All posts by Jim

A Chief of Legend

This post is a old Navy sea story of mine and is really true. It is not for folks who are overly sensitive and certainly not for those who are politically correct.

He was notable, a legend amongst us, at least amongst Navy folks.

1970. Sasebo, Japan in mid-January. i was the new XO of MSTS (now MSC) Transport Unit One (gone with the wind of time) which road USNS troop ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back. He was the master chief corpsman. i cannot remember his name for now. But he is indelibly etched in my memory bank, how frail and sketchy that might be. i met this jocular, white haired master chief shortly after i reported aboard.

First story:

The master chief liked to gamble a bit. So he frequently visited the game room (aka slot machine room) at the Sasebo Chief’s Club. As we were getting underway for our overnight steam to Pusan, Korea, i spotted him with a large bandage around his head and jowls.

“What happened to you, Master Chief?” i inquired.

“I broke my jaw,” he tersely replied.

“How?” i asked just as tersely.

“This woman, a dependent wife hit me in the chief’s club,” he responded.

Somewhat astounded for several reasons, i pursued, “How could that have happened?”

“Well sir, i went into the game room and grabbed a stool for an empty slot…at least i thought it was unoccupied,” he continued, “Well, this woman apparently had had a winning streak and left her machine for a moment. When she came back, she got mad at me taking her slot machine and hit me.”

“She hit you and broke your jaw?” i stated, even more amazed, “Must have been one big woman.”

“No sir, XO. She was tiny. i think she was the Japanese wife of one the chiefs stationed here.”

“She was a tiny Japanese woman, and she broke your jaw?” i stated, totally flummoxed.

“Well, sir,” the master chief embarrassedly concluded, “She hit me with her purse. It was full of quarters.”

Second Story:

The Master Chief was single. He had decided to get a vasectomy. The Navy medical facilities did not provide for such procedures in 1970, but he had found a Army dispensary outside of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, arranging for the procedure on our next port call.   As we were departing Sasebo for our overnight excursion to Pusan, i went down to the ship’s infirmary to the unit’s two doctors who had become good friends. The master chief was working furiously on a cardboard sign. i suspected it had something to do with the red light district in Pusan where most of the single unit members frequented when our ship was in port.

“What are you doing, Master Chief,” i questioned.

“Well XO, this is going to be my last port before my  vasectomy, so i’m going trawling.”

“Trawling?”

“Yes, sir. Just before i go on liberty, i’m going down to the galley and get a whole chicken, thawed. Then, i’m going to tie it on a long line and this pole with the sign on it. When i get down to about the San Francisco Club, i’m going to walk down the middle of the street with that chicken at the end of my pole. i’m thinking i’ll catch me several of those women.”

Although wary, i still asked, “Master Chief, what does the sign say?”

He held it up so i could see. In big block letters, he had scrawled, “Get the last live load.”

Yes, he was a legend.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This old irascible curmudgeon was rolling into his “Bah, humbug” phase of Christmas. It happens about this time of year every year.

For reasons beyond his control, he has had this phase for about oh, say for about a half a century. It occurs when he realizes he yet again won’t be spending Christmas with someone whom he holds very dear.

Up until he left his hometown to wander (and wander he has, although nearly all of it was not planned; it just turned out that way), he spent Christmas with his family: his parents, his brother and sister, family in Lebanon and Chattanooga (Joe, Martha, Nancy, all of the Prichard’s, did they ever go to Florida for Christmas? He can’t recall although their is some vague memory of a warm Christmas in Daytona, perhaps another one of his illusions).

Then life and the world outside of our hamlet smack dab in the middle of Tennessee began to take him away. Several Christmases were spent away, far away completely out of his control: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Diego Garcia to name a few. The military can do that to you. Then there was this marriage thing and Christmases inevitably was divided between families. Then there were three families geographically separated (divorces and remarrying can do that, you know).

And that’s where it really started. When the world and life takes one away from the perfect Christmas. That was 1979. It was the first Christmas of not being with his daughter Blythe. Christmas has never been the same since then. That old humbug phase has been there ever since.

The closest he has ever gotten to that perfect Christmas began in 1992 when Maureen, three-year old Sarah and he went back to Tennessee, Signal Mountain most of the time, to be with his parents and his sister’s family. The Duffs have become his Christmas, and even though he is missing a daughter, a grandson, his brother and his family, and his wife’s family, it has been a beautiful Christmas every year.

Still that sadness is there as he has had to make choices about with whom he  spent Christmas, or rather who he misses at Christmas.

When they first started going to Tennessee again in 1992, he had family and friends housekeep for him and there was an abbreviated version of Christmas with Maureen’s family before they left. Even though the Southwest corner family still gets together for an early, abbreviated Christmas, the housesitting has evolved into someone looking after the pets on a daily basis. In those early years, they continued to decorate to the fullest although the tree was dry and crumbly by the time they returned. When the housekeeping stopped, they stopped the decorating. This was about when he created the legendary “NOEL” sign.

About four Christmases ago after Sarah moved to Texas, Maureen and he missed their house being Christmasy and bought a fake tree, something he vowed he would never do. So they decorated the tree, put up a minimal number of other decorations and of course, the “NOEL” sign.

But this year, Sarah is back home for a brief period. You get two sentimental and caring women together and you are going to have Christmas decorations, full-blown.

This year, they do.

No, he still won’t have that perfect Christmas. He will not be with his other daughter Blythe and his grandson Sam (and yeh, you too, Jason). It’s been a decision he has made every Christmas except one, trying to do what was best for everyone of his family he loves. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and do the right thing. He has bitten quite a few bullets in his day.

But this year, it’s a bit different, this curmudgeon humbug thing. The women decorated.He put Christmas music on the iPod and plays it frequently. It not only is beginning to look a lot Christmas, it’s beginning to sound that way as well.

The old curmudgeon humbug sort of got into the spirit. You know, the reason for Christmas, for joy to the world, for hope, for caring and giving., for children, and birth, and that star.

Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:

It is the season and the menorah is something Sarah made in elementary school. A Jewish family came to our Christmas party. The girl was a friend of Sarah’s. The wife was very thankful for us having that menorah card in our decoration. The reindeer was also made by Sarah a long time ago.

 

Then there are the music boxes Sarah has received from her aunt almost every Christmas. These are on the table in the alcove between the family room and the dining room.

 

 

 

These music boxes and the nutcracker are on the living room mantel.

 

 

 

These poinsettias in the entry are ones Maureen couldn’t resist. She had made me throw away the fake ones i got from Home Depot several years ago for five dollars. Oh okay, mine were quite a bit worn and they did look fake, but other than that they were fine.


 

That’s Santa and a bit undersized reindeer with a sled for Santa who won’t fit, but it holds Christmas cards nicely on our “daughter” table.

 

Then we have our stockings, acquired as a gift several years ago.

 

 

 

 

This has removed my stocking, which my mother made me about seventy years ago, from the in-house decorations. So i moved it to my work (hah, hah) space in my garage. i actually really like it here. i know Martha’s is in her home on Signal Mountain, and i wonder where Joe’s is in Vermont.

 

 

 

A cross-stitch is in the guest bath so we can relate the legendary Jewell-Hall story about why it is so…well, legendary.

 

 

Almost finally, there is the tree. With the fake one, we have options. i turn on the colored lights in the morning to welcome the wakers with a good feeling. In the evening, we turn on the white lights to add to the family room’s Christmasy atmosphere, also abetted by the fire…which is not fake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coup de gras is the “NOEL” sign, which after countless hours of wire cutting, splicing, soldering, and hair pulling (if i had hair). After completing then hanging of the sign, i hung it up and turned it on. The two light strings illuminating the letters are, we discovered two different whites. The “warm” whites are whiter than the clear whites. But i ain’t changing it out again this year. Maybe next. Meanwhile, the legend grows.

And all of this is really to say very few people have a “perfect” Christmas. Sadly, some people have dark ones because they are alone. But everyone, if they try, can get into the spirit, the real meaning of Christmas, and rejoice. Even this old curmudgeon humbug can have a merry Christmas.

May yours be especially wonderful this year.

 

Twenty-Eight

My younger daughter turns twenty-eight today.

As with many twenty-eight year olds, she is struggling with finding herself, trying to determine if she needs to continue the way she’s been going or change course. i think…no, actually, i hope it will turn out alright for her. I know i have little control over what happens next.

When i was twenty-eight, i was making monumental decisions about my course for life. i was a sports editor in a great mid-size daily in upstate New York, The Watertown Daily Times, on my way up. But it was tough financially. As with most careers, there wasn’t a lot of money in the beginning, and my life, our lives were going to be changed drastically in six months when Blythe was due. i wanted to remain the sports editor as i discovered it really was a passion of mine, but to make the income for a family of three, i was either going to have to go to a big city daily and work the night desk, etc. for a while, take the national news or state news editor jobs at The Times or do something else entirely.

My wife, feeling the economic crunch as well i was, wisely asked what about going back to the Navy. i had thought about it but not mentioned that possibility because she was an “Army brat,” and i believed she had enough of being a military dependent. To provide the needed security for my wife and child-to-be, i decided i would apply for reinstatement to active duty. i did and was selected by the skin of someone’s teeth. i was one of six returned that year.

My course was set, at least temporarily (as it is in all things called life). And having Blythe as my daughter and going back to sea were two of the best things that have ever happened to me. The sea was my passion. i think i was a pretty good officer, a leader, but i thrilled deep inside every time i took the watch on the  bridge and taking the “con,” driving a steam ship through the seas in most conceivable situations and damn near every kind of weather. i retired as quickly as i could when i knew my ship driving time in the Navy was over.

My new course was set, as Sarah was born the day i retired, actually just over six hours after my retirement ceremony concluded. My course, as it is in all lives, keeps changing.

The course for life will keep changing for Sarah as well. i hope she has as wonderful of an adventure as i have since changing my course at twenty-eight.

She has had a good start:

Sarah, 1994
Sarah 2017

Happy Twenty-Eighth Birthday, Sarah. May your course in life be through calm waters except when you need a thrill.

No, Noel, No

This would be better if i had taken a night photo of this year’s traditional Christmas decoration folly. But i was involved in many things (as usual), nearly all not really necessary (except golf…as usual) and was rushing around (as usual) and didn’t think of a taking a picture until i had dismantled the offending lights. Last year, it looked like this:

Without any skills at “photoshopping” a photo, i have cropped this one to give you an idea of what my sign this year looked like when i hung it with a light string out:

The annual disaster is now on my workbench in the garage. i hope to have all the lights working and, of course, i’m piddling with a new innovation (of the goofy guy kind, not new technology) and hope to make it even better than ever. By my count, that is about a dozen modifications in about twenty years, not counting the original Colonel Jimmy Lynch had me help hang on his roof in Paris, Texas many, many Christmas moons ago.

My wife has pointed out that my modifications have made little difference and somehow brings up Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation.” This disparagement of my Christmas decoration efforts all began when i hung the sign for the first time sometime in the 1990’s and immortalized it with a Lebanon Democrat column. i also made the mistake of telling my tale of woe to my close friend Pete Toennies who thought it was so funny he asks me to repeat it every year.

So in keeping with the tradition, i offer the tale as it appeared in The Democrat and has appeared here on several occasions:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: An Embarrassing Christmas Moment

As I have noted previously, I am in Tennessee for Christmas, not in the Southwest corner. The below events, however, did occur near San Diego.

Have you ever had one of those days when everything turned into an embarrassment? I had a champion day like that several years ago.

It started innocently while I hung our outdoor decoration, a home-made “NOEL” sign from the eave of our garage, hoping to get it up before my wife’s friends arrived for their Christmas dinner.

Maureen and her six friends have been meeting monthly for dinners 15-plus years. They had this December dinner catered, did it up right. It was Maureen’s turn to be hostess.

It was dark when I began. I was at the top of my step ladder attaching the second of two wires from the sign to a hook secured to the eave when the ladder lurched and toppled. I grabbed a metal ornamental grating above the garage door.

There I hung, my arm intertwined with the “O” of the sign. If I tried to drop, the sign could catch my arm and do some pretty bad stuff.

I yelled, but Maureen had Christmas carols at top volume and didn’t hear. I tried to think of what to do while simultaneously wondering how long I could hold on. The dog wandered underneath, occasionally looking up as if I was a very strange person hanging there.

After several minutes, a neighbor’s son and friend pulled into the driveway several houses away. As they emerged, I swallowed my pride and yelled “Help.”

At first, they could not discern who was calling. Then they spotted me and came to help. The dog decided to protect me and began barking threateningly. The boys hesitated. I assured them the only danger was being licked to death. They finally righted the ladder and helped me down.

I thanked them profusely and then studied whether I should tell Maureen or not. Now that I was back on solid ground, I decided it was too funny not to tell her. She was incredulous and not particularly amused.

I did not realize my embarrassment for the night was just beginning.

While Maureen made final arrangements for her dinner, our daughter, Sarah, and I went to a local spot for supper. The little place was an oasis of sorts in Bonita, where there were only Mexican, Italian, and fast food restaurants. The attraction was being different and having a wide-range of ales and beers for golfers finishing a round across the street.

When we arrived, two couples were at tables and three guys sat at the bar. As we neared the end of our meal, the largest of the guys at the bar walked to the door and then turned back. I noticed his eyes seemed glazed. Then he walked back to the bar.

Suddenly, this guy and the one on the other side grabbed the guy in the middle off his stool, slammed him into the wall and started pummeling him with their fists. The three male diners, me (instinctively) included, approached from one side and two cooks approached from the back. Sarah had retreated to the door with the two lady diners. I grabbed the big guy. He spun and fell backward, slamming us into our table, knocking it over with shattering glass. It gave me some leverage, and we spun to the floor with me on top and knocking the wind out of the big guy. The other two diners helped me hold him until he calmed down. The cooks had quelled the other assailant. The two left quietly.

Even though the waitress wanted us to not pay our bill, we paid and left for home. On the way, I talked to my daughter about what I should have done (directed her outside before joining the fray) and what she should do the next time if she were ever in a place where a fight broke out (get out and away and not come back until she was sure it was over).

I was feeling pretty good as we arrived home. Then Sarah dashed out of the car, ran into the house and yelled to her mother in front of the caterer and her six friends dressed to the nines amidst fine china, Christmas decorations, and haut cuisine, “Mom, Dad got in a fight in a bar.”

Some days, I just can’t get a break.

May your holiday season be embarrassment free.

And may all of you have a most wonderful and amazing Christmas Season, and please, please, please (as James Brown would implore) remember the reason this all occurs every year.

Grantland Rice, Knute Rockne, and Fred Russell Are Not Laughing

Yesterday. Maureen was off to a luncheon and then took Sarah to see her Aunt Patsy, who is recovering (well, thank goodness) from surgery. The afternoon, actually pretty much the whole day was mine.

i did a few productive things, but generally screwed off as i am wont to do. Old man privilege, you know.

Then, i sat down in front of the television. Yes, i have knocked all sorts of sports, professional and even college. But after all, this was Tennessee and Vanderbilt playing for all of the marbles…oh, excuse me that was about 100 years ago when they played each other for all of the marbles. This time, they were playing to escape embarrassment and dump that embarrassment all over the other team.

i should have been happy, Vandy escaped embarrassment by a score of 42-24. i am a huge Vanderbilt fan in case you weren’t aware. i should have been overjoyed.

i wasn’t.

Happy for Vandy. Yes. But there was an emptiness there.

Growing up, i was fascinated with both teams. i loved…no, i worshipped football, and these two teams along with the Lebanon High School Blue Devils and Castle Heights Military Academy Tigers were my idols. They were front and center in my life from August to New Year’s Day every year from my first recognizable thoughts until i joined the Navy.

The Bob Neyland and Bowden Wyatt Volunteers were far and away the Tennessee superstars in those days. But i rooted for both the Commodores and the Vols as well as my high school teams. i spent copious hours learning about the stars of all college and pro teams.

The Vols and the Commodores remained almost equal in my adoration until November 29, 1969. UT was my favorite because of their success and their idiosyncrasies. When they quit wearing high top black football shoes, stopped donning only only orange jerseys and white pants, gave up the single wing, and i became a student at Vanderbilt, my favorite switched  to the ‘Dores, but i still rooted for both teams except when they played each other.

But on that fateful day 48 years ago, i flew into Knoxville from my ship in Norfolk and attended the game in Knoxville with Vandy friends. We sat in the closed end zone. Because of the timing, i wore my Navy service dress blue ensign uniform to the game. Throughout the game, the Vol fans surrounding us, cursed us, denigrated us, and threw coke and whiskey on us.

i remain not enamored with many Vol fans but i root for the team, again except when they play Vandy.

So i should have been just fine Saturday. But i wasn’t. i felt an emptiness. It’s not fun to watch a team get beat when they are down. i wanted both teams to win. To see a proud tradition with my memories of games in Neyland Stadium, sitting in the end zone or on the northwest corner hill when that end was still open, on a crisp, cloudless day was magic. It was college. It was Tennessee. It is no more. There is this dearth of loyalty. When they built that behemoth stadium for capacity bragging rights (and money of course), and then dumped Johnny Majors followed by doing the same to Phillip Fulmer because they didn’t win enough to satisfy the blood thirsty, it changed.

Now the Vols’ culture is an athletic administration searching for an answer and a conglomeration of fans, many, if  not the majority of which are sore losers. Some even denigrated Vanderbilt after Friday because their team got beat, badly. Go figure.

That is sad.

It is also sad UCLA after several good seasons, but not quite the pinnacles they reached three or four decades ago, fired a good coach, and hired a bounty hunter. Chip Kelly had a good record at Oregon and a bad one with the Philadelphia Eagles. He will be paid $23 Million over 5 years. That makes Kelly the highest paid state employee in California. Hmm, that makes some statement about priorities.

It wasn’t sad to learn the results of “rivalry week.” Top rated teams fell like dominoes, including the top two, Alabama and Miami, getting whacked by Auburn (Earl Major is smiling) and Pittsburgh. This of course, throws the whole bowl and playoff system into an uproar. And that’s bad for these folks. They are going to lose money. Oh, okay, they aren’t going to make as much money.

The results also point out the absurdity of a playoff system and the ranking systems. A good football team can beat a great football team in any one game. That doesn’t mean one team is better than the other. It means one team won and one team lost, and no one ties because the frothing at the mouth fans and administrations AND the coaches didn’t like ties.

Brain injuries may kill the sport. It is already becoming more and more of a freak show. i confess i have mixed emotions because playing the game (a defensive linebacker, not the running back star for which i dreamed), even practicing, was some of the finest, most rewarding moments of my life. Yet, i am very glad my grandson is not interested.

It is sad the college game has morphed into something making no sense. It wasn’t perfect, but growing up, a nine-game season and five bowl games seemed like its own heaven for this fan. Conference championships were determined by the season record against the other conference teams. The rankings were subjective and created all sorts of dialogue. Today, those rankings, just as subjective in spite of all the stat gurus, strength of schedule, computer input and famous committee members are just as subjective but creates venom at perceived injustices.

Back in…lord a mercy, i find myself writing “back in my day,” but it was back in my day, there was a symmetry to the season. Nine games, not a ridiculous twelve, no real patsies for warming up,  conferences maxing out at ten schools in a region, not some giant and rich organizations running a conglomerate of teams across the country. Back then, there were traditional rivalries, regional for most of the games. A conference champion was declared and the winners of the major conferences with some nod to independents (yes, i liked Notre Dame and Penn State being independent) went to five, FIVE bowl games, played on New Year’s Eve, one: the Gator Bowl, and the other four, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and the Rose Bowl (from east to west on your radio dial), the  on New Year’s Day.

Over. The season was over. January Second. Every year.

i think Grantland Rice, Knute Rockne, and Fred Russell would agree with me. It’s sad.

 

 

A Time for Thanks, II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn near a perfect day.

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

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

A Time for Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite Thanksgivings runs the gamut of different settings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, memories.

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

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

It will be a nice way to give thanks.

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sam with Santa at Fashion Valley in San Diego. His first Thanksgiving (Sam’s, not Santa’s)

A Sunday Kind of Day

Yeh, it’s been another one of those. Sunday.

It always starts off with the best of intentions. Just like today.

i had one semi-major puttering project i wished to finish. Had it planned out. Wake up early, work out with stretching exercises, do a little writing, do some administrivia in the office, have another great Maureen breakfast, read the Sunday paper, sip more coffee, hit the project for a while, go hit golf balls, light lunch, a NORP, finish the project, have a nice dinner, watch a little television, write a little for my pleasure, plan for tomorrow and the upcoming week, go to bed.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. i piddled instead of puttering. i kept getting distracted (remember my wihas affliction). Then when i went to purchase the board i needed to finish my project — it was a small project and i planned to use scrap wood and screws, nails, glues, and paint on hand to keep the cost zero; but i made a bad cut yesterday and had to get another piece of lumber large enough to replace the error…hmm, the goofy guy strikes again.

So i go to Home Depot to get the cheap lumber. One purchase. In. Out. Back home. Get the project done. But on the way, i get a call on my mobile. Answering with the bluetooth, i find Maureen wants me to get a thermostat. We have two heating systems and the thermostat on one had died a good death. It’s getting cool enough we will need some heat to knock off the morning chill for a couple of hours for a couple of months. So i, being a well-intentioned guy told my bride i would get two because the second thermostat had a bad light.

Great idea.

In. Out. Back home. Replace the first thermostat. Set the clock and the schedule. Turn it on. Nothing. Pissed. Go to the second thermostat. Start the replacement. Wiring by the installers looks a little screwy but i follow their example. Done. Doesn’t work. Pissed.

Don’t have a clue, but i have crammed this two-hour project into almost all of the day. Finally make one cut on the original project but have to stop to make a run for Thai (good stuff: the staff of Thai Taste 2 on Bonita Road don’t speak good English. They speak and cook Thai).

On the way home with the aroma of Thai cooking in my head, i get down. No, i get downer. Bad day. Like most Sundays, i messed around. Piddled. Not successfully. Should have gone to the driving range and chipping and putting green; had a beer.

But then, my music kicks in on the bluetooth. Right out of the bat, it’s Jimmy Smith. Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist, one of my favorite musicians of all time, not my friend Jimmy Smith of Lebanon and Vanderbilt fame. But both were cool beyond description. This Jimmy Smith always seemed to have Kenny Burrell as a sidekick. Couldn’t do better. This Jimmy Smith also had a soul kitchen down on Fifth in San Diego before it went posh and touristy with it’s new cool marketing moniker of “The Gaslamp District.” Wish i had known about that soul kitchen: it was gone before i found out.

But Jimmy Smith, the organist can turn my day around. He did this Sunday. “Johnny Comes Marching Home” was the tune. i was swaying with the music, marveling at the improvisation, smiling to myself, beating the time with my thumbs on the steering wheel. By the time i got home, it wasn’t such a bad Sunday after all.

Listen. Bet you can’t keep from smiling.

 

The Lost Commander

This is a whine, sort of. It just started building a day or so ago, and i decided i would just put it out there instead of letting it boil and fester inside. This time. Probably shouldn’t. Someone will take offense. So have at it.

i confess. i’m lost. Don’t know where i fit in this crazy world any more.

i feel emasculated, put down by association, burned by general accusations, and escorciated by flawed perceptions.

You see, it seems there’s a whole lot of grouping going on when it comes to people hating. One of the most reviled groups is the white (sic) American male. That’s me, folks. But it ain’t me.

i’m not white. As expressed previously, my old skin is scarily multi-colored, paler than many other humans, but it’s definitely not white. Besides, this sounds like a racial slur to me. i mean if we can’t call others black or red or yellow or brown (or green in some rare instances), how come we think not only it is okay to call me white, but even put it on forms  for me to check as my lineage.

i am American. But because i’m an American “white” male, i am labeled as a racist, a misogynist, an abuser, and someone who spouts derogatory terms about everyone. This generalization including me is doubled down because i also come, quite proudly i might add, from the South.

Also because my background is Southern, i am labeled a gun-loving member of the NRA, a fundamentalist, a conservative, a member of the alt-right, and a believer in white male superiority, a  fanatic college football fan (although i haven’t shot anyone like the ‘Bama idiot fan who shot the Auburn fan last week arguing over which team was best), and a car racing nut. Sometimes that even includes being really dumb.

i am not a racist, not by any stretch.

(i will discuss my relationship with women a tad later.)

i belong to no political party because their platforms make no sense to me and i agree with some issues on each side. i despise the ignorance and the hatred of any group that hates or shows signs of hate against any group of people.

i own two pistols but haven’t had any ammunition for them since 1985. i only fired one like one of them once, and that was in 1975 off the fantail of a ship. i often think of getting  a shotgun and a rifle to hunt for food if there is a cataclysmic disaster cutting off our food supply, but i’ve put that off for about twenty years. i also have thought about getting ammo for the pistols in case of someone tries to break into our house and harm my wife, but i keep putting that off as well. i don’t begrudge hunters hunting but don’t understand the pleasure they get from the sport (sic). i think believing we have a right to own weapons intended to kill many people is downright insane. But i fired guns bigger than anything any individual owns, and i loved it.

i used to be the “Figure 8 Racing” editor for a newspaper, and thought it was the craziest funny thing i had ever seen. Still do, but i think car racing is really boring and am amazed at the draw. If people want to do that, fine, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

i loved football and remain a fan of the college game, but that interest in dwindling. i enjoy Vanderbilt sports because i think they are trying to win the right way, but worry if they do, they will become too much like all of the other major college sports teams. i root for San Diego State because Sarah and Maureen are alumna, i live here in the Southwest corner, and they play an entertaining brand of football, basketball, and baseball.

And as far as that dumb thing goes, i’m not the brightest bulb on the lamp, but i think, therefore i am…not dumb. And even so, as Mose Allison intoned in “Jus Like Living,” “The smartest man in the whole round world really don’t know that much.”

i am lost because i just don’t seem to fit the mold ascribed for me.

Now about women:

Like most men, i don’t understand them or even attempt to try and understand them. However, i have the greatest appreciation and respect for them. i think there should be no limitations on women doing what they want to do (unless that doing infringes on the freedom of others).

i have worshipped them, put them on a pedestal all of my life. i probably have been to bed with more women than most men outside of star athletes, movie and television stars and moguls, sexual predators, and politicians. However, i have never ever tried to coerce any woman into a sex act of any nature. Every relationship i have had with a woman has been to make love in the most beautiful sense possible. i find anyone who mistreats a woman, coerces her, forces her, manipulates, threatens, or blackmails her for any form of sexual abuse is a deviant who should have his balls cut off, no questions asked with no legal recourse.

Yet i don’t understand all of the hullabaloo about what i should call them or how i should act towards them. i don’t understand why i can’t call them “lady,” or “ma’am” or other words to show my respect. Some women like that, but some would castrate me, if they could, if i used those terms around them.

i am amazed how far we have gotten from the family unit as i knew growing up. Or at least knew it even though my mother, in fact all of the women in my family were redefining it. The ideal was the mother of the house stayed at home, cooked, took care of household requirements, raised the children, and shopped for groceries. In their free time, they played bridge, went to teas, were members of women’s clubs, and did wonderful things for children. They dressed immaculately, and always looked good, smart, and i don’t mean sexy.

As i noted, my family’s women didn’t quite fit that mold. They all, except for my paternal grandmother, had jobs, mostly full-time. But the ideal was to not work in the business world and do all of the things i would find satisfying like doing all of the household tasks, taking care of the children, even cooking. i could have gotten into that kind of life.

But not with an abusive or demanding mate. And i don’t begrudge women wanting to do things that historically have been in the man’s purview if that’s what they want to do. They have that right as do all of those with different sexual preferences to mine. i just don’t why they feel (or any group of people who feel, usually warranted) they need to disparage other lifestyle choices.

And i like to make fun, tell a joke, be a little sarcastic or ironic. i think life is very sad if you can’t laugh about most of it. But i am afraid to open my mouth, or in this case, write something down that strikes me as funny. Somebody, somewhere is going to take offense, and offense today is tantamount to legal suits or being drawn and quartered in some public forum.

My watchword has been my guide for living for as long as i remember but only articulated by my close friend Peter Thomas several years ago as “Do the right thing.” But more and more, i find doing the right thing as a perplexing conundrum.

So i am lost, a lost commander.

But i am also old, so i really don’t have to worry about it. i can write, say, do almost anything i want, and people will just write me off as an eccentric, even crazy old man. And if they disassociate themselves from me because of what i said, wrote, or did, then i will miss them, but it will be okay if it makes them feel better.

Wihas, a Disease

i am sorry to announce i have wihas (pronounced WĪ·HAZ′), a disease. i have had it all of my life, since birth.

It is a hereditary disease, but it has been greatly amplified by my life style and choice of careers. My father had it but definitely not quite as bad as i have it.

This debilitating disease has been around almost since the beginning of man, and some medical scholars, at least this one…oh wait, i’m not a scholar, but what the hell, believe it can be traced to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

The good news is wihas is not as bad as ADD. But it’s close. It also gets closer with age.

It keeps me from getting anything done. Actually, it grows the list of all of the things i can’t get done. The natural hereditary characteristics of the disease were amplified by my 22-year Naval officer career. i served on ten ships and had two shore tours (nice, but too many: i wanted my Navy to consist of being at sea only). There were very few things i actually got done. Oh, i had my share of successes, but most of the projects were left for my relief to finish. i was moving on to a new project.

Also, as a Navy officer, you can never do just one thing. For example, as the First Lieutenant on the USS Anchorage (LSD 36) (the greatest job in the world for this mariner), i was the sea detail and general quarters officer of the deck and stood bridge watches in four sections. During amphibious operations, i was in charge of everything except the bridge and combat information center: well-deck master, flight operations, debarking troops, crane operations, boat operations, load and offload operations, coordinating UDT detachment and the beach masters, any ammunition transfers, any gunnery, and probably several other things i forgot. i had about twenty collateral duties. One which was not collateral was the preservation, maintenance, and painting of all things ship not interior and quite a few of those as well (oh i wish everyone how clean and impressive our anchor room was.

i loved it, but just when i was about to complete a project, a problem needed to be addressed in another area — did i mention i also was assigned do conduct a JAG investigation — it did little to help focus on doing one thing.

Then, when i completed my Navy active duty service, i continued to jump around. i was mister mom; writer; organization development director, strategic change, team-building,  customer service, and quality consultant; columnist; blogger; writer again; safety, environmental compliance, vessel certification, Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard liaison, business development, proposal writing program manager for Pacific Tugboat Service; and writer (again and forever).

i loved it until i got tired of managing people and things and i recognized my skills were beginning to fade: it took me longer to not finish things, and it was even harder to focus on one thing.

That inability to focus on one thing has been exacerbated with retirement. You see, when you aren’t on a time clock, you don’t have a real job, and you can do pretty much anything you want when you want, focusing can become even more of an issue.

That’s where my father was different. He had many projects, many jobs, many tasks all the way up to just shy of ninety-nine. But he finished them.

Still, it was my father that led to someone naming this terrible disease i contracted from him and exacerbated by my life choices (not many regretted, i should add).

My mother, the medical scholar, came up with the term for the disease. She, of course, didn’t name it “wihas” (pronounced WĪ·HAZ′). i turned it into an acronym. She named it after seventy-five plus years of observing my father.

Estelle Jewell frequently said Jimmy Jewell was like a “Worm In Hot Ashes.”