All posts by Jim

Returning to Somewhere

i wrote this several evenings ago after completing William Faulkner’s “The Bear” again after a long time. i wrestled with posting it here, but i’m trying to be completely honest when i post, and this is me. When those special moments hit, i just write. It’s like getting up on waterskis for the first time, or getting to the point where you become confident snow skiing. A wonderful feeling. i don’t understand it, know it doesn’t happen to everyone. i think it’s close to Maslow’s level of self-actualization in his hierarchy of needs theory. But it doesn’t matter.

i thought a few of you might like it.

I am a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.

Don’t know why, but i know such pursuits can play hell when one ages and becomes more sedentary. Still trying to figure it out. Plays with my mind when i still want to get up and go, but my get up has went. So i wrestle with that.

Recently, i’ve been away. Not down, just sort of reassessing where i am, what’s going on around me, thinking about what i am going to do the rest of my life. It’s something that seems to be occurring more frequently for me. I think it’s from what i’ve been since i left home about a half century ago: a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.

That’s not bad. I’m 74 now, and i don’t have a job, which means i’ve got time to reassess and realign and change…well, maybe not change too much. But i keep writing, always come back to writing.

i don’t know why. Grammatically and editorially, i’m a mess. i’ve sort of lost the need for correctness. i find most “correctness” evasive. So i write. Gotta couple of books out there still in the works. Gonna get ’em done, and then i’ll probably quit. i like working around the house, playing golf, spending time with friends.

i am getting back to reading. There’s this bookshelf behind me full of books, i mean really full. i’ve read the majority of them, but those need to be reread, and there’s a whole bunch of classics i’ve promised myself to read before i go.

i’ve just been having a hard time staying with one. When i was a teenager until sometime around my second and career Navy period, i would read into the night, way into the night. At 127 Castle Heights Avenue, i would read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight until two or three in the morning. Read The Hobbit in one night (i think Joe gave it to me). Started around 7:30 and didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Read most of Faulkner and Warren in a fury. Their novels became my priority, and fit into every nook and corner of my life not filled with such trivial things as working, studying, even carousing. But i’ve sort of lost that and need to get it back.

Then about five months ago, our friends Pete and Nancy Toennies over a dinner decided we should start an exclusive book club, just the four of us, figured we wouldn’t get anyone trying to strut their stuff, just us and the books. We liked the idea. i thought it possibly could get me going on reading again. So i suggested William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” about a third of Faulkner’s book Go Down Moses. Most folks thought of it as a long short story, but ole Willie Boy told someone it was a seven-part novel.

Never figured that out. But i wanted to read “The Bear” again. Over about fifty years, i figure i’ve read it about ten times. But i confess, i was most entwined with the story of the bear hunt. Ike McCaslin, the primary figure in the story and the teenage boy in the hunt was my hero. In fact, my dog, or rather the dog for whom i was his human, the wild and magical Labrador was named Cass, short for McCaslin, Faulkner’s Ike.

But Maureen, Nancy, and Pete were more diligent than me, finishing before me. They weren’t enthralled. They spoke of the boring part of the family history intertwined with the tale of the hunt. It pretty much killed the idea of our exclusive book club.

So i put Go Down Moses on the coffee table and there it sat for about three months. i had read the good part, or rather the part about the hunt. I mean that is really cool stuff, and i haven’t been a real hunter since i shot that small bird with my Red Ryder BB rifle through the barbed wire fence on my great uncle’s farm around ’54, and sat there and cried as the bird, unreachable through the fence and the bramble, flapped furiously, then fluttered, then died. The great woodsman, ten years old, cried for a long time. But while reading past the hunt, i felt the magnificence, the connection with the earth and time eternal in that hunt. But when i got to the connections of a Mississippi family from a time long forgotten, i was a bit hesitant to resume. After all, i had other things to do.

But in my period of old age reflections, i actually picked up Go Down Moses sat in my “reading” place by the fire (where the infernal, dominating, glazed-eye producing flat screen could not be seen except by a contortionist, which i have never been and am absolutely the opposite now, whatever the opposite of a contortionist actually is).

So i sat down and read beyond Boon and Sam Feathers and Ike, the youth, and Lion, the cur dog, and Major de Spain and Ike’s older McCaslin cousin and the woods…no, the forest now long gone from a state we can no longer comprehend, and the land, like mine had been in my mind growing up, where the native ancestors lived and hunted, not as some have claimed in nobility but in human quest for survival until they corrupted the hunt into some ritual like we all eventually do and then the men from across the sea and over the Cumberland Gap came and brought their roaring sticks of killing fire and took the land, not because they were more or less noble, but because they had more firepower than bows and hatchets and then they brought people from Africa in bondage and the world changed forever and then the war of brothers again altered the state of that world and first, cotton began to take the land and the mixture of the old tribes, the slaves with darker skin, the plantation owners who had become rich and powerful, and the poor folk of fairer skin who did not fare as well as the plantation masters and those who cared for all humans had to deal with this strange liaison between these four elements of people and the intricate, complicated, and troubled relationships to reach a  reasonable compromise in their minds and in their action which was as close to right as they could get, knowing they could never reach really right but abrogated their charge to keep seeking that right, gave up.

And ole Willie, sitting up in that stable loft with the haymow under and around him with his bottle of Lem Motlow’s uncle Jack to be sipped out of that self-same square bottle during contemplation, caught me again. He seemed to have captured, maybe even originated my thoughts about living, the land, the South.

I realized my wife and my friends could not be enamored of the whole of “The Bear.” Their worlds were not embroiled with the noble land in that Southern corner. For me, there is this Southern thing holding sway; Willie captivating me as no other, not even Robert Penn, driving me away from my writings, holding my soul in his custody like a jail keeper.

And in echo of a long, long time ago, i could not put it down: the very part i had skipped before, not recalled as i recommended the reading, loving the story of the hunt but enchanted, enraptured by the flow, the complexity, even the boredom of the twists and turns of family heritage, the history of those four elements of human struggling to be…well, be human, not just human but the appointed part of human separating us from the others. Humanity struggling to be at its finest but failing, always falling a bit short so that trying, establishing routines, traditions to not be broken, not bowing to change or newfangled disruption, no, not disruption, destruction of the land from which we came, maybe not originally but which had grabbed us and fostered roots to that very land, which is gone, long gone, soon to be in only written recollection of folks, even me, long gone.

And so i will read again. Willie once more: The Fable; Sanctuary; The Unvanquished; As I Lay Dying; The Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion; Light In August; Absalom, Absalom; maybe not all, but the very sound of the titles drive me toward him now.

And then, ther reading will follow. Since my Navy days, i have had difficulty sticking to one thing: too many things to do and not enough time. Trying to get all done. Just like the Navy. Tours too short to get things done. Operations, crises, orders from on high. A curse. My father, a product of the very thing ole Willie was capturing on that pad of paper up in that stable loft: a Southern thing; folks driven by their fate of being born and raised on the Southern land ruling their lives, their own fate with an undeniable surety, the will of that self-same land that refused to give in, but now splattered with fields, then manufacturing plants, and even more recently houses of the development men has given way, only existing in designated, appointed parks, like wild animals in zoo cages, regardless of what they call them, regardless of the noble intent to save that wildness, to nurture the nature of the wild even as it disappears before our onslaught of “civilization,” cities, and edifices of steel and concrete and ribbons of roads with exits where no roads, yay verily even no sign of man used to be, seemed to have gotten most of his things done, near a hundred he lived finishing things, following the creed of the land turned mechanical while i start only to be confronted with another change, another requirement to meet someone’s need, perhaps mine, but not quite getting there, moving on.

But now, i have accepted sedentary even though i am not yet branded. Still moving about, still seeking things although most of those “things” are elusive, never to see completion. But now corners of sedentary are sneaking in with the stiffness in the morning, the wobbling feeling of imbalance as i try to steady myself on the path. And i have carved out a time to quit writing my five books and never-ending posts, and putting the yard, the house maintenance, projects in a state of lower priority. To give up trying to find something worthy in our government systems or some semblance of what i termed good journalism long ago no longer existing on that flat screen monster dominating the lived-in room or a show or series or movie that does not curry attention with violence, sex, macabre, or even athletic events now more titillating entertainment than sport.

And i turned that chair away from the flat screen invader of my tranquility, and faced the fire in the hearth, oh that the chair was of the rocking variety, and i will read. Perhaps a half hour, perhaps all night if the next page keeps calling, but it will take my soul for a while.

I don’t think i’ll get to the new stuff, so superbly marketed and refined to attract the audience by the publishers, editors, even agents who serve to sell for their clients and the industry rather than curiosity of the written word, which i believe every real writer desires.

Oh, i’ll read my kin’s stuff, and perhaps some reads about things i hold dear like back home or the Navy. My sister-in-law’s novels are always a good read. Really don’t have any problem with what’s being written. But most of my reading will be from those shelves in my office holding old, tried and true stuff like Faulkner, like Warren, like Hemmingway, like Graham Greene, like Doctorow, like Wordsworth.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this prism of time going back to my youth and my quest to read will even take me back to that land and the people, those four elements of entwined humanity in the South, the land that claimed us, and gave us more humanity folks nowadays cannot understand as they try to make all perfect, at least from their very narrow, slanted point of view, rather than to seek understanding and humanity among men: that’s inclusive before some gnat of a tender soul finds it misogynist when no intent to exclude, defame, or place anyone of any gender or preference on a lower status exists.

Yeh, put that all behind. Read. Old stuff. Good stuff. Literary. And fill my destiny with a routine, which probably should have been my pursuit all along.

Thanks, Mr. Faulkner.

 

 

Old Man Good

Tomorrow. i turn 74 tomorrow. As with 73, this isn’t a big deal for most. It just means another year older. 75. That’s some big deal. Three quarters of a century. Right now, getting to this one is my focus.

The trip i just made to Austin and back in five days made it a big deal. With all that time to think on the return drive, i decided to grow up. Oh, i won’t stop being goofy or politically incorrect or a contrarian or a pocket of resistance, but i am changing some things.

i want to spend of the rest of my life, not wasting time, being as good a man as i can be, and doing the right thing.

This is tough in a world i know longer recognize. My world of yesteryear (man, that hurts to write that) wasn’t much better if you look at all aspects, but it was mine. And you know what, i’m really sort of tired of people revising history to meet their needs, their goals, without regard to the humanity of the people in the past. There are wonderful historians out there who are trying to delve into the past in an honest, forthright way, to help all of us have a better idea of where we came from. My niece Kate Jewell is one of those. i just finished her book, Dollars for Dixie, and it does service to our past and allows us to learn.

i also realized on that trip, i am an antecedent. Those younger than me don’t listen to my ravings because they don’t know what i’m talking about. i shy away from being concerned because each older generation has worried about the next one going to hell in a handbasket, but i do have concerns. There seems to be a whole lot more of non-think, adopting a cause or an idea because someone cool suggested it or some media of some kind intimated it was good. And then it becomes a passionate cause. That scares me.

It bothers me we seem intent on proving what we believe when believing, faith is enough. You can’t prove it, regardless of what you believe. Quit trying. I have.

It doesn’t matter because i’m not going to change those younger folks. i am amazed so many people my age are ranting and raving, and even, god forbid, trying to influence the mass of politic behind us, like being politicians when they should be in old age homes resting on their laurels.

Here’s my thought on this: i recognize i am not as fast thinking as i used to be, just like i’m not as physically able as i used to be. i view my role from here on out is providing succor for the younger folks, not trying to make them do what i think they should do. i hope some of them gain some insight from my recollections, stories, and observations. i’m not sure they are in the receive mode. So i also hope folks my age will simply enjoy my stuff and remember their own good times.

i have had many loves, many heroes, many adventures, and many good memories to share. i have had a good life, relatively unique because i never could quite figure out what i really wanted to be other than a good husband and a good father. Sometimes those desires have worked out quite well. Other times, they weren’t so hot.

You know what? That’s life.

My other goal is to be as much like my parents in aging as i can be given the different conditions. They did it differently, but they did it together, right up until the last nine months of eighty years of a marvelous relationship. They lived in a small Southern town and were working too hard to be successful, raise their children right, than to consider the moral conundrom continuing to plague the South today.

My mother had illnesses plaguing her from at least since i was about twelve. Allergies, asthma, over-medication, bone problems, and on and on and on. But she dealt with them with defiance, doing what she wanted to do, loving her family, being exact and with an incredible memory right up to the night i spent with her in the hospital until she went into that final sleep. She lived a good, an incredible life.

My father? Well, i guess you probably know how i feel about him. He had yellow fever when he was seven, damn near died, lost three years of school. After that? Had kidney stones in the mid-50’s, the only in-patient time he spent in a hospital, a week (during the yellow fever combat, he had a care-giver attend to him in the family home) until his last two months of living. Stayed amazingly healthy all of his life while eating eggs, toast, butter, jam, sausage or bacon, coffee, coffee, coffee, all things fried, steak, pies, cakes, ice cream, chocolate, chocolate. Everyone i know called him a “good man.”

And everyone thought he was the neatest man in the world, primarily because if he wasn’t, he was in the top ten.

Well, i am a combination of the two of them, just like my sister Martha and my brother Joe. i am honest in my assessment i will never quite reach their pinnacles of living a good life. Maybe i could have but i left, wanderlust, whatever. No problem really. i have accepted i have spent my life as a vagabond, a renegade, a wanderer, a wonderer. Some really nice folks have tagged me as a renaissance man. i think i’m a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.

My father gave me his thoughts about his age in our garage when he was 87. We were working on a project. i tried to capture his thoughts in short poem. i have posted it before, but to reflect on how i understand what he was getting at, here it is:

Going Quick

Two men, father and son
hunched over a work bench
a number of years ago;
working on a project quietly
in the glare of the naked bulb
hanging above their heads;
they talked a bit,
focusing on the task at hand,
smiling quietly at the bond
they continued to build;
then,
the old man with thick strong hands said,
“You know, son,
i’ve led a pretty good life,
got three good kids who have grown up well,
some good grandchildren,
and
your mother;
‘bout the only thing I hope now
is when I go,
it’ll be quick.”

That’s where i am. Just gotta try to live the rest of it like they did. Regally. Right.

So good night all. i will wake in the Southwest corner just after i was born, 7:30 a.m. CST, January 19, 1944, seventy-four years ago. My plan is to write a lot.

But tomorrow, i will be working on fixing my approach shots, chips, and putts. i’ll still be a lousy golfer, but i have fun.

May all of you have a good day on my birthday.

Shelia the Beast, North, and Serenity

i don’t how i came up with the name Shelia, but it fits.

i usually name special inanimate objects and pets with some connection, like pets with writers, actors, or singers. i named all of my gps devices, programs, or apps “Shirley” as in “Shirley, you didn’t want to take that turn you just made!”

But “Shelia” just popped into my head, and it sounded real good (to me) with “the Beast.” And so, Shelia the Beast and i just spent two rather amazing days after a short and awakening visit to Austin.

Sarah is going through a life change (i did that as well about her age), and we made a whirlwind trip to Austin in her car.  We powered out (i thought it was powering out, but found out on the return just what “powering out” was all about) with a Thursday jaunt to Van Horn, Texas (850 miles), slept for four hours and made it into Austin (456 miles) midday Friday.

We slept, got caught up with a great guy named George Lederer, and then dined at North Italia in the Domain with my family less Maureen.

Sarah worked there as a waitress, and Jason worked there as a manager. It was old time week. The obvious highlight for me was Sam. To my delight, we spent a great amount of time hugging. He also immediately recognized i no longer sported a mustache, one of the very few who have noticed since i shaved it off over six months ago. He then told me he really liked my mustache. i’m growing it back. There are very few things in my life which will make me euphoric . Sam is one of them.

As we ate, the sisters began talking like…well, like sisters. Blythe is seventeen years older than Sarah, so they would declare when Blythe was in the “mom” role. They were just…what? Together. Then Jason and i talked about his new job. Sounds like a perfect fit, long term, security, all that. Then Blythe talked of an impending promotion. She deserves it. They are in a good place. Blythe’s mother, who was not in attendance, is with them, part of the family unit.

Sam told me he wanted to be a comedian when he grew up. i told him about the original Papa, my great uncle, and how he would come to our home every Wednesday after the farmer’s market. How he would park his Model A Ford on and off the street in front of our house and how Martha, i, and eventually Joe would run out to meet him. How he would sweep us up in his arms. How then he would reach into his pocket and give Martha a Milky Way (Martha, i think i got this wrong before: correct me if i’m wrong) and the marvel of all marvels, give me a Three Musketeers candy bar. i told Sam Sarah would bring him a Three Musketeers from me when they got back from their weekend hiking. He smiled. i was about as happy as i could be.

For me, in that noisy, busy restaurant, things seemed to go quiet, like i was in another place watching. It felt as if it were in slow motion. i heard them talking about things the next generations talk about. It occurred to me i was out of it. Not part of the conversation. Looking on. i thought of my mother in her later years hard of hearing. She would listen intently and nod her head approvingly when she had no idea of what was being said.

i did not nod my head in approval. i felt a quietness inside of me. Serenity, peace coming over me. i was me, an old man. They did not need me anymore. What i do is not part of their world. What they do is okay because they are on their own. The Ganders are in a good place. They all will do all right. Blythe’s mother is there with them. This is good for everyone. i’m just removed, not just because i’m some 1300 miles away. Sarah is going to be fine. i changed from sportswriting to Navy officer, the sea-going time at 28. It worked out great. It will for her also. We just don’t know how yet. She is independent.

Yeh, there were a few tears welling up several times when we said our goodbyes and Sam and i reluctantly quit hugging each other. i hope it didn’t show, because they were not tears of sadness, but of joy for them.

It was somewhat startling to realize it was my life to live here on out. i’ve said for a long time “good, effective parenting is the art of letting go gently.” i have let go. i feel good. Peace. We will see them, talk to them, communicate as they see fit. And all is well.

The next day, Sarah, Shelia the Beast, and i loaded out the van. We were done just after midday. i said goodbye and left. Shelia and i forged ahead on the real power drive. Unlike most women i know, she had a governor. At seventy-five miles an hour. We sat on it. To Fort Stockton, a Texas cattle town if there has ever been a Texas cattle town. i looked around for Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, or Bob Steele to show up on Trigger, Champion, and Topper — as far as i know Lash and Bob horses were named horse.

But i got my sleep and hit the road early. Sixteen hours, two stops: forty miles east of Deming, New Mexico, and of course, Gila Bend, Arizona. Power trip. Now for those of you who have not experienced driving a twelve-foot rental furniture van, you should know they are made for getting their thing done, not for comfort. When i first sat in the driver’s seat, i felt like i was in that old Johnson Dairy milk delivery truck, the one HM Byars required me to drive across town from the old Johnson Dairy east on West Main through the square and up East Main to Hankins, Byars & Jewell for Daddy to fix. It had a three-speed shift sticking out of the floor board. The seat was like a stool. Shelia the Beast wasn’t that bad but it was close.

The only available sound was a radio. i never turned it on. FM doesn’t do well on long drives across the barren wastelands. AM doesn’t exist, although you might pick up some Mexican music. No bluetooth, no “auxiliary.” Oh, there was a CD player, but i had no CD’s. Couldn’t use earbuds with my iPod because i should listen for highway sounds. Nothing but me and the wind whistling through the insulation on the back top of the driver’s door. That’s a long time for limited observance of the passing countryside and thinking, lots and lots of thinking.

There was enough countryside. i never get tired of the expanse of our land from Fredericksburg, Texas to descending from Mount Laguna on the downward leg into San Diego and home. It is almost, almost like being at sea. Vastness. Not much of anything out there except a few cattle munching on sparse dry grass, a few scrub oaks at first, then mesas and jutting hills from the landscape with the wonder of how they got there riding in my thinking and then as i closed in on El Paso, then Yuma with mountains corralling the vastness, hemming in that vastness, eliminating the open horizon with the sky. Approaching Yuma, my thinking and the mist lying around the mountains like a sheer stole made me think of Gene Autry again. He took Hoagy Carmichael’s “Old Buttermilk Sky” and gave that vista to me in a song. Western.

Then there are the giant energy wind vanes jutting out at surprising places and miles and miles of solar panels, the new west. The wind vanes have coordinated aircraft warning lights that took me to some space station in an immense cave for a civilization. Star wars. And agriculture: miles and miles, not small plots, not acres, but miles of green. Truck farms. The smell of fertilizer can sensitize nostrils. Made me think of how we relied on smells when we all lived off the land, and how those selfsame odors are offensive to our delicate urbanized olfactory detectors.

And trains. Oh not the steam engines of the wild west or the passenger trains with gentle people peering out at the vastness and the wildness while sipping their morning coffee in the dining car. No. Working trains, containers from the shipping lanes piled high, two to a car, and literally miles. i saw several with at least three miles of cars behind (and in front; whatever happened to the caboose?). It seemed we were all invaders in the beautiful wild vastness.

But of course, there were the people. Few, yes, but people nonetheless, literally living off the land. You know, like we used to. And i wondered about those people: the ranch hands living in two-room huts in the heat of the desert with no trees to provide cooling shade; and the trainmen, brakemen, engineers, plowing through this explosive star sky with no heed of the beauty, getting to the next offload spot, and the agriculture workers tending the fields, pickups, shanties. i wondered how they got their news. The cellular phone did not work for probably more than half of that 1300-plus miles. Antennae on the mountains, sentinels of transponding, but not in the vastness, not where the huts housed these folks. And i wondered what they thought of all their countrymen pounding their fists, yelling about how unfair the other side was, how words have become more important than working, how those other folks out there where there is no vastness have become so small, like their surroundings.

A great deal of the trip was along the border. i mean literally along the border. From the rise on the hills along I-10 through fifty or more miles around El Paso and later on I-8 through the south vastness of Arizona desert, i could almost see in the open windows of shacks and shanties with the soiled cotton curtains blowing akimbo, seemingly never ending, as far as my eye could see. i thought of how the city folks are fearful of them hollering “don’t let ’em in” and not having a clue who they are and what they need, and i thought of the deathly sense of passionless killing. Death, drugs, money, corrupting and how these evils, this lack of humanity played on the lives of the shanty dwellers. No answer. Sad. i thought i would like to go to a shanty and meet these people.

But i’m powering out, Shelia the Beast and me, worrying about the next big rig or some fast driving automobile with no heed of my precarious governor-stretching Shelia the Beast hurtling down that ribbon of concrete westward, westward (as Mr. Cash once intoned).

Time to keep moving. Gila Bend. Last gas stop. Was it a converted Stuckey’s, the Mexican version? Colorful ceramics crammed into every nook and cranny. Chimereas lined up like the Chinese terra cotta army for Emperor Qin’s eternity. Life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex (with a baby even), a Triceratops, and a Camarasaurus, all near actual size over by the side parking lot.

Then there was the sunset out of Gila Bend. Glorious pinks and grays and whites whispering against the westward mountains until the night took the hues away.

Then as i passed the last outpost with an inn for overnight they call El Centro. Home two hours away with Shelia the Beast climbing up the windswept hills carefully, ploddingly.

Then down, Sheila wished to let it out, but i could feel the load in the bed and braked her down tenderly. After all, we had been through a lot together. i had grown to like the old girl.

Somehow, all that thinking piled on top of itself. The family dinner at North, the vastness, the people in the vastness, me. Doing the right thing seemed to resonate through it all.

It was a cathartic experience, this five-day power trip. The old man is not likely to do it again.

But i sorted out a lot of things in my mind, and i am at peace. At least for a little while.

 

Road Warriors

In case you haven’t noticed, there have been no Facebook posts from me in the past three days including the “laws” from my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives.

Well, there was this short notice trip to Austin, a mere jaunt around the corner of somewhere over 1300 miles.

Granite Hills in East San Diego County from the road.

As usual, it was not a sight-seeing adventure. Sarah and i didn’t stop and smell the roses…er cacti; or to climb to Anazai cliff dwelling homes in Canyon de Chelly; or to stop and see why enthusiasts  clog their RV’s, their dune buggies, and their very souls with the fine brown sand west of Yuma; or to visit the Navajo’s in Window Rock; or to order a martini in the lone bar in Lordsburg, New Mexico to admire the bartender’s look of bewilderment; or to study the Juarez, lighting up the entire landscape south of El Paso, eerily resembling the armies of Orcs from Modor; or to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War by the City of Fredericksburg, Texas in honor of their hometown boy, Admiral Chester Nimitz, something i swear i will do next time when i pass through once again.

No, this was a power charge by the road warriors. Sarah has already made this journey four times. i think i’m getting close to twenty. We know the roads I-8 to I-10 to US 290 and have watched the motels, gas stations, convenience stores, and fast-food stops replace farms and wide-open spaces (but just, mind you, right at the rare exits on I-10 through the vastness of West Texas.

We left just after 8:00 a.m. PST, powered through to Van Horn, arriving at 11:00 p.m. CST (15 hours) in Van Horn, home of Chuy’s Mexican restaurant reputed to have the John Madden room who stopped his RV there to partake of their fare on every cross-country trip to cover NFL football because he had a fear of flying. Then we arose before 4:00 a.m., that self-same Central Time Zone so hysterically wide from East Tennessee to roughly sixty miles east of El Paso, and arrived in Austin just before noon in, yep, CST.

Tonight, i will have dinner with my daughters, son-in-law, and the heart of my heart, Sam. But then it’s business, loading up a van and headed back west as soon as possible (Sarah will follow a couple of days later after settling up things and saying goodbye to friends . From experience, i can tell you there is not a lot of joyful moments driving a twelve-foot moving van solo.

But you know what? There is something strange about me (you probably had already figured it out). Even old, i love road trips like this. Someday i will take a leisurely one, see the country like my parents did for years. But not this weekend. Nope.

i’m on an old man road trip.

A Few Good Men…and i’m Not Referring to Marines

Sean Dietrich’s “Sean of the South” post today stirred up memories. i read it right before breakfast. Usually it’s a bit earlier when i read Sean’s emailed post. Had i read it then, i probably would have just nodded my head with understanding and deleted it. i made a vow i wouldn’t repost Sean’s posts unless they struck a major, major chord. This one struck a chord as i read the Sunday paper during Maureen’s superb eggs, toast, and fruit (it’s been a while since i made it to the commissary down at the 32nd Street Naval Station and we’re out of Tennessee Pride country sausage).  As i finished up with coffee and the comics, i thought about Sean’s post some more.

He hit that chord because i wrote of a good man once, about four and one-half years ago. i consider “a good man” one of the highest praises a man could get. Acting, behaving, and even thinking in a manner to warrant being called a good man is one of my two major goals left in life. Doing the right thing (thank you, Peter Thomas for articulating this one) is the other.

i explained why my primary reason for pursuing being a “good man”  in my Lebanon Democrat “Notes from the Southwest Corner” that four and a half years ago. For those who might have missed it, i have pasted it below.

The link to Sean’s column is http://seandietrich.com/respects/

Respects

Good man gone

By now, most of you know my father, Jimmy Jewell, passed away last Tuesday (August 14, 2014), 46 days shy of his 99th birthday.

This newspaper and its competition carried articles about him and as well as his obligatory obituary. He would have been embarrassed by all of this fuss over him. He shied away from publicity.

Jimmy Jewell’s near century of living is interwoven with the history of this city and this county. His history has been fairly well documented in many of my previous columns.

But I do not wish to discuss his history or how it has been interwoven with the city. I wish to honor him for what I think he treasured most: being a good man.

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In the early 1960s, I first heard of Jimmy Jewell being described as a “good man” when a Seabee buddy of his, Elmer Hauser, from World War II traveled from Arizona to see Daddy. Elmer and his wife Minnie went to dinner with us at Dr. Lowe’s second Plaza Motel on North Cumberland. There Elmer leaned over to me and said, “You know your father was the best liked man in our battalion (the Navy’s 75th Construction Battalion). He didn’t drink so he would give his beer and liquor rations to his friends. Everybody wanted to be his friend.”

Elmer chuckled and then explained to me confidentially, “But the reason he was so well liked was not the rations. He was liked because he was a good man.”

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In July as we prepared to move Jimmy Jewell from UMC to his new but short-termed home of Elmcroft Senior Living in early July, I went to see my mother in their new digs. A man on a motorized wheel chair met me half way down the long hall.

“Are you Jimmy Jewell’s boy?” he asked, ignoring the fact I resemble my 69 years.

“Yes, I’m Jim, his older son.”

“I thought so. “I’m Basel Tyree. Can’t wait to see him,” he continued, “I’ve known him since the late 40s. He worked on my cars. He is a good man.”

We talked some more and in one humorous exchange, I laughed. “When you laugh, you sounded just like him,” Basel observed said.

“Best compliment I’ve ever received,” I replied.

Archie King, also on a motorized wheelchair had met me earlier with eagerness to see my father. When we met the next time, he told a story of when his car had been rear-ended in the early 1950s.

“The insurance company was only going to pay for the bumper and the dents to the trunk, but the frame was bent. I didn’t know what to do,” Archie related.

“I told Jimmy about it,” he continued, “Jimmy took the phone, called the insurance agent and said ‘I’m Mr. King’s attorney, and we are going to sue your company if you don’t pay for fixing that frame.’

“They paid. There’s no telling how much money Jimmy saved me,” Archie concluded and then added:

“He’s a good man.”

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After my father passed away, several folks like Tilford Elkins and John Cook also used “a good man” to describe Jimmy Jewell. I decided to cite them and others in this column. But before the Sellars Funeral Home visitation was over Saturday, I could not keep up with the names of those who used the term, I had also lost count.

That pretty well describes how Jimmy Jewell has been perceived in this town. I think it was his greatest trait.

It occurred to me there are other Lebanon men who have earned or are earning the “good man” description. Perhaps my perception is somewhat flawed, but I recall thinking of many Lebanon men of my father’s generation being “good men.” I believe it was not a false perception. The men of that generation valued the trust and caring of others over physical possessions or power. They did not draw lines in the sand unless it really mattered. They tried to make things work for everyone.

It seems our culture now leans toward self-protection, greed, and self-aggrandizement more so than in those times. There were a lot of good men back then, but they are dwindling quickly.

Jimmy Jewell was one of the best of those good men.

Another Lesson for an Ensign: The Paint Locker, circa 1968

Before chiefs taught me a thing or two or two thousand, i was a very, very green ensign.

Destroyer-Submarine Piers in Newport, Rhode Island where i learned about the paint locker, circa 1968. Photo provided by RD2 Norm O’Neal. Thanks, Norm.

As an ensign, i stood duty in three sections. The qualifications for standing the OOD, Officer Of the Deck, watch in port, was not too stringent. You had to be a junior officer, chief, or very good first class petty officer. And breathe. i would add “chew gum” but that was deemed inappropriate on the good ship Hawkins or any other Navy ship at the time. i may have stood an under-instruction watch, but i don’t remember it.

i don’t remember standing many of those earlier watches, not even the first dog one particular duty day in the summer of 1968. But i most definitely remember the next watch.

It was the mid-watch. About half-way through around 0200, a third-class petty officer came back from liberty. He was lit. After saluting, he began to rant and rave and chewing me out in particular. i was not quite sure what to do. My petty officer of the watch (POOW) recognized my dilemma and called the duty Master-at-Arms.

As i was trying to tell the boozy sailor he was on report, the master-at-arms showed up on the quarterdeck. He was a first class gunner’s mate. Unfortunately, as it is in many of my recollections, i don’t remember his name. i do remember he looked like an NFL tight end. He wore his chambray shirt sleeves folded up above his elbows to show up his rather impressive biceps, even with a couple of tattoos disguising the ripples. He had a tight crew cut under his dixie cup (“hat” for land lubbers), which of course, was pushed back from his forehead. A Pell Mell dangled from his lips.

“Don’t worry, sir,” he said to me, “I’ll take care of this guy.”

Then, he grabbed the sailor by the arm, leading him off the quarterdeck and forward, telling him, “Come on son, we’re gonna have a little talk down in the paint locker.”

The paint locker was part of the boatswain’s locker on a Gearing-class destroyer. It was all the way forward on the first platform (a partial deck below the main deck), small and dark. i did not know it at the time, but it was also the location of some non-NJP discipline.

When i asked the POOW why the master-at-arms was taking the drunken sailor to the paint locker, he just said, “To help sober him up,” and then he chuckled.

i learned the next morning at quarters what the POOW really meant. The sailor who had been “sobered up” passed me as we headed for our different division musters. He looked not quite like he had been put through a meat grinder, but it was close. His face was black and blue and one eye was swollen. i don’t think he ever gave an OOD any trouble after that.

The master-at-arms had applied some discipline. Back then, that wasn’t such a bad thing. Today, all hell would have broken loose and all of us would have been plastered all over the major networks for being slightly cross-threaded with political correctness. But this type of justice kept a lot of sailors from going to captain’s mast or worse, and it straightened many of them right up.

i learned a lot.

It probably wouldn’t work today: too many sea lawyers.

A Story of Chiefs

The Navy was an education for me. In many ways.

The Navy was different back then. i think they continue the traditions, but those traditions, like chiefs initiations and over-the-line rituals are watered down. Political correctness, you understand. The divisions between ranks have been muddled. This may or may not be a bad thing. i am not wise enough or knowledgable enough to determine, but it is different.

And i liked the way it was.

When i was in the Navy, the lower enlisted were the work force, and boy, did they work. In fact, they were incredible workers. There are very few people in this country today who could even fathom putting in the hours at work those sailors did.

The third and second class petty officers were a transition. They too did hard labor, but their expertise and knowledge in their fields (ratings) began to give them more say in the way ships operated.

First class petty officers were escaping most of the hard labor, but they still got involved. “Leading Petty Officer” speaks of their new role in leadership.

Then there were the chiefs. Lifers. Loving the Navy. Thinking they knew as much as the old man. Some did. But as with all things, there were some really good ones and there were some who were…oh, to be nice, they weren’t quite as effective.

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

An Ensign learns this quickly. i did. My first ship was the USS Hawkins (DD-873). i had completed the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer course in Key West when i reported aboard in Malaga, Spain in April 1968. The sitting ASW officer would not leave until October. In the interim, i was the First Lieutenant, deck officer in charge of first division, boats, davits, exterior spaces, and anything else that wasn’t specifically related to any other division or department.

BMC Jones was my introduction to the way things worked. He taught me the ropes. It still amazes me how he ran first division, taught me many things about being a division officer and deck seamanship while never appearing to be in charge, always deferring to his division officer. Green upon green me. Crazy. But it worked.

Chief Jones was from the Arkansas Ozarks. He had another four months to reach twenty years. He planned to retire on the button. Chief Jones was a chain spoking, rail thin, ruddy complexion chief boatswainmate, probably around 5-8 and 130. He was not to mess with.

After we crossed the pond and completed our deployment, arriving at our homeport of Newport, Rhode Island in early May, being on a ship was different. Back then, the crew had liberty cards. They reflected which section the sailor was in. There were usually three sections rotating the duty. The duty section remained on board for 24 hours while the other two sections had liberty. Those liberty cards were handed out by the chief or leading petty officer shortly before liberty call. It had many implications not on top of the table. Liberty cards were incredible leverage for the LPO’s and CPO’s.

We had this seaman apprentice who required leverage. He was a strapping, very fit 6’2,” 180-pound young man, and pretty smart too. Problem was he wanted to use his smarts to get away with stuff until he had completed his obligation. We called sailors like this “sea lawyers.” Chiefs and LPO’s didn’t like sea lawyers. To put them in their place, the chiefs and LPO’s used leverage. Like liberty cards.

We will call this guy Seaman Farkle. Back then, you didn’t have to be so polite. Anyone below chief was called by their last name. Period. Chiefs were called chiefs. Officers were called by their rank, e.g. “Ensign Jewell.”

It was a Friday. We were cutting the hard working folks some slack. Liberty call was at noon, not the usual 1600. i had gone down to the first division berthing to check out the material condition. Farkle was there, upset. It seems he had tried some sea lawyering out on BM2 Carrier, our LPO and a very good one. Farkle was in section 2, section 3 had the duty. But when Carrier passed out liberty cards to the division, he couldn’t find Farkle’s. That meant Farkle had to remain aboard the ship, even though it wasn’t his duty day.

Farkle decided an ensign was ripe for using his sea lawyer tactics. He approached me and began an intense tirade about abuse of his rights, how he was demeaned, how the chief and LPO were acting outside of procedure, were in violation of regulations.

He was making headway on this green ensign. i wasn’t yet wise in the ways of that Navy. He had some good points, from a sea lawyer’s perspective about rights and all that, but i wanted to back Carrier and Chief Jones.

Farkle was in my face, livid with his sea lawyering when Chief Jones slid down the ladder (forward, not climbing down backwards; that’s how true sailors descended ladders). The slender, wiry chief slid in front of me and grabbed Farkle’s shirt at the top two buttons. Then he pushed Farkle against the bulkhead and with one hand lifting the young man about six inches off the ground. Then Chief Jones read Farkle the riot act like only Boatswainmate chiefs can do. It was classic and can not be repeated here because non-that-era tincan sailors are the only people who would understand, and others will read this.

All sea lawyering disappeared from Farkle. He was a quivering mass of fear, nodding affirmatively and declaring his fealty.

Farkle stayed on board that weekend.

i learned a valuable lesson about the old Navy…and i loved it.

A Typical Morning in the Life of an old Jewell

They came yesterday afternoon. Two of them. They call them wand tilters.

We have replaced about one quarter of our blinds over twenty-seven years. The wand tilters on the old ones are nearly all broken. The mechanism still works, sort of, but the wand connector thingie (notice my expert technical jargon) has broken and wands, a critical part, can’t be attached.

So we decided to try out two new wand tilters before ordering more.

This morning, right after breakfast, i  took to the replacement task. With my penchant for screwing tasks up initially, i figured it would take somewhere between ten minutes to four hours. As usual, i planned ten minutes. i figured i would tackle the two of the smallest blinds, the four small windows in our living room/dining room for ease of handling. While Maureen was getting ready to go to yoga — i know, i know, what do you do to get ready for yoga? — i took down the smallest blind, replaced the part, rehung the blind and the valence.

The first mistake. i showed it to Maureen. She was thrilled. As i was going to take down the next small blind, she stopped me.

“Why don’t we do one of the larger ones in the family room? They are the ones i have the most trouble with and they’ve got a pull-down problem too,” she said.

Having been married to her going on thirty-five years, i correctly did not take this comment as a question and explanation. i took it as a direct, nonnegotiable order. Of course, in spite of my whining and making fun, i was right.

She left for yoga. i took on the big blind in the family room. Since i now had some realistic expectations on the time of repair, i figured 15 minutes. Max.

But you see, i forgot about the valence. The valence is among eleven my folks made. From 1985 until 2001 (my father was 87, my mother 84 on their last cross country trip in their RV), Jimmy and Estelle Jewell would drive out to miss the kind of weather the east is having now. They stayed in a nearby RV park and come over every day. They would work on projects, enjoy their granddaughter (as they enjoyed all children, grand, great grand, or simply children), Mother would cook meals, and we would play bridge after supper until they went back to their RV park, sometimes taking Sarah for the night.

And the projects? Well, Daddy constructed the framework for the back yard patio, laid the the tile in the courtyard, erected the trellis outside our bedroom, built a desk out of scrap lumber for Sarah, made and hung the shelves in Sarah’s bedroom. Mother cut and sewed the fabric which he installed on the dining room chairs. And then she cut and sewed the fabric for the eleven valences in the kitchen, the family room, and the hallway windows.

These valences are a piece of art. They are also constructed to remain intact through Armageddon.

That’s not a problem. Taking them down is a problem. Because i have to undo all of the securing mechanisms my father put in place. This is not a small thing.

It did not help that the stapler gun and the ratchet wrench broke during breakdown and re-installation, that a support frame had to be relocated, and somewhere around 489 tools had to be checked to see if they would work best.

The guilty blind and its indestructible valence.

So the quarter hour project was crammed into about four. Working out, writing on my book, going to the driving range, and reading all went away this morning. Blind mechanism replacement, you see.

But this afternoon, we have working blind wand tilters with wands installed in two blinds. The valence for one is back in place.

The bad news i have just ordered 15 more wand tilters. They will arrive tomorrow or Saturday. i now know what i will be doing all weekend.

i took a NORP..

Roads Taken

i am an old cantankerous curmudgeon. Sort of been that way my entire life except for that “old” part.

i have traveled down many roads, a lot more if you consider sea routes.

i don’t particularly handle self-importance very well.

So when someone tells me, “It’s my way or the highway,” i’m back on the road again.

Rambling Thoughts on the Last Day of the Year

i’m looking forward to 2018.

i say this every year about this time. And as usual, it will be a mixture of good and bad, just like last year and just like the year before that and the year before that and ad infinitum.

i have absolutely bought into it is what we make it — thank you, Dave Carey and your reflections on Charlie Dickens (no kin to Little Jimmy Dickens) and his opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities) — and i choose to make it on the positive side. Happy…well, maybe not happy…successful…hmm, don’t think that quite captures it either…good year (how come “good” covers such great territory?).

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Biggest loss? Charlie Hon. After Vanderbilt, i never got to spend enough time with him. That boy and i could get into more trouble (innocent, of course) than any two humans on earth, and it was pure, unadulterated fun. Of course, we both did pretty well with that fun trouble stuff on our solo rides. i feel him looking over my shoulder, laughing as almost always. “Come on, Jimmy,” he would say, “This will work out fine.” It did. Rest in peace, Charlie. You’ve earned it.

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Disappointments: Garrison Keillor. i was never a big fan of Garrison, too stuffily folksy. Always seemed a bit too made up to me. Don’t get me wrong. He was okay as a companion, the prairie kind, and lots of folks, including many good friends loved his schtick. i have nothing against him. Just not my deal.

Then he started “The Writer’s Almanac,” the website with daily entry of items pertaining to the date, mostly about writers (not me). i read it every morning. Liked starting the day off with a poem, although i would wonder, every day, why people liked these poems but editors were not thrilled with the few i had submitted to them. The daily entries became a part of my morning startup.

Then Garrison went down in flames, another of those men in positions of perceived power who thought, apparently, they were superior to women and made those women feel that way. Bad voodoo. And i don’t care what these guys claim. To one degree or another, they took advantage of another human. Wrong. Flat wrong.

Then, PBS got all pissed and dismissed him and his deals forever. And “The Writer’s Almanac” went away. Not fun. Guess i will have to actually study a bit to learn a little each day and go back ton reading on my own Robert Penn Warren, William Wordsworth, e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and others on my own. That’s okay. i need to do that anyway.

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The greatest disappointment was the passing of another tradition of mine. i have written about it here: Murphy’s Law Desk Calendar. Gone. After thirty-two years. Gone. i guess they ran out of laws. Seems we’ve got so much screwed up there should be a lot more of the spinoffs, not less.

In case you missed it, my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr sent me my first “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar for Christmas when i was on deployment to WESTPAC in 1979. Rather than have to make some comment about some status at the commodore’s morning message meetings. i would sit next to the chief of staff, the last staff member clock-wise from the commodore and therefore the last to  be queried. Some staffie had already covered anything that needed to update the commodore and a whole lot more of gibberish to make the staffie feel important and believe he had impressed the commodore.

But i didn’t have anything at all to say. It was expected. So i began reading the daily entry from the calendar my aunt and uncle had sent me. Pete Toennies, Mike Peck,  Al Pavich and i marveled at how spot on the daily entries were about organizations and life (OW Wright would have too, but i didn’t start reading them until OW had been relieved by Al).

Examples?

December 27, 2017: “Murphy’s First Law of Technology — Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.”

December 28, 2017: “La Rochefoucauld’s Rule — We all have the strength to endure the misfortune of others.”

December 29, 2018: “Osburn’s Axiom — Computers are not intelligent. They only think they are.”

December 30,31: “Lichtenberg’s Law — To do just the opposite is also a form of imitation.”

Gone. Oh, they’ve got a wall calendar, but i have looked at that daily law every day for 13,878 days, even taking them on my trips.

The good (or bad) news is i plan to keep them running. You see, i would cut out the law from the daily entry and scotch tape it to the front and back of my 9×11 calendar i used throughout my Navy career (before computers obviously). i saved them all because i planned on writing about my career sooner or later — they have proven extremely useful while writing the book about my XO tour on USS Yosemite.

So i am going to post each one, probably as a Facebook entry, until i run out. i figure that will be around 2050.

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i was mulling over this while i performed our traditional cleaning of all of our pots and pans with some magic stuff one of Maureen’s friends recommended…Oh, okay, it was two pots and it became a tradition today, but i was working at it. Regardless, i was mulling as all good mullers do about such things as above but more concerned about the other tradition: Black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s Day.

i’m not sure when it became a tradition at 127 Castle Heights Avenue. i don’t remember it growing up, but then there are a whole bunch of things i don’t remember about growing up. i do remember my mother’s black-eyed peas.

Estelle Prichard Jewell didn’t fancy hers up. Black-eyed peas. Hog jowl. “Salt and pepper to taste” (and i still don’t have a clue as to what that really means). Cook until done. That’s it.

i (for me) got fancy when my mother wasn’t around. My recipe is a bit more complicated: Black-eyed peas; onion, chopped; garlic, minced (unless Maren will join us); Worcestershire sauce; sorghum molasses, whatever the hell is in that cabinet where Maureen stores her spices and anything else not toxic that sounds good at the time. Cook slowly for a long time. Taste repeatedly, preferably with a beer.

We’ll have that with cornbread tomorrow with the Toennies at our house after golf with beer or wine.

’bout perfect except there are so many people i would like to share this with who will be celebrating elsewhere.

May your 2018 be all it can be for you.

Happy New Year.