All posts by Jim

Crying Time

I spent just short of a quarter of a century in the Navy with my sworn obligation to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Today, i saw our constitution attacked.

i will let all of you and the media throw rocks.

i will only say what i saw today is wrong. It is an attack on our constitution and there is no question in my mind the President is responsible for it happening.

i have watched the media reports today for five hours and i did not hear a factual report of the news. i heard commentators use this terrible event to support their stand on political issues.

i won’t tell you my position other than what i have written above.

i will tell you i have cried more than several times this afternoon.

Our country, our constitution has suffered greatly.

i will cry some more.

The New Year…

After i posted my curmudgeon rant last night, i got to thinking. That is not always a good thing.

Of course, that post centered on baseball, leading to recalling my three quarters of a century love affair with the game, leading to thinking about my past, admitting again, i am one lucky man, leading to me to quit…er, bitching.

Considering what we experienced this year and what fallout from this year we will deal with in 2021, i decided i would focus on the good things this lucky man has experienced.

There was this place i was born and will always be connected. It was and remains home — i will go back there and rest beside my parents when this crazy life takes the  final turn. Back when it was mine and i was its youngster, it was a town in the Faulkner sense of the word, not a village, not a hamlet, not a city, but a town. Round about five thousand souls spread out on farmland with the aptly re-named Town Creek (It was “Sinking Creek” in the beginning) running under the square they built, convenient but flood prone. No matter. That square was the center of the universe for Lebanon, Tennessee. Restaurants, three hardware stores, clothing stores, two drug stores (back before folks thought that “drug store” meant something else), banks, cab station, cobblers, and a couple of pool halls, all dominated by a gothic-like courthouse. On the first block off the square of the two roads, one east-west, the other north-south were more shops and restaurants and two movie theaters.

Farmers came in and sat on the worn concrete steps of the courthouse, chewing tobacco, whittling cedar wood, and solving the world’s problems although their world was significantly smaller than today’s world.

Cars were left in parking spaces unlocked. Even homes didn’t have locked doors until the inhabitants went to bed. Children walked to school unless they lived too far away, and then they took the school bus and the school patrol was comprised of eighth graders until they created a junior high across town and the sixth graders became the school patrol, a responsibility and an honor rewarded with a tour of the state penitentiary and a baseball game at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

Shorts, no shirt, no shoes were de rigueur from mid-May until September. Bee stings, mosquito bites, poison oak or ivy were part of the learning process.

And the sandlot, empty fields, backyard baseball kept on. Until the first Little League came to town (1954? Where’s George Harding when i need him?), we played pickup ball. We got some rudimentary instructions from our fathers. Mine showed me how to throw a curve and a knuckle ball. We listened to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, hawking Falstaff beer,  while we watched the “Game (that’s one game) of the Week” on Saturdays, and occasionally, our dads would take us to the above mentioned Sulphur Dell to watch the Double A, Southern Association, Nashville Vols.

We still played pickup ball with various rules for yard size and whose yard was chosen for the field.

On the Sabbath, we went to Church for Sunday School, and the church service at 11:00 dressed to the nines with fresh haircuts combed just right and then dressed a little more casually (but not much) for the Methodist Youth Fellowship, the men’s choir supper, and the evening service with short sermons and lots of gospel songs.

Beginning in the early ’50’s, we began to watch one channel, WSM, which chose which network show to watch of the three, NBC, CBS, or ABC, which went off the air at midnight and came back on at three p.m. the next afternoon (with the Kate Smith hour). Red Skeleton, Milton Berle, Martha Raye, The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, Fred Waring, and Ed Sullivan were staples. Saturday mornings, television came on early with the kids no longer playing in the lot next door but scrunched around the television watching “Andy Devine’s Gang” with Froggy the Gremlin who had a magic twanger set off by “Nice” Midnight the Cat, and of course, Buster Brown and his dog Tige both of whom lived in a shoe. Gunga Ram captivated in his serial. There was the “Sealtest Big Top” and “Red Ryder” and there was Devine again as Jingles on “The Adventures of  Wild Bill Hickok with Guy Madison as Wild Bill. And there were others before that baseball game.

And we went to school and played during recess on equipment that would get the school administration in jail today for endangerment. We had fights and we played every kind of game and sport known to kids.

And we mustered outside for roll call during fire drills and we hid under our desks to save us from the Red Menace dropping the H-Bomb and we got the first polio shots and we put baseball cards in our one-gear bicycle spokes and put our gear for sports and other pursuits in the handlebar basket.

Then we grew up to realize some of us were male and some female. i fell in love from a dream. Then i “went” with many wonderful girls, taking them to movies, the fair, and if it cost more than ten dollars, i couldn’t afford it. That little town had so many wonderful young women, i remain amazed.

And i am going to stop now thinking about all of that stream of wonderful things in my past i was intending to include.

You see, we learned right before i grilled a great steak for supper that one of Maureen’s closest cousins with a wonderful family passed away last night after dealing with brain cancer for about half a terrible year. i was probably closer to Greg Cook than anyone else on Maureen’s side. His daughter, Cookie, took Sarah under her wing. It is a shock,  a bit of life’s reality that will always be tough to deal with.

i lit the fire in the hearth before supper and we watched “The Princess Bride” for our end of the year entertainment…and to escape the sadness of a good man passing.

So this godawful year is ending.

After i started the fire in the grill and toasted Greg out in the coolness of the Southwest corner winter air, i tuned my fittingly obsolescent iPod to Albert Bell and hooked up to the bluetooth speaker. As the grill heated up and the steak lay near and the bears, Ursa Major and Minor crawled across the heavens to the northeast, and Pegasus flew across the southern sky,  and i could dwell in the house of the constellations and the beauty of the Greeks for a long, long time.

But the steak needed tending. Albert was wailing as only he can about being “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Let’s Have a Natural Ball.” i saluted Greg one more time and then, then this damn near seventy-seven year old man began to move with the music. i was moving across the small patio outside the kitchen thinking absurdly how my moves weren’t much different than when i was a pretty decent dancer. Maureen and i were good dancing together. She was more graceful, refined, and seemed to flow. i moved to the rhythm and loved it. As with all things, we fit.

And Albert wailed and his guitar played the blues. The old man danced away the blues in the chill of the night and promised to just keep on trying to do the right thing for all that’s remaining of this remarkable event we call life.

i am at peace. i only hope those i love, which are one heck of a whole bunch of people, have a healthy, bountiful, and happy 2021. As i have said to many, it’s about time, and we are due for a change for the good.

A Curmudgeon’s Consideration As the “New” (Lord, Lord, i do hope so) Nears

This part of is spur of the moment, i have retreated to my office as Maureen finishes up on another meal to delight. Healthy too. i love them but confess i miss more meat and bread. She takes care of me. Now, i will never get tired of her salads. Why?

Well, my father was a meat and potatoes guy. For almost ninety-nine years, breakfast was bacon or sausage and eggs with toast including a slathering of butter and a one-third jar of jelly, grits occasionally, a glass of orange juice, and a couple of cups of black coffee. Lunch was  a bologna sandwich with cheese slices and a slathering of mayonnaise with chips and a coke. Supper was something fried or grilled or a special from his wife with beans and a tomato with coffee or iced tea depending on the season. i shall not go into desserts except to say a coconut cream pie from Sunset Restaurant was close to his favorite.

i think you get the picture. Well, one of the greatest things about Mother and Daddy coming out to the Southwest corner for most of January and February is my mother would cook dinner. Maureen loved coming home to my mother’s meals after a long day of work, but they both agreed Maureen would make the salad.

One evening when we sat down the supper table, and began to eat, Daddy said, “Maureen, you know, i think i could be a vegetarian if i could eat your salads every meal.”

Holy moly!

Yeh, her salads are that good. And i don’t think i’ve had a store bought dressing at any meal she has prepared.

So i’m sitting here in my home office bordering the “family room,” which used to be called a den, except you can’t call them that any longer because some yahoo protested that dens were the property of  bears, bobcats, cougars, wolves, tigers, and pregnant lionesses, so we went with “family room” to be politically correct — gotta tell you i sure liked spending time in the den, and i really don’t think it would upset those wild animals, even the pregnant lioness.

But tonight, i’m here in the office and Maureen is in the kitchen listening to the news on that screen that used to be a television while fixin’ (man, i love that verb) supper, which she calls dinner (gotta understand she IS from the Southwest corner) and listening to the news.

i can hear it. Can’t make the words out. Not sure which network it is. So this is not some rabid left or right complaint about news media. It’s not about content. i’m just wondering who the hell picked these people to read the news. They are grating. Their voices hurt, hurt my ears. They talk so fast that even if i could understand the words, it would be pretty damn close to gibberish except for all of the captions on the screen. Which i’m not watching and glad of it. If i were, i would be forced to watch some guy or gal (is this still okay for the politically correct police?) waving their hands to support all  those words i can’t understand like they were being attacked by a swarm of bees.

Where the hell is John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, et al?

So 2021, i ain’t watching any of the news programs except maybe local weather because they have these weather experts who never get it quite right. Why? i don’t know. He’s on second.

But now that i’ve rankled a bunch of folks, i confess i am in a quandary. i am in danger of being hoisted on my own petard (thank you, Willie, Shakespeare not Mays.

You see, i have been a Padre fan for years. In the beginning, there was no real thought about much of anything except i loved baseball. i played it along with football and basketball from my first recorded memory until…well until, i quit football of any substance in the fraternity league at Vanderbilt my sophomore year (and it remains the roughest sort  of football i ever played). i left basketball games after a pickup game in a Navy gym when i was in my early thirties. But baseball remained a dream i could pursue. And did all the way to 46 (Bill Hammond, i owe you for convincing me to join your ADABA team). And Jim Hileman and i, watching Orel Hershiser set the straight scoreless inning record but losing to Andy Hawkins and the Padres in Jack Murphy Stadium, 1-0 in sixteen innings, discovering we both were near fanatic fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates from the 1950’s on, talked ourselves into becoming Padre season ticket holders for about twenty years. And i went bananas when they won and into the pits when they lost, and i took Maureen and she became a fan, a knowledgeable baseball lady, and we watched them every night during the season, but at home on television now with only rare trips down to the bay.

And being an old sports writer/codger, i have railed about how ridiculous the sport has become beginning with the Yankees of long ago lore and then the Yankees of today, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Cubs: owners making an absurd amount of money, paying players insane salaries on stupid deals with long term contracts, driven by agents and the players’ union, and taking away from the season with extending it to 162 games, and a bizarre playoff system extending to November, but mostly i railed against the evil empire dynasties, buying pennants from temp help and trades with poorer market teams giving away star players to dump salary and making it more about money than the sport.

And oops.

Now it may be my turn. The Padres have gone evil empire. They are rated by some as the best team in the MLB for the upcoming season ,and the statistically boring prognosticators may be right.

But i’m a dinosaur. i like a 154 game season, followed by the World Series. Period. Expansion has made it good sense to have a short play off for the league championship, but please, no wild cards (this ain’t canasta), no designated hitter (baseball players should play baseball, and a big reason it’s there is the players want old hitters to make more money by not playing the tough part of the game, aka defense; of course, the fans who wish to be entertained rather than watch a pure SPORTS contest have bought in big time). Nor do i like paying for tickets approaching the worth of the national debt, paying twelve dollars for a beer or five dollars for a hot dog and peanuts, each. And then, the price for a playoff or series game can break a millionaire (where, oh  where do those attendees get that kind of money?). And i don’t like the shift, nor the new hitting approach created by statistics, which i also don’t like because it has changed the game from what i knew.

But i gotta admit, in spite of dislike, i’m getting pretty excited. i love to watch the best baseball. i am a Padre fan. i would like to see them win a World Series even though i argued the Cubs and the Red Sox lost their mojo, their karma, when they won the World Series.

And i remember, as i have noted here before, Bill Veeck, the Barnum and Bailey marketeer of baseball was right when he said, “Show me a team who caters to baseball purists, and i will show you a team that will go bankrupt in May.”

So i am excited and i’m sad together. And it’s a little crazy. Greg Garcia was the last San Diego native on the team. He is off the 40-player roster. i would like at least some small contact with the real world for the Friars.

i won’t draw any lines in the sand and turn them off and not because Maureen would shoot me, but as i said, i love watching baseball, and watching the best baseball possible is a thrill.

As a bona fide curmudgeon, i just wanted to rain on my own parade into what i hope is one hell of a lot better 2021 than this past 366 days of ridiculousness.

i hope you have a good one, the Padres beat the Braves in the National League Championship Series, and then the Friars take the World Series over the Red Sox or the Yankees in a four-game sweep.

But i ain’t betting on it.

Christmas Tradition

It was finished yesterday. Sarah did about ninety-eight percent of the work. i put in maybe, just maybe fifty pieces. Maureen found one or two…i think.

It’s tradition. It’s connection. When we started going to Signal Mountain for Christmas in 1992, my sister would put out a difficult puzzle with a Christmas theme on a small table in the wonderful family room, pictures of which i have posted here. My father and i mostly would work on it; Martha would help but was mostly occupied, along with Maureen, with Christmas cooking, a marvelous treat of goodies for a week, especially the chocolate chip cookies she placed in the Santa Claus cookie jar on the kitchen counter. The aromas wafted through the house. i was known to stay up into the wee morning hours to work on the thing while ingesting a couple of dozen of those cookies. Maureen would attempt to hide one piece so she could put in the last one.

As the years rolled past, Sarah became more involved and is now considered the expert. She even bought several for Thanksgiving and completed one by herself.

Now these puzzles aren’t easy ones. Most are 1,000 pieces and a couple, i believe, were 1500.

Since we didn’t make that Christmas trip this year, Martha included a puzzle in her gift package. We cleared the breakfast table and shifted our morning meals, along with the big Christmas Day dinner to the dining room. i had to add the leaf to Aunt Ida’s round oak table for the puzzle to have enough room.

Sarah finished it yesterday.

i worked on my few pieces (i found most of the white and green star ornaments on the tree and contributed a lot in piecing together Santa’s face and then mumbled a lot trying to put the other pieces together with absolutely no clue. As i did, i felt Daddy bending over the table on the mountain, griping about having just seen the piece that would fit in a certain place but unable to find it again (i actually said that once yesterday and realized its origin).

Now i am not usually into trivial pursuits. i’ve got a lot of things to get done in the years i have left, and daily tasks seem to have grown in numbers and time (this, of course, excludes golf from the discussion).

But folks this is tradition, a lovely one. And it crosses family generations. And it’s connection, connection to wonderful things. Below is a photo of this year’s finished product and a shot from farther away to give you a perspective on its size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and have a healthy 2021. As i have said in one form or another in emails and messages in the last few days. We’re overdue for a good year.

2020 in My Opinion

Robert Penn Warren
Selected Poems: 1923-1966
“Garland for You”
Canto V:  “A Real Question Calling for Solution”
Verse 8

There is only one way, then, to make things hang together,
Which is to accept the logic of dream and avoid
Night air, politics, French sauces, autumn weather,
And the thought that, on your awaking, identity may be destroyed.

If You Can’t Be Home for Christmas, There Was Once a Good Option

In early November 1979, i took a two-week trip from San Diego to Tasmania (included was a five-day holdover at the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines). i was not a happy camper. i was going to report to a staff, Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five, not a ship, which i could drive. i was leaving behind a seven-year old daughter and a former wife who was recovering from breast cancer. i would be gone over Christmas and the New Year. And i didn’t have a high regard for an amphibious squadron staff job.

The trip and ensuing two months are a story to itself for later. But then there was:

Hong Kong. Christmas Eve. 1979.

Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five, his staff, and his flagship, the USS Tripoli (LPH 10) had drawn Hong Kong as their liberty port over Christmas and had pulled into Fleet Landing on the Hong Kong side right next to the great Fleet exchange.

Staff officers Mike Peck, the Tactical Air Control officer; Pete Toennies, the UDT advisor; OW Wright, the admin officer, and me, the staff’s current operations officer, had become good friends and running mates since i joined them in Hobart, Tasmania in November, and we had proved we were good liberty hounds. We were ready for Christmas in Hong Kong.

Mike and i had been in this wonderful city several times before. Mentioning the name of Johnny Lee, the tailor, got us a room in the Holiday Inn on the Kowloon side, a much improved version of the chain than those in the states. In Hong Kong, it was considered a luxury hotel. Mentioning Johnny Lee gave us the large room with two queen beds for $65 US dollars a night.

There are a number of sea stories related to this liberty, but i will stick to one aspect of our port stay.

The British Navy contingent in Hong Kong had hosted a reception for the squadron the day after we arrived. Mike and i hooked up with lieutenant junior grade in the British Navy, and we had a great time swapping stories. Unfortunately, i don’t remember his name, but i do recall he was a helicopter pilot who had been retrained to drive their surface effect boats in Hong Kong with the mission of interdicting any attempts at illegal immigration. This had been a big problem for the Brits after the evacuation of Vietnam as many of those displaced were trying to get into Hong Kong.

The three of us hit it off. To show our appreciation of the new friendship, we took the Brit to Gaddi’s, one of the finest high end dining establishments in the world, housed in the famed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It was a good evening. So Mike, the Brit, and i ran around for several days. The younger helicopter/surface effect boat driver invited us to Christmas Eve mess at the British Navy’s wardroom.

The HMS Tamar is the tall white building by the bay behind the Navy ships, either US or British. It was turned over to the Chinese when Hong Kong was transferred from England to China.

Now the officer’s mess in their wardroom was no ordinary place. The wardroom and the accompanying galley were not on a ship. They were on the penultimate floor of the British Navy’s Hong Kong headquarters, a thirteen story building on the waterfront. The Brits called it the HMS Tamar, as if it were a ship. The wardroom was actually two stories high and the bayside was a huge glass window looking out on Hong Kong. The city and its lights were a beautiful sight on Christmas Eve from that vantage point.

The HMS Tamar’s wardroom consisted of about one hundred officers, about a third of which were women, something US Navy officers weren’t accustomed to at the time. With shrimp cocktail appetizers and drinks, we chatted with all of the male and female officers before sitting down for the evening mess. It was a traditional British Christmas feast that seemed to have no end.  Roasted goose and roasted gammon (smoked ham) were the traditional meats but the British Navy added roast beef. Then there was roasted chestnuts with Brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, pigs in a blanket, parsnips, and swede (rutabaga), ginger bread stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and concluding with, of course, English Christmas Bread Pudding.

All of this of course, was accompanied by continuous libations of wine, whiskey, and of course, gin. It was all very, very lovely.

After dinner, we continued our discussions with just about everyone in a Royal Navy uniform. We were like celebrities. My glass was much like the professor in “The Bishop’s Wife” when Cary Grant, the angel kept magically filling the writing professor’s glass.

Just before midnight, i was looking at Mike and Pete, thinking it was about time to say our thanks and give our hosts Christmas wishes, catch the elevator, and walk back to the ship, berthed between the HMS Tamar and the U.S.Fleet Exchange. But the group of about six junior officers insisted we attend midnight mass with them. If anything, this contingent about half men and women officers, had consumed a lot more beverage than any of us. Regardless, we agreed. Then they exited the main wardroom and started walking up the stairs. i was surprised there was another floor and asked where we were going.

“To the chapel,” they informed me.

i would like to say we filed in quietly with decorum. i think Mike and i mustered the strength to approach some semblance of decorum. But it was a pretty raucous bunch who found seats in two rows toward the back of the small chapel that held about 150 people, if that. Our group was laughing and continuing to have fun until just before the service. Then, one of the female officers behind us, tapped me on the shoulder.

She pleaded with whispers for us to help them out. One of the male junior officers had hidden a fifth of gin and brought it into the chapel. He was also blown out of his mind and close to passing out. The young female officer asked me to take the gin and hide it through the service. She explained if the senior officers caught him our any of the English in our group with the booze, they could be booted out of the service, not the mass, the British Naval service.

We, somewhat dubious, complied with her pleas. She passed the bottle to me under our seat. With Mike approval, i slid it up under my sports coat and cradled it with my left arm as inconspicuously as i possibly could.

The service went on, but i was too nervous to pay much attention. Getting up and down for the liturgies and hymns was a frightening proposition. With great difficulty, i successfully maneuvered through the stand/sit requirement each time. At the conclusion, i breathed a huge sigh of relief. Mike and i had worked out a strategy, whispering during the service. We would file to the left to the center aisle and then move as rapidly as possible without causing attention with Mike leading interference for me. i would continue to cradle the booze with my left arm, hopefully looking as if nothing were amiss.

i had just cleared the aisle and was headed for the exit when the plan ran afoul of what Kevin Kline’s character in “Silverado” would have called “bad luck.”

Unbeknownst to us, the commodore, Captain Jim McIntyre, also known as the “Silver Fox,” was attending the mass, sitting on the front row with the British commander and a couple of Hong Kong notables. He spotted me and my interference walking quickly toward the door. He walked more quickly, caught up with me, grabbed my left shoulder, and spun me around.

“Sure am surprised to see you three here,” the commodore laughed.

i wasn’t thinking much about the commodore yet. When he spun me around, my grasp on the bottle of gin slipped. i lurched over catching the bottom with my right hand and moving it back up into its hiding place as covertly as i could.

Reaching out with my right hand, i shook his and said, “Commodore, you don’t know the half of it,” concluding, “It’s good to see you here as well. Merry Christmas.

With that, i turned before the conversation could continue, caught up with Mike and rendezvoused with our new British friends. They were ecstatically happy with their new heroes as we returned the bottle of gin. The female officer’s whose plea we had answered kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and thanked the three of us for saving their hides.

They never knew our all of our hides could have been in deep, deep trouble if i hadn’t caught that bottle on the way down.

Christmas was nice but it was anti-climatic.

But there was more fun to come.

The ship headed back to Subic Bay, Olongapo, Fiddler’s Green with the wildest liberty port on the face of the earth. But en route, Iran had another idea. They raided the American Embassy and took the hostages. Jimmy Carter, his intelligence experts, and the military high command were confronted with some decisions. The immediate decision was to detour the Amphibious Squadron to Singapore. The five ships rerouted across the South China Sea past Borneo to the southeast and into the entrance to the Mallaca Strait. The ships anchored out, a mile ride liberty launch to the fleet landing.

Mike and i rented a room in Raffle’s Hotel, the old one which Joseph Conrad favored with the open bar and palm like fans on the ceiling with a rattan accent throughout. We sat in the comfortable couches and ordered Singapore Slings to discover the originals, created there, tasted very much like Pepto Bismol, quickly switching to gin and tonics, probably Conrad’s preference.

Pete came and OW Wright came to visit and we discovered a British pub around the corner where world champion dart players frequented. We spent a lot of  hours there, and one evening, i hit a bullseye to beat some of the best dart players in the world, never telling them i was aiming for a double twenty.

Pete invited Mike and i to join his SEAL buddies on a night out. We went to “Hungry Street,” an alley where the locals from several Asian ethnicities would roll in their wares and set up kiosks and rickety table and chairs. They offered seafood from their tanks and cook it, along with rice, of course, Asian bread, and things we decided not to ask about, in woks over fires in  the back of their kiosks. Six or so of us would order from each of the kiosks, sit at one of the round rickety tables, have a beer or two, while they cooked our fare, and eat, and eat and eat. Lord, one of the best meals i can remember.

On the other end, someone discovered Navy and Marine officers were granted entry into the Petroleum Club. It sat on the highest floor of a high rise in downtown Singapore. They served superb meals with the grass fed steaks from Australia. However, the bartender’s creation of “Le Bom Bom” was the attraction. It was one hell of a delicious drink that would knock your socks off.  And what a view.

We wandered the city, watched cricket matches, and solved pretty much every problem in the world while bringing in the New Year at, where else?, the Petroleum Club and Le Bom Bom’s.

About three days later, Jimmy Carter wisely figured out our squadron was not well equipped or well trained enough to attempt a hostage snatch. We were sent back to Subic, the Chuck Wagon, the Quarterdeck above the Subic Officer’s Cluh, Grande Island, Cubi Point’s Officer’s Cub with the Dempsey dumpster in the stag bar, and of course, Fiddler’s Green across “shit river.”

Oh lord, if you are a man and single, that was about as good as it could get…

…if you couldn’t get home for Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year: after this one we need a good bit of happiness.

Another Christmas Thought

It’s that time, that day before the day. i spent the morning wrapping presents for those who will spend Christmas day with me, glad it will be four instead of three. Maureen’s sister has decided it’s safe to join us. That will make it better. After all, Christmas is about…oh, it’s about many things depending on who you are, where you are from, and what you believe. Still, there is this joy about sharing it with family.

It struck me as i was wrapping the last presents. Poorly, i might add as i didn’t use a video like son-in-law Jason did, and my usual wrapping paper of old newspapers have been donated to Spud and Vonda Mumby across the street who need the paper to catch the droppings of the quail they are tending in their garage. Even got some pickled quail eggs for a Christmas present…along with Spud’s homemade port, which has become my favorite port to have with desserts and a nightcap.

What struck me was i keep griping about not being home for Christmas. Sorta got stuck on Bing’s Christmas song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL71eMc1blw

But the truth is with that kind of attitude i won’t ever find peace and joy for Christmas. The truth is i have a number of places i would like to be each Christmas.

Christmas to me will always be what it was at 127 Castle Heights Avenue. Santa came in glorious beneficence. The three children and sometimes two more of the Orrs came over from Chattanooga would wait at the top of the stairs in their pajamas, probably emerging from their bedrooms before dawn to perch there in anticipation. But they had to wait. The parents has to set up the lights for making home movies when the big moment arrived. We would crash over each other when the signal was go, down the stairs, through the hall into the living room where Santa had spread the big gimmes over the floor under our stockings, stuffed full of small gifts, fruit and candy and hung by the chimney with care. Oh, the joy of discovering a Roy Rogers’ Ranch set, or a two-gun cap pistol set with holster and hat and caps to complete the outfit.

There were several, with the same procedure over in Red Bank, outside of Chattanooga proper with our cousins.

There were some wonderful ones in Paris, Texas where the Colonel Jimmy Lynch and Nannie Bettie would somehow magically cajole Santa to actually show up at their home and have Blythe sit on his lap, regaling her with stories and taking notes about what she was expecting the next morning.

There were the Christmases at the Boggs family home in Lemon Grove where incredibly wrapped gifts were presented by my father-in-law Ray Boggs.

Then in ’92. we began our annual trek to Tennessee Christmases. They were/are magic, even more so now with my sister’s grandchildren taking in Christmas at the magic age.

There is the place i’ve never been for Christmas that has always been a dream of mine: Christmas with my brother and his family in Vermont. i mean, man, what a place for having a White Christmas. They are wonderful folks and after all, that is where Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney has their “White Christmas.”

i was always torn in our decision about going to Tennessee or being with our grandson (and daughter, son-in-law, and former wife). We decided my parents didn’t have many Christmases left and it would bring them joy to spend to spend Christmas with two-thirds of their family. And so it was. Today, as much as i regret not having those Christmases with grandson and daughter, i think our decision was the right thing to do.

There was one Christmas, 2014, after Mother and Daddy passed that we did spend Christmas in Austin. It was magical. i mean, who wouldn’t be pretty close to heaven to spend a Christmas with his daughters and grandson.

There were others: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, 1970 with Korean Military Advisor Group Captain Ollie White in the Officer’s Club with an admiral’s daughter whose name i forgot who managed the club (We drank a lot and cried a lot in our mulled wine).

And if i get my act together, there will be a following post about a bizarrely wonderful Christmas and New Year’s not home for Christmas.

So i could spend all of my time moping about where i ain’t. i am here. i have two of the five most important people in my life with me. My sister-in-law, Patsy Boggs will join us tomorrow. There is a fire in the hearth. We set up one of my stereos (sort of, whatever you call those things now) and have had almost continual Christmas music, my Christmas music. The presents are wrapped. The tree is decorated, the stockings are hung. NOEL is broadcast to the world outside.

And the birth of Jesus two thousand and twenty years ago brought hope to some for peace on earth, good will toward men, and joy to the world. Now folks, i don’t know all of your leanings toward beliefs, but if you ain’t into peace on earth, good will toward men, and joy to the world, i don’t think your Christmas (Holiday season for those who wish to quibble) will be all it could be.

For me, i have my peace, i have my joy. And i have good will toward men. It ain’t perfect, but i will celebrate.

Some time during Christmas day tomorrow, i will walk to the top of my hill and look toward the Western horizon. i will think of a birth long ago, and i will hope this year is behind us and we all may have peace on earth, good will toward men, and joy to the world.

Noel.

Happiness: An Old Trail Rediscovered

i have a Christmas present.

This is pretty much a photo essay. It is the follow-on to a post a week or so ago when i reinvented a walk in the woods…okay, okay, they ain’t woods in the sense of Tennessee or Vermont woods, but it’s open space, which once was open space…

Oh, this could go on and on (and probably will), but i just found a route from the top of my hill that allows me to take a hike (and many, many people have told me to take a hike). My access to the hiking-riding trail was closed for a while,  a good while, so i can do a real, no-kidding (and i cleaned that up) hike for almost as long as i choose.

Today’s was an hour’s two-plus miles up and down. It was glorious to me. It can replace the running, my doc told me to stop (and i might now). So Merry Christmas to me; Merry Christmas to me:

i found a new path from our house. The old one had grown over and not been maintained. Two days ago, some off road bikers came up to the top of our hill so i knew there had to be a way down. i found it.

This is down into a ravine and back up. The ridge is the trail that i posted in a photo last week.

Down that hill is community training corral (i think that’s what it’s called). It’s not very seldom used, but i saw these horses and had to visit.

It had been a while, so i forgot to look out for the nasty cholla cacti, their splines break from the main cacti and stick to the enemy, aka moi. They sting and getting them out is tricky. i have taken them off of our cats and dogs and can tell you this is one of the most un-fun things you can do. Fortunately, only three splines stuck me and only one stayed in my leg. i removed it and am fine and will be a bit more cautious on my next hike.

These things can grow in bunches, so if you see some on your sidewalk, walk around.

This is my new friend. i think i might have made friends with the white one, but she/he wasn’t interested. Besides this old guy and i had a great conversation. He’s getting a little white around the edges like me, so he’s a bit older, but from our conversation, he is very wise and very gentle. We promised to meet again. They reminded me of two horses in a pasture between my small home in College Station and Judy McConnell’s parent’s home there. i took Blythe for a walk one day and had an apple. One of the horses (i think his name was Lightning) came to the fence while i held Blythe with one arm. We petted him and i offered him the apple. He took it along with my entire hand. i stood there with my hand around the apple trapped by his teeth; i was afraid to be aggressive for fear of scaring or even hurting Blythe. i kept talking quietly to Lightning and pulling gently away from his mouth. Finally, he let go. Of course, he kept the apple. But this ole boy, seemed to gentle, too wise.

This is one of the better views of Mount Miguel. Without fog, it is one of the first things i see almost every morning, and it always connects me to our original settlers in this country and this region, the Kumeyaay and to the east, the Navajo. i continually try to envision this land when others came, before this rather incredible chunk of the Southeast corner, probably habitable for about five or six hundred people due to it being a high desert, began to add folks and houses and businesses and the money men who did not care for preservation or even quality of life but just making money and wishing i could walk across it in its and my innocence.

Coming back around before my climb back up to my hill, there is a glen. i always think of what a nice place it would be to lay out a blanket and have a picnic there. Peace.

And i made it up the hill, no mean feat for an old man, surveyed my view of the San Diego, Point Loma, the Coronado Bridge, ships of the fleet, and the Pacific horizon. i gingerly walked down our slope, and retreated to my lair with an appropriate energizer. i am a long, long way from home, many years have passed. Tomorrow is a different Christmas Eve, but all is well.

Peace on Earth. Good Will to Men.

 

i Forgot, But It Was 42 Years Ago

This is not a Christmas post. But both incidents, 42 years apart, occurred as Christmas approached. i should have learned 42 years ago:

1978, Bryan, Texas, the sister city of College Station, Texas, home of TAMU and entwined much like Chula Vista and Bonita are entwined in the Southwest corner today. Christmas break at Texas A&M. December 22 with Bill McFall, the executive officer of the NROTC Unit at Texas A&M suggested (or perhaps it was me) that the two of us play golf at the Bryan city course.

It was cold.

We dressed warm. Surprisingly when we got to the clubhouse, the parking lot was empty. The starter was the only one in the clubhouse. Perhaps, because it was several degrees below freezing, the only  person besides Bill and me was the starter. We had no problem teeing off on time.

It was about 7:30 when we teed off.  My drive was okay but to the left, unusual for those days — i was a major slicer then and for most of my golfing exploits. Bill hit a nice drive down the middle. Figures. Aviators are always good golfers. i  took out a six iron. The shot went significantly right and landed on the water hazard next to the green. Except the water hazard was not water. It was iced over. My ball hit the ice and rolled to the middle of the hazard,.

Since there were not a lot of golfers before or after us, like none, we approached the green and decided to retrieve my ball. We found stray limbs around the hazard and  slid them across the frozen pond attempting to hit the ball and impel it to the other edge. It took a while, but we did get the ball back. We laughed. We were dressed warmly and the layers made throwing accuracy not, sort of like our golf shots.

It was cold.

It was the coldest round of golf i’ve ever played. i vowed to not to play in really cold weather again. Of course, i have violated that vow many times but it was a relative thing.

This past Wednesday, i remembered my vow. Unfortunately, i remembered on the second tee. There were few tee times available, but i managed a 6:38 for two at Bonita Golf Club, one of my favorite of comfortable places to play in the world.

(Dealing with the pestilence upon us in the Southwest corner is a curious thing. The restrictions keep changing based on reaction, not proaction. This has led to some very strange curiosities. For example, restaurants were shut down, then opened to take out, then open to outdoor dining, then open to social distancing  — damn, i still dislike that rather oxymoronic phrase — then restricted to outdoor dining, then takeout only, and the bounce from the last two phases has occurred three times in the last five days. Parks and play areas for children have been closed along with the restaurants,  but, get this, strip bars were allowed to operate until last week and then won a lawsuit to remain open, in which the judge included restaurants and that, my friends, lasted one day, Now there is an injunction putting the re-openings on hold.)

Golf courses have remained open since the first two months of the entire Southwest corner going homebound (March and April). Then, somebody figured out, golf was pretty safe with some precautions, which every course deciding what was “pretty safe” without any consistency whatsoever. Long live 2020, not only in crazy, but kicking it up a notch pretty damn close to idiocy.

Yet that has allowed us to have some relief. It just turned out last Tuesday was one of the coldest days in Bonita for quite a while. Somewhere around 5:50 when i left our house on the hill above the valley where the golf course abides, the thermometers read 42. i’m thinking “this is okay, it will warm up quickly. Wrong. As i drove through the entrance to the course, the outdoor temperature reading on my gauge read 38.

It didn’t feel like 38. It felt like it was Antartica. Before my second shot on the first hole, my hands like they were hanging in a meat freezer. For about five holes when i hit my shot, it felt like i was hitting a five-pound rock. It was not pretty. i was cursing myself for not buying some hand warmers or golf gloves. By the sixth hole, i began to feel like my hands were actually attached to my wrists. Before we finished the first nine, i was out of three layers of clothing and playing in my short sleeve shirt and trousers (i mean you folks have to live in the Southwest corner for a while to understand this weather). i think i got up a bit of a sweat by 13. But when i finished, there remained a tingling in my fingers.

Pete and i made an oath to not play before 8:00 a.m. between November and March. i’m guessing this vow may last a couple of weeks. But a couple of weeks is a chunk shorter than 42 years between my round with Bill McFall and this one.

But i’m old and now bragging is sometimes more important than my golf score or frozen slabs for hands.

Merry Christmas…and in memory of Jeff Caplenor, if you have a chance, play a round of golf.

Cold is relative.

Noel

Well, it ain’t as good as i would like it to be, and it took about two weeks longer than i planned. When i hung it up this afternoon, i’m a’ thinkin’ folks passing by would laugh at the amateurish attempt.

In spite of my great adventure of the Christmas event i wrote about earlier, NOEL has deep roots for me. Colonel James “Jimmy” “Alligator” Lynch and i put his up on his front porch roof in the mid-70’s. i almost got electrocuted and almost slid off the roof of 911 South Main in Paris, Texas. But the idea stuck.

i like the simple message. This year, i went with a lighter model and green lettering rather than white. i will continue to tinker. Fooling with Christmas tree lights is a lot more complicated than it should be.

Still, it’s mine and says what i want to say about this Christmas season:

 

Merry Christmas and NOEL!