Category Archives: A Pocket of Resistance

A Child’s Prayer Rings True

It is late.

Maureen has taken her bath and gone to bed, where i should be with her. Sarah is in her bed, probably doing some web thing with Billie, her loving dog, curled by her side. The fire in the fireplace is just smoldering embers.

i have been working, shotgunning on many things when not working on my book.

Earlier, i stumbled upon one of my all time favorite movies, “The Bishop’s Wife,” the original with David Niven, Cary Grant, and Loretta Young. i pretty much stopped everything else and watched straight through while Maureen multi-tasked reading on her Kindle or working on something on her laptop, something i am incapable of doing, never have been able to watch television and do something else. When the movie was over, as usual, i felt warm and good inside. My kind of movie along with oaters.

Maureen reminded me we will go to the symphony tomorrow, the San Diego kind featuring a violin concerto, #5 by Mozart and Dvořák’s Symphony #6. Thursday, i’m pretty sure i’m going solo to another San Diego Symphony performance of Purcell, Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons, Arensky’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D minor, and Strauss’s Pizzicato Polka featuring Avi Avital on the mandolin.

Blythe Jewell holding Evan Fraser on Orcas Island, 1982.

We are booking our seats for Dirtwire’s performance at the Music Box in downtown San Diego in mid-January. A member of the band, Evan Fraser is the son of one of my best friends, Cyril Vaughn Fraser III, who grew up in Old Hickory established a Vanderbilt record similar to mine, and now lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. Evan is not only almost kin, he is one incredible musician playing all sorts of exotic instruments from many lands.

And of course in early October, we made our annual journey to San Francisco to attend the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park with our friends Alan, Maren, and Eleanor Hicks, along with Cy,  not to mention our other 750,000 friends we meet every year.

As i write, i am listening to my collection of 45 RPM records, converted to digital. It is old rock and roll and rhythm and blues.

The eclectic nature of my music interests is pretty wide, i thought. i blame it on WCOR AM & FM. That is where i played the Top 40 on weekends on AM; played classical, semi-classical, and jazz on weeknights; and listened to country all the time because that was the bulk of the music slate on WCOR AM.

i am glad i somehow gained that appreciation. i am not an expert in any of those genres, but that is pretty much the story of my whole life: jack of all trades, master of none, except i think mariner/ship driver is where i did excel.

It is good.

In a few moments, i too will be hitting the rack (Navy term, and if you ever saw enlisted berthing on Navy ships in my early USN days, you would understand where the term came from. If i am still pumped, i may have a bit of a hard time actually getting to sleep. So i will resort to my mantra:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

It is the prayer i uttered since early memory for more than three thousand times. i now say it in my mind on a loop until i fall asleep.

When i said it at my childhood twin bed on the north room of the upstairs on Castle Heights Avenue, i don’t recall being one bit concerned about the second two lines. i do now. It has more possibility now. i am surprised some politically correct, well-meaning bozo hasn’t attacked it for being scary to children. Perhaps someone has and i just don’t know it. There are a lot of things i don’t know i prefer to keep that way. This is one of them. There are also a lot of things i know i wish i didn’t.

But for now, i think i will just remember:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Birthday Girl

She is a year away from entering  the decade and a half, which overall was the best years of my life. She turns twenty-nine today (in fact, about five hours from now, to be specific).

Once upon a time in a land right here, Sarah May Jewell was born. It has been well documented that day twenty-nine years ago was the same day i completed my active duty service. i was blessed with becoming Mister Mom for quite some time.

Sarah his beautiful, intelligent, and caring. That’a about all i could ask.

Oh yeh, i love her.

Happy Birthday, Sarah.

Sarah just over a year old, 1991.

The Other Day

The other day, i kept thinking about how i should just quit writing.

Oh, i’m going to finish this book, but i thought about how much simpler my life would be if after finishing the book, i just quit writing. i could practice and play more golf. i could actually complete some home projects, which keep growing at an exponential pace now. i could go to the zoo and San Diego Museum of Art several times a week. i could cook, grill, and smoke more food. i could go to more to local high school and sports events. i could exercise more. i could hike these marvelous hills more.

Ain’t gonna happen. No way.

Writing, regardless of how good or bad it is, writing is somehow in my blood. i also like communicating with friends — and you will never know how much your compliments on my posts mean to me.

And then there is this other thing. i will be what i consider officially old in slightly less than two months. 75. Three-quarters of a century. Hell, up until somewhere around my mid-forties, i thought three-quarters of a century was ancient history. Writing these posts allows me to think about history and share it with others.

My Navy memories are shared with other men of the sea. i’m not sure the old guard is understood by the new, but the old guard identifies with steam and bridge watches and red-lit combat information center with radar repeaters and manual plotters and crackling radio and manned mounts and the salty breeze and the frothing main.

My memories of growing up in Middle Tennessee apparently resound with folks who grew up there with me, both the ones who, like me, left, and those blessed ones who stayed rooted to their…well, rooted to their roots.

Tonight, after a full day of stuff including dawdling, i sat down and thought about home. i enjoy writing about home. With our trip to Tennessee for Christmas looming, you might think i was thinking of the wonderful Christmases i have had growing up, and for the past twenty-six years, mostly on Signal Mountain, in Tennessee.

But no, i sat down and started thinking about dandelions, sour grapes, clover, and bees.

Don’t know why it came into my head, but i started thinking about our yard at 127 Castle Heights Avenue. Dr. Cash’s expansive two-lot yard butted against our back yard with one more house in the front between our house and his, which was on the corner of Castle Heights Avenue and West Spring Street. He had a large garden, very large for that neighborhood, which ran almost the entire length of our backyard. He spent a lot of time working in that garden with mixed results. He also spent a lot of time on his yard. We could see him when he would walk around his lawn, spot a weed or a blade of grass unwanted in his beautiful yard, get down on his hands and knees, and crawl around picking out the abusing growth and throwing it in his trailing gunny sack. His beautiful lawn nearly always looked like a beautiful lawn with pock marks where the offending plants had been removed.

His garden included a grape vine about thirty yards long inside the short rock border he had installed on the property line with our backyard. The grapes were sour, but Dr. Cash was very protective of them. So we would delight in hiding behind the neatly trimmed hedges (says one of those who was charged with the trimming) on our side of the property line, and surreptitiously steal grapes and eat them even though they were sour, bitter, not good. Later, once or twice, i cut off twigs and smoked the grapevines.

Our back yard, and the front yard too was our playground along with the empty lot the Padgett’s owned between our house and their home up toward West Main Street. But we dared not tread into Dr. Cash’s garden.

Up until i  was eight or nine, we had about three extremely poor yielding peach trees, good for climbing but not so good for peaches on the south side of the front lawn. Daddy realized the futility of them in the early 1950’s and took them out. There was a Chinese elm on the north side of our sidewalk leading to the front door. It was blown down by a tornado or a wannbe tornado in the late forties, but replaced several times. The shade of those trees was our haven from the summer sun. We would haul out blankets and spend leisurely summer days in shorts and barefoot sitting and lying under that tree playing games (hell, we might have even read some books). i can even remember (vaguely, of course) Mother bringing out lemonade for us. There is scant chance of us actually napping there, but we might have.

The backyard was a paradise for play. The old single wood garage had a backboard and basketball goal on the front. Daddy built a swing set out of pipe in the back of our lot and the garage basketball goal was replaced with one on the swings. The swing set was also perfect for working on kicking extra points. John Johnson was our neighbor for a long while with his mother and then his wife Charlotte and their daughters Kanya and Kristy. John, about ten years older than me would come over, shoot basketball, play pitch and catch, throw passes, and amaze me with how many field goals he could kick over that swing set. Of course, we would have to go through the hole in the northeast corner of the fence and hedgerow to collect the football from the orchard in the lot behind us.

In my younger years, it was a perfect ranch for cowboys to roam, complete with mini-Stetson hat, cap six guns, two-gun rig of course, the trusty Red Ryder BB carbine, cowboy hat, shorts, shirtless, and barefoot. Many a pretend bad guy bit the dust in that backyard.

Later, that backyard was also a good spot for “whiffle” baseball, usually a two-man game with imaginary lines defining the number of bases for hits and the property line and the back of the house serving as the home run distance. We threw away the whiffle bats and used wooden bats from Little League and even Babe Ruth League. Henry Harding and Mike Dixon were the usual opposite team in games that went on for hours. Oh, what movement you could get on those whiffle balls (and without risking Tommy John surgery).

Winter, cold winter, ice, snow, didn’t stop us from being in that yard. There was adventure in the cold. For the life of me, i can’t remember what we did other than some very poor sledding down the hill on Castle Heights, eat snow cones, and build snowmen. But we were out there.

On summertime nights after supper, we would venture forth into that yard, armed with bell jars including tops with holes punched with an ice pick. We hunted fireflies, lightning bugs some say, and catch them and put them in the jar, somehow expecting them to live in there and light up our lives. While we are on our great hunt, the mosquitoes hunted us, and usually won. My bare back, arms and legs were more itchy welt collectors than functioning body parts.

The backyard was the appointed place for eating watermelon and spitting the seeds out long before they had seedless (almost) watermelons. And it was the location for grinding on the home made ice cream maker surrounded by salted iced and all covered with blankets.

Unlike Dr. Cash’s back yard, our yard was not perfect. We had grass, lush grass really, but it was  the grass itself i remember now. Our grass was full of wonderful pastimes like searching for four leaf clovers. We harvested dandelions in the blooming stage, and plucked their petals with “she loves me, she loves me not” mantras. When the dandelions matured, we would pick them and blow the “pappus,” the white beard-like seeds into the air. Beautiful magic.

And in that lawn, there lurked the villain, the bee. And if you stepped on that bee, you got stung on your bare foot, and you would cry, and go in the house, and scream to Mother about those killer bees and have the stinger removed and get soothed and doctored (mercurochrome ?) and the world would eventually return to normal.

And if you were really bored and had a pocket knife, you could go out on that lawn and play mumblety-peg.

i miss it, but i can remember it and write about it.

What Almost Happened (But Maureen Knows Me Too Well)

It all began this morning, innocently enough. i woke up early as per my routine, made the coffee of which i should drink less of at my age but years at sea has pretty much squashed that good intention, put away last night’s dishes, set the table, retrieved the newspaper to separate the ads we never look at even the specials to throw in the recycle and put the bulk of the paper by Maureen’s setting and the important stuff you know as sports and comics by my setting, set out Maureen’s frother with all the foo foo she uses to ruin perfectly good black Columbian coffee (my favorite), and sit down to check stuff, revise my to-do list before going on what used to be my run before becoming my walk run what has become mostly walk and a little shuffle, when i was distracted. Then i had a lists of important tasks to do, cleaning around the house, working on my book, taking a nap before what is becoming the tradition of my cooking hamburgers on Sunday evenings. But all was put away (except the nap: man, that’s essential) until hamburger time.

It’s Judy Lewis Gray’s fault. She tagged me in a post about cleaning old books with a little, i mean little vacuum cleaner. i thought about old books and whenever i think about old books, i think of a special time in a special place, an enchanted place, and i forget all about shuffling and stuff. i commented on Judy’s post with a bit of a tale. Thus my morning became engaged with this post.

You see, my enchanted place was an out-of-the-way, inconspicuous little bookstore. In Dublin. No, no, no, not Dublin, Ohio or this would be a post about golf. Dublin. The Dublin. Ireland.  It was unfortunately (unfortunate because i haven’t been back since)  a long time ago. 2006. Our younger daughter Sarah was a junior at Bonita Vista High, thinking about college. She had mentioned she wanted to go to college overseas, Europe someplace.

There was this neat coinciding of events: Sarah considering higher education in Europe and Maureen’s “business” trip. Maureen was an “account executive” for Parron-Hall Office Interiors for years. “Account Executive” was their title for a person who took a project from outside sales to design, to contract, to planning and ordering, to installation, to maintenance. She was good. Really good. As a result, we got to go to a whole bunch of places we would not likely have gone. Furniture manufacturers encouraged folks in the business to use their products in such projects as Maureen’s by having business conferences in some pretty decent places. They were usually about a week long with a total of two hours or so doing business, and a spouse or other companion could accompany the salesperson — once a boatswain master chief suggested he go to Hawaii with me for one of my leadership seminars by being my “BBO.” When i asked him what “BBO” was, he explained “bags and books officer.” So i was Maureen’s BBO on most of these business trips (except cruises: i wouldn’t go on cruises i declared unless they would let me drive the ships, hence no cruises). So Maureen and her BBO went to St. Thomas, Hawaii (five or six times), Monte Carlo, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and Dublin.

And that takes us back to old books. When we were in Dublin low those many years ago, we went to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. It was then it occurred to me Sarah might want to go to Trinity (Ireland does not have universities with multiple degrees of various kinds, it has colleges for specific fields of study. Trinity is the college of fine arts, which includes drama, Sarah’s choice for a major. It seemed obvious to me. Sarah could go to Trinity and we could move to Ireland. We couldn’t afford high end expensive housing Dublin, but we could live outside, say about forty miles in the countryside in a “Quiet Man” kind of cottage. With the great rail system, Sarah could visit us or we could visit her.

Maureen seemed dubious and it was time to eat — i have noticed Maureen seems dubious most decisions time around a meal hour…especially if i have caused the decision making. We crossed the road and began looking for a place to dine. Shunning the fine stuff, we found a side street, i’m pretty sure it was Duke Street. We had seen a sign. It read “Pub.” i said, “Great.” We went to this pub and it was like something out of “Quiet Man” only larger. The food was great and the Guinness was…well, Guinness.

As we had entered we had passed next door a very nondescript but quaint (hmm, almost an oxymoron but not in this case) bookstore. After lunch, we decided to check it out. There were some newer books on the asymmetrical, ramshackle shelves in all sorts of places in addition to the built-in shelves. We wandered, checking out what was there. It was musty but neat. Then, in one cavity in the built-in’s was this book opened, on a bookstand. It was open to the title page with the colophon on the left side facing page. The book was The Tower by William Butler Yeats. i thought, man, this thing looks old. i checked out the colophon. First edition, 1928, it revealed. And below the title was handwriting inscribed in a scrawling indecipherable hand. But i knew it was signed by Yeats. i sighed. i wanted to touch it, but felt it was too fragile, no: too sacred.

i stared for a while in a trance. Finally i slid reluctantly away to find myself next to another open book. It was another first edition, Oscar Wilde’s  The Selfish Giant, published in 1888, and yes, good ole Oscar had signed this one.

And of course, another cavity in the bookshelf had one of James Joyce’s books, first edition, signed: Dubliners, 1914. There were others around the shop. i wanted to stay, and oh how i wanted to pick one up, sit in the corner by the window and read.

But it was time to move on. Like i said, i think it was on Duke Street. i’m not sure if i could find it again. But i would go back to Dublin just to be in that pub and spend, oh, about ten years in that bookstore. i would have to spend it there. i’m sure the books were too expensive for me to purchase.

Maureen was reluctant to pursue this idea of Sarah at Trinity. i threw in the idea we could live in our little cottage for two years and with Sarah having her feet on the ground, we could spend another two years in Southern France. i was thinking Antibbe. She seemed a little more supportive of the idea.

Then we got home and Sarah did not want to go Trinity in Dublin. She wanted to go to London. On and off for about eight months, i would bring up the possibility again. Then on opening day of the Padre baseball season in 2007, Maureen and i were waiting for the trolley to go to the game. i brought up the subject again. She got that Maureen look in her eye. i knew it was a dead issue.

“You don’t want her to go to Trinity and us live outside of Dublin, do you?”

“No.”

“Why? It’s such a great opportunity for all of us.”

And she said simply, “Too many pubs.”

She does know me well.

At least the Padres beat the Giants, 7-0.

 

 

i know the perfect place to do this. It’s a book store on a side street across Nassau Street from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. i think it was Duke Street. i know it was next door to a pub that felt like something out of “The Quiet Man” when you walked in (the food was good). It was a musty place with ramshackle shelves filled with books, a few new but mostly old. In separate cases, several books were displayed. There were signed, first editions of Joyce, Wilde, and Yeats. Yeh, i could definitely clean books there. Thanks.

Thanksgiving

i woke early.

It’s my job. i smoke the turkey (the tongue-in-cheek recipe was in an earlier post this week).

You have to get up early to smoke a turkey for a 3:00 p.m. dinner. To smoke it right, that is.

It was a bit tougher this year. It started raining last night. It’s on and off today. That increases the work involved with smoking a turkey, especially if you are not used to it, and i certainly am not used to it. i  don’t think i’ve ever experienced a Thanksgiving in the Southwest corner when it was rainy. It’s usually dry, and for some reason, there have been a lot of Santa Ana’s on Thanksgiving: wind flow from the desert making the day even warmer for the season.

Not this year. i donned my rain gear, struggled with getting the coals started, made sure stuff i used was protected from rainfall, and will be monitoring more frequently than normal from now until closing in on mid-afternoon.

i love Thanksgiving. It’s about giving thanks, not about getting stuff, not about praising others, not about going out and having fun. It’s not using it as a political platform. It’s about home, family, and, of course, giving thanks. It is also about what things should be, should have been. People sharing with people.

So it’s not too hard to get up when i can see the stars. But there were no stars today, not just overcast but drizzles. First light was muted with the cloud cover, but still stirs me as it has for years  especially on the morning bridge watches.

It’s worth it.

There will be moments of sadness for me. i will regret my grandson Sam, Blythe, and Jason aren’t with us. But i will be comforted knowing they will be having a lovely thanksgiving with a delicious turkey and trimmings from Sam’s grandmother. i will feel an empty spot for Joe and Martha but again be okay because i know they will have their families around them.

There will be no sadness when i remember all of those Tennessee Thanksgivings: Castle Heights Avenue, Wildwood Avenue, Waggoner (yes, i still spell it that way as the west end street sign was spelled “Waggoner,” and the east end was spelled “Wagoner” now adopted for the whole street; but i still prefer what was apparently a misspelling) Street, Lebanon; White Oak and Greenwich Avenue, Red Bank (Chattanooga), and (was it Kingston Avenue, Nancy Schwarze?), Rockwood. Family, big classic dinners, children running everywhere, the kindest adults anywhere in the world who loved to laugh, autumn leaves covering the ground, and after dinners belly-full naps, fires in the fireplace (Chattanooga only). Good times for which to be thankful.

And today, thanks for sister-in-law, at least one daughter here with us. Smoked turkey.

And thankful for all of those folks who have suffered injury and disease but survived.

And thankful for all of those who loved and lived and shared their living with me but are now gone on to another thanksgiving.

And thankful for the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth who showed us how to live peacefully together and helping each other. According to Wikipedia, ninety Wampanoag’s and fifty-three Pilgrims, the remaining folks who came over on the Mayflower celebrated the harvest for three days. With the lead of Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe and former English slave who lived with the Wampanoag’s and served as the interpreter; Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, and Plymouth Governor William Bradford for making it happen and providing the fowl and deer for the feast. And let’s not forget Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White who cooked the feasts, not a small feat by any measure. They showed us how to co-exist, which most of us have ignored since then.

The smoker needs to be tended. The sun is peeking out of the clouds sporadically. And it is a good day. It is not like my brother’s day today. He and Carla posted photos of Vermont snow. i noted my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving comes from a song:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s (sic: apparently the original was this; i always and still prefer “Grandmother) house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Joe is living it for me.

And then from that Wikipedia item, there was the painting of  Jennie Augusta Brownscombe. It took my breath away while i was waiting for the coals to get hot.

Yes, today is for thankfulness:

Birmingham & Football

My man, Sean Dieterich whose blog, to which i was introduced by the beautiful and intelligent Judy Lewis Gray, wrote a post yesterday about Birmingham. Alabama ‘s Birmingham, not England’s. Sean’s post had nothing to do with football.

i have only been to Birmingham once. i thought it was a big, fantastic city. Of course, it was 1963 and my idea of a big city was Nashville. And it had everything to do with football.

The Castle Heights “Tigers” football team stopped there on the way to Marion, Alabama to play the Marion Institute “Tigers” on a Saturday night.

To be honest, it was a long time ago, and i have wrestled with the time flow of the events. i cannot imagine the team not spending at least one night somewhere. One way had to have taken about seven hours. And we played a ball game Saturday night. So my story is we left on Friday, had lunch in Birmingham, spent the night in Marion, played the game and drove back that night, a long drive. The travel expense budget for sports was not huge. Yet i cannot imagine we drove seven hours, played a game, and returned afterwards. It was a long time ago. So i believe my deductions are correct. Memory fades. But that’s my story, and i’m sticking to it.

The team left Lebanon very early Friday morning on a school bus painted Maroon and drove the two hundred -plus on roads less frequently taken in today’s world of interstate highways. We got to the big city at lunchtime, smack in the middle of downtown Birmingham. To me, it was like another world as i looked down the street and up at the skyscrapers, which were probably four or five stories high. i thought it was the finest restaurant i could imagine. Now, i suspect it was a Shoney’s Big Boy.

The 16th Street Baptist Church had been bombed killing four young “black” girls. Birmingham was a center of the civil rights protest and resistance since the 1950’s. i’m sure i read about all of what was happening and saw a lot on the TV news. But i was so focused on football (and high school girls) sadly. i excuse my lack of attention to this history in we did not stay any longer than required for lunch. i did not pay attention. Now, i wish i had.

We had a nice meal. Of course, being high school football players, quantity probably impressed us more than quality. Regardless, one waitress probably a decade older than any of us  was having fun with us. As we were leaving, she spotted this little guy, aka me, amongst the post-graduates and asked if i was the manager.

You see, i had made a road trip, a rather impressive achievement for a sophomore on a team that had an extra year of high school.

Heights belonged to the Mid-South Conference made up of six preparatory schools in Tennessee and one in Rome, Georgia, all of which had that extra year. The bulk of senior-plus students were athletes. The schools recruited athletes to come the extra year. Colleges also sent students for an extra year before giving them athletic scholarships. It was before “red-shirting” and freshman eligibility at the college level. So colleges who saw potential in high school athletes would send them to the prep schools for an extra year of experience, putting on weight, and gaining maturity. Half of the 1963 Tigers 36 players were post graduates.

i was not only a sophomore, i was the smallest player to make the varsity. i topped out at five-six (and never gained another inch) and soaking wet weighed 128 pounds. So i must have been a scat back at wide receiver or something, right? Nope, i wasn’t particularly fast, but i was quick. And Coach Stroud Gwynn stuck with the single wing as long as any coach, Tennessee Vols included. On offense, i was the second string blocking back, a position i did not relish. Now on  defense someone my size normally would be considered a defensive back, but again, nope. i was a linebacker, all 128 pounds against offensive lineman who nearly all were well over 200 pounds and many approaching 250 pounds. Go figure.

So how was i the only sophomore to go on a road trip (and i went on all of them that year)? For once my size helped along with not having any common sense or sense of preservation. In practice, i was a member of the “T” team, the players who weren’t on the first string who mimicked the offense and defense of the upcoming opponents. Playing linebacker, i was the only defensive fodder who consistently could tackle Snooky Hughes alone.

Snooky was a 5-11, 195-pound fullback who ran like a freight train except low like a bowling ball. Gang tackling was about the only way the “T” team defense could bring him down and that was not frequent. But i being my size could get lower than Snooky’s battering ram helmet and frequently tackled him by hitting him around the ankles. The coaches were impressed enough to award me by putting me on the travel squad.

The waitress at the Birmingham restaurant was not impressed. Manager. Harump. Before i could explain, Kent Russ, Snooky, and several other PG’s interrupted. They told the waitress they used me as a football. Everyone laughed but me.

And we left Birmingham.

Marion Institute was both a prep school and a junior college. A number of their football players were recruited by the big football colleges. Tennessee four-year high schools did not normally desire to play prep schools with PG’s.To fill out the schedules each season, Castle Heights would play junior colleges and freshman college teams. In 1963, the Tigers from the Hilltop played four conference games, one four-year high school, a junior college, a college freshman team, and a college “B” team, concluding the season with a 5-4 record.

Marion was the most impressive team on the schedule. The offensive line averaged 230 pounds. The star of the team was a tight end at 6-4, 220 pounds who went to Alabama the next year. It was a cool night in the Marion stadium. The field was not in great condition with large patches more the red gritty sand-clay soil than grass. Marion beat the Tigers into the ground physically.

Late in the fourth quarter, someone decided to let some linebackers get a break from the pounding. The score was already 21-7. My name was called. i ran onto the field to play one of the linebackers in the 6-2 defense. i did not know whether to be thrilled, excited, or scared as hell.

Marion had the ball on their thirty-yard line on second down. The quarterback broke the huddle and scanned the defense before getting under center. Seeing me, he called an audible. i might not have had any common sense, but i was smart enough to know the play, whatever it was, was coming at me.

The quarterback dropped back for a pass. The All-American to be tight end, who, to me, resembled one of those skyscrapers that awed me in Birmingham cut across the middle in front of me. The quarterback zipped him a pass. i could not see the ball coming with the running building in front of me, much less get around that building to knock down the pass. The behemoth caught it at full speed. i matched him stride for stride.

An aside: i loved wearing the maroon and old gold uniforms. They felt good. i felt like i was cool. To enhance that coolness, i shunned wearing my sleeves down as they were made to be worn. i rolled them up past my elbows. Cool. But playing in southern Alabama sandy clay, stupid. Really stupid.

i was on the heels of the tight end getting ready to dive at his legs. He decided to straight arm me, throwing his right arm back at the diminutive, pesky gnat chasing him. With no other option, i grabbed his arm. He flicked his arm like i might really be a gnat and sent me flying. They said i must have slid about ten yards in that gritty clay.

Shaking myself off, i felt my arms burning. i looked down and both forearms, supposedly protected by the sleeves i rolled up to be cool, looked like raw meat, bloody from elbow to wrist.

i had slowed the gargantuan enough for two defensive backs to tackle him after a gain of about twenty yards. Marion scored their last touchdown on that drive.

My arms burnt for three days. i never wore my sleeves rolled up again.

And i never went back to Birmingham.

Smoking the Turkey

Wow! i have a tradition.

Actually, i have a bunch of traditions, some of them are closer to superstition, some are just to keep some folks happy, and a few, like this one, are mine, all mine.

The more i think about it, the more i like this tradition. It’s sort of in line with JB Leftwich, the Coach’s tradition. Every year about this time but just a tad later, Coach would write one of his weekly columns for The Lebanon Democrat about a fruit cake recipe. i think it was a fruit cake, and i’m pretty sure it was his mother’s, but i am too lazy to look it up this morning. But i like the idea of following in Coach’s footsteps. It’s hard to go wrong that way.

The below is from last year’s post. i should add i still cling to Mr. Dickel’s version of sour mash even though the Prichard brand with a distillery up in Kelso, Tennessee, must have some family connection. Both Jo Doris and Estelle carried the maiden name of Prichard, and it’s without the “t,” which makes them fairly unique. Someday, someday, i will find the Prichard family connection among the Leftwich’s, the Jewell’s, and  the distillery.

This, i think, is my new tradition.

i wrote this recipe (sic) in 1990. i now am the Turkey Smoking Go-To at the Jewell household whenever we have Thanksgiving here with more than two people (If it’s just Maureen and i we find a very nice restaurant usually without a turkey dinner).

i have published this a couple of times in The Democrat and posted it here several times. There is a more serious version with more exact directions, but i forget where it is every year and wing it. i was going to blow off putting it out in the newspaper or on the web this year, when Bill Goodner described how he smoked his turkey, i remembered turkey smoking being a JB Leftwich family Thanksgiving or Christmas tradition for Jim and Jack to smoke a turkey while tending to it with a Prichard whiskey in  hand (it used to be George Dickel, and i still stick to the Tullahoma brand). My brother-in-law Daniel Boggs and my nephew Bill Boase, pride themselves on technically correct smoking.

Well, i ain’t technical. i use an old Weber smoker, not as good as my smaller original like Jimmy Lynch used back when, but my smaller one rusted out about twenty years ago and you just can’t find them anymore. So now i add charcoal and chips throughout the process.

A couple of months ago, we got a new Komodo dragon grill…just kidding: it’s  a knock off of a “Big Green Egg” smoker Char-Griller dubbed the “King Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker” (“kamado” is the term used for a Japanese smoker, which looks like an egg). Therefore, i could become more technical. But i am a sentimentalist, and getting up in the wee hours of the morning to start the coals, top them with the soaked hickory chips (i tried mesquite chips once, but i’m from Tennessee: hickory chips are the only chips), put the turkey on the grill, pour the marinade from the bucket over the turkey and into the drip/water pan, and then tending to the fire and chips randomly and very carefully throughout the day gives me a sense of fulfillment.

i am learning the awesome powers of my Komodo dragon grill and have found grilling steaks, pork chops, etc. is great, and i plan to to expand to seafood, fish, and Cornish game hens in the near future, but i think i’ll stick to my old smoker for the turkey.

So Bill, i don’t think i can be of much help on electric smokers, but it i thought you might like this recipe. This year, there is no dog. When i put Lena, my last one down, i vowed not to have another dog until i was sure it would outlive me and put me down rather than vice versa. i still want to have a dog again, but not for helping me smoke a turkey.

Dec 10, 1990, 10:36 pm

SAN DIEGO—Holidays, except for the weather, are pretty much the same for me out here in the southwest corner or back in Tennessee. To start, no one will let me smoke the turkey.

When I was growing up in Lebanon, and every time I return there for a holiday, my mother cooks the turkey. When there are only a few of us there, she makes a chicken taste like a turkey. She roasts the turkey, or the chicken, in the oven, and it comes complete with dressing and gravy. When we have a holiday out here, my wife cooks the turkey the same way my mother cooks the turkey. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I volunteer to cook the turkey. Every year, whether in Tennessee or out here in the Southwest corner, whoever is in charge of turkeys says no. They profess to love the turkey the way I fix it, but they say another time would be better. They say they want a traditional turkey.

I picked up turkey cooking while I was spending some considerable time about two-thirds of the way between here in the southwest corner and Tennessee. The Colonel, grandfather of my oldest daughter, lived up in Paris, Texas, and he fed me my first smoked turkey. I loved it. Since then, I have modified his recipe somewhat and do cook one fine smoked turkey. Since I can’t have it out here or in Tennessee, I thought someone with fewer traditionalists in their immediate family might like to have the recipe to try for the holidays.

Smoking a Turkey

INGREDIENTS:

  1. This is fairly important to the success of the whole affair. Pick a good one. The critical part is to make sure it will fit in the smoker
  2. 1 container large enough to hold the turkey and cover it with the magic elixir. I’ve been known to use a plastic bucket, but sometimes the dog gets upset as we normally use it for his water dish. This is okay as long as we stay out of biting reach of the dog for two or three days.
  3. 1 smoker, probably any kind that claims to be a smoker and any number of possible jury rigs would work; however, if I were using a “Weber” or like vessel, I would make sure that there was extra water in the smoker).
  4. 1 bottle of beer. Beer in longnecks is preferable but one should not become too concerned about the type of beer as “Lone Star” is a bit too elegant for this type of cooking. Besides, we wouldn’t want to waste a beer worth drinking on some dumb turkey. If one is desperate and doesn’t mind subjecting oneself to abject humiliation, it is permissible to stoop to using a can of beer.
  5. 1\2 cup of Madeira. Again, I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the quality of the wine, and in truth, any red wine is probably okay. However, I would stay away from “Night Train” wine as it has been known to eat through barbecue grills, smokers, and anything made of material weaker than that used in hulls of nuclear submarines.
  6. Angostura bitters
  7. Worcestershire sauce
  8. Chili powder
  9. Oregano
  10. Sage
  11. Honey
  12. Molasses
  13. Undoubtedly, there are numerous items that I have forgotten to list here, but that’s okay as it really depends on what your individual taste is — I don’t suggest substituting low fat milk for the beer, but most everything else is probably okay — and if it’s really important, I’ll realize I left it out when I get to the narrative of how to use all this stuff and include the forgotten ingredient there.

PREPARATION:

Thaw the turkey. Take all those weird things that they put in those plastic packages inside the turkey and cook them in a skillet without the plastic packages, turning them frequently. Then feed what you just cooked to the dog. It might placate him enough to keep him from biting you for taking away his water bucket. If there are traditionalists in the bunch, give the stuff to them rather than the dog and let them make gravy.

Put the turkey in large container. Pour beer and Madeira over turkey. If you have not allowed about 24 hours for the turkey to thaw or about 8-12 hours for marinating the turkey, call your invited guests and advise them that the celebration will be about two days later than indicated on the original invitation.

Sprinkle other ingredients over the turkey. Be plentiful. It’s almost impossible to get too much.

Crunch the garlic cloves I didn’t mention in the ingredients and add to the container. I normally use about four normal sized cloves for a normal sized turkey. Also add the previously omitted bay leaves, about 6-8 for that same normal sized bird.

Add enough water to cover the turkey although it probably wouldn’t be a disaster if a leg partially stuck out. Then put the container in a safe place, unless of course, you want the dog to be rapturously happy and not bite you until long after his teeth have fallen out.

Allow to sit undisturbed for 6-10 hours (longer is better and ten hours is not necessarily the upper limit but exceeding ten hours may have some impact on when you either eat or get tired of the turkey taking up all that safe space).

Put the turkey on smoker grill above water pan after lighting the charcoal (one or two coals burning well is the best condition for the charcoal) and placing soaked hickory chips, which I also forgot to mention, earlier on the charcoal — again, be plentiful — after soaking the chips for at least 30 minutes. Pour remaining magic elixir over the turkey into the water pan. Add as much water to the water pan as possible without overflowing and putting out the fire below. Cover. Do not touch. Do not look. Do not peek…unless it doesn’t start to smoke in about thirty minutes. Then peek. If it’s smoking, leave alone for at least six hours for a large normal sized turkey. It is almost impossible to overcook if you have added enough water at the outset. You should check and add water or charcoal throughout the process. I have found that mesquite charcoal is the best, as it burns hotter. Regular charcoal will do fine but will require more checking.

The secret to the whole process is to cook extremely slow, as slow as possible and still start the fire.

Serve turkey, preferably without the garlic cloves or bay leaves. Now is the time for “Night Train” wine or the good beer. Serve “Night Train” very cold as indicated on the label.

The turkey’s also good cold.

Shoot the dog.

Let Freedom Ring

i had a good day today. With the help of daughter, i touched my toe in the water of the cyber world, learning how to survive there because for goodness sake one cannot live by bread alone: he must be able to navigate the “cloud” and new fangled no-chord technology. We aren’t talking about Philco radios or RCA Victrolas any more.

i wrote quite a bit. i did some home projects. i created a post or two i liked. i did some work outside and in my garage. i like to tinker and i tinkered away. Good day.

Then i tired from those enjoyments and decided to end the day sorting and throwing away office stuff and cleaning up my documents. There i found the below file i had almost finished but put aside.

i think it captures my mood about our country today:

Thomas, John, James, Abraham, and Mose

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the draft for the “Declaration of Independence.” His words: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The idea had far deeper meaning than Jefferson and the fifty-five other British colony representatives who signed the document could have imagined. The idea is no less powerful for their lack of understanding the depth and breadth the meaning of those words would come to hold for everyone, and i mean everyone, who would become, one way or another, citizens of this country, and to the world at large.

*     *     *

James Madison is credited for being the major writer of our Constitution, from which our country formed the best governing system, which remains so today. It begins:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Madison likely had no idea how impactful his words were to become to the country, but his lack of knowledge of the future does not detract from the power of his concept.

*     *      *

Abraham Lincoln spoke to a large crowd it the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield to honor the fallen Union troops. It is known as “The Gettysburg Address:”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

As our forefathers before him, Abraham Lincoln did not fully grasp the breadth and depth these words have come to mean to us. Abraham Lincoln was not ready to accept racial equality. Where he lived when he lived was not ready to accept races as equal. That was true of all races. The dominant powerful races ruled, but had the “Native Americans,” the Negroes, and all of the other races had the technical superiority and power of the Caucasians, they too would have considered themselves superior, and quite likely did. Yet Lincoln’s words, especially the last part of the last sentence from that address: “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” captured the essence of equality we not only continue to strive for, but believe in all of our hearts, at least those who try to be pure of heart.

These forefathers’ worlds were different than ours today. But their ideas captured what we should be still attempting to achieve in the true, complete sense of the words they wrote and spoke even though it was not a complete, perfect thought in their minds. It was their ideas of freedom and equality that has made this country great.

It seems to be we have forgotten their ideas of freedom and equality for all humans.

Mose Allison recognized this in his song “Mercy:” 

Everybody crying mercy when they don’t know the meaning of the word…
Everybody crying justice, just as long as they get theirs first…
Everbody crying peace on earth just as soon as we win this war… 

i am sad.

Veteran’s Day

In 1970, i had a cup of coffee seventeen times in Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, or Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam; was caught in the crossfire of .50 cal rifles between mistakened U.S. forces once, friendly fire i think it’s called; thought i was shot at five other times; and at night from my ship’s weather decks, watched tracers from firefights several miles away.

About 0200 in Qui Nhon, a cargo ship moored aft of the USNS Geiger (T-AP 197) on the DeLong pier had a zapper charge blow through her cargo hold. i watched from my stateroom porthole as she took on a list, held upright by her mooring lines with the huge tire fenders between her and the pier being blown up in the air and bouncing down the pier while the crew from several Asian countries running down the pier avoiding the bouncing tires and some climbing our accommodation ladder to inquire about joining our Merchant Marine crew.

At anchor in  Nha Trang Bay after Army intelligence informed us we were a target for zappers in the area, i spent the night with Doc Miles Humphrey, standing by the safety lines on the 03 level, with my .45 cal pistol, the only one of five guns i knew were on the ship, feeling pretty hopeless, watching for any signs of underwater swimmers. The zappers must have been scared away.

In 1984-85 with USS Yosemite anchored off of Masirah, Oman, we were informed by Navy intelligence Iranian gunboats might attack us. We had ad hoc .50 cal rifle teams posted around the perimeter of the main deck and 02 levels for a week or so. Checking out these teams with almost no weapons training, the helpless feeling i had in Nha Trang Bay returned.

In my 15 years at sea, i experienced about ten near collisions and a half dozen or so storms strong enough to frighten the most experienced mariners. i don’t remember ever being scared in the Navy. I felt helpless those two times, i was concerned, especially when other ships were putting my ship and the crew in danger by not following the rules of the road. i have been frightened a number of times in my non-Navy life.

But then, the dangers i brushed near were nothing. Nothing. i have friends, close friends who died. i have friends who were horribly injured and brutally tortured — none of them talk about it, or regret it. Death, pain, long term disability are part of the agreement. They are proud of their service.

i’m proud of my service too, but my service was not so much service as a means to financial security and more so going to sea on ships. Still i am proud of my service.

Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, autumn, 1943.

i think of my father’s service and the service of his generation. It is mind boggling to me: he and all of the other men in that generation who dropped the only lives they had ever known to fight a war in places they had never dreamed of much less been to.  Jimmy Jewell was a youthful automobile mechanic in small country town with his first child on the way. He decided to enlist before being called by the draft. He felt it was his best choice and would allow him to serve using his expertise, fixing things, like automobiles. With a pregnant wife and a sense of duty conflicting in his decision making,  he made his decision based on the inevitable service he knew would come to pass. He took with him a pocket-size faux leather album he kept in his pocket the entire time he was gone containing precious photos like the one here of his wife and him.

i try to imagine how he felt as he went to Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp, and Davisville, Rhode Island for Seabee training, and Gulfport, Mississippi to wait for his ship, places in the states he had never been. Then, what was on his mind when, with 1 five-month old son and his wife on his mind, boarding that liberty ship, traversing the Panama Canal, picking up more 75th Battalion Seabees in San Francisco, crossing the Pacific, and spending almost two years, in the middle of a war like no wars in its expanse.

I try to imagine him watching kamikaze planes from his motor pool crashing before they reached him. i have been to several of the places in the South Pacific where he had been thirty or forty years earlier. i understand why many of his photos show him shirtless in the intense heat and humidity on those jungle islands.

The stories he told me about those times in the war at Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, New Caledonia; Bougainville, New Guinea; an LST ride to Luzon, Philippines. He showed me photos as he told me the stories and gave me a box with those photos to keep. i fervently wish we had taken time for him to tell me more stories and also wish i had recorded those stories in order to get them right in the retelling.

But there was one photo that tells it all for me. Today, Veteran’s Day, is not just to honor those who died in service. The ensign (U.S. flag to you non-Navy folks) is flown two-blocked, not at half mast for it is a day to be proud of our service, not sad. Still there are those who didn’t come back from their service. They remain in places their sons and daughters won’t ever visit. One of those who didn’t come back could have been my father. Heck, now that i think about it, i might not have come back from some of my service: just haven’t thought of it in that way before.

i am proud of all of my fellow veterans for their service. But there is a quiet awe i feel when i look at the photo my father gave to me:

U.S. Military Cemetery, World War II, Luzon.

A Microwave Story

Amy Beth Hale posted on Facebook this morning about getting a new microwave oven. She had put off doing so for about a year and a half after the old one went out, and did so mostly because the light over the stove died with the old microwave.

It brought back a memory of a microwave that wasn’t so benign in its passing. It is a second hand story, so i will attempt to keep it anonymous for i cannot vouch for the veracity. But it’s a good story.

Out west in a hilly region of the countryside, there is a wonderful golf course: tough, up and down among many pines with narrow fairways and small greens, and a small lake. Homes are built around the beautiful private course and many of the residents are club members.

Several of these members played a couple of rounds each week with each other with small wagers. One such wager was at the fourteenth tee at the back of the lake. The group had a standing bet they would all pay a hundred bucks if someone could hit a ball off the tee about sixty degrees right of the fairway line and reach the other side of the lake, about 290 yards away. Each time, they reached the fourteenth tee, they would take turns before their tee shots for the match to try and hit the other side of the lake.

One member whose home was behind the fourteenth tee was often close but still short of his goal. He knew the harder the golf ball, the further it would go. So he devised his plan of winning the standing bet. As they walked from the thirteenth green to the next tee box, he said he had to run inside his house and get something out of the kitchen. When he got inside, he placed his golf ball in his kitchen microwave and turned it on high, figuring microwaving it for a minute or so would make the ball hard enough to go longer and get his shot to other side of the lake.

He turned on the microwave.

The other golfers heard the blast.

The microwave exploded and ruined a good portion of the kitchen.

The golfer/house owner never found the golf ball. His future tee shots never reached the other side of the lake.

i’m not sure why, but i laugh every time i think of that story.

Thanks, Amy Beth.