All posts by Jim

Times of Change

i wrote this column below for The Lebanon Democrat as the year was about to roll over into 2010, eight years ago. Change has continued both in Lebanon, Tennessee, and the Southwest corner. The column seems as applicable to today, if not more so in both places.

i remember Lebanon as a small country town where from the time i was in the first grade, i could walk to pretty much anywhere i wanted to go, by myself or with a friend, when West Main was a two-lane road that became Nashville Pike somewhere around West End Heights. Big houses lined that street where strip malls, car dealerships, franchise stores, and fast food places now reign. When the Snow White Drive-In had a gravel parking lot, when folks i knew would go parking on Maple Hill Road and Billy Goat Hill. Where Castle Heights cadets would march to churches on Sunday morning in formation and in uniform. Where on that same Sunday afternoon, those same cadets would march on the parade field, which was really the football and track field with the glorious old trees lining the two-lane (barely) entry road to those magnificent buildings at the crest of the hill of which only about three or four are left and now are the city’s headquarters, a restaurant, and two that hold memories of those cadets gone.

The world was simpler then, perhaps because i was not an adult.

i remember San Diego when i could leave for my ships in the morning around seven and get to the Naval Station through the heart of downtown. There would be several cars out by then, but i could get to work, get organized, read the message board full of radio messages, and even have a bite to eat in the wardroom before quarters at 7:55 long before the freeways (if in “free” you don’t count frustration and the cost of the time it now takes) now requiring leaving around 5:30 when the traffic is still bumper to bumper but not nearly as bad as it will get in ten or fifteen minutes and where a twenty-minute commute turns into an hour. On the downtown waterfront, the Navy had a gym, a track, a swimming pool and at least four playing fields where now stands, climbing Babel-like to the sky, an uncountable number of high rises where millennials and more rich people than i can imagine buy million dollar condos and pay association fees double our mortgage and then those condo owners bitch about the train whistling in the middle of the night when it roars through downtown and by requirement blows it whistles at the road crossings right next to where the complainers bought the condos in the high rise with absolutely no clue trains do that sort of thing.

Politics has gone from divisive to insanity. There are enough regulations for me to wonder if i spit on the grass will i be ticketed. A 100,000 acre ranch near our home is now occupied by four or five massive developments and four huge malls with massive stores and high prices. So sometime in this next year, i want to head back home and have another dinner with  the friends of my youth. Maybe, just maybe, we won’t talk about change, but about how we are doing, what we are planning, recalling wonderful moments from our past, and where all our children and grandchildren are…wait, that’s change also.

Oh hell, maybe that’s all right. After all, not all change is bad.

Times of Change

Tennessee in general and Lebanon in particular is not only a Christmas escape for me; it is a place to reflect on change. This year, the change, past, present, and future, seems more palpable.

Often, we refuse to accept change as inevitable. We spend post-Christmas creating New Year Resolutions, which we usually blow off in a week or so.

Just before Christmas, my wife and I shared a dinner at the Chop House with special folks. Change joined us for the evening.

Growing up, I spent almost as much time at the home of Henry Harding; his maternal grandparents, J. J. and Maude Arnold; and his parents, George and Virginia Harding, as I did at my own home. Henry remains my “best” friend. He and his wife Brenda joined us.

The couples troika was completed by Eddie and Brenda Callis. Eddie has been a close friend since we met in high school as sports competitors from Castle Heights and Lebanon High School. Brenda’s father, Jim Horn Hankins, recruited my father to work for at Hankins and Smith Motor Company in 1939, and they became partners in the late 1950’s. So Brenda and I have known each other pretty much all of our lives.

We spoke of families, children, grandchildren, and parents. We spoke of friends. We spoke of adventures growing up and shared stories of places we have been.

Essentially we talked about change.

We talked amidst change itself. My sister, Martha Duff, had played in this structure, now the Chop House, with her friend Kay Lucas, when it was the Castle Heights superintendent’s home, and Ralph Lucas served in that position.

Down the road, my mother played with the son of the original occupants of the Mitchell House, which Danny Evans so graciously renovated for Cracker Barrel’s headquarters. Further down on the original Castle Heights Avenue is the house my parents bought in 1942 when it was one of only two or three houses on the street and where they lived for sixty-one years.

On the dining area wall hung a picture of my brother, Joe, attired in a Heights jersey. A photo of me at the 1962 graduation dance hung in the opposite quarter. The placement was appropriate. Joe and I always seem to end up in opposite corners even in choice of homes: Joe in Vermont, me in the Southwest corner. We often reflect on how we have managed change differently.

At my age, change seems more important. I long for what use to be, overlooking the negative aspects of the past. The past seems more poignant. The need to share memories with my family, especially the new grandson, is strong.

Change is never what we expect it to be. The 1950’s predictions for the next century are comical looking at them from this end. Sometimes change is better than expected. Sometimes change is worse.

Growth, i.e. change, in Middle Tennessee is small compared to San Diego. A community of 100,000 has grown up about three miles south of our home since a large ranch estate was settled in 1995. The expansion of developments may soon extend to the Cleveland National Forest to the east.

The increase in population has produced traffic congestion. Water supply is more tenuous than ever. Utility rates have risen dramatically. Housing costs are astronomical. Politics has become more profitable and more divisive.

The plus side is convenience in shopping and dining. The developments are rife with parks, walking trails, nearby modern schools, and an increase in services.

When I see change in Lebanon, I winch with concern it may drive away many of the things in Lebanon I hold dear. However, it seems to me Lebanon has managed change pretty well since I left for the Navy in 1967. Good change without destruction of the past appears to have been the rule.

Dining with my life-long friends, it occurred to me they (and you folks who live here) have permanent connection to the past, which might explain the change management of the community. The sense of community is not strong in the Southwest corner. Change seems more precocious, more uncontrollable there.

Before this article is published, I will be back in the Southwest corner, attempting to manage change positively. If all goes well, I will return to Middle Tennessee several times in the next twelve months and find change continues to be positive here.

It’s a nice place to come home to. I hope that never changes.

A Big Hit or Two

The NFL’s continuing futile attempt to fix something that can’t be fixed, the problem of constant whacking a competitor or oneself in the head with a plastic helmet, has produced yet another silly and unenforceable regulation as well as bringing my recollections of playing the game i loved to play.

If the gamut of NFL’s referees, umpires, field judges, timers, timeout signalers, replay officials, coach advisors call every infraction of the new rule penalizing dropping of the head in making contact, then there will not be one single play after the opening kickoff played in any professional football game this next season. An absolutely stupid and completely unenforceable rule.

As i have noted on numerous occasions, the game is losing its attraction as we learn more and more about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy or “CTE.” i am glad my grandson is not inclined to take up the sport, even if his mother and father would ever let him. Yet playing the sport of football, whether it was the real thing for six years of my life, intramural touch football in college (which was actually worse than the real thing in terms of injury potential), touch football on some field somewhere and even the touch version on the sand of Daytona Beach with players from the Auburn football team, has been one of my greatest pleasures.

Now mind you, i wasn’t a big star. In fact, i was only a first stringer in high school for one game. But i played the game with a passion. My dream of being an incredible broken field runner never materialized. i became a tiny wonder on defense, amazingly playing linebacker well enough to have one good game, the opener in Castle Heights’ 1961 season before injuring my knee in the following week’s practice, thus ending, for all practical purposes, the short, happy football life of “Mighty Mouse,” the moniker my good friend Mike Dixon and Coach Jimmy Allen tagged on me.

Before that career that never would be ending injury, i even enjoyed practicing and suffering my share of blows.

For those who might not know, Castle Heights Military Academy had a post-graduate year of high school. There were several reasons for this. One was to provide athletes an opportunity to mature and be more attractive for football colleges. It was before such a thing as “redshirts,” freshman playing on the varsities in either high school or college, or “one and done.” You started college, you finished college, and then, if you were good enough, signed with a professional team. In any sport. Southern universities often paid for high school athletes to attend the prep schools with post graduate programs.

Georgia Tech’s feeder school was Baylor School in Chattanooga. Castle Heights often got football players with hopes of going to North Carolina, sometimes Tennessee, and a few others as i recall. Because of this, these prep schools had their own conferences. Ours was the Mid-South Conference. Heights, Columbia Military Academy, Tennessee Military Institute, Baylor School and McCallie School of Chattanooga, and Darlington in Georgia were teams in the conference. We also played college freshman teams and junior colleges. It was highly competitive and the post-grads were usually a bit better than the normal high school player, and nearly always bigger.

i played freshman football at Heights. Our record was not that good. i alternated at tailback (Heights ran the single wing for almost as long as Stroud Gwynn was head coach) with Wayne Pelham. One event i remember well was in practice, one of us was on offense and one on defense (well, maybe i don’t recall all that well as i can’t remember who was which). On an off tackle play the runner, whether it was Wayne or me, and the linebacker, whether it was Wayne or me, found themselves facing each other both at full speed. We duck our helmeted heads and tried to emulate rams fighting for a mate. No mate. We both lost. In fact, we were both laid low, stunned, knocked out. We came to in short order, shook our heads and lined up for the next play.

Wayne, having more sense than me, chose to wrestle rather than go on to varsity or junior-varsity football. i went for my dream: football. Now to point out how little sense i had, i was five-feet, six-inches tall and weighed 128 pounds soaking wet when i went to pre-season practice my sophomore year. Our starting lineman topped out at about 250, huge for a high school player in those days. Middle Tennessee. August. 95 degrees, 95 per cent humidity. Dumb me. Lost ten pounds that first practice, drank a half-gallon of Johnson’s Dairy orange drink during the mid-day break, lost another ten pounds in the afternoon. Gained it all back at the evening training meal and breakfast. This routine lasted for ten days of preseason practice.

i did grow. A little bit. My playing weight for my junior year was 135, senior year 145. Height at graduation was the same: five-feet, six-inches. Genes. Mother’s.

i have several stories about those three seasons of football. But this story with all of that palavering above leading up to the hit. THE HIT. It wasn’t in a game. It was in a weekday practice in my junior year. Garland Gudger was one of the nicest guys i knew in my four years at Castle Heights. He was in his post-graduate year from Salisbury, North Carolina. He weighed around 245 pounds. He was a tackle. i know.

It was toward the end of a usually grueling practice on the field on Hill Street, just east of the drill field. We practiced while the other cadets did close order drill up the hill. Good reason to play football. Most of the time.

The first team had moved into formation for a punt return. The perennial second-string punter, aka me, gave way to the first string punter. i lined up at flanker to go downfield and tackle the returner. The offense was to form a wall down to my right and produce an alley for the punt returner.

Kick. i was off. Somehow, perhaps because i wasn’t big enough to be noticed, slipped behind the blocking wall. i was furiously pursuing the punt returner, on his heels, ready to dive forward for a shoe-string tackle, and be lauded for my outstanding hustle.

However, Garland, standing stodgily in the wall, looked around and spotted my pursuit. So he takes off full bore going in the opposite direction of the punter and the pursuer. Me. He hit me with his shoulder somewhere around my chest. They later told me it was a gymnastic wonder. They said i went up in the air and performed a perfect 270 degree rotation before hitting the ground. Flat. i don’t remember. They sort of moved me around to ensure i was alive, no bones were broken, and all body parts were still intact.

i stirred, shook my head, and went back to the huddle.

i never have claimed to have much sense. But i loved to play football.

Thanks, Gudger for a great memory…even though i don’t remember it all.

A Mother Still Honored

This Democrat column was written in 2009 after i learned my mother was one of the first inductees into the Lebanon High School Athletic Hall of Fame. i remain amazed at how this pint sized woman could so dominate a basketball court, albeit only one third of a basketball court. Back in 1935, when colleges didn’t have women’s basketball, let alone scholarships, the Nashville Business College sponsored an AAU women’s team. They recruited Estelle. She was tempted but then decided she didn’t want to spend her young life away from Lebanon for other girls had their eye on Jimmy Jewell. She was afraid she might lose him. Obviously, i am glad because had she decided to hit the basketball road, i might not have ever been.  A few recent events brought back my memories of her accomplishments on the hardwood (Jack Case, “hardwood” is for you).

SAN DIEGO, CA – Last Monday, Ms Denise Joyner, the Lebanon High School Athletic Director called and announced Estelle Prichard Jewell had been selected as an inaugural member of the Blue Devil Athletic Hall of Fame.

Estelle Jewell is my mother.

About a year ago, J.B. Leftwich, a weekly columnist here, a close family friend, and my mentor in journalism (which I have noted frequently), wrote a tribute to Estelle and suggested she might have been the best women’s basketball player in the history of Blue Devil Sports. For her size, his suggestion just might be a slam dunk.

From 1935 “Souvenir,” the Lebanon (TN) High School Annual. It was enlarged and framed by my father when Mother was selected to be in the initial inductees in the Blue Devil Hall of Fame.

In a 1935 district tournament semi-final, Estelle scored 33 points for the Blue Devilettes girls basketball team and was named to the all-tournament team. For the 1934-35 season, she scored 283 points in 19-games. This was during an era when most games were low-scoring affairs, rarely exceeding 30 points total. Her single game and season scoring records stood for a quarter of a century.

She will be inducted during a half time ceremony during LHS basketball games, December 14

I am elated. LHS’ Hall of Fame is honoring her just after she turned 90 in July.

I am anxious to learn of other inductees. Clifton Tribble, Don Franklin, David Robinson, Ann Lucas. Louis Thompson, David Grandstaff, Hal Greer, and many others immediately come to mind as probable selections. It bemuses me to think of my mother standing next to these heroes of mine and receiving her plaque.

Estelle Jewell today does not come across as a hall of fame athlete. Being 90 certainly belies her earlier skills. She also tops out at five feet tall. I saw her take a shot once. It was a two-handed push. She jumped and spread her legs when she shot. From fifteen feet, it hit nothing but net. I don’t think she could do that now.

In reflection, she laughs about her play. “I got 33 in the semi-finals,” she says, “but I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn the next night, and we lost.” I have never heard her brag about her accomplishments.

In her recollection of a game at Mount Juliet, she recalled how she would try not to drive for a lay-up on one end of the court because she might run into the Ben Franklin stove underneath the basket. The stove heated the entire gym.

Not considering the stove, it was a different game then with three zones with two guards on the defensive end, two forwards on the offensive end, and two centers in the middle who passed the ball from defense to offense. One dribble was all that was allowed.

Still, Estelle’s accomplishments remain exceptional.

Her shooting skills were probably enhanced by chores. Her grandfather, Joseph Webster, the retired Methodist circuit rider, would give her a penny for each fly she swatted and killed inside the farmhouse on Hunter’s Point Pike.

Her endurance and strength were likely abetted by other chores she and her two sisters and brother undertook while her mother was a care-giver, working day and night (Her father, Joe Blythe Prichard, died young and the family lived with their grandfather).

When her hall of fame career in sports was concluded, Estelle quickly put it aside and went to work. She learned secretarial skills at the County Court Clerk’s office in the old courthouse on the square. She worked for the Commerce Union Bank on the north side of the corner of the square and East Main Street. She married my father, Jimmy Jewell, in 1938, three years after she had graduated from LHS.

She is a reflection of all of the women of that generation whom I have known: practically feminine with a firm grasp of reality; frugal but willing to lavish gifts and love on her family and friends. She is a product of hard times (the depression), frightening times of sacrifice and victory (World War II), security produced by hard and loyal work, and change without end. They are strong, balanced, and loving women.

But every once in a while, basketball will come up in a conversation, and you can still see the sparkle in Estelle’s eyes.

When I called my mother for congratulations, her and my father’s excitement made it an unforgettable phone call. She was thrilled. The news was something to feel good about.

Thank you, Blue Devils for proving in a good place like Lebanon, good things do happen, especially for those who wait.

An Appropriate Confluence

It is Easter.

A holy day. Regardless of your beliefs, you and i should reflect today, if only for a few moments between egg hunts.

i believe i’m not smart enough to really know about religious beliefs, which are true, which are right. i also believe there are some inherent things we all know are good, but we cast them aside for the more primitive ideas of self-protection, whether that be a group, family, or self-protection. i believe those who work to achieve the behavior we know inherently to be good will be rewarded and those who don’t will be tormented because they know inherently, deep inside, what is right and what is wrong. i believe this is an individual choice and how we deal with each other individually, not as a member of any particular group. i believe those inherent ideas of right and wrong have been most accurately ascribed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament of the Bible.

So in my way, i believe in Jesus Christ. i do not condone or condemn what others believe unless it hurts other people as a group, a family, or an individual. i am saddened when any religion (even if they claim they are “Christians) veers from the internal goodness, the teachings of Jesus Christ as i believe them, to spew hatred and fear of any other group, any family, any individual. i don’t think they are smart enough to know who is guilty and who is pure. i am absolutely, totally convinced they (or i) don’t “know” anything concerning belief.

i think that is what Jesus intended those many years ago. i hope my thinking is close to what is right.

Today is a day of a fulfilled promise according to the Christian religion. It is a day for me to somberly rejoice. Somber because our humanity chose to slay a man who believed in goodness. Somber because a political system put itself and its self-interest above justice for all, above freedom of men. Rejoicing because Jesus overcame such cruel insanity and rose from the dead, giving hope to all for peace and goodwill.

i reflected on that this morning when i went outside just past first light and heard the birds rejoicing. It is spring. It is time for renewal of hope. It is time to try again to work for peace and goodwill. It matters not what we believe, nor whether we accept the literal accounts of what happened this day two thousand and eighteen years ago.

Easter is a funny day. Non-practicing practicing Christians turn out in droves after not practicing for nearly all church services in the previous twelve months. Like that makes it all right. Funny. Most businesses normally open on Sundays remain open, unlike Christmas when the country shuts down. Business as usual for the fulfillment of a promise. Shut down for hope. Funny.

This Easter is a confluence: Easter Sunday, April Fool’s Day, my brother Joe’s birthday.

Joe, circa 1953

i will ignore the April Fool’s day part in this. i’ve never been real good at that sort of thing since we would “fool” Uncle Snooks Hall at dinner on April Fool’s Day with a sugar spoon with only a rim and the cup of the spoon being a hole. The three children would howl in delight when Uncle Snooks would look surprised when he tried to put sugar in his coffee. i’m over that now…except for the wonderful memory.

However, the other two events involved in this confluence are appropriate. You see, Joe Blythe Jewell, is the kind of practicing Christian i want to be. He believes. He doesn’t judge. He tells things they way they are. He loves. His ideas and mine are similar, but his beliefs are based on solid and never-ending

Joe, Castle Heights, 1967.

reading and contemplation. His knowledge is astounding, but he is not a “know-it-all.” He cares.

One of my greatest regrets is he and i chose opposite corners of this country to settle down (if what i have done can really be called settling down) — of course, this goes for my sister who is in yet another corner. i would like to spend time with both of them and their families on a much more frequent basis like our parents did with their families in Lebanon, Chattanooga, and even Florida.

Today, this Easter Sunday. Today, Joe Blythe Jewell turns 69. i write his full name because i searched for

Joe with our family, 1956

“Joe Jewell” on the internet yesterday. One is an Phd in “aeronautics.” Now, Joe is smart enough to have been this guy, but i don’t think he is prone to work at the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.

Then, there is this Joe Jewell who is the lead guitarist of the Irish band Aslan. Although my Joe loves Ireland and visits frequently, i don’t think i’ll be watching him doing guitar riffs.

But maybe, just maybe. For you see, a third “Joe Jewell” is in San Diego.  The Joe Jewell Pscyhedelic Trio will perform at San Diego State April 13. We plan to be there

Joe and Carla

although we are pretty sure he’s not our Joe Jewell. Good guitar player though. i’ll think of our Joe a lot while i listen. You see, my Joe shared a room with me, upstairs for more than a dozen years. We got to know each other. He got the short end of that stick. i was into football, baseball, basketball, girls. That was about it. He was into everything and finding out about everything. Smart. Lots of common sense. Hard worker.  Oh, i could go on. Then i went to Vanderbilt. That story had been told. He went to Vanderbilt. Made it. He went to the Northeast, Boston specifically. Two masters. Wife, lifelong partner. Preacher, pastor really. Children. Grandchildren. And perhaps that is my Joe at his finest. Grandfather.

And that, appropriately, is where this birthday tribute ends. You see, i believe my 69-year old brother shows the beauty of him as this grandfather guy. Love, hope, caring. All in keeping with my beliefs of what Easter, today means, which just happens to be Joe’s birthday this year. A confluence of hope, resurrection, peace on earth, good will toward men.

Happy Birthday, Joe.

Happy Easter with reflections of what it really means.


It was a bit too early for her. The chair wasn’t fully exposed to the sun.

In fact, i did not intend to jog my memory when i placed the chair on the patio by the kitchen. i put it there last night while i waited for the knock-off egg grill heated up for the steak i was cooking for supper.

Then was the first moving moment i had with this chair. i was reading the Vanderbilt magazine and the tribute to Perry Wallace, a man, four years younger than me, who will always be a hero to me. Perry was the first black basketball player in the SEC. He was from the poor, black neighborhood of Nashville. He was a dreamer. He reached his dreams, and he cared. He overcame so much more adversity than i can imagine. i cannot adequately tell his story. Andrew Maraniss did in Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of  Race and Sports in the South and then Andrew did it again in the article i read last night. i was impacted emotionally again.

Then this morning, i put out my sun tea to sun and took on yard tasks. i cleaned out the nice bushes lining our backyard en route to our sitting area (yes, Joe, where i sometimes sit though never enough; never enough), then i erected the garden box for planting roma tomatoes and strawberries for the first time in about twenty years. You see, i used to have some wonderful tomato and strawberry plants alongside our northwest fence, but Maureen wanted flowers there. My plants went away. So i’m trying again.

After completing the minor destruction and construction required, i started inside when i stopped. There was this chair there, too early for the sun to hit full force, but it was there. i swear she was there too.

You see, my parents traveled pretty much all of this country and Canada during their retirement. They began in a RV, towing a little Toyota truck and then a Volkswagen bug, and then they  upgraded to a fifth wheel and a full-sized pickup. They took off. Saw all of the continental states except Alaska, which they tried to reach but turned back due my mother’s first really serious asthma attack. They also hit, i think, all of the Canadian provinces. Pretty amazing really.

Then they got into a routine and left in front of the first winter storms heading West until they reached our home. 1985 to 2001. Every year. They would stay in a motor home place for seniors on the ocean in the South Bay and come to our house every day (unless they decided to explore for a day or two). They would do projects (god bless them), read, watch television, nap. He never stopped except for his naps. She did the projects, knitted, read, solved puzzles, cooked supper (Maureen’s thrill was to come home to my mother’s Southern comfort food), and then we would play bridge. Glorious times. As i said, i am a lucky man.

The time was January and February. My mother loved to stop all of the going on’s and go out into the Southwest corner’s winter weather. She would move a chair from one of the places we had placed them in the shade into a place where she could sit and face the sun.

i can picture her in that chair above, facing into the warm sun. Her head would be tilted back; her eyes were closed.

She was at peace. Tranquility. i have passed through. i have learned to meditate to some degree. It is a good thing for me, but nothing like my mother, her drive to do things only surpassed by her husband, sitting there facing the sun in total quiet. At peace.

i wish we all could achieve her tranquility in those moments.

Wonder Woman

You all should know by now i have a Wonder Woman.

She turns sixty-seven today even though she looks much younger.

For her birthday, i have planned to place something here in honor of her birthday. Sunday, i was going to write a photo essay with the pictures being her in various stages of her life. Monday, i was going to write the history of our relationship. Yesterday, i was going to write a love poem.

This morning, i thought of just expressing how much i loved her. You know, like Robert Browning counting the ways. Too damn many, i decided. Then i thought i should empathize the ONE thing i find most wonderful about her. That is absolutely impossible.

But there is this one thing about her which i always come back to think about her. Yeh, she remains beautiful. Yeh, she is sharp and many (but certainly not all) of our ideas about things are pretty well aligned. Yeh, she takes care of me, and i love her love for me. Yeh, i married my mother.

Yet that one thing is very clear. She cares. Maureen cares about everyone and everything. She not only cares, she attends to those who need caring. Sometimes it takes her a while to get to that caring stage, but she always gets there. A synonym for caring is loving, at least in my dictionary. She is the most loving, caring person i’ve ever known, and she does it with good sense, good common sense.

Oh yeh, i forgot to really say how much i love her. Can’t. Too much love there.

Happy Birthday, beautiful lady. We love you.

A Hairy Tale, Part I

One of my first columns for The Democrat in 2007. Alberto’s is still there but it is now run by his son. Alberto has retired. And i bought a $24 electric razor and cut my own hair. There is not enough to spend money on cutting what’s left. So no i miss those barbershops.

SAN DIEGO, CA – When I started writing for The Democrat, I planned to write from ideas saved over the years with a focus on connecting and comparing my Southwest corner to Middle Tennessee.

Then events seem to keep popping up, demanding I write about them. This week, nothing has interrupted my original intentions.

Barber shops are an interesting study of human nature. I am not referring to the franchise stores but the locally owned shops which have been existence since the barber gave up doing dental work out here when the West was young and dentists were in short supply.

For about a dozen years after I moved to this neck of the woods south of San Diego, I got my hair cut at Alberto’s, located in a strip mall across from Southwest College on a mesa, about four miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies.

In many ways, Alberto’s reminds me of the Modern Barber Shop where I received my first haircut just off the square on West Main Street in Lebanon. Growing up, my haircuts were mostly administered by “Pop” at the Modern Barber Shop and later his own place in the Dick’s Food Mart mall.

As I moved into my teenage years, my father and I went to Edwards Barber Shop, located across from the end of University Avenue on South Maple. It was a one-chair shop.

Alberto’s looks very similar to both and even smells the same, a pleasant, somewhat musty aroma. There is a clock running backwards so it will read correctly if you are looking at it through the mirrors back of the chairs. It would have fit in the Modern Barber Shop, Pop’s, or Edward’s.

I first started going to Alberto’s in the mid-1980’s after spotting John Sweatt in a chair. John was commissioned as a Navy officer about three or four years before me. He had been a strong supporter for me on the Castle Heights football team when he was a senior and I was a sophomore. Later, he gave me some hope I might actually complete Navy Officer Candidate School when he visited me in my barracks, resplendent and fearful (to my senior officer candidate tormentors) in his lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) dress blues.

I decided Alberto’s would be good for me as well.

Alberto is a small man with salt and pepper hair and a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. Although his five children are spread from Alaska to San Diego, he still lives in Tijuana and remains a Mexican citizen. His English and my Southern don’t always mix well, but we communicate adequately. He always cuts my hair the way I ask and trims my mustache at no charge.

Alberto reminds me of Pop, although I probably would have been banned from the city limits had I tried to grow a mustache in Lebanon in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The strongest tie is not their barber skills. Alberto’s ethics growing up in a middle class Mexican neighborhood are very much akin to Pop’s. Giving a great service for a reasonable price; they were proud of their work, enjoyed their customers; and in turn, their customers enjoyed them.

Bob is the second in command at Alberto’s. He knows everyone by name. Curiously, Bob always looked like he needs a haircut with a long, untamed mane.

Still he gave me one of my favorite barber shop stories:

A couple of years ago, a recently retired man came into the shop while I was waiting.

Bob stated, rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, George?”

George affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

George replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

George, pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

When this occurred, I thought, “At the core, there is not much difference between barber shops in the Southwest corner and in Middle Tennessee.”

And there is an unlimited supply of barbershop stories in both places.


i have somehow retained a lot of stuff i’ve written. Some nonsense, some self-pitying, some never finished, some just ugly silly, some with promise, and one or two okay. This one is one of those categories above. i’m not sure which. These lines were written in what will always be the darkest time of my life, and reminders still make me cringe. i will let you judge the quality of this one. i have a hard time taking the poem out of the memory of what was happening.


it was a beautiful sunrise
this texas morning;
i could breathe the spring,
smell the bacon in the air;
dog and cat were restless,
ready to go out, feel the spring,
feel freedom as they know it;
the dawn was pink-streaked;
on the sea, the sun would have been a blazing pink disk;
here, the trees hid its newness;
it first appears as a blazing yellow blast;

freedom is here;
i can smell it;
i must find it:
tonight, a cold front will pass through
this part of texas;
will i find it in tomorrow’s morning?

When Will i Ever Learn? The Hummingbird Incident

Well, you see i was anticipating a relatively calm Saturday.

From experience, i knew it would not go exactly as planned as it never does, but i was anticipating getting quite a few urgent tasks completed. i try to go to the places i want to go during the non-commute hours in the week and stay at home doing those tasks on the weekend. i play my golf during the week to a) keep away from crowded courses and slow play — i may not be very good but i play fast — b) i don’t want to clog up military courses and give active duty personnel more opportunity to play on the weekends, the only time they can get to the courses; and c) it is considerably more expensive to play on the weekends.

So Saturday was relatively free for my home work.

Then, as i was working on some computer stuff, Maureen comes into my home office. i smelled trouble. We previously had a discussion about the new hummingbird’s nest in the Phoenix roebelenii in the courtyard’s center planter. We had not seen the mother for quite some time. At breakfast, we agreed it just might be timing and we had  missed the mother feeding her babies. Or, as we considered, they might have matured enough to leave the nest. i said something to the effect we should leave the nest there until the frond died, then we would be sure they were gone (Of course, that is the way i remember the conversation: i’m damn sure Maureen has a different version).

Then as i walked into my office with my last cup of coffee, i spied Maureen talking on her phone to her good friend Karen. She was on her new mobile phone (another story) in the courtyard. i noticed she was on her tiptoes trying to peer into the nest. i was a bit concerned but dismissed my thoughts. Apparently, she went a bit further and pulled the frond down enough to see into the nest.

Trouble. My trouble.

When she came into my office, she spoke in that tentative, little girl voice, which means i have no choice but to do her bidding.

“I hate to ask you this,” she began (uh ho) almost in tears, “But i looked into the hummingbird nest, and the little babies are dead.”

“Oh no!” i said following the script rather than muttering some asshole comment, which i have been known to do if i thought it was funny.

“With no regard for my pity,” she continued, “Would you please take down the nest and throw it away? I can’t stand to see them, much less handle them.”

i’ll bet you know my reply. It sure as hell wasn’t “No.”

Relieved as if she didn’t know she had control of me, she then instructed, “Be sure because the nests are known to have lots of mites and things with infectious diseases.”

“Yes, dear.” i mean what the hell was i supposed to say?

i went out to the courtyard and it dawned on me i didn’t have to handle the nest or the dead birds. i would simply take my bush shears and cut off the frond, then throw it into the yard waste bin for pickup.

Good plan.

Good plans can get screwed up.

i cut off the frond at the trunk. It fell onto the courtyard concrete. There was only one problem: the baby hummingbirds weren’t dead.

When i looked down in the frond, the two baby birds had tumbled out of their nest and were moving their wings and beaks.

Now, this is a guy who has shot guns, big guns. This is a man who hunted submarines. This is a man who was in charge of nuclear weapons. This is a man who was damn near close to blubbering because there were these two little hatchlings out of about a gazillion that would suffer from nature’s call of the wild and that food chain thing who were fluttering on the concrete.

i puzzled as to what to do. First, i decided to put them back in their nest. Now in case you haven’t seen me in a while, i have fat fingers, not to mention several other areas i’m not proud up. This makes picking up a hummingbird hatchling about the size of a pea back into a nest about the size of a large thimble quite difficult, no, impossible.

i tried.

No success.

So i succumbed to what i knew would be another saga, opened the door and called for Maureen. i explained my dilemma. Did she understand? Was she sympathetic? Did she want to help?

Hell, no. She got pissed because i told her those two birds were alive, not dead.

“Why did you have to tell me?”

i was speechless for a few seconds and then blurted, “i need you to put them back in the nest.”

She of the tiniest, most graceful fingers in the world even with gloves, put the two tiny creatures back into their thimble.

i took the frond and carefully wedged it between a couple of other fronds near where it was originally located in the Phoenix roebelenii.

We went inside and went immediately to, where else? the computer and the genius of genius google search. We read all of the things we should do, and patted ourselves on the back because we had done pretty much what we should have except, of course, thinking they were dead and cutting down the frond.

We read what we should do next. In case, the mother did not return, we learned how to make fake nectar, sugar water. We were prepared.

Then we learned we should monitor the nest to see if the mother returned. This is fairly tricky. Hummingbird mothers apparently are not dumb. Once the hatchlings have feathers, she stays away from the nest to not draw predators attention. She returns for literally seconds to feed them before taking off again. Her time away varies from about ten minutes to about ninety minutes.

Have you any idea of how boring it is to monitor a hummingbird’s nest for a mother’s return? If you look away for a minute, you could miss her, and then have to wait again.

Maureen, of course, had to go to her yoga class. Guess who got to monitor? Guess who was not very damn good at it? She came home. i had not seen the mother. i thought we should just let fate take its course. i thought she agreed. This is yet another in a long line of thinking incorrectly. As i walked by the window, i caught her on the ladder with twine around the base of the cut frond.

“What the hell are you doing?” i asked in my best tough old Navy guy voice.

“I want to make sure it doesn’t fall down, but i can’t tie the knot,” she replied.

“It won’t fall down; i wedged it between the other fronds; oh, don’t worry; i’ll tie it off.”

Sound like a man who is trying to ensure domestic tranquility?

Now if you don’t live in the Southwest corner, you may not know the traits of a Phoenix roebelinii, you should learn in case you are ever out here. A Phoenix roebelinii is like a dwarf palm. But the fronds have many, many needles about two inches long, that can hurt, draw blood. i know. After all, i have been assigned hummingbird nest monitoring and Phoenix roebelinii adjustment for hummingbird duty.

This task wielded about two dozen sharp pricks of two-inch thorns into my hands and arms.

The frond is now secure.

We then worried and continued to watch intermittently for activity around the nest.

It was cleaning day. Our two ladies, including one who has become as much a friend as a cleaning lady, Marde de Jesus, were in the family room. i was in the office. Maureen peered out the family room window and shouted.

“The mother’s back and feeding them.”

When i got out and indeed saw mom hummingbird taking care of business, the two cleaning ladies and Maureen were jumping up and down in glee with smiles across their faces.

Now, i’m not gonna tell you i wasn’t smiling or glad the reprieve of two small hatchlings had come about. i was just as happy as those three women. It was a glorious moment, a triumph. i was convinced throughout the entire episode, those two hatchlings would be dead, sooner or later, even if they weren’t as immediately. But we, including mom hummingbird somehow had done the right thing.

As i headed out for errands, Maureen was commenting to the ladies about the miracle and how wonderful hummingbirds were.

i, returning to curmudgeon status, added, “And they are awfully good at playing dead.”

One Moment’s Wish

During my photo search tonight, i also found this poem. It is one i wrote on newspaper paper and an old typewriter. i’m guessing it was somewhere around 1971.

One Moment’s Wish

How i long to return to the sea and the moods that linger in blue
To feel the spray of the ocean wind and the cool night air anew;
How i long to return to the sea with two hundred or so but alone
To feel the emotions that rage on the sea, not to condemn or condone.