemetery was manned by Mr. Bill and Dub along with two summer helpers of which one of those was me and we mowed the cemetery’s land and trimmed with hand clippers and lively lads and dug the graves with pick and shovel, no backhoes then but bushwhackers pulled by tractors were assigned to the larger boys and i, this smaller jock wannabe, was too small to run a tractor and bushwhacker and thus was assigned to digging graves (and i never could figure out that reasoning).

So i laughed when i contemplated that change.

Things change.

It seems Heights buildings are fewer and the grounds give away more to new buildings. McClain, the bastion for young academicians for many generations, including my father’s and mine is gone, gone, gone. Cumberland University is spreading like wildfire.

Then there’s the Square, once the center of life and the county, or at least the center of the city father’s running the whole shebang. Then the courthouse was moved; then the strip malls became the thing; then the floods because those folks long ago built the framework and poured concrete over two creeks to make the square square and subjected it to floods just as soon as a good rain took those creeks over their banks, which was often. Now, it seems to be making a revival of sorts: boutique shops — temporarily relocated while the permanent lodgings are being restored after…yep, another flood. And in the southeast corner next to the arcade is a really nice down home restaurant called the Town Square Social where i had a grilled pimento and cheese sandwich on Texas toast, and ordered a “Hippies and Cowboys” IPA, i swear, but it was so popular the keg was empty and while we ate i remembered my mother’s story of when she was about eight, Granny ran out of thread and sent Mother to the sewing shop in the arcade for another spool and Mother taking along her friend, Jeanne Rousseau, i think, who rode behind Mother on the family pony for the one-mile ride into town, and watched the pony tied to the steps leading to the second floor of the arcade where the pony pooped while Mother was buying the thread and when mother returned the girls laughed, jumped on the pony and rode as fast as they could away with the faint hope of not being recognized as the perpetrators of the event but to their dismay discovering Granny knew even before they returned from their ride.

There are fewer friends my age there now. i only saw the four at dinner and Mike and Gloria Dixon at lunch at Five Oaks Golf Club (another change), a lovely venue that was farmland when i grew up. But what a view. The four of us talked friend things and with Mike, whom i played with in more sports contests than any other person, the talk went to baseball, basketball and football. That doesn’t change.

Then there are things i’m told are going to change. Sunset Restaurant sits on North Cumberland just before the I-40 overpass, about a dozen years before the latter was built. The family has been serving the best meat and three ever anywhere since then. i mean their food is so good, my Southwest corner wife raves about their turnip greens; coleslaw; pinto beans with onion and red chow chow; cornbread; fried okra; mashed potatoes; roast beef with gravy; and…well, pretty much everything they serve and when she asked the waitress to save a piece of their coconut cream pie if they were running low, our waitress, who has worked there for twenty-two years went into the kitchen, grabbed a piece of the greatly desired pie and put it on our table before she took our order, and i remembered Daddy and how that pie was one of his favorite desserts of all time not considering the ones Mother made.

But i was told, second hand, the original owners are giving it up and their children aren’t interested and another change the next time. That change is going to hurt.

One morning, Maureen and just rode around my memories. The newly reinvented Lebanon Museum is in the basement of what was once Castle Heights Main, not the city administration offices up on that hill. It provides a short tour of Lebanon’s history. Change upon change upon change. With time left, we drove past the old lake cabin out Denny Road along Barton Creek about a mile from the Cumberland as it fades from Old Hickory Lake back into a river again. The current owners, the Everette’s, have done a great job of keeping my memories alive. The stone walls of the cabin are now part of the patio, the old concrete picnic table still sits in the backyard, and the dock looks like it did thousands of years ago. 

And if you are as old as i am, you can’t discuss going home without weather. Weird. The whole thirteen days. Weird. It rained. It wasn’t cool, but it wasn’t hot. I remember June as hot with a little rain. This was more than that. In a way, i was glad. My Southwest corner wife was better off with not so hot June.

Memories. Change.

Nashville is a lot like home. Much closer now but the distance hasn’t changed. Metro keeps creeping closer and closer to Lebanon. Going to make it someday. There’s this guy still there, one of the few of a gang of simply wonderful human beings i haphazardly came upon almost sixty years ago. Maureen and i sat with Billy Parsons near our old stomping grounds of Vanderbilt for about two hours two Saturdays ago. “The Agent” is one of the nicest of our group. We checked up on friends whereabouts and what they were doing and, being older, everyone’s health, and engaged Maureen with tales of antics back when. Somewhere in the middle of all that, it hit me Billy Parsons has the best chuckle of anyone i have known: makes you feel comfortable.

At least for the time being, there are three things that haven’t changed: Henry, Parsons, and James Cason. James is at Sammy B’s up on the hill in what used to be Castle Heights superintendent’s house next to old main. In that Victorian wonder, my sister played with Colonel Ralph Lucas’ younger daughter Kay, whose older sister Ann broke my mother’s scoring records at Lebanon High School twenty-five years later. But James is a treasure, a legend, a don’t miss if you get to Lebanon, and don’t miss asking him about the Goat Man because James and i have wowed many a bar denizen with our tales about the Goat Man. So as long as i can go home and James is still bartending, it will feel like home.

So old Thomas Wolfe, maybe you were right; maybe you were wrong about You Can’t Go Home Again.

Yeh, it’s changed, changed a lot. But for about four days last week, i was home again.

Another long accounting of the rest of the trip is pending.


Oh, i Wish…Not

It didn’t happen, but i almost wish it had.

En route from Atlanta to Asheville, we stopped at Clarksville, Georgia for lunch at a neat place called The Attic.

We wound through the delightfully old-fashioned interior to sit outside. It was lovely. The hostess, waitress was delightful. The food was excellent.

Across from us, sitting alone at a small table was an attractive middle-aged woman, obviously well heeled by her dress except for one item. Her fashionably hip jeans were torn in numerous places.

I wondered what if. i wanted to take a twenty-dollar bill out of my wallet, walk over, and give it to the lady and explain i didn’t want her to have to wear old, torn jeans.

i determined i would get slapped or worse and decided not to do it.

Still, if i run across this situation again, maybe, maybe…

A Place i Would Like to Dine

We are traveling in the South. It is a trip for us, just for us by us really: a few friends around home, Lebanon and Nashville, not enough; sister Martha and her wonderful gaggle of good folks, good children, on Signal Mountain; a few sites of interest, old and new. i am writing a long post, probably a two or three part series about the trip. They will be posted (if i actually finish them) after we get home.

We are just over halfway through. The trip is planned, set by the master planner, Maureen. She is much more detailed than i, and many of my unplanned trips are gosh and by golly, frequently turning out better than expected but also with some major turns downhill.

If i were the planner. i might take a detour to Drexel & Honeybee’s Donations Only Restaurant in Brewton, Alabama, but it is about four hours of driving and southeast of Atlanta, the opposite direction of where we will be heading tomorrow. But if i could, i would have a meal at Drexel’s and Honeybee’s. i would “donate” at least $500 for my repast.

It would be worth it.

Thanks, Sean.