Category Archives: A Pocket of Resistance

Music of the Other Kind, Sunday Afternoon

As usual at the time, i thought it was a good idea when she told me she had bought tickets.

Then when later she told me we would have a late brunch at one of my favorite restaurants of all time before we went, i was even more okay with the idea.

But this morning, i looked at all of the projects lagging way behind, i was not thrilled at the prospect of spending my afternoon in frivolous pursuits. After all, i needed to go to the driving range and hit golf balls.

But, of course, we went as scheduled. i grumbled, hoping no one would notice.

After parking was damn near non-existent and after dropping Maureen off at the door, i drove around for about fifteen minutes before settling on the lone spot available about four blocks away. Walking to the restaurant, i grumbled some more, but the moment i walked into Et Voilá, the day turned to gold.

Sarah joined us for the brunch. It was her first time there. Et Voilá is obviously a French restaurant, but it stands above most. Their bread is imported, freeze-dried from Paris. It’s no so much it’s from France, but it is good and it does represent the attention to detail the owners/chefs pay to their food and service. The atmosphere and service is enough…well, enough to make a goofy old guy quit grumbling.

The meal was enjoyable but the next phase was even better. My grumbling gave way to concern. The reason Maureen and i were going to the symphony was she had seen the program in the arts section of the newspaper several months ago. The program featured a symphony, of all things, written by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton collaborated with the featured violinist ,to revise his piece which was a salute to the diversity of the fabric of our country.

A Short Comment on Belief

i’m old enough to comment on this, knowing it will not change anyone’s mind. Don’t care. Just wanted to put it out there.

Belief is just that. Even the atheists believe. None of us really know, we just have to believe.

i believe goodness, doing the right thing, caring, and forgiving may lose in the short term, but will always, always win.

That belief keeps me sane…most of the time.

An Anachronism’s Catharsis

This was begun as we flew back from San Francisco the Monday after Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. i have been trying to express well what i experienced this year and the following years. It is a great experience thanks to the Hicks family and Cy Fraser.

It happens every year about this time, the first weekend in October to be specific.

Often there are other major get-togethers, like homecomings and reunions, but those others always lose out if they conflict with this tradition.

It sounds innocent enough, if not oxymoronic. i mean who would expect a major bluegrass festival to be held in San Francisco? But it is big, and i mean big.

i must point out bluegrass is no longer the majority genre. Back when, 2007 when Warren Hellman started the thing, he called it “Strictly Bluegrass.” But it grew, and more than bluegrass was played. So Warren changed the name to “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.” Now that Warren is gone, it seems to me there are more of the other genres than bluegrass.

We started coming here in 2009 when it was mostly bluegrass, or at least “country.” Bluegrass was the initiator but even that is secondary to this anachronism. To me, the “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” weekend in Golden Gate Park is cathartic.

It amazes that so many people from so many backgrounds can get along so well. You see, the festival’s head count is estimated between 750,000 and 800,000 over the weekend.

So the chosen few head out somewhere between 7:15 to 8:00, driving down San Francisco’s steep Ninth Avenue through the stirring businesses including an all-night market where we used to stop and get ice and beer, lots of beer. But we are older now and the beer intake has decreased, and Alan has figured out the new ice packets work better in our coolers than ice and with bottled water, lots of bottled water for it can get hot in the hollow midday, and yeh, okay a bottle of wine or two. But for the past couple of festivals, we’ve skipped the market and continued down the hill straight to the entrance to Golden Gate Park.

Riding through the beautiful park with its eucalyptus, Monterrey pines, and Monterrey Cypress, trees originally planted at the park’s beginning in the early 1900’s, take your breath away with their majesty. The one sitting to the back right of the Banjo Stage is simply awesome (i think there is a photo somewhere of the Hicks and us underneath it in non-festival times).

Almost every year since 2009, the weather has been as good as it can get in Golden Gate Park. In one or two years, it has been cool and overcast. That, on the Banjo Stage in Hellman Hollow translates to bitter cold and harsh winds. i vividly recall Joan Baez announcing she was “freezing my ass off” on a particularly cool Saturday. But incredibly, it has never rained upon us during festival days.

Regardless, it is an escape from the negative for me. i spend four or five days with people who are so far beyond just best friends they give me peace. i am talking about Alan and Maren Hicks, their daughter Eleanor (and one of my favorite people on earth, another daughter), and Cy Fraser (Cy’s wife Julie died just over a year ago and we miss her being there). There are others who join us: kin, friends, friends of friends. We’ve had as few as six and as many as 20-plus join our stakeout.

The primary culprits minus Eleanor Hicks; from left Cy Fraser, Maureen, Goofy Guy, Maren Hicks, Alan Hicks, and about 250,000 of their closest friends.

i am not enchanted with the way college fraternities are run. But to give the system credit, i met some of the best people i’ve ever met in my life, especially my pledge group but all of the guys ahead and behind me with whom i experienced my life change. To call them “brother” is pretty much right on. And with this October San Francisco bunch, family is included. We are more than friends. We are family.

It is good to spend an escape with our family, my brothers.

Then there is the music. In our beginning, it was spectacular for bluegrass fans. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers featuring Ralph Stanley, Helen Means, Emmy Lou Harris along the best bluegrass bands on the planet. There are also unusual bands, relatively unknown and inventive. A few are on the Banjo Stage but most, including some rock and new music acts on the other five or six stages spaced throughout the park.

Several of us wander to the various other stages, seeking out musicians we personally enjoy. A couple go to more stages. i normally stay in place although about three years ago, Maureen and i walked or rather navigated down the hollow through the masses to the Arrow Stage and watched the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform, which was worth the trip. But my travel is mostly restricted to the banks of port-a-potties and back. Except, of course, in the early morning when we stake out our claim at the Banjo Stage with Alan’s tarps, the beach chairs and variations thereof (regular camp chairs are too high and block the views of those thousands behind us), and of course, the ubiquitous coolers.

After laying claim to our territory – by late morning, the hollow looks like a quilt with tarps, blankets, and other devices for land claiming – Eleanor, Alan, Cy, and i, the early claimers, set up and wander back to the tents holding food. There is only one open early. Fortunately, they serve wonderful breakfast burritos. With that and coffee either there or from a nearby truck, we are set. We nap, we read, we meet those close by, and just talk until the show starts midday.

There are some un-pleasantries but very few considering the crowd. San Francisco is a most liberal place. Some attendees are a little too demonstrative, including a couple of the performers wearing their political leanings on their performance sleeves. Several festivals have coincided with San Francisco’s “Fleet Week.” The Navy’s Blue Angels perform their aviation acrobatics over San Francisco Bay on the Fleet Week weekends. A few of their stunts take them over Golden Gate Park. Steve Earle in Saturday’s closing act several years ago shot the bird to the Blue Angels as they flew over. Even though he said some words i won’t print here, i will not fault him. That’s his choice. That’s what freedom is about even if one doesn’t agree and personally finds it offensive. That’s why our military (unlike many others) are serving: to allow him to do those kinds of things. But it didn’t sit quite right with this Navy Veteran. Now when the Blue Angels in the crowd, there are a smattering of folks who copy what Steve Earle did.

It is the only thing i find really offensive during the whole weekend. Oh, there are people who crowd to the front late and stand up blocking views or talk loudly. But they are just being selfish and unaware. i understand and can endure their actions.

Because there are so many other examples of good, good people. There is the guy who sat next to us on the hill in one of the earlier festivals. He worked on ferries. Salt of the earth. Brought his fiddle. Played along. Pretty good. Old guy. My kind.

There has been the one thin, grey haired woman who stakes out a place up front near the center cleared for the song tent. She does this modern dance thing, moving swaying, rhythmically flowing her arms and legs through the air, to bluegrass, all day. Seven hours.

Once, there was this transgender (i’m pretty sure) behemoth dressed in leopard skin leotards, a pink tutu, and large bonnet. This person had long, thick blond hair with the roots showing. Not pretty. Tough looking. A bluegrass band was knocking it out. She was in the middle of the crowd. I don’t know who initiated it, but this person and an old country boy with a straw hat and bib jeans began dancing together. Kept it up for the whole set. Made you feel good.

There are white boys with long dread knots, shirtless, barefoot, shorts, dirty, with a dog, and blowing weed like there is no tomorrow being nice to folks as they pass by.

No fights. i’ve been to at least eight, maybe nine of the HSB’s, and i’ve never seen a fight.

i have seen people passing out. Most from over-indulging. A few with medical problems. Sometimes a combination of both. Know what? The people around them (and there are always people around, thick crowds of people around at HSB) immediately turn their attention from the band, their friends, and do what they can to help. People. Good people.

Every once in while, i will look up at gaze at the masses all around me for as far as i can see; i will watch the sea of moving humanity flowing into the park. People. Good people. All persuasions. Getting along.

So next year, i would recommend you check it out if you are so inclined. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco the first weekend in October. Put your prejudices and biases in a bag and leave them somewhere. Enjoy good music, really good music and people enjoying really good music.

And if you do, check out to the right of the sound stage looking toward the Banjo Stage. There will be one tarp with three pretty women, three older guys, maybe more. The goofy guy will be one of them. You will be welcomed to join us.

Beautiful setting. Great music, my kind. People: individuals enjoying other individuals as well as the music. A show. What a show. All of it.

Family. Good feelings, a catharsis for me. i plan to be there for at least several more years.

 

 

Channeling a Man i Never Knew

The photo in this post is not of my grandfather, Hiram Culley Jewell but of my great grandfather, Hiram Carpenter “Buddy” Jewell. He has a pretty remarkable story of his own (later). But i just had to include the photo where he is mentioned.

i am not into mysticism, spirits, and all of that kind of stuff.

i don’t disclaim it exists and occasionally am struck by some extraordinary story about the supernatural. But i’m inclined to believe that kinda stuff wasn’t intended for me.

Still thanks to a very wonderful counselor who helps me when i need it, i have found meditation a source of strength. So after my disclaimers, i’m really sorta open to that kind of stuff.

And then yesterday out in the third garage stall designated at the get go and remaining my workspace, maybe even more like my escape place, i channeled him. Or perhaps he channeled me. i’m not sure which.

But it happened. Even though i never knew him.

You see, this channeling stuff happened with my grandfather. He died in ’39. Tuberculosis. Right after my folks got married.

This channeling thing occurred while i was doing a chore put off too long. Hiram Culley Jewell didn’t talk to me. It was more of an internal thing. i felt him. Down deep inside me. My heart? My soul? Can’t really say. But for me, he was there.

i had burned off the old grease on our cast iron cookware and was taking them down to bare metal when we channeled. It reminded me of one of my parents last winter trip out here. My father was 86 and had limited time to drive his wife and himself out here in the fifth wheel with his Ford 150. He and i (with me mostly watching) took the cast iron skillets and pots down to bare metal in a way that would strike fear into the world of gourmet cooks. We, or rather he was using a propane torch to burn off the residual grease buildup.

As i looked over his shoulder and he blasted away at the skillet sitting on my workbench, we talked.

We always talked, mostly i listened and he told stories. My father was a great story teller later in life. His older sister, a elegant woman in appearance, was one of the best story tellers ever. i have always wondered if they got that from my grandfather. You see, i once thought i would be a great writer, follow in the tradition of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. i no longer think that. i’m not disciplined enough and one of the worst editors in existence. But i do think i’m a good story teller.

But Daddy only told me a half dozen stories about my grandfather. Those were never what he thought about his father. They were stories nearly always funny. He and my aunt seemed to always be laughing when they told a story. But he just didn’t talk about my grandfather very much. He never said how he felt toward his father although i sensed he loved him. It was blatantly obvious my father had the greatest respect for Hiram Culley Jewell.

Hiram Carpenter “Buddy” Jewell, my great grandfather, 1844-1886.

Culley was a working man by fate. His father, Hiram T. “Buddy” Jewell died when Culley was ten. Culley and his brother Barbee were raised by different uncles, Newton and Thomas. i believe this is correct but am not sure which brother was raised by which uncle. However, my mother told me the uncle who raised Barbee believed in education and guided Barbee and his own children into college. The uncle who raised Culley didn’t believe in education. He believed in work.

Culley worked all of his life.

My father did tell me of his father having a work shed at their home at the beginning of West Spring Street. As we were working on the cast iron, he also mentioned Mama Jewell cleaned their cast iron by throwing it in the fire they always had burning in their backyard. They would pull the skillet or pot out after several hours and the vessel would be “clean as a whistle.” Then Mama Jewell would cure it on the wood burning stove in the kitchen.

Perhaps that was the connection that produced my sensation of channeling.

i was working. Granted my grandfather’s work was on a grander scale most of the time. Same for my father. But i was working.

Sometimes i think i was supposed to be a worker. Like my grandfather and father. But i wandered off that track. My mother told me after they took me to Vanderbilt for my freshman year, my father cried on the way home because he was so proud to have a child going to college. i wonder how the working man, Hiram Culley Jewell, my grandfather, thought of that.

Of course, it was different times, a world apart.

But while i was bent over that skillet in the bright sun of the Southwest corner, i could feel him, not my father Jimmy, but Culley looking approvingly at me working.

That was yesterday. i worked on things around the home the rest of the day. Last night, i ate dinner and sat in my family room chair watching sports just like my father did in his den on Castle Heights Avenue after a day of work. i kept thinking of that feeling of my grandfather being with me during the day, the workday.

i slept well.

oh to be young again

This one hit me as i was going over the weather, my schedule, and “to-do list” after my morning routine of making coffee, getting the paper, and setting the breakfast table. Just hit me. And once again, the question of why i have this need to write and make it public. Don’t know. Just flat don’t know why. But it’s there. It’s there.

oh to be young again
when
the answers were so pat,
when
one side was right
and
one side was wrong
and
oddly, the right side
was always, always
on my side;
oh to be young again,
when
i didn’t know what i know now
and
the path was clear to success,
to victory
to riches
to love, unbridled passionate love
lasting until the sun set on life
and
that path did not, did not
include screwing others
(with many meanings for “screwing others”)
to get on down that path;
oh to be young again
when
i knew i would conquer the world
and
be a hero, the good kind
for
the bad kind was to be reviled
back then
and
didn’t worry about
hurting someone’s feelings
by a forbidden word
or
being misinterpreted by a zealot
from
one of the many sides of a problem;
oh to be young again
when
i was not aware
of
the hate and meanness of ordinary people
for masses of other humans
with
different views, different hues of skin color;
oh i wish i were young again
when
i was blind to all of
the injustices all around me
and
life was simple
in
my little slice of the world,
but
now
i know
and
it is not pretty,
without answers,
but
oh how much, how so much
i wish i were young again.

College Football – Get a Grip

Nick Canepa, the elder of San Diego print journalism sports columnists is an interesting character. In his Union-Tribune column today. He argued eloquently for a sixteen team playoff for the NCAA football championship playoff.

i like Nick’s writing, even though i occasionally don’t agree with him. This column was one on which i don’t agree. In spades.

Playoffs in sports mean nothing. They are as manufactured by the minds and imaginations of experts, trying to make something concrete that is whimsical, fun, even motivational at times. We call it “sport.” This attempt to create “the best” is especially true for this sport turning into a business called football. The pros have lost my interest because it is now more business than sport. College football is tending that way if not already there.

This is not a reaction to my bad day yesterday. i played one of the crappiest rounds of golf i can remember playing. Yes, Mount Woodson is a tough course, but not that tough compared to my game, which was downright awful. Then i came home to watch Vandy lose to Mississippi, San Diego State lose to Boise State, and learn that Middle Tennessee State lost to the University of Alabama, Birmingham. On top of that, the Dodgers beat the Cubs (of course, i’m rooting for the visiting team in  each game of this series because i wish neither team was in the playoffs: bad fans). Only the Astros beating the Yankees made this underdog fan feel okay. But such a disastrous day did make me think when i read Canepa’s column this morning.

Each football game stands on its own. For an example in this season, Vanderbilt beat Middle Tennessee, 28-6 (22 point margin), Middle Tennessee beat Syracuse 30-23 (7 point margin), Syracuse beat Clemson 27-24 (3 point margin), and Vanderbilt lost to Alabama 59-0 (59 point margin). By statistics, that means Alabama should beat Clemson, to whom they lost to in last season’s silly four-game championship playoff, by 89 points.

So a national playoff, as with the mythical champions voted on for almost as long as football as been a sport, is exactly that: mythical; it means nothing except appeasement to the hunger of fans who need a champion, regardless of how insane the concept.

i love football. It was a great sport before we kept trying to fix it, on and off the field. We now have a list of penalties long enough to compare to the Obama Health Care plan they rolled out on table after stacked table when it was introduced (and yes, i believe the plan needs to be fixed — everyone should have health care, and i won’t get into the swamp about “affordable” — not jettisoned for political purposes). We have “experts” looking at replays to determine if the field judges made the right decision until Saturday games may extend into the next week. Fans argue, not about who played the best, but what call was blown.

i loved playing the game. Yes, it was dangerous. i knew that, but i was too young to care, and it’s the only sport where i could take out all of my frustrations. i loved to practice as much as i loved the games. i’m glad my grandson is not heading in that direction, but i loved it.

i loved the beauty of the game when it was played by the players; not the coaches calling every play, but the guys on the field calling the plays, calling the timeouts; when it was their game to win or lose; i loved players who played both ways and specialists didn’t exist (like Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns lineman who kicked field goals and extra points. i loved the back or receiver crossing the goal line and handing the ball to the official, then running back to his sideline where he was patted on the back for a good play, not performing some clownish mime and being swarmed by teammates as if he had just secured victory in World War II. i loved the linebacker laying out the running back with a ferocious hit, then helping the runner back up, patting him on the back, and returning for the next play, not acting like an idiot and showing off, taking one more dig physically at the opponent, and then trash talking (one of the better terms for what they do: trash).

i loved the color, the smell, the feel of a football game in the fall and the fans and the cheerleaders, and the bands. i loved the glory of winning and appreciated the agony of defeat. i loved the traditional rivalries, even if they were one-sided. Texas A&M vs Texas, ahh what beauty in that one. A few remain but now they are fabricated and blown completely out of proportion.

i loved watching games without replay after replay and the incessant, non-stop blather of commentators who never heard of the words “silence is golden” and have more inclination to make their points even when wrong than describing the action on the field. i enjoyed one-minute time outs and fifteen minute half-times. i liked games that ended after an hour and a half.

i still watch football. Occasionally, i will watch an NFL game…if i happen to channel surf through one and stay with it for a series of downs. This is not because of the inane political posturing about standing or kneeling during the anthem (i made my comments in a previous post), but because it’s not a sport anymore. It’s entertainment business out of control because of…get ready for this: M. O. N. E. Y. And we are the ones who are paying.

i try to watch every Vanderbilt and San Diego State game and the ones they show of MTSU out here in the Southwest corner. i will watch an interesting college game anytime.

But spare me the idea we will really know who the best team is by having a playoff. My scoring statistics sort of blows that silliness up in smoke. Clemson beat Alabama last year for the championship. There is a good possibility if they win the rest of their games, last year’s game could be a rematch. If so, i don’t think the Tide will win by 89 points. A game means one team won and one team lost (since they got rid of ties, which is ridiculous and makes the game silly long and brings greater risks to the players). That’s it. For one game. The result could be just the opposite the next game even with mismatches. A championship is illogical in sports.

Bring back the five bowl games: The Cotton, Sugar, Rose, Orange, and Gator) and get rid of the rest of the post-season play.

What kind of crazy are we continuing to seek?

i need a rest.

A Legend Gone

His services are tomorrow.

They will be held in a church in Chattanooga, his hometown and one of my favorite places on earth.

Many folks who are my friends will be there. i will not. It’s just too far away, one of the penalties i pay for my choice of home in the Southwest corner. It’s a wonderful place out here, just too far away from my origin at times.

The folks who do make it there will be saying goodbye to a legend. i will say goodbye to my friend, the legend, Charles Oren Hon, III, in my own way far away.

i have enough legendary tales about Charlie Hon to fill a book, and i’m sure i know only a minuscule number of those tales. “Escapades” does not adequately describe Charlie’s adventures and misadventures, a couple of the latter having me involved. It’s not time to bring those tales out of my memory. That will be for later.

It is time for me to honor a legend.

Charlie was a success, a contributor. i cannot say enough about how he and his beautiful and wonderful wife Ann Eliot Hon have made me feel like i belong.

Most of all, Charlie was one of the best life-long friends a man could hope to have. i was lucky to have spent enough time with him for us to call each other friends, actually much more than that.

i will go up on my hill tomorrow, probably midday, and take a beer. i will look out on the vista of the California hills of high desert, the blue sparkle of the bay, the gray of the Navy ships berthed pier side on the Naval base, the deep blue of the deep Pacific, think about the land of Chattanooga he and i both love, and i will toast Charlie with that beer. i will remember him and that chuckle that would envelop me in the good things about this world.

And i will scrape away all of the stories and the legend, and give him my highest complement. For Charlie, like my father, was a good man.

 

103

It seems almost impossible.

He would have been 103 today.

It feels like he and i were working on a project yesterday.

Last year, i honored him with a photo of him and his wife in front of their new home in 1943.

i included a poem i wrote about him. He liked it. i intend to do that every year as long as possible to honor him.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Jimmy Jewell with his son, Joe, two of my four best friends (his wife Estelle and daughter Martha are the other two) in 2009.

Hands, circa 2009

When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
but
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.

His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight:
His hands are firm and thick and solid –
a handshake of destruction if he so desired, but
he has used them to repair the cars and our hearts;

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’34 before computers and units).
His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life itself into his hands
and beyond;
the tales of grease and oil and grime,
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;

they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.

His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man I know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man I know
with hands that tell the story
so well.

A Sports Story

Although this is second hand information, i believe it to be true. i think i discussed it with the main character, Kenny Gibbs, but it was a long time ago, and my memory can play tricks on me. However, Kenny, if you read this, this is my story, and i’m sticking to it,

It was March 1965. i had become an integral part of The Nashville Banner’s sports department after beginning the previous September as an office boy and very cub reporter.

Waxo Green, or Dudley Green if you prefer the more formal, told me this story on a Monday after a most incredible weekend. Waxo covered Vanderbilt sports and golf. He was an old time sports reporter straight out of a Damon Runyon short story. His desk in the large room was directly across the door from Fred Russell’s office. He had just completed covering the NCAA Regional Basketball Tournament at the University of Kentucky Memorial Gymnasium (long before Rupp Arena replaced it) in Lexington, Kentucky. It was the state of the art basketball arena, seating a what was then a whopping 13,000.

Fred Russell was there likely in a premier seat. Waxo and the Banner sports photographer (sadly, i cannot remember his name as i write as he was a good guy and had taken me under his wing) were posted at the scorer’s table for all four games.

i was there also. i was there because i solved a dilemma. Obviously, this was long before we could send photos by email and social media. The dilemma was how to get the photographer’s photos to the Banner in Nashville before it went to print. There was some leeway because the Banner  was Nashville’s afternoon newspaper, but there was no way to get the photos back to the office before the deadline…except for driving the 180 miles immediately after the game.

Kenny Gibbs is third from the right on the back row.

In a brilliant move, i volunteered. i drove a 1959 Vauxhall sedan i had purloined from my sister. It was not a mechanical marvel except it would get me where i needed to go…most of the time. But most importantly, it would provide me a ticket to what i considered the biggest sporting event of my life (it still ranks way up there). i had been friends with most of the members of the team. People would laugh when they saw me walk across campus with our All-American center, Clyde Lee. John Ed Miller, the point guard, and Bob “Snake” Grace, the power forward, and i took architectural drawing together. Keith Thomas, the shooting guard, and i had spent some good times together. i considered myself friends with the entire team.

But i was closest to Kenny Gibbs and Jerry Southwood. Both were fraternity brothers. Jerry was the point guard behind John Ed, and Kenny was the center behind Clyde. The next year, they were both stars. Both were great guys and remain that way. i don’t see either of them enough. They were an integral part of one of the best teams in Vanderbilt history. They had won the SEC championship (there were no conference tournaments back then: college athletics was not quite as money hungry back at that time), a rare feat, which included winning both games against Kentucky, then as now a perennial national basketball force.

After the Vanderbilt tournament games, i picked up the negatives from the photographer and headed south for roughly four hours including getting to the car and out of the parking lot. For the semi-finals (There were only four teams from the field of 16, less than a quarter of the teams in the tournament today), the task was relatively easy as the Commodores beat DePaul in overtime, and it was relatively early in the evening. i got back to the Banner’s office around 1:00 in the morning, dropped off the negatives, and slept for about six hours before checking in with the managing sports editor, Bill Roberts and then driving back to Lexington.

Saturday was the big day. And i mean big. On Friday, at the Vandy-DePaul halftime i had wandered from my seat on the opposite side of gym from the scorer’s table to arrange for the negatives hand off with the photographer and say a few words with Waxo. i started back to my seat with the teams came out to warm up. As i turned to walk back up the stairs and over to my seat, i discovered the Michigan team,  awaiting to play in the second game, had come out to see the teams, one of which they would play in the finals. Michigan was ranked number two in the nation behind John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. When i turned, i found myself looking into the belt buckle of Cazzie Russell, the Wolverine’s star forward. Flanking him and just as imposing were his two main supporters, Oliver Darden and Bill Buntin. i slithered through the troika of basketball hugeness and headed for my seat.

My instructions for the end of the game were to ignore the craziness of the game’s conclusion, head straight for the end of the scorer’s table, get the negatives, skedaddle for the exit, and shoot toward Nashville as fast as that little malfunctioning Vauxhall would carry me.

It was an incredible game. It seesawed back and forth and Vandy had a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go. John Ed brought the ball down the court, stopped and in a move he used frequently, took a stutter step but not moving his anchor foot. The ref called walking. It was not. The team invited me to see the replay with them, something unavailable to the general television audience in those days, on Sunday night at the WSM studios, and we ran the footage again and again, pointing at the TV monitor and shouting, “you didn’t walk, you didn’t walk.” We all knew it but now we had proof. Michigan scored two goals and the Commodores lost 87-85.

Michigan lost to UCLA in the NCAA championship game, and i still believe with all my heart, Vandy matched up much better against the Bruins and Gale Goodrich, and might have won the championship that year if it hadn’t been for that blown call. Of course, it’s the right of a fan to revise history.

Although disappointed, i did not forget my mission, headed to the scorer’s table, picked up the envelope with the negatives, and headed for Nashville, cussing all the way. i arrived after 3:00 am. Made it.

But the Monday recollections with Waxo Green made it even better. About half-way through the second half after Clyde had picked up a foul, Coach Roy Skinner had put in Kenny to give Clyde a rest. On the first play after substituting, Kenny fought and claimed a defensive rebound off that huge Michigan threesome. On the next shot at the other end, they all went up, and Kenny came down in a heap, writhing on the floor and grabbing his head in anguish. The trainers and coach came in and Kenny was helped to the bench. The pain was temporary.

But when Waxo asked Kenny after the game about what happened, Kenny replied, “That damn Darden kneed me in the crouch.”

“In the crouch?” Waxo reacted, “But you were holding your head head?”

Kenny wisely responded, “Well, i was damn sure not going to grab my balls in front of 13,000 people and a nationwide TV audience.”

As i said, that’s my story, and i’m sticking to it.

The Flag and the Anthem: One Perspective

i try to stay away from political posts. i have found reactions from all political positions twist my meanings and don’t really think about what i am trying to convey. My posts seem to create more hate and discontent, not less as i intended. Not worth it. As i have attested many times, i have friends on both ends of the political spectrum, and i don’t wish to offend them by writing something they will misinterpret through their political filters.

i don’t consider this a political post.

i remain amazed at the vitriol spewed by the manufactured hatred because one guy, a once good but not particularly great NFL quarterback kneeled during the national anthem and the raising of the United States Flag before the beginning of a football game.

People have drawn their lines in the sand, taken up their weapons, and are throwing their rocks in all directions. For goodness sake, professional football players are taking political stances and people are paying attention. Professional football players should be heeded by what they do on the football field, not after, before, or in-between when they are off the field, not even all of those stupid little actions they take to promote themselves (not the team) after making a good play. If they want to make a gesture, quit the high-paying game and join the military. We could use you in combat.

Now, we have those who do not consider any gestures other than their own reacting, taking sides, and blowing smoke, most without a clue.

Have at it. i’ll sit this one out.

But that’s an aside.

My concern is i just don’t understand.

Colin Kaepernick and everyone else who has taken up arms on either side have freedom of speech and the right to protest. All of you have that right because this country does not pay allegiance to any person, any king, queen, emperor, dictator, or even the government itself, including the president. And that right was created by an idea: the idea we could have equality, independence and freedom as individuals, not because of our skin color, our religion, our political party, the culture of our heritages, or our economics, but because we are human beings with certain inalienable rights (does that last phrase sound familiar?).

We are all subject to those inalienable rights because of that idea, that attempt by men who were flawed, just like all of us, to create independence from oppression almost 250 years ago, and in doing so, came up with the idea that they were subservient to the idea of independence and equality, not the other way around.

There are many ideas about what a “perfect” government should be.” And all ideas since the beginning of time reflect Mose Allison’s observation in his song “Mercy:” “Everybody’s crying justice, just as long as they get theirs first.” Except one government. This one. And it too is flawed in that it relies on humans to effect it, and humans seem to forget the original idea and fight against anything they perceive is not in their best interest and damn the interests of everyone else. And our humans have been screwing up ever since this government, based on this wonderful idea of equality, was founded.

Two things we honor and swear to in recognizing our flag and the national anthem represents that idea. The anthem, after the first stanza, is also flawed because it was written by a human. It is words, and it can and has been interpreted in many ways.

Every Friday morning when i am on the golf course at Naval Air Station, North Island (and have been for almost all Fridays since 1991) sometime around the fourth through sixth holes, i and my long time golfing partners and military retirees, hear the bugle’s “Call to Colors,” or “First Call,” and go on alert while continuing to hit our golf balls. Then five minutes later, we stop at the bugle call of “To the Color,”or “Colors” as we have come to call it. We turn toward a flag location we cannot see, take off our hats, stand at attention, put our right hand on our heart, and remain that way through the playing of the anthem and until the bugle call “Retreat” tells us to conclude our honors to…not the military, not the government, but to the idea.

The flag, or the Ensign as we in the Navy call it, has more significance to me: no words, an idea of independence, solidarity of the states to pursue equality of all men (including women) represented by a piece of cloth blowing in the wind.

It is the idea we defended for the major portion of our lives. Many of us died for that idea. We defended the idea of freedom of speech. We swore to defend that idea. So all of you folks with your noble concerns about inequality, oppression, abuse, when you do not honor the flag or the anthem are not properly showing your resistance to equality, to independence, but you are, in fact, making your symbolic gesture suggesting the idea of equality and independence for all, against the very things representing the idea.

i also don’t agree with those who are so bitterly opposed to those who choose to dishonor our flag and anthem, symbols of the very idea they are trying to express. That is the right of the protestors. There are many points of equality or inequality we need to address and make right, again for all human beings, or at least make the attempt, which in our current state is impossible because of the refusal to discuss rationally rather than taking the stance of us-against-them, the mentality which is raging in our country right now.

i don’t ask any of you change. You aren’t going to change regardless of what i write or say.

All i ask is you intelligently think about what i have written and decide what is right. What is the right thing to do? Think about what that flag and that anthem represents: the idea of freedom. We have the only government in the world based on that idea of inalienable rights for all, and we, all of us, are too intolerant to act on that idea.

Think about it.