Category Archives: A Pocket of Resistance

A Magic Place: For Sam

i had written the real “Climbing My Mountain” last night. i decided it was too deep, too dark, too me to put it out there, at least for now and a long time forward. i also noticed i was writing way too much about me, the old man. i get maudlin, sappy, or worse, angry. It ain’t really me. It’s just me groveling around in my dark recesses, especially during what i might consider dark times.

But i can choose. Dark or light. Good vibes or bad. i choose light and good vibes. It’s just sometimes it takes me a while to get there. When younger with the world and success and worry about being secure when i got old pressing on me, dark was often with me, a driver to get moving. But i am at the older stage now, and secure. Maybe not as secure as i would like to be, but old enough to realize i can handle it, regardless of what happens for the rest of this crazy, insane, beautiful (at least, to me) life of mine. So i wrote this for Sam, an adjunct to the autobiography i’m writing only for him, which i am likely to never finish since i started not quite two years ago and thus far have reached the end of grammar school (Bet they don’t call it that now). Sam, this is for you.

This morning, i took a shower after a run and walk, which would have embarrassed me ten years ago. Automatically, i reach for the third hand towel, a rag essentially, to do the deed i detest, the dictate from my bride of thirty-four years: squeegee the shower when you are finished. For forty years, i never squeegeed a shower. Until Maureen and i moved into our first home together. Been squeegeeing ever since.

As i was squeegeeing (that’s one hell of a word isn’t it: “squeegeeing”?), my age sort of hit me in the face again, thinking, of all things, about squeegeeing. i thought about my pre-squeegeeing days, and considered what folks nowadays might think of me now and back then.

My daughters and my son-in-law probably consider me old and eccentric, nice old man but a little screwy and not necessarily someone they should heed. i’m a little batty they might say. Of course, they are correct on that count. My grandson Sam would think i’m prehistoric. If i’m lucky, he might think i came from a magic place far, far away and a long, long time ago.

i did.

i came from a place where i was isolated from the world going bad. You said, “Please,” “Thank you,” “i’m sorry.” And you better have meant what you said or retribution would swiftly follow, like in my case a pinch somewhere it hurt.”

My magic place was for children, only we didn’t know it. After all, we were told, “Children should be seen and not heard.” And if we talked loudly or silly in public, we would disappear with a parent into some corner. Rear end whelps were the usual result. Now, the parents say, “Isn’t that cute?”

But we had freedom. So did our parents in many ways. i often wondered what the hell locks were for. We never locked our cars, never. We never locked our homes either, except my father would lock the doors before he went to bed and unlock them when he arose. That’s it.

We played. Boy, did we play. Outside. All the time except for school. In the summer and during Christmas vacation (we actually called it that: “Christmas Vacation.” It sounds sort of right. i mean that’s what we had it for; and i’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t a government holiday; just the schools shut down for a couple of weeks, sort of like they did it because it was the right thing to do; the grownups and their businesses just kept on truckin’ right up through Christmas Eve. In fact, i don’t think there were any Christmas ads or stores stocking Christmas gifts and decorations until after Thanksgiving. We wrote our letters to Santa, and he magically showed up, left our presents requested, ate the cookie and drank the boiled custard we gave him, and somehow got that sleigh filled with more than a semi trailer could hold off the roof courtesy of eight tiny (but very strong) reindeer without us ever seeing him regardless of how hard we tried to stay up and catch him.

Anyway, during those winter two weeks and three months of summer, we woke, ate breakfast as a family, and were outside in about ten minutes. We did have to dress , have our morning constitutionals although we didn’t know what a constitutional was until later, much later, wash our faces, and, of course, brush our teeth. Ten minutes. Tops.

Then, after being admonished in the winter to put on our coats and hats, which we did dutifully, and not go too far (some undefinable limit only a parent would know) in the summer, we were outside to play. Until dinner (in the South, i’m not sure i used the term lunch except for school. After all, i had a lunch box). That was maybe a half-hour ordeal (unless of course dinner was a peanut butter and jelly or banana sandwich: then it wasn’t an ordeal), we were back outside until, yep, you guessed it, supper (“dinner” was midday except for highfaluting folks or Yankees) . In the summer, we were back at it after we washed and dried the dishes. Outside. The hell with the mosquitoes. We were catching those lightning bugs (some misguided souls called them fireflies) and putting them in a mason jar with holes punched in the lid with Mother’s icepick.

Also in the summer, we wore the minimum. Boys: underwear and shorts. Girls: underwear, shorts, and a halter top. That’s it. The hell with bee stings on the feet. In fact, bee stings were damn near an initiation requirement.

We would put blankets in the shade underneath the front yard Chinese maple, our rendezvous place. But we were seldom in the shade. Tan was good. i don’t think i ever saw sunscreen other than an umbrella for old ladies until i was about…oh say, forty. Oh, women had tanning lotion. Baby oil and other concoctions to get a deeper tan. But not for us, even at the swimming pool.

And then we were gone. All over the neighborhood. Almost every home had one to five kids. Those that didn’t were considered weird, a place to avoid. We roamed.

We had a hole in the back fence where we could go play with the kids on Pennsylvania Annex and was later the shortcut for us and almost every kid within five miles. We could run through the sheets and laundry hung out to dry because we didn’t have a dryer.

But we better not get caught. If we did, we would be ordered inside, where Mother would pull down that well-worn paddle originally with a ball and rubber band attached by a staple, and we would get it. That, of course, was for minor infractions. For the big ones, like not coming home for one of those aforementioned meals or being late for bedtime, could be serious. And telling a whopper, or hitting someone who didn’t deserve it, well, that meant the old paddle was used to an extensive extent, and then, even worse, we were told in a menacing tone to wait until Daddy got home. A fate worse than death. And when he got home, he would sit down on a chair and direct me to go find a “good” switch on a bush outside and bring it in. And i would fetch the smallest twig i could find i thought might pass muster, and it wouldn’t. So Daddy would get angry when he had just been only severe, and tell me to get another one, and i learned (after about four or five of these experiences: i was a slow learner) to get a proper “switch.” Because if i didn’t, he would get angrier, and pull off his belt. Regardless, sometime after this hopeless negotiation on my part, i would be brought to bending over his knees after my pants or shorts had been lowered to a most embarrassing position, and my father, in what is a most accurate description of what happened, “wear me out.”

i am still amazed that when they said i was getting this diabolical punishment because they loved me i believed them completely. Still do. i was not so much in belief when they would often note it was going to hurt them more than it hurt me. Now that i’m older, i understand a little bit, but i still ain’t buying it.

And in June, we would catch June bugs. Of course. And we would tie a string around the June bugs leg and let it fly around our heads in never-ending circles. And we never even considered it might be cruel from the June bug’s perspective.

And we ate watermelon long before some agronomist or some such figured out how to make them “seedless.” Man, slobbering through a wedge of watermelon and spitting the seeds out was part of the joy and deliciousness of eating watermelon. Outside only.

But that was topped by homemade peach ice cream. The folks would invite all the kin over and dig the old wooden bucket with a crank handle on top out of some recess in the basement and bring it outside. Then they would put the canister filled with the magic elixir into the bucket filled with ice then surround it with dry ice and then cover all but the crank with blankets and we (one to three of the children, aka me) would crank the crank until we couldn’t crank anymore and one of the menfolk would take over until the ice cream in the canister was…well, ice cream. We would pull out bowls right there in the back yard and some expert would extract the ice cream from the canister into the bowls and the grownups would sit in the lawn chairs and the children would sit on the grass ingesting the best tasting stuff in the world, homemade peach ice cream.Consumed. Right there. On the spot. All of it. Gone. It was a mess to clean up but worth it.

We would walk to school and back by ourselves every day unless it rained or snowed when mother (Daddy was long gone to work before we left for school) would take us in the car. In the afternoons, we usually would congregate into a herd of first to six graders and walk together with young’uns peeling off when we reached their homes on the route.

At school recess (two a day, mid-morning, mid-afternoon to swing on swings and take them to the sky because you were a sissy if you didn’t get them parallel to the ground where they would slack and slam you back as you returned on the never ending arc,  or propelling the old metal merry-go-round to what we considered the speed of sound or just under the limit (most of the time) to a speed where we could jump on the bed without holding on to the handle and propelling ourselves out with possible grievous injury to ourselves and all nearby, or playing kickball on the diamond made a diamond by the constant running around the paths to bases formed from articles of clothing or softball at the diamond on the end of the playground which had a tree behind the backstop where someone — i don’t think it was actually him, for it was from relatively new knife cuts and he had died at the Alamo about six score years before i saw and worshipped the carving as a religious icon — had carved a terse, scrawling note: “D. Crockett, kilt a bear under this tree, March 1810.”

Walking home and especially at the above school recess, there was some things going on which today would be cause for twenty years behind bars or exorcism or public degradation, or some media outlet calling you out as despicable. There were fights, at least among the boys, and there was bullying and the bully got his upstart from the kids, like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt you” or “i’m gonna tell,” which was something akin to a death knell if you were a kid. Snitchers were the lowest form pre-prepubescent munchkins. The remarkable thing was we fixed it ourselves.

In fact, the whole town, this magic place, fixed themselves. Except for Doc Lowe (and others) of course. We would go in to the hospital, a whopping mile and a half all the way across town, and Charles T. Lowe, MD, would check me out, or we would go to his house two blocks away, or he would come over to ours with his little black leather bag and check me out. Nearly always, he would pat me on the head, have me pull down my britches (does anyone call them “britches” anymore? and if so, do they know what it means?) and lean over his knee (fearfully reminiscent those moments where my father would say “this hurts me more than you.”) and stick what i believed to be a footlong needle into my backside and shoot the juice they called penicillin into the most tender muscles of my poor but valiant rear end. i don’t recall any specialists, although they could have been hiding somewhere. All illness and varying damages due to child collisions: one doc. Brought me into this world, saw me through childhood, a most difficult task, taking out my tonsils at six and then ten. Yes, twice. Meant i got ice cream twice. But that either was awful smelling. It was a toss-up.

And i don’t remember counselors. Of any type. They may have been there, and probably were abundant in Nashville, but not in Lebanon, thirty miles and about 123 farms down the road east.

And decisions about school extracurricular activities? There were three sports. Football, basketball, and baseball. That’s it. Except up at Castle Heights where they were way more sophisticated and offered a panoply of athletic pursuits. But by that time, my other religious experience besides church on good Sundays was the other blessed trinity: Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. Fall, it all began again.

And when it rained, we played with wood scraps, from Uncle Snook’s work as a builder with his brother Ben, on the small screened in back porch or we played canasta until infinity with the old RCA Victrola record player blaring 78 RPM records such as Dennis  Day singing for Disney and relating the story of “Johnny Appleseed” or Phil Harris singing “That’s What I Like About the South” over and over and over.

And i would walk down West Main to the library into the old stately house turned book haven and wander through the shelves and pick out books, mostly about American heroes painted with a halo, because none did wrong in these books, and i would read two or three in a week and walk back down West Main and turn them in before they were overdue, of which the date for that terrible deed occurring stamped on the card in the small folder glued to the back of the cover, and if i failed and had to pay a penny for each day i sinned, out would come Mother’s wood paddle off the refrigerator one more time.

Then in 1952 came television when Roberta Padgett invited me across the field after school  so we could watch on her brand new twelve-inch screen black and white television, the latest thing. After Kate Smith sang “America, the Beautiful,” we could watch “Howdy Doody” and Ruffin Ready introduced Roy or Gene in their oater of the day. All before i would be sent home for supper.

And low and behold in 1954, an earthquake occurred at 127 Castle Heights Avenue when our father brought home our own television. It sat in a place of glory in the corner of living room next to the interior hall. The focus of the room changed and we would sit or lie on the floor, the latter with our chins resting on our hands while we could watch magic. In addition to the addictions i had acquired at Roberta’s, we would watch Milton Berle in “The Texaco Hour,” “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” “Red Skeleton,” and “Martha Raye.” Saturday mornings were child heaven with the “Sealtest Big Top,” the “Andy’s Show” hosted by Andy Devine and his squeaky voice with Froggy and Midnight and Buster Brown and his dog, Tige, who lived in a shoe, both of them, and then “Little Beaver,” “Red Ryder,” and “Sky King,” and “Lassie.” And we were, we undoubtedly knew, in heaven.

Magic place.

And they kept me away all that other bad stuff. Jim Crow, the segregatrion from other people with darker skins besides a babysitter, housekeeper named Vicey  Shavers, and the garbage man named Jake Hughes who came every Tuesday and parked his wagon with truck tires for wheels, reeking with smell, and pulled by his old mule, and he would walk to the back of the house and pick up the tin garbage can and tote it to the wagon, and hoist it up and empty the contents into the aromatic wagon bed, and return the can to its rightful place in the backyard far enough away so the aroma before next Tuesday would not waft into the house because we didn’t have air conditioning and the windows were open in the summer. And Jake, wonderful soul that he was, amassed a small fortune i am told. Good for him.

My magic place was isolated. It had a dark side i never really saw, and it was “Brigadoon,” only an ocean and a state and old bunch of world and time removed.

It was magic.

It was home, the likes of which i don’t think we will ever see again.

Climbing My Mountain

There is this need i have to explain myself when i write something. i don’t know why, but i’m pretty sure it all goes back to my second semester freshman English class at Vanderbilt in 1963.

Our “professor” was a graduate student. Fortunately for both of us, i don’t remember her name. She was not very pretty, which should have no bearing on her competence. That did not disturb me. She appeared very academic until i noticed she wore pads to catch sweat (i guess) under her armpits. Sadly, she still emitted a bearable but unpleasant aroma around her desk.

Again, that did not bother me or affect my estimate of her as a professor in any way. But the two of us encountered a problem between the two of us. Being she was the professor, the problem was mine. But i didn’t recognize the problem as mine. Come to think of it, i still don’t.

Our textbook was one of the best. Later, i bought a copy in order to refer to it when i needed some guidance on poetry. The textbook is Understanding Poetry  by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. It can make your head spin with poetry, criticism, guidance, and knowledge, although granted it didn’t take a lot to make my head spin back in those days.

My professor believed in that book. i think she memorized it. So about three weeks into the course, we had a quiz. The quiz paper had a poem at the beginning. My challenge was to find the symbolism in the poem and justify my answer. Fortunately again — for i might reread it now and find out the professor was correct — i do not remember the name of the poem.

Ahh, the problem. The problem was i really liked the poem the way it was. i loved the lilt of the verse, the rhyme pattern, the pleasure of the thought i experienced while i read. i was taken in or aback by the beauty of the poem. i saw no need to try and interpret what the poet had written or believe he or she had some other meaning deeply hidden in the words. Those words, i thought, stood just fine all by themselves, just the way they were. Also, i wasn’t really all that into symbolism since i had been out drinking and never read the applicable assignments where Cleanth and Robert Penn explained such things.

The real problem came when i had the temerity to suggest such a dastardly idea there was no need for symbolism in such a beautiful poem. My beautifully written answer the professor apparently found abhorrent.

i flunked the test.

i also did such brazen things as have a contest with my fraternity brothers (no pledge hazing involved; this idea came from my pledge buddies, myself included). We went to our various classes that early spring day to see who could sit through an hour class — labs were excluded because there might have been an opportunity to spit into some lab sink or worse — without spitting out our wad of tobacco. i made it through the class without spitting. After all, i had become somewhat of a tobacco chewing virtuoso while playing baseball or softball almost every day of every spring and summer in high school. However, i’m sure it was not very attractive, and although i don’t remember the professor asking me any questions, i’m sure either a: i refused to answer, or b: if i did answer it was a very ugly scene — i honestly do not remember; after all this was fifty-three years ago. Regardless, the ensuing ugliness of my retching on the campus lawn immediately afterwards negated my success at making it through the class without spitting tobacco.

Somehow, i miraculously got a “C” in the course, one of the very few as damn near every grade i got was a “D,” that despicable ignominious category like limbo, meaning i didn’t fail but i was a pretty worthless student in that class.

i have always regretted not getting a degree at Vanderbilt although i am completely convinced the knowledge i attained pursuing my English BA at Middle Tennessee was equal if not superior to what i would have achieved at Vandy. You see, i had heeded the wise caution of my mother and the officers at the Vanderbilt NROTC unit and changed my major from English in the Arts and Science college and declared for a civil engineering degree about a month before matriculation. Bad move.

i have sought to remedy that lack of degree thing several times. When i was required to go to shore duty, i requested NROTC duty at Vanderbilt or Texas A&M, thinking i could get a master’s in my off hours. With a marriage headed south, i opted for A&M with the reasoning my soon to be ex, whose father was an Aggie, would be close to home if things didn’t work out. They worked out all right and it was a good choice. She got her degree from A&M and stayed in Texas. So my plan for a Vandy degree was thwarted again.

Then after i completed my active duty of some twenty-two years, i began research on getting accepted to Vanderbilt for a master’s degree in English, which hopefully would allow me to teach at a junior college. After all, back then (and now for those of us who retired (sic) from the Navy, the pension required some more income come from somewhere. But alas, Vanderbilt had done away with an English/Literature masters and the graduate program only offered doctorates, an intense time consuming discipline, which i, now well north of sixty, was not ready to attempt. Thwart again.

But there was one last gasp of an attempt. While looking for that master’s opportunity, i discovered an elite Vandy program for a Master’s of Fine Arts in literature, either prose or poetry. i was all in. i worked diligently in assembling the required writing samples, the endorsements, the mass of forms required. For extra effort, i went back home and wandered into the office of the MFA program administrator in what we called “Old Science” building.

She did not appear happy to see me. Apparently, they frowned on extra effort and personal interaction. i left her office with my Vandy degree in the hands of fate.

Fate told me to eat it.

Vandy accepted younger applicants with more academic achievements i’m sure. After all, my academic achievements really didn’t amount to squat.

And after reflecting on my ill advised journey into the administrator’s office, i realized while in her office, i smelled a strange but familiar odor from long ago near where we sat. No. It couldn’t be. She was  way too young. But i had not checked for arm pit pads.

You see, the above, in my ubiquitous green italic font, was to be a short lead in to a post i’m working on. Then it took on a life of its own and has nothing to do with “Climbing My Mountain.”

Oh well.

Random Thoughts on a Labor Day Morning

It is later than usual for me to arise and write random thoughts. 5:45 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Then, by the time i grind the coffee and start the coffee maker, set the table, put up last night’s dishes, feed the cats, have our always breakfast with the newspaper, folding and stowing away the clothes Maureen washed yesterday (and put in front of my family room chair to uncompromisingly hint i had a job to do), it was mid-morning, long after i wrote the first words of random thoughts. But i always return and sit down to this damnable screen with keyboard i can’t escape. Screw with it way, way too much. It is becoming me, or at least an essential part of me. Maybe it always has been since i started banging on those keys on the old Royal on that worn desk in “The Cavalier” room, at the back of Armstrong Hall, just before the circle, aka the bullring in front of Main at Castle Heights under the watchful and demanding eye of Coach Leftwich.

i’m no longer particularly good at it. Age has given me the okay to ignore correct grammar, punctuation, and sometimes, more often that not, coherent thought. i fooled myself for a long time my stories, my thoughts might serve the younger set as good and bad examples from which to learn. But i’m even older now and have learned in that oldness that the younger set doesn’t have time to listen to oldsters. It’s a different time, different ways, too busy thinking about fixing the world their way and my stuff is from a past time, no good, obsolescent information, if not obsolete.

Boy, that past time had a lot of problems. Lots and lots of problems, but i’m glad it was mine. i was protected, reared in a pasteurized environment where we didn’t lock our cars or our doors; we played outside; we got our images from books, oaters, cartoons, and our imaginations. We didn’t wear shoes, or shirts for that matter from May until September. Shorts. We wandered from neighbor’s yard to neighbor’s yard playing.  We walked to school. By ourselves. From first grade on. No kindergarten. And we got religion. Man did we get religion. Bathed, dressed up in our Sunday best, starched clothes and us, hair slicked back en route to a full day: 9:00 Sunday School, 11:00 Church Service, 12:30 dinner out or a big one at home of us or kin, later for the kids 5:00 MYF the same time the men’s chorus had supper and rehearsed, and 7:00 Evening service mostly gospels. It wasn’t the church in the wildwood, but man, it had that feel, had that feel.

And i learned, and i believed. Later, it sort of got away with me. i had some hell to raise, a world to conquer (didn’t), life to live, women to wed, silently crying inside with divorces, children to raise (even if one was from long distance), wars to fight, seas to sail, sports to cover, dreams to chase, people to meet, friends to make and keep. That religion thing all came back in a different fashion again, later. Oh, i wouldn’t be called a church goer, or much of anything else, but i believe. i don’t proselytize because i know even mine is a belief, not a fact, and i get tired of all of those folks trying to prove a belief. Ain’t happening. It’s enough to believe if your belief is good. You know, Jesus like. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those without guilt throw the first stone (none should be thrown, but they are falling like hailstorms in a never-ending storm of hate and fear). Walk in the customer’s shoes, or something like that, but maybe that was what i learned in a leadership intervention i facilitated, which apparently is no longer in vogue with the corporate money-makers even though they wear it in their marketing like a hood ornament, but we know damn well it ain’t under that hood. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world (well, we pay it lip service, but i see the hate and the fear on all sides, protecting their own, throwing those rocks, spitting hate, meanness, small little people bent on being better by walking over all of those not like them, remembering the past as it wasn’t but what they want it to be to justify their hate.

But that place i started writing about. That place that taught me all that stuff. They protected me from seeing the underbelly. Oh, i knew. Somewhere, sometime, it dawned on me. i made some effort to be above it, be without a color line, even made some statements and behaviors that backed that up. Never, not even through today, understood it. My world taught me equality without observing it, taught me goodness with evil lurking like a imbecile child in the basement: Boo Radley, taught me responsibility without stepping up to the plate.

But no one’s heeding. That’s okay. i’ll just try to make some people, perhaps just those near my age feel good. And i will try to live a good life, do the right thing, ignore the smallness, try hard to be bigger in my thoughts. Play decent golf and not curse (well, maybe a little bit). This writing thing is there in me, deep inside, won’t let me go. Don’t wish to market or sell my wares on television, radio talk shows, but it would be nice to make a few bucks to pay for my golf and things for my wife, daughters, grandson, family, and friends. But it’s more important just to put it out there. Don’t know why.

*    *     *

i do have a worry. i don’t see much making things anymore, except paper money. i see the big shots and their offspring playing games, manipulating people, propagandizing for their causes. The masses marching, protesting, deriding all who do not fit their idea of equal, which isn’t equal at all. My daughter’s elementary school had it right with their slogan: “ICMM,” i can manage myself. Doesn’t seem like too many people deal with that: too busy fixing everybody else. After all, they know what’s wrong with the rest of the world, just not themselves or their causes.

*    *     *

Ahh, what a glorious weekend. Courtesy of Tick Bryan, i linked up to the Lebanon High School football game Friday night. Mount Juliet beat them handily, but watching took me back to damn near every Friday night from six or so until twenty-four. Blue Devils. Autumn. Me.

Saturday, Vanderbilt beat Middle Tennessee, but Middle Tennessee wasn’t embarrassed. Good, hard play on both sides of the ball. It’s always difficult, having gone to both schools. i was a Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Middle Tennessee football fan growing up. Listened to every game i could. Don’t think i saw a one on television until Vandy beat Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl, but had been in the stands for all three teams before i was 20. i wanted both the Commodores and the Blue Raiders to win. No tie. Turned out about as good as it could.

And delight of delights: The San Diego Padres swept a day-night double-header from the Dodgers, the team, like quite a few others, maybe all of them, attempting to buy a World Series, only with more money than most. Fans are awful. So are the Padre fans, but not quite as bad. Still it was sweet.

And Saturday, i went home. i went back to Tennessee in August. It was 97 here and humid, not dry like it’s supposed to be. All of my bragging about not needing air conditioning seemed a bit foolish. We were okay. We know how to cope. Being over the hill from the ocean gives us an edge with the sea breeze. But it was hot and humid. Like Tennessee. In August. When before AC there and then, Daddy had installed a large window fan in the upstairs hall window. That was it. i would lie in my jockey shorts at the end of the bed. No cover, no top sheet. Just me, my jockey shorts, curled at the foot of the bed where i was all in front of the double window to our room, maximizing what little air the fan pumped through the hall to out our window.

And yes, early season practice up the hill at Heights. Two-a-days. Heavy cotton jerseys over pads. High top cleats. Helmets. 95/95. Refusing water: hydration wasn’t a manly thing to do back then. But salt pills, that was good. 9:00 morning practice with a ten pound water loss; driving to Johnson’s Dairy at West Main and West End Heights where Walgren’s now sells drugs for a half-gallon of orange drink. Coming back to find the Carthage boys passing a jug of moonshine back and forth on the bunk beds. Afternoon practice. Same gear, same 95/95. Seemed longer. Sprints were a killer. Ten or more pounds gone again. Be back by next morning practice. And then, just like here in the Southwest corner, surprisingly, i could smell the rain on the wind. And it came. And it cooled down to what? 80? Still sliding in the mud of the practice field down Hill Street with the rain infusing its drops through every pore felt good, and we slowly trodding back up the hill to the locker room with mud-crusted uniforms, smelling to high heaven with sweat, and we laughed..

And yes, digging graves. 95/95. Work shoes and Levis. No shirt. Pick and shovel. Mr. Bill and Dub and me. Taking turns. Wiping brows. Tough work. Leaving on the dot. After all, Legion Ball or fast pitch softball (bad descriptor) down by that church at the Southern end of Baird Park where it seems i remember the preacher ran away with one of his younger parishioners. And catching in the gear and sweating until the uniform was soaked and at the end going out and finding Country Club Malt Liquor and drinking and smoking for the first time because i didn’t have football that fall and sitting on the side of a rock road, talking, laughing before starting it all again Monday digging graves. Hot and humid. Just like it was in the Southwest corner this past Saturday.

Good memories.

A Birthday for a Kin

There’s this kid…well, not really a kid anymore. In fact, he’s a grown man, my kin, nephew actually, but damn near a long distance son. He was a kid for a long time. Then, he grew up fast. Went from being a carefree bachelor to a wife and five children in less than four years. Speed record.

He knew what he wanted. He got it.

Intelligent young man, he is. My younger daughter is almost like his sister. They will have spent fifteen years of Christmases together come December.

i find it amusing he has become successful, albeit extremely busy, especially this time of year, in the business where i thought i would end up, sports journalism. He’s a good one. i send him books about Grantland Rice and Fred Russell, my heroes.

He has a wonderful wife, Abby. He has two stepdaughters. He treats them like actual daughters of his, and his parents treat those two like they are actually granddaughters of theirs. He and Abby had a beautiful young girl right after they married. They rounded out the group with two identical twin boys. Good thing they live on a farm, a farm on Signal Mountain, Walden actually. Good place for children.

He, like all of his cousins and his aunts and uncles and his momma and papa, has as special bond. His grandfather, Jimmy Jewell, and his grandmother, Estelle Jewell, in their home for seventy-five years naturally brought all of these folks, these kin together. Because he has this farm, he got a lot of the stuff his grandfather left behind. This man works with those tools like his grandfather did. Natural talent.

i’m proud, very proud of being Tommy Duff’s crazy uncle. Happy Birthday, Tommy. This morning, it occurred to me that not only am i proud of you, Grandma and Grandpa are proud of you also. i can see them laughing in happiness on your birthday.

And, if the truth be known, you are a lot like that ole man. i know. i’ve seen both of you operate. That’s also about the highest compliment i could give any male, being like him.

You, like him, are a good man. From where he and i come from, that puts you in high cotton.

Happy Birthday, Tommy.

Another Sea Story, totally politically incorrect

With all of the tragedy around us and the Navy collisions causing loss of 17 sailors and the fake news about a Navy ship hitting an office building in downtown Houston and my old Hawkins shipmate, Norm O’Neal sending me a joke about an airman in Thule, Greenland, i thought it was time to lighten up a bit. This sea story actually happened. And as i have claimed in the past with several posts, sometimes the “F” word is the only one that works. So beware.

Before I returned to active duty in 1972, the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7) had completed overhaul in the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard. The officer i relieved, who shall remain anonymous for later obvious reasons, was showing off his Anti-Submarine Warfare spaces and equipment to his new bride and her parents who had come on board for a weekend lunch and the tour. The lieutenant escorted them to the bridge and showed the the Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) launcher forward and below. Then he took them down to the third deck to Underwater Battery Plot and showed off the sonar and new computer-driven fire control system.

Finally, they walked out onto the 01 level weather deck on the starboard side. There was the Mark 32 torpedo tubes. Leaning up against the bulkhead was the second class torpedo man. He was dressed in the standard blue chambray work shirt with dungarees. His dixie cup, the sailor’s hat, was down on his nose, covering his eyes, almost as if he was asleep leaning against the bulkhead.

The ASW Officer proudly pointed to the torpedo tubes and boasted, “Evelyn, Mom and Dad, these are my torpedo tubes.

The second class petty officer stirred. With one finger, he pushed the bill of his dixie cup off of his eyes and quizzically looked at the ASW Officer.

“Beg your pardon, sir,” he said quietly, “Those are my fucking torpedo tubes.”

He was right, of course.

Ghost Story

i think i’ve posted this before, but i ran across it today and liked recalling the days of my youth, often misspent, but always a learning experience. The beer in this story was Country Club Malt Liquor.

Ghost story

once upon a time, in a place far away, a time long ago,
us’n boys were old enough to drink beer
after obtaining it illegally from the store man way out in the country,
pee on the side of the roads with the cigarettes we couldn’t smoke at home
hanging out the sides of our mouths:
oh, we thought we were grown up
young enough to still believe in ghosts
at least some of us still believed,
there was a run-down log shack out on Hickory Ridge Road,
on the corner of a rock road they now call Crowell’s Lane
the baseball players were goofing around in a 1953 sludge green Studebaker,
when they decided to mess with George:
they told him the shack was haunted by the black man who died there 

they were young and in the South in 1959;
so it ain’t likely they said “black man”
but, as i recall we did use the proper term of “negro,”
not the now infamous slur

they dared George to go into the shack to check it out;
not knowing the plot, i felt sorry for George,
volunteered to go with him into the haunted shack,
like the dunce that i am,
i asked him if he would like me to go with him;
somewhat frightened it seemed to me, he agreed
while my buddies urged me to let him go it alone;
i did not
when we crossed the threshold of the log hut,
the old Studebaker peeled out, gravel flying,
George and i were alone in the country, sitting on the threshold of a ghost shack:

a half century later, i do not recall the meat of our conversation,
i remember after the boys returned in an hour or so laughing as they picked us up
i realized George was a great guy
i learned more about him than i would have ever known
had i not joined him in the dare to enter
the ghost shack.


Oh please, please, please get a grip

When the USS Fitzgerald collided with the ACX Crystal roughly forty nautical miles southwest of Tokyo Bay, i was involved with a flurry of emails among retired Navy Surface Warfare Officers like me. There was a lot of information we didn’t know and still don’t, but we all generally agreed the Commanding Officer should be relieved for cause. He is ultimately responsible for his ship. That, of course reached fruition several days ago. Complete information remains either undisclosed or the investigation is not yet complete. Seven sailors were killed in the incident.

Then Monday, the USS John R. McCain collided with the  Alnic MC, a 600-foot, Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker east of the infamous Straits of Malacca and Singapore. There is one sailor confirmed dead and nine still are officially listed as missing as i write. From what little i know, the McCain may not be as much as fault, but it is way too early with so much more information required to determine fault of either ship.

The ensuing reaction of higher command was as expected. The Fitzgerald’s CO, XO, several other officers and senior enlisted were dumped. A Safety Stand Down was ordered throughout the fleet. Investigations, studies, and all sorts of other reactions are de riguer in such cases. The senior chain of command even dumped the commander of seventh fleet, a three-star who was close to retiring.

And already, folks are positioning to find blame or an excuse to push their projects ahead. Flags are saying it was predicted because there are not enough ships, deployments are too long and taxing, hours make for poor decisions. It all translates to: “See, we told you so. If you gave us the ships and the money, money, money we want, this would never have happened. It wasn’t our fault.” The link to the article i read is at the end of this post.

i am a bit frustrated. i reached out to one of my former commanding officers who replied to my emailed questions. Excerpts from that email are below. i will leave the respondent anonymous because he did not expect his comments to be made public. i have the greatest respect for him, and am pretty sure the best surface commanding officers under whom i served including this one would have responded in much the same way as he did:

The Navy is embarrassed and a big head had to roll to get everyone’s attention…lack of fuel for steaming hours and touchy-feely meetings about social issues under the previous SECNAV sure didn’t help improve seamanship. My guess the Navy problem is a combination of a number of things but the responsibility for the safe navigation rests with the Captain and the watch he has entrusted with the safety of the ship. I believe each of us can remember close calls so I hesitate to point fingers.

i agree with his comments concerning responsibility of the CO and his entrusted watch standers. i also agree the Navy hierarchy felt it necessary to make a statement by firing Seventh Fleet after the incidents of McCain, the Fitzgerald, and the two other ships, the Antietam running aground in Tokyo Bay and the Lake Champlain colliding with a South Korean fishing vessel since the turn of this year.

This is all puzzling to me. i served on ten ships. As my commanding officer noted, i and every Surface Warfare Officer i know who spent time at sea have experienced close calls. i remember about a half-dozen extremely close encounters of the sea kind when i was the officer-of-the-deck. They were close, too close, but there was no collision.

After i was commissioned, the standard deployment to the Western Pacific or the Mediterranean was ten months. Later in my career, the Navy reduced it to six months. That’s hardly enough time to get over there, wherever that is, and get acclimated before turning around. Nor does less time at sea improve safe navigation.

Sailors belong at sea. i suffered from the “mid-cruise” blues (roughly the half-way point in a deployment where sailors realize there is still a long way to go before they get home) on every deployment. When they reduced the deployment time, they reduced time at sea. On numerous deployments, it was not unusual to stand “port and starboard” (six hours on watch and six hours off) for extended periods of time. When difficult operations or exercises were underway, i frequently would be up on watch or at work on station for 24 hours and more. The long periods of unrelenting pressure did not diminish my performance. They made me better the next time.

i am not sure if “ship swaps” are still in vogue. The submarine force has had blue and gold teams for as long as i can remember. They swapped out on deployments with the “off” crew preparing and training for the next one. i am old school and i never liked this plan for surface ships. Our ship was a breathing, living organism we learned to appreciate if not loved. We knew our ships and we knew their eccentricities. We were part of her when we navigated her through dangerous situations.

i am all in favor of an equal opportunity Navy. Women being assigned to ships was a positive from my perspective. i’m even writing a book about my time when the program was in its beginning and i was the XO of the USS Yosemite during an Indian Ocean deployment when she was the first ship with women assigned to spend extended out of port time at sea. It worked extremely well.

i do not care what gender or sexual orientation sailors are. As long as they contribute to the mission. The Navy should not be about making everyone feel good. The military should not be a social engineering experiment. The purpose of ships at sea is to meet the Navy’s mission. Period. The Navy should reflect the cultural mores of the country and should be above the biases and prejudices that cloud judgement. However, spending all sorts of time with training should be time spent in training for the being at sea.

Driving a ship was one of my greatest thrills and one fraught with danger. There is no responsibility greater than that of a commanding officer being ultimately responsible for the safety of his/her ship. There is no more of a sacred trust than when the commanding officer qualifies an officer to stand watch in his stead. Nearly all, if not all collisions at sea can be avoided if a ship takes proper action in a critical moment of time. But it takes constant vigilance, constant awareness of the situation in relation to the Rules of the Road. To attain that vigilance, awareness, and capability to execute in a timely manner requires the team to spend countless hours at sea.

Oh by the way, i had two shore tours during my active duty. They were good tours, but they were two too many for me. i wanted all of my tours to be on ships. i am positive the amount of sea tours made me a better mariner. Surface Warfare Officers are required to have subspecialties and Washington tours. Getting promoted and being attractive for flag is as, if not more important than successful sea tours. Staying at sea, i belatedly found out is not career enhancing. That, i believe is the problem. Surface Warfare Officers and their enlisted counterparts should be spending more time at sea and their shore time should be preparing for that.

But then, i am an old salt, a mariner, a surface warfare officer, and not a politician.

A Labor of Love

Sometimes i feel extremely lucky being old and regret i didn’t appreciate my past when i was younger. i was also lucky in that i began to appreciate my past when my father and mother would travel to the Southwest corner to spend a month or more with us to miss the harsher time of winter back home in Lebanon. They began that annual sojourn in 1986. My father was 72, my mother was 69. We shared many tales of our and Lebanon’s past for fifteen winters.

i don’t think most younger folks really understand the beauty and worth of family memories. i certainly didn’t. After all,  i had things like the Navy, three wives, two daughters, and many other distractions. And of course, they were old fogies and my generation knew how to save the world and themselves. Even though it didn’t happen. It seems the following generations are faring no better and perhaps worse in learning from their predecessors.

But who knows? i am too old to worry about it. i will just keep writing and talking about memories and my lessons learned and hope some of them will take just a little bit, maybe on anecdote to make the young’uns  lives a little better.

i usually post old photos in Facebook albums, primarily as an easy way to make the photos accessible to a wide array of relatives from both sides of the Jewell-Prichard family. Hopefully, family will appreciate the past and my using my post to share family memories.

But these photos are a bit special to me. You see, about sixteen years ago, my parents made their last fifth wheel run to the Southwest corner to miss the harshest part of winter in Tennessee. They began that tradition in 1985 and ceased making the trip in 2001, three years shy of my father’s ninetieth birthday. On this particular trip, one or two before they gave it up, a photo album was created. It was a compilation of old Jewell and Prichard photographs. What is really special about it is Maureen and my mother worked on it together.

i can see them putting it together. The descriptions of the folks in the photos written to the side is Maureen’s handwriting. i can see them taking each photo out of one of the cardboard boxes we have kept to organize all of our photos together. i can almost hear my mother telling Maureen a story behind each of the photos as they slide them into the plastic sheaths to protect them.

So when i look at the photos, i not only see some slices of history from our past, but i see these two women, so special to me, working on the project. Maureen and Estelle Jewell had a wonderful relationship. They truly loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company. It was always a great pleasure to watch them together.

There are lot of photographs here. i almost stopped several times. My inability to do proper layouts in WordPress is discouraging. But there was a stubbornness that overcame me and i was determined to finish. Maybe a bit of Estelle Jewell wore off on me. The captions here are mine.

And every time i look at the album or this post, i will think of the love these two shared. And i will be happy.

Again, i apologize for the layout.

So here are the photos:

My cousin, Johnny Orr, just before i was born in 1943
Uncle Pipey, James Orr, with me in front of our home on Castle Heights Avenue, 1944.
Aunt Evelyn, mother of Johnny and Nancy, wife to Pipey.










Cousin Jon, nee Johnny Orr on the Webster farm on North Cumberland.
Cousins, 1945






Three cousins, again, 1945.
Cousins, 1944.






Granny (Katherine Webster Prichard with three grandchildren, 1945.



Cousins, 1946.









The Orrs, Red Bank (Chattanooga), 1958




Uncle Pipey, Aunt Evelyn, and Jon, 1966.





Jim with the Winklers, Jay, Nancy, Kathy, and Johnny in Cocoa Beach, 1973(?).






Ann Orr, Estelle Jewell, Evelyn Orr, Mama Orr, Granny Prichard; Red Bank, c late 1950’s.















Jon, Aunt Evelyn, and Uncle Pipey, 1970.
The Orr’s, Red Bank, c 1970’s.








The Jewell’s. san Martha, Rockwood, c 1960’s.








Estelle, Blythe, and Blythe’s mom Kathie, 1977.








The den on Castle Heights Avenue: Maureen with Tommy, Jewell siblings, c1985.








Mother and Daddy’s 50th Anniversary party. Too many people to list here.








Cousins Jon Orr and Nancy Winkler, c 1980.








Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, Evelyn and Pipey Orr; the Smokies, 1980.








Dr. Kate Jewell Hansen, several years before the Hansen and “Dr.” were added.










Happy couple in the first home they owned, c1987.









Uncle Pipey Orr, none better, c 1980’s.








Aunt Evelyn and Jon Orr; Chattanooga, 1985.








One of the last Navy photos of goofy guy, 1987.









Beautiful woman with goofy guy, 1987.







3 sisters with lots of grit still left: Estelle Jewell, Evelyn Orr, Bettye Kate Hall, c1993(?).








Lena, Sarah, Oliver, Christmas, 2004.







Jon Orr’s obituary, 2004.









Charlie Jewell. Jimmy Jewell’s great uncle. i’m guessing this was in the 1880’s/1890’s.











Martha being pulled by a goofy guy, 1949.







Beverly and Roberta Padgett with Martha and three goofy guys, two of whom would melt, 1950.








Christmas at the Jewell home, 1948.









The Jewell children, 1955.







The Jewell children, dressed up for church obviously, 1955.










Estelle Prichard about the time she started dating Jimmy Jewell, 1933.










Betty Joy (nee Hall) Jasahke’s birthday at the Hall farm, July 22, 1953; Joe Jewell, Barbara Leftwich, Gary Hall, Betty Joy (5 years old) Randy Hall, Martha Jewell, Ann Chenault; the goofy kid in the back is the oldest one there.










Jimmy Jewell on his first date with Estelle Jewell, 1933.
Estelle Jewell on her first date with Jimmy Jewell, 1933.









Wesley Wayne Jewell with a baby even goofy at that age, 1944.










The goofy kid, 1947.









David Hall, a sensible young man with the goofy kid, 1946.










Granny Prichard with her flock: goofy kid, Johnny Orr, Martha Jewell, Bill (Butch) Prichard, Nancy Orr, 1947.








Jimmy Jewell, showing off for his girlfriend, 1933.
Lovebirds, 1933.









Evelyn Orr and Estelle Jewell; Paris, TN, 1945.









My great grandparents, Bishop Joseph Webster and Katherine Webster, his wife, 1932. Annotated in the album, Maureen wrote at my mother’s direction, “Mama and Papa Webster.”












The dapper Jimmy Jewell, his high fashion wife, Estelle. The car, i believe is the one they carried the blocks of ice on the front bunker for the ice box (now known as a refrigerator) in their first home, an upstairs apartment in a home on North Cumberland, 1940 although by the time of the photo, they had moved into the one-room home he built on the corner of her grandfather’s property.
















The man! Joseph Webster, Methodist circuit rider, reverend, bishop, and a fixture in the Lebanon community. One of his last services was to marry Jimmy and Estelle (his granddaughter) Jewell in 1938. i’m guessing this was in the 1890’s.

They called it “Eerie Drone Footage…” i called it recollection

i was fascinated and watched straight through, from beginning to end, afraid to move or look away, concerned i might miss something.

It was just before noon when i opened Gail Hatcher Morris’ link. Thanks, Gail. i finished viewing as the little hand and the big hand met at the top of the Navy clock i have in my office. It took about eighteen minutes. i suspect most of you who read this will not have the patience to watch the whole thing. i don’t blame you. While i was transfixed watching, that other part of my brain was thinking this was a lot of time when i should be doing something productive. Just couldn’t do it. Transfixed.

Here it is:

Perhaps i was so into it because i went there way back when. i may have gone twice. It seems so. But i can’t pinpoint the other time or reason. The one i do remember is pretty clear considering it was sixty-three years ago. Oh, i don’t remember a great deal of specifics about the place.

The video presents the place as beautiful in its eerie, somewhat scary, own way. The production by Brian Siskind and Jim DeMain is itself quite beautiful. Siskind’s music is beautiful and befitting the footage. i did wonder the purpose in that “Justin Brown and the Tennessee Department of Corrections” agreed to the project.

You see, i went to the state prison in the spring of 1956, on a tour mind you. i was twelve. The occasion was McClain Elementary on West Main had a field trip for members of the safety patrol. We’re the sixth grade boys — they weren’t ready to let girls be on the safety patrol: after all, it was a different time — who had the bamboo poles with the red flags stopping traffic at the direction of the Lebanon City policeman who was there every morning and every afternoon. The trip began in the morning after all of the children were in school. i guess the fifth graders were the safety patrol that afternoon.

The second part of the field trip was supposed to be attending a wrestling match. i’m guessing that was at the Hippodrome on West End just past the Vanderbilt campus. Gone now…of course. The Hippodrome was one major large skating rink. i, however, remember it when they sat up a stage at one end, put in four hundred or so folding chairs, and held rhythm and blues reviews there while i was at Vanderbilt. In my mind, i can still see still see Ms Fox of Inez and Charlie Fox fame come out in a skin tight, gold lamé jump suit, launch into “Mockingbird,” and then in the middle of the instrumental turn her backside to the audience, bend over, and shake her tail feathers. And the man running at full speed down the aisle in attempt to meet the before mentioned Ms Fox face to face, so to speak, and tackled by a security guard about three-quarters of the way down the aisle. And Sam Cooke showing up almost an hour late and singing one song (no, i don’t remember the song) and leaving. And Jackie Wilson pushing the mike and stand toward the audience, doing a 360 pirouette, kicking the bottom of the mike stand pulling the mike back to him, making love to the self same microphone while falling to the floor, which put one young woman in a tight skirt and three-inch heels launching herself full speed down that aisle but not stopped by security and diving onto the stage into the arms of Mr. Wilson and that microphone where they proceeded to make out sans mike until the end of the song when they both went backstage.

But that was much later in my youth and the wrestling match was cancelled or there was some other rock in the road to see the wrestlers so the safety patrol went to Sulphur Dell to watch the Nashville Vols take on the New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Memphis Chicks or another team in the double-A Southern League.

However, the Tennessee State Prison visit was the indelible memory. We toured the grounds and saw where they made license plates and we saw the cells and the open area and the cafeteria, and the highlight of Old Smoky, the electric chair. On the way out, we stopped at the gift shop where they sold goods made by the well-behaved inmates, and i bought…Guess? Yep, i bought a twelve-inch model of Old Smoky, the electric chair. It was made of wood. The seat and back were natural wood. The arms and legs were painted red. There was black lettering on the seat back, which i think read “Tennessee State Prison.” When i bought it, there were small leather straps on the arms and at the head level for strapping in the culprit. They disappeared pretty quickly.

i cannot remember how my mother reacted when i brought it home that night. i think she restrained herself, but i do wonder what she told my father after i had gone to bed. i’ll bet a hundred dollars he laughed.

i didn’t use it very much. i do remember frying some particularly bad miniature guys, but only once or twice during my playtime. It was more of an ornament in Joe’s and my upstairs bedroom. It stayed around a long time. i’m not exactly sure when it disappeared but i suspect when Mother and Daddy cleared out the house when they moved from the Castle Heights homestead to Deer Park.

Of course, i was twelve. Boys of twelve think quite a bit differently than boys or girls at any other age i think. i remember thinking how strange that prison was and how awful it would be to be penned up there, especially if you were waiting to meet Old Smoky in a final set to. i remember thinking i wasn’t ever gonna do anything to get be in there for a longer stay. i also remember showing my bravado and making fun, laughing like twelve-year old boys do when they are around each other (if they are still allowed to do so).

As the video shows, it was a magnificent, old beautiful, place, but eerie, overbearing, yes scary.

And the video took me back to a time of innocence, a time of not knowing all i should know, a time when adults thought that would be a cool place to visit on a sixth grade safety patrol trip.

Bet they don’t do those kinds of things nowadays.



What if?

i think i’m channeling John Lennon, but please, please, please (as James Brown would often sing), keep Yoko Ono far, far away from me.

i was just wondering:

What if all of those folks believing they were Christians, instead of protesting, defaming others, said (sorta like Jesus), i forgive you, i love you, may Lord have mercy on your soul, and then they let Him take care of it?

What if all of those folks tearing down statues, yelling and spitting at the opposition, screaming denigrating attacks, said to the opposition, we don’t agree, but you are human beings like us and we would like to talk to you about why and how we differ and how we might get along?

What if, the media reported good news one day, just good news (even though i know they couldn’t stand it for more than one day, i would like it to be most of the time) instead of seeking out sensational, soap opera crap, and digging for dirt?

What if all of those who inherited big money; those who became filthy rich from their businesses; athletes, entertainers, and politicians who have made crazy amounts of money tried to live on several million and gave the rest to helping people across the country and the world who are down and out?

What if all of those folks throwing rocks at our current or immediate past presidents (as well as several others) quit and started working on programs and initiatives to change things for the better?

What if all of our congress persons quit worrying about getting reelected and serving those who give them money and started working for the good of our country and all humankind?

What if everyone quit worrying and attacking all of those people and establishments they perceive are making it difficult for them and their beliefs stop and just worry about how they are managing themselves in their relationships?

What if everyone, i mean everyone just started trying hard to live by the Golden Rule? You know, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

What if…oh Lord, it ain’t gonna happen, i know but just think about what if everyone quit trying to fix everyone else and actually focused on fixing themselves?

Nah…wouldn’t work unless we shot all of those who don’t agree with us.