All posts by Jim

A Wonderful Father’s Day Movie and Something Else Incredible

It was her idea. Really.

We were at Hanaoka’s Saturday night. An early Father’s Day outing. The best gyoza ever. Anywhere. Their sashimi plate is my go to. Been that way for about thirty years. She and her mother asked me to pick a place for Saturday night. She was scheduled for a boat ride with friends the next morning.

While she and her mother discussed what movie they might see when she got back from boating, i was excluded as they know i’m not a movie going fan unless it’s one i really like (and they are very, very few unless they are old, like me). They brought up “Ocean’s 8.” Maureen admitted she had already seen it. i prodded Maureen could go again because she liked it. But they agreed on “Incredibles 2.” i surprised them when i said i wouldn’t mind joining them for that one. A bit stunned, she recovered and reserved our seats in The Lot, a movie dining/movie experience in Liberty Station at the foot of Point Loma.

So Sunday, the appointed date for Father’s Day, Sarah hosted Maureen and me for a second outing. i loved it. i didn’t eat food but i did have a .394 IPA. That’s the IPA made by AleSmith, a San Diego brewery in conjunction with Tony Gwynn, Jr. honoring his father’s batting average the year his pursuit of hitting over .400 could have — and i believe, i believe he would have reached Ted Williams’ status. But that’s another story. The movie was enjoyable. The fact Sarah wanted to treat us made me feel about ten feet tall.

Since i don’t go to movies and only watch my favorite ones from the past on television, i should not be considered a critic. But i liked the tongue-in-cheek fun of the “Incredibles 2.” It was fun to watch. And the theater was cool. Perhaps when i turned onto Truxton Road just past the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, MCRD, or “M-Crud” as we Navy folks call it, was when i got into what this area used to be.

For those who are not familiar with San Diego, the Navy Recruit Depot, San Diego covered this large and valuable piece of land on the waterfront. About half of the recruits in the Navy were trained here. If you saw the movie “Top Gun,” Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis drove the sports car through what was then the main gate of the base where Tom’s squadron commander, Tom Skerrit, supposedly lived.

Then the budgeteers and the politicians all got together to commence “Base Realignment and Closure” (BRAC) beginning in 1988 and whacking and pasting bases through five iterations, which changed the face of San Diego (and other places as well). With the misguided aplomb politicians, including top military brass, seem to boast about, they closed the recruit depot here and the one in Orlando and moved all of the training to Great Lakes. i guess they thought there was an ocean there instead of Lake Michigan, and that the weather north of Chicago was more hospitable for training than the Southwest corner. Go figure…oh that’s right, it was politicians involved — they also put Marine Aviation at Miramar (where “Top Gun” the movie was filmed, and moved the Navy’s crack fighter training to Nevada, obviously because Nevada is so much closer to the ocean and Navy carriers than San Diego…oops, forgot: politicians.

Regardless, the development men frothed at the mouth and moved in on what had been the Navy Recruit Training Center, San Diego. Actually, they did a pretty good job. There is some housing development, but the attraction is a lot of neat places to go like the “Stone Brewery World Bistro and Gardens:” big place, good food, nice atmosphere for a big place, and beer, lots and lots of all kinds of beer made by…yep, Stone Brewery. Among many other attractions, there’s The Lot.

In the back of my mind, i was missing the recruits marching; the USS Recruit, actually used to train the recruits about Navy ships with the major exception of going to sea. It’s still there, but just a toy now.

i enjoyed the recruits being here. One of my best memories was in 1982. A bunch of single officers in the USS Okinawa wardroom, including moi, decided for a late night adventure to visit Crazy Eddie’s Booby Trap.

Crazy Eddie’s was just like you would think a place called Crazy Eddie’s Booby Trap would be. It was a dingy bar and a strip joint with greasy cheeseburgers. The joint’s big calling cards were the strippers (obviously) who also served the burgers and beer and then stripped to country music. Go figure. For some reason, it attracted all kinds of men. i enjoyed going there for the people watching. No, not that kind of people. i’m talking about the other men that attended: Old biker guys with chains hanging off their black jeans, silver chains holding keys, tools, and old car bumpers, big chains; men in $1,000 business suits with pointy-toed shoes and slicked back hair; old men in Irish tweed caps, white shirts, and khaki pants with suspenders; all kinds. And they all got along just fine, swigging their beers, smoking cigarettes, and watching the women, laughing with each other.

But my favorite happened that night the Okinawa officers were out to just enjoy themselves. We were standing in a small area to the side. i sidled up to the square bar seating with a dance stage in the middle because the waitresses…er, strippers were quicker to serve there. George Jones singing “White Lightning” was blaring at top decibels from the sound system. i wedged my way between some old guy and a very young sailor sitting at the bar to order a Bud (this was before “craft beers” and our standing position did not seem adequate for a pitcher).  An older man in a wrinkled polyester suit sat on the other side of the sailor. He spotted me.

“This is my boy Johnny,” he proudly and loudly boasted over George claiming his “daddy kept a cookin’…whoosh, white lightning” and the young lady on the stage lost another piece of strategic clothing.

“We’re from Indiana” he explained, “but came out here for Johnny. He graduated from recruiting school today,” he beamed.

i rendered what i thought was the appropriate congratulations.

Finally, one of the young ladies asked me for my order. Johnny’s father looked at the skimpily clad waitress and asked, “Miss, would you mind bring us another couple of bourbons and coke, please?”

Taking the order, she provocatively sashayed away. Johnny’ dad slid a ten-dollar-bill into his son’s hand. “Now son, when she brings us those drinks, you slide that sawbuck into her panties (as i said her outfit was pretty skimpy) and tell her there’s more where that came from,” the father instructed.

He looked at me with a sly grin, “Yessir, Johnny graduated today. He’s a man, and i’m gonna introduce him into manhood tonight.”

“Well, congratulations again,” i sputtered and walked back to my friends as soon as my beer came.

i had decided not to tell him his intentions were unlikely to occur at Crazy Eddie’s. There were a lot of legal restrictions about joints like this one and Crazy Eddie walked a straight line to avoid getting shut down. i had seen some big, bad, drunk bikers, and some of those slick businessmen fail at such attempts. It wasn’t likely a seaman recruit still wet behind the ears was going to score at Crazy Eddie’s Booby Trap. Maybe in Indiana, but not in San Diego.

But who knows? We didn’t stick around to find out.

But like the movie i watched on Father’s Day, it was incredible.


For Father’s Day: a Salute to an Ordinary Man

As i have said many times before, i am not a big fan of government sponsored holidays or most holidays in general. Most are commercial boons to make people feel good about having fun, not working, or buying a lot of stuff we don’t really need — and ironically, i acknowledge this buying stuff is essential to the way our economy works. Then, i keep disproving myself like i did at Mother’s Day.

i am uncomfortable with “Father’s Day,” perhaps embarrassed is a better adjective. i don’t desire having my daughters, grandson, and others acknowledging me because some yahoo many years ago, jealous of mothers having their “day,” coming up with this idea of “Father’s Day.” i want people to express any gratitude they might have, any inclination to praise me, or give me something because it’s their idea when it’s their idea, if they have such an inclination, not because it’s mandated to be done on the third Sunday in June. Bah, humbug.

Then, damn near out of nowhere while Maureen and i were returning home after buying a new washing machine, coming up the hill to our turnoff into Bonita Long Canyon, this random thought comes rushing into my head as i shifted down from sixth to fifth. The thought was how i wish i could be fishing with him, this ordinary man.

After spending about seventy years with him, i think he would like me calling him an ordinary man.

i don’t think he had any aspirations other than having a good life with his wife and his children, all of his children, not just his daughter and two sons…and fishing, of course.

He was not a scientific fisherman although he eventually bought a sonar to determine if there were schools of fish beneath his boat. His secret locations for the best fish catching were mostly superstitious, i think. But he did catch a lot. It was his pursuit, void of the latest fish-catching equipment (except perhaps lures: he bought into the latest lures). There are about one hundred fishing stories i could relate here, but not now. No, not now. He always, always, caught more fish than me. Perhaps that is symbolic.

i have many photos of him i could post here. In fact, i have posted many of them. But there is an image in my mind i prefer.

He was a good-looking skinny man, five feet, nine inches of 135 pounds of skinny for most of his life, whose strength was belied by the thin frame. i have watched him lift a 300-pound barrel of oil onto the back of a pickup bed by himself using only that strength and practical, no nonsense know-how.

He  was not alone. He was like many men of his generation: loving husbands, good fathers, primary wage earners, no nonsense, caring men who served their country to defend their way of life, religious, community-supporting, workers in trades that served the community, not asking for more than a secure and safe lifestyle. His love for his wife was total and worked to make the relationship a compatible, synergistic existence. He was the strong one, the provider, the defender, the handy man, the buck-stops-here guy, the go-to man, the final decision maker.

i don’t remember him ever mentioning politics. i know he voted Southern Democrat for many years, but i never heard say a word about them or any other politician.

On the grand scale of advertising and marketing folderol of today, he was not a hero.

My image of him was captured in a couple of seconds of an 8mm home movie from the 1950’s. He had come home from work sometime after five (he might work later, but i don’t recall him ever getting home before five: he went to work at seven, a ten-hour workday, not counting lunch; this included evenings when he would leave around eight to go night fishing, getting home at three or four in the morning but still not missing the six-thirty o’clock departure for work the next morning).

The image was captured on film by my mother, who never quite caught the hang of movie making, jumping from subject to subject like she was taken snapshots from the old Kodak box camera. His time for movie fame was about two seconds. He had come home from work on a summer weekday. He is still in his work clothes, blue cotton pants and shirt with his first name on a white patch bordered with red stitching over his right shirt pocket. His sleeves are rolled up. He is mowing the front yard at our home on Castle Heights Avenue. His hands have grime and oil from working on cars all day, before he washes them with lava soap, which still doesn’t get all of the dark from under his fingernails. He might use his pocketknife to clean them later.

That’s it. That’s my image of this man. He was pretty special even if he wasn’t a plastic, false-image hero to the masses of social media.

He was my father. He was my best friend.

And even if i never caught as many fish as he caught, i wish to God i could go fishing with him again.

Even though i wish no special acknowledgement on this government proclaimed day, i do wish to thank you, old man.

Thank you, Jimmy Jewell, for being the father i needed.

every man; no man

i was just sitting here not doing all of the things i should be doing and several of the things i shouldn’t be doing wondering why i think i shouldn’t be doing them, and in general screwing off in a funk. Then out of the blue, a thought from two nights ago came rushing into my abused and not frequently used mind. i finished it just a few minutes ago. Now, i’m going to work in the yard, do some finance stuff, fix a couple of things on this demonic machine. Things i should be doing.

every man; no man

i am every man;
i am no man;
i have been everywhere;
i have been nowhere;
i have seen the heights of joy;
i have seen the depths of despair;
i have laughed; i have cried;
i have found the world and its inhabitants inspiring;
i have found the world and its inhabitants depressing;
i have been loved, and i don’t know why;
i have been hated; and i don’t know why;
i have failed;
i have been successful;
i have watched the generations following mine and become disgusted;
i have watched the generations following mine and been in awe;
i am older than the limbs of a wizened oak;
i am younger than a babbling brook;
i have lost loves;
i have found love;
i marvel at my life, the world, the people while sitting on my perch of older:
it’s a pretty good view.

An Evening with a Code Talker

My good friend Jimmy Nokes in a recent email to the 1962 graduates of Lebanon High School noted the passing of a code talker:

Samuel Tom Holiday a member of WWll Code Talkers recently passes away shortly after his 94th birthday.  He was a Marine who served in the South Pacific and helped in  many battles. He was one of less than 10 who still survive.  He will be buried in The Navajo Nation next to his wife. 
This group of Americans should always be remembered for their dedication and service to “their country”. 
Just wanted to pass this on.

In 2008, one of my earlier “Notes from the Southwest Corner” weekly columns for the 
Lebanon Democrat discussed my meeting a code talker. i think the column pretty well covers it. It certainly was one of the most delightful and interesting evenings i’ve had in my life. the drawing leans against the wall behind my desk.

An Original Code Talker

SAN DIEGO – The Navy sent me many places I would have never seen otherwise. I have always been grateful. “Join the Navy and see the world” was not an empty slogan.

One of the most unlikely places I visited was the New Mexico and Arizona desert, a long way from San Diego, Middle Tennessee, and the ocean.

My thoughts turned to this abnormality when I read an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune this past week. Members of the Kumeyaay tribe in San Diego County are attempting to save their native language from extinction.

My travels to the Navajo Nation also had a connection to Native American language. The Navajo language did not need to be saved. To the contrary, their language contributed to the United States winning World War II in the Pacific.

In the spring of 1989, my command, the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado, asked me to chaperone a trip through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The tour group consisted of approximately 25 foreign senior officers who were attending an amphibious planning course. The public relations tour was a ten-day whirlwind trip through the Navajo reservation of Four Corners, the Navajo reservation; the Grand Canyon; Brian Head, Utah; and Las Vegas. The farewell dinner to the Navajos in Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo nation, was by far my best time on the tour.

The Navajo Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsored the dinner. The speaker was the embattled Navajo council vice-president, Peter McDonald, who was eventually forced out of office and sent to prison for fraud and corruption. My special time was not the dinner or the speaker.

Being a chaperone, I waited until the foreign officers and the VFW members had found seats. When the organizers discovered no seats were left for me. they set up a card table and said someone would join me. Soon, the picture of noble warrior came to my table, accompanied by a young lady. He introduced himself as Carl Gorman.

As the meal was being served, this craggy faced man, long white hair pulled back and tied in a pony tail, made me feel comfortable. He spoke with when pride introducing his daughter, Zonnie Gorman, who was working for Amtrak.

Gorman, a member of the Black Sheep clan of Navajos, was an original Code Talker in World War II. This group of 29 Navajo Marine recruits created the code for radio communications in the Pacific theater from their native tongue. The language was not written and the Japanese could never break the code.

The Code Talkers grew to around 400 and their contributions were kept secret until the Vietnam War. They were finally honored through a congressional act in 2000 and all received the Gold Medal authorized by that act.

Gorman was not just a Code Talker. He also was an artist known for his depictions of life in Four Corners and a protector of Navajo history, lore, and culture. His son, R.C. Gorman, is an artist of equal stature in Southwestern art.

Carl Gorman projected a regal bearing. He talked energetically of his heritage and the Code Talkers. His anger at the white man’s prejudice against his people and himself was fervent without malice.

As we talked, he took his pen and began drawing on a scrap of notebook paper.

I wondered why he was not at the head table. Gorman spoke of how the VFW had refused to take a stand against questionable practices. I discovered later he had left the organization because of his ethical stance. Yet he was still held in the highest regard by the other VFW members.

He passionately railed against alcoholism, which had become a severe problem on the reservation. He pointed to the VFW members, many of whom were drinking heavily.

The evening was one of the most educational of my life. I left awed by Carl Gorman, or Kin-yah-onny beyeh, the Son of Towering House People.

The drawing on the scrap paper was completed at the end of the dinner. It depicted Navajo warriors on horseback. It was simple but haunting. He gave it to me.

In 1998, Carl Gorman passed away in Gallup, NM, at the age of 90.

I hope the Kumayaay can successfully reclaim their native tongue. It is rooted in Yuman, the root of dialects of Native Americans from this Southwest corner to Arizona.

Mr. Gorman would be proud of their efforts.


i thought i had written of my meeting Mr. Gorman and included a scan of his drawing. i gave my copy of Gorman’s book to someone who never returned it. i need to get another copy. It was intriguing. The Code Talkers gave an incredible service beyond the call of duty to our country even as they were being mistreated in the worst possible way. Carl Gorman was above that, and i suspect all the Code Talkers were of that ilk. The passing of Mr. Holliday is another marker of the great generation of all the Americans regardless of race, creed, or color remains a bright spot in our history. It is sad to see them go. i am not optimistic we will have another generation like that one again.

A Moment to Pause

My bio-rhythms were messed up Monday morning.

The Vanderbilt loss to Mississippi State, 10-6, in 11 innings in the NCAA Baseball Super Regional took up about a quarter of yesterday late. i was a bit disappointed but the effect on my day today was exponential. i was running around trying to do tasks i had put off, get ready for Monday (and of course, a round of golf) and was feeling the pressure. This dude who used to teach time management was on the opposite end of his instruction, the bad side. That would be me.

So i was stressed big time, trying to fit the round pegs into the square holes, trying to prioritize and then figure out the time required only to realize there wasn’t enough time. For those who read my almost daily posts from the no longer published “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar, you should understand when  write i was a walking, talking, writing Murphy’s Law.

Then, i checked my email. A very close friend who was part of one of my more successful weekends in my life, had written me to tell me her husband had passed away. i held my breath for a moment. i did not know him, or rather, i did not meet him but felt i had known him through his wife’s communication. The connection, even with her, was very long distance in a number of ways, but no less real.

The story of our connection is, i think, rather wonderful. But i shall not include that here. i don’t wish to infringe on her and her family’s time reflecting on losing someone vital to their lives.

What i will address is my reaction. The criticality of all of those things pressuring me (or really me pressuring myself) to get them done pretty much washed away. i remembered a bunch of sayings to motivate old agers like me. They rushed at my mind like a three hundred pound defensive end. Ordinarily, i don’t like them, shun them, certainly ignore them.

But the one i remember (perhaps incorrectly remembering) was “Live today as if it might be your last.” Like all of the other attempts to inspire me, this one is harder to pull off than it seems on the surface of it. Lord knows what a complete mess of things i could create by simply doing what i wanted to do at the moment.

Without going into detail, it reminded me of Stephen Covey’s “Prioritization Matrix,” which seems to draw a lot from Abraham Mazlow’s triangle holding the theory of “Hierarchy of Needs” (but of course with a square divided into four quadrants instead of a triangle and just different enough to avoid accusations of plagiarism). Covey says you should work in the “Urgent/Important” quadrant first, the “Not Urgent/Important” next, and ignore or not dwell in the “Urgent/Not Important” and “Not Urgent/Not Important” quadrants, which, of course, is where lies all i want to do. And Covey’s theory never mentions a wife’s “honey-do’s.” Where the hell do you put those in a matrix?

But sitting there Monday morning thinking about my friend, her family, and her late husband, i thought to myself, “You know, you’re there. As one of your high school friends said about a half-dozen years ago, now you are a survivor. Live like one. Enjoy those who care for you; don’t mess with those who don’t; do as much as you can; and as you have been saying and need to quit saying and start doing, live as good a life as you possibly can…and enjoy life.”

Easier said than done.

But i’m trying.


Lost Love

This morning, i was cleaning out files yet again when i ran across a faded piece of typewriter paper containing a poem i wrote in 1970 at the end of my tour taking Republic of Korean troops to Vietnam and back on Military Sealift Command ships operated by merchant marines.. i was the executive officer of the Navy’s transport unit (MSTS Transport Unit One) for coordinating and managing the 1500 troops while embarked.

The poem was one of the few i wrote about Kosyko. It was back when i fell in love with women often. i didn’t just become infatuated with women. i loved them. None of that period really turned out too well. Kosyko saw me with an American young woman and that made me persona non grata. i might have married her had it not been for my gaffe. i married that young American and, as i said, that didn’t turn out too well either. i have mixed feelings about both of them. i’m sorry neither worked out, but i loved my time with them or rather, loved them while i was with them, but had i remained with either, i would not have met Maureen, and she is worth all sorts of hurt i endured before her.

So here is a glimpse of a bit of sorrow from forty-eight years ago:

Farewell to Kosyko, December 1970

slight figure
fiery anger
complete with flashing black eyes
the bewitching, pensive smile
diminutive, yet precious
in tearing my world apart
i shall never get to know you
enough to understand
i shall leave one day soon.
what shall happen
to our worlds?


Sailors, Midshipmen, and Hatteras

In a recent post on the Facebook group “US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers,” Manny Gentile wrote:

When the midshipmen came aboard for their summer cruise, we went to great lengths to torment them.

i spent time on four Gearing class destroyers, the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), the USS Hawkins (DD 873), USS Waldron (DD 699), and the USS Hollister (DD 788). i also had a tour aboard the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7).

The Thomas was my ship for the third class midshipman eight-week cruise in the summer of 1963.

It was on the Thomas, my first time on a Navy warship at sea where seafaring reached into my gut and captured me…forever. It was also where tormenting of midshipmen was taken to an art form, and i was one of the targets, perhaps another reason for me to forever be a pocket of resistance.

i have told part of this before, but must repeat as the beginning had something to do with my first experience of Cape Hatteras, or to be more correct at sea east of Cape Hatteras.

In the summer of 1963, i opted to ride a bus from Nashville to Newport rather than flying due to my usual lopsided logic that i could save some money and use it for other things. My family drove me to Nashville’s Union Station where i caught a Trailways Bus. It left at noon Saturday and, with one transfer in Providence RI arrived in the Newport “square,” actually a deep triangle around 6:30 Monday morning, forty-two hours on a bus with stops only for passengers and some meals in my Navy Service Dress Khaki midshipman uniform.

When we offloaded, i found my seabag with all of my clothing had not been transferred to the new bus in Providence. i was assured my seabag would be delivered to the ship before we got underway.

Driving down Thames street toward the Navy base and the destroyer piers, i recall Newport as more of a sailor’s town: rough looking bars, a working waterfront much more so than a tourist attraction. When the bus stopped at the foot of the piers, i remember the USS Yosemite (AD 19) as the first ship pier-side in its grandeur as the flagship of the Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet (i was Yosemite’s XO on my last operational tour twenty years later). As i walked down the wood creosote pier, i was in awe of the gallant destroyers nested in threes on the pier. I thought it was smoggy, but the tin cans were “blowing tubes,” cleaning out the boiler tubes by blowing residue out the stack, a practice soon prohibited from environmental concerns. But that day, the acidic soot particles landed on my blouse and cover putting small black holes in the fabric.

By the time, i walked across the  brow and awkwardly saluted while reporting aboard, i smelled worse than a goat on a bad day. We had a short introduction by the XO in the wardroom before we were hustled the to the 01 torpedo deck forward of the bridge and put into formation, 18 third class midshipmen and three first class midshipmen.

As we let go all lines and got underway, i was informed my seabag did not arrive in time but would be on another ship and transferred by high line as soon as practicable.

As we stood in formation, standing out of the harbor and the Narragansett Bay in incredible weather, a gnarly, old chief emerged from the hatch underneath the port bridge wing where all the midshipmen could see him but not visible from the bridge. The chief had grabbed one of the seasick bags, small paper bags that were a poor sister to the airsick bags available in aircraft. He had gone to chiefs quarters, crumbled vanilla wafers into the bag and then filled it about half full of milk.

As he emerged onto the weather deck, he grumbled, “Every time we get underway, i have to get my sea legs.” With that, he leaned over the lifelines and gurgled and belched as if he were throwing up. When finished, he raised up and announced so we could hear him, “And there’s only one way to cure it.” He then put the seasick bag to his mouth and drink the contents with the milk and crumbs of vanilla wafers spilling down his cheek, onto his uniform and the deck.

Of the twenty-one midshipmen in formation, eighteen immediately became seasick and rushed to the life rails to copy the chief’s throwing up but for real. i was one of the three still standing. i don’t know why, but i suspect i stunk so much from almost three days in the uniform on a bus that i was numb.

After sea detail was secured, we went to our assigned berthing on the fantail. All the third class midshipmen changed into the midshipmen version of an enlisted sailor’s dungaree uniform. with Dixie Cups that had blue piping on the rim. i remained stinking in my ripe service dress khaki but discarded the blouse. We went through an orientation and were assigned watches. Afterwards, we gathered in our berthing and became acquainted.

The evening meal on the mess decks was all greasy: pork chops, pinto beans, and other things i don’t remember. As we sat down, a couple of sailors walked through the mess deck announcing they would have an appetizer before the meal. They had tied strings onto sardines and had put them back in the sardine can. They opened their cans, held the sardines by the string and appeared to swallow them. Then they pulled them out announcing they were so good they would eat them again. They repeated this several times and more midshipmen rushed to the supply of seasick bags.

i had drawn operations as my first section of duty and was assigned the mid-watch. i was still in my gabardine, by now wreaking khaki trousers and cotton dress shirt, sans the tie. The first class radarman was the CIC watch supervisor. He gave me the job of staring at a radar repeater in the forward part of the darken ship space. The only lights beside the radar repeater were red to retain our night vision, and of course the glow from the repeaters. My station at the radar repeater required me to sit facing forward, thereby making the side rolls of the ship much more difficult to handle for seasickness. My seabag arrived three weeks later by hi-line. The destroyer who received it from the bus line had transferred it to the oiler in company and eventually the oiler transferred it to the Thomas.

i was already getting queasy as the ship came into the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. By my calculations today, i’m guessing we were about one hundred miles east of Hatteras, legendary for rough seas. The seas and Hatteras mix did not disappoint. The Thomas was taking twenty-degree rolls. That was about when all of the radarmen on watch lit up cigars. They kept changing stations while i rocked monotonously at my repeater turning green. Me turning green, not the repeater scope. As the radarmen moved from one station to another, each would come by my station to check on me, of course blowing as much cigar smoke as they could into my face.

i could feel myself getting sick. A lump came into my mouth from down below. It was nasty. Green to the gills, rocking to and fro, staring at the sweep of the radar on the scope, it appeared the sailors had gotten to one of the last three midshipmen who had avoided sea sickness. But from somewhere deep inside, i decided i was not going to give in. i swallowed down that lump and whatever else had come up from below, and gutted it out. By the time, the morning watch arrived, my green had gone away. Before i hit the rack, i brushed my teeth and had a drink of water.

i was given underwear and socks from ship’s store. A third-class radarman about my size donated enough sailor gear for me to wear.  He also donated some boots he had bought in Turkey on the last deployment. They were of camel leather that had not been cured very well. In short, they stunk. But the stench was nothing compared to the khaki i had been wearing for four very long days.

i never got seasick, or even close to it again. The ordeal was a blessing in disguise.

i soon realized all of the pranks the sailors were playing on the midshipmen and naive sailors, which continued on every ship i rode during twenty-two years. About three weeks later, i rotated to engineering and was assigned watches in main control and the fire rooms. On a forenoon (0800-1200) watch in main control, the watch supervisor instructed me to go to “A” gang (auxiliary engineering) and bring back some “relative bearing grease.” i dutifully headed for the “A” gang shop where i was told they were out and i should check with the BT’s (Boiler Tenders) in the after fire room. As i left their shop, i finally realized they were pulling my leg — “relative bearing” is the term for degrees from the bow of the ship often used to describe the ship’s position relative to another ship or object ashore — and there was no such thing as “relative bearing grease.”

i decided i just go take a nap in my rack. About an hour later, one of main control watch standers woke me up demanding to know what the hell i was doing. i acted sheepish and told him i was sorry, but i kept looking for some “relative bearing grease” but no one seemed to have it. Consequently, i was too embarrassed to return to main control empty handed.

The sailors never tried to pull my leg the rest of the cruise.

The tales of sailors pulling such stunts on new sailors reporting aboard or midshipmen are legendary. My favorite was the CIC watch on the Hawkins. It was at the end of a morning watch (0400-0800). The Boatswainmate of the Watch on the bridge piped attention with his Bosun’s pipe over the 1MC speaker which went throughout the ship and then warned “Stand by for heavy rolls” as the ship approached some rough seas. The CIC watch told their new striker, an RDSA, to go down the to the galley and wait in line to get some “heavy rolls” from the cook. The poor yokel did as he was told and spent an hour in a line of one at the galley hatch before he was told he had been tricked.

Sailors were fun. More seasick stories to come.

A Grave Situation

One of my favorite stories about Lebanon. Oh the unbridled energy i had, digging graves and mowing until knockoff, running to get in my uniform to play fast pitch softball for Texas Boot Company or American Legion baseball and doing it all again for four days in a row with Friday night off. In the column, i omitted that Mr. Martin, i think John, was the manager of the water plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike. i also erred in my time of employment. i worked at the water works for about three weeks and then went to Cedar Grove in 1958. This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat in the winter of 2010. The son of Mr. Bill sent me an email. i am looking unsuccessfully thus far, but when i find it, i will add that information about this column and this post. 

SAN DIEGO – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to Cedar Grove Cemetery.

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

My “Dad” Lament to Judy

There is this dear, caring, and very lovely lady who lives in Tallahassee. When i grew up, she was known as Judy Lewis. Today, she is Judy Gray. We have become close friends again, even more so than when we spent our youth in Lebanon, Tennessee. No, not “spent:” lived the hell out of our life in Lebanon. For reconnecting with her and others, i will remain on Facebook until they close it down because all of the younger folks are off chasing newer, even less literate things.

Well, this morning Judy posted a wonderful piece on Facebook. As it did with several of her other friends, it brought tears to my eyes. For those who are not connected to Judy on Facebook, i include her post here:

I wrote this to honor the fathers I know and respect who have taught me what it’s like to have a dad. It’s called Silent Witness. As they open this letter and wonder why I sent it to them on Father’s Day, let me explain.

I do not remember my father’s face or voice. I was one when he died in service to our country so I don’t have memories of him, I have questions. My lifelong habit has been to watch and learn, to examine and dissect clues of what life with a dad would have been like.

So I’m a voyeur, a hunter, a collector that captures and pins and frames tiny, precious moments in the lives of fathers and daughters.

I listen as you recount sweet stories of teaching her how to catch fireflies and frogs, to make sense of Geometry, to understand ballgames, books and boys. How to drive the car that will ultimately allow her to fly from your nest. How to protect yet give her heart.

I watch as you lift her high to see the fireworks, as you reach for her hand in the surf, how you hug her hello and goodbye at the airport. The tattoo of tenderness on your face as you look at her when she’s not looking. Your baby girl, whether she’s four or forty.

I notice how you cherish and celebrate your unique role as a dad. When I experience the bond between you, I am filled with awe and sweetness. It’s a beautiful vicarious thrill. Rather than dwelling on regret, I feel blessed to have been witness.

I say a prayer of thankfulness that there are men like you who know it’s important to make a little girl feel special and safe, to have set expectations of being treated with care and respect, to have given the experience of being greatly loved so she knows how to love and nurture others.

You have made all the difference in her world. And you have made a difference in mine. I’ll bet my dad would have been a lot like you.

With affection and appreciation, Judy Gray

Judy is an incredible, loving human being. She is also very successful in her career which centered on helping people be better in their work (if i have that right, Judy). She deserved to have her father with her while she grew up. Her mother deserved to have her husband with her to raise Judy. On the other hand, not having her father may have Judy more of a success in her career and in her life. i doubt it. She deserved him.

i still ache every day because of circumstances beyond my control i was not an every day, live together father for my daughter Blythe. It hurts and it will always hurt. Judy’s father never even had that much of a chance because of a war. That makes Judy’s post even more poignant for me.

All of the things that Judy describes as a “voyeur” are things i still miss not being able to do with Blythe. i don’t blame anyone. i think her mother and i tried to do the best thing we could for our daughter when the dissolution became inevitable. But there is a vacancy in my heart the minute i realized i would not be a “full-time dad.” i was fortunate to most of those things Judy and Blythe missed with their fathers with Sarah.

i hope with all of my heart and soul that i have helped in some way to make both of my daughters to “feel special and safe.” i worry that i haven’t done as well as i desire. i hope my decisions now and in the future will allow them to live as securely, comfortably, and with peace with themselves. i would wish for happy as well, but happy is a relative thing.

As for my father, he gets an A-plus but with a caveat. He had this woman Estelle who gave him the freedom to be who he was. Estelle was as much a part of who Jimmy Jewell was as much as Jimmy Jewell was. She was his support, his alter ego, his reins, his love, and he was her complete supporter and the father standing behind the mother in the family. Period.

Judy, i don’t know if i can match up to being what you imagine your dad would have been. i’m sure he would have been much like my dad. i’m also sure he is incredibly proud of his daughter for being the good soul she is.

So here is my affection and appreciation for you and a salute to your father. He (and your mother) created one wonderful human being.



Sunday Afternoon

Sunday, yesterday. Unlike The Kinks, i ain’t got no mansion nor a yacht on this “Sunny Afternoon,” nor do i have “a big fat mama trying to break me.” My mama is beautifully thin still, and if anything, i might break her (financially) by mistake, but we’re cool: we understand, and it’s worked pretty damn well for thirty-six years and change. Like the Kinks, “I love to live so pleasantly, Live this life of luxury (sic), Lazing on a sunny afternoon.”

It wasn’t planned that way. We thought we were going to east county — going to east San Diego county from Bonita would be a similar distance to driving from Lebanon to Cookeville — to meet our gardener and discuss the front yard landscaping redo (her idea, not mine: i do know when to keep my mouth shut…oh, no i don’t, but she understands; you know, that thirty-six year thing), but the nursery out there in east county is closed on Sunday, and the home our gardener wanted us to see for an example of his drought resistant landscaping skills will be there later.

So i changed course. i would work in the yard on seven-hundred, sixty two uber-gazillion things to do in the morning and then go to the library in the afternoon to work on my book before coming home to watch the taped (okay, millennial techies: “recorded,” not taped) Vandy-Clemson and Padres-Reds baseball games.

Well, it didn’t quite work that way. Surprise.

We had a nice breakfast, as always when Maureen is the chef and she is always the chef, out in our sitting area next to the vast and now very bald back slope. The sun was out, but typical for the Southwest corner the seaport coolness made it comfortable. We ate, then read the newspaper while watching hummingbirds feed on the coral tree and in the middle of it all, a starling chasing a falcon directly above us before they dashed toward the other canyon. i scrambled classical music on my iPod and turned the bluetooth speaker down low.

i never sit outside enough, and this morning once again begged me to answer why. One of the unsung glories of the Southwest corner is the absence of bugs. Oh, we have some gnats but they seem to stay up on top of our hill. There are some nasty critters but they lie low and don’t disturb us hardly at all. Best, there are no flies. The flies have chosen to spend their time at the horse stables apparently.

Then as usual, i cleaned up the kitchen. It is the daily duty i assumed when Maureen retired and took over the cooking duties almost entirely. i find washing dishes and cleaning up peaceful, satisfying.

Next, i went to this infernal machine and caught up with more sports, more news, and Facebook. In other words, i dawdled. i am a good dawdler. All the way to noon. Lunch. Another amazing sandwich from the chef queen.

The ladies went to a movie. As usual, i declined.  They  are movie fans. i’m not. i’m glad they are big movie fans. i am glad my friends like movies too. It’s just not my thing.

So because of the magnificent dawdling, i had to decide whether to go to the library or work on decreasing my task load, which probably will actually increase the tasks because i would discover at least five more things to add to the list while reducing it one or two. Bad math. Murphy would be proud.

Initially, i decided for the library and the book, but on the way out, i realized i was too sleepy for an effective library stop. So of course, i took a “NORP.” After all, i had Vandy playing for the baseball regional championship and the Padres were playing the Reds. i had to get whatever i needed to get done completed before the games. They both started at three Southwest corner time.

So i relocated a pile of wood, took out a faux concrete slab, long beyond its use.

Then i said to myself, “Hell, it’s perfect for lazing on a sunny afternoon.”

i dropped all my pretenses and went to the garage where there is a refrigerator initially placed there for my beer. Now the beer is reduced to a couple in a very small area in the door, cramped by all of Maureen’s cooking supplies. i grabbed one of the few amidst the flour, eggs, four hundred different kinds of pasta, and all sorts of liquid containers of which i never use or even have a clue as to what their uses are. Except for the beer of course. i then settled into a chair on the patio, and sipped my beer in the quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon, lazing. i am a good lazer (my word, not a misspelling of “laser” or some Turkish chewing gum).

The last two days have been Southwest summer, a good time for lazing. The seaport gray of May has disappeared. June gloom has taken a break before the marine layer reenters our days. Seventy with a breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Summer without the heat, humidity or bugs. Lazing. As i sat there with my beer, i thought of lazing on a sunny afternoon…in the summertime…in a world and long, long ago away.

i remembered lazing underneath the Chinese maple in our front yard in our front lawn on Castle Heights Avenue. We’d throw down the blanket, and pull out some board game or perhaps canasta, the old card game. Sometimes, we would take an un-mandated nap (Now, that “NORP” for me). Man, we were good at lazing.

i thought of George and Virginia Harding taking their sons along with a goofy guy out on the lake in their ski boat. We’d put in at the boat dock near Laguardo on the way to Gallatin off of Tennessee 109. George would drive us out to an island. We would ski, picnic, and then prove Henry, Beetle, and i were superb at lazing.

i recalled picnics, barbecue cooked on site in a pit at my great uncle’s farm. i once fell into the ice bucket holding the cold drinks. But Papa’s farm was perfect for lazing. Rocking chairs on the porch in addition to the old fashion swing. A swing made from a board hanging from the huge hickory tree in the front yard. Sunny afternoons. Lazing at its finest.

i finished the beer, went to the family room and watched the Commodores put on an incredible hitting performance and the Padres using a grand slam to beat the Reds (Yes, Jim Leftwich, the homer came from Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfro).

It was a good day…no, a great day made even better by lazing.

…and no movie.