We celebrate with a long weekend, car races, baseball games, picnics, and sales, lots of sales. We all do it under the red, white, and blue pretense of the Memorial Day weekend.
There are some precious souls who travel to military cemeteries with their neat crosses in a row marking the fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country, their flag, their constitution, and ALL of the people who believe in liberty and equality. i am not one of those precious souls.
There are a bunch of folks who travel to the Vietnam Memorial in our nation’s capital. Ken Hall and his wife Diane joined Rolling Thunder in the motorcycle riders tribute. The last time i was on a motorcycle was in 1969 when Andrew Nemethy, Rob Dewitt, and i would tour the mountains in eastern Virginia on weekends when we didn’t have the duty on the USS Hawkins, about six months before i went to my Vietnam tour.
i honor those who died for our country in my own way. i have also written a number of pieces about this honoring of our fallen on past weekends such as this one. i began to write another tonight, but i think you’ve had enough of that already.
So i returned to the powder blue “Deluxe Baby Gift Box” that once held “Baby Powder, Baby Cream, Baby Soap, and Baby Oil,” the Johnson & Johnson products of “New Brunswick, NJ,” and “Chicago, Ill.”
i am guessing it was handy when he was deciding what to do with the photos he brought back from the war, the big war as they called it. The products in the box, i’m sure were for me. When he got back i was a month from my second birthday and those baby products had probably been used.
So he took the photos, put them in a box and stored the box in his chest or closet. i wonder if he ever took out that box and went through the photos. It was intact when he gave it to me about a half century later. i have refrained from showing nearly all of it to anyone except my brother and some very special friends who served later, like me. Some are rather grotesque, some show some pretty horrific things, but all of the photos in the box are like his private memories of the war. i’m not sure he ever showed any of them to my mother, including the ones she sent him of her and their newborn chubby baby.
My father didn’t die in that war. Neither did my Uncle Bill Prichard who was flying fighters on the opposites side of the world or my Uncle Pipey Orr who rode a minesweeper out of Charleston. Somehow, my father received photos of his brother-in-law beside his aircraft in Britain. i’ll remember each of them throughout the weekend but not because it’s Memorial Day weekend. i remember them for their sacrifice, but those sacrifices weren’t the ultimate one. i honor their service, but this weekend is for those who didn’t come back.
Still, i think a number of the less graphic photos and some memorabilia in that box might give us pause to think about what those men and women were up against in WWII, and by extrapolation, our service men and women in all of the wars and conflicts from the revolution to today.
The one on the left is my father’s rating badge for Machinist Mate Second Class, Automotive. The one on the right is the patch designating him as in a Construction Battalion or Seabee. They are from three quarters of a century ago. He advanced to First Class Petty Officer before the war ended.
He apparently received this photo from his brother-in-law, Bill Prichard. It is my uncle with his aircraft named Colleen for his new wife. On the back my uncle wrote “Notice the snow. Guess you haven’t seen any for quite a while.”
He carried these two photos, the left one of me with Mother right after we got home from the hospital. He was there for my birth but caught a train back to Gulfport the day after i was born,. The second was of him and me in Gulfport in May 1944. My mother; Aunt Naomi, and my grandmother drove me down there so he could see me before the liberty ship took him and his 75th Construction Battalion boarded a liberty ship for the transit to the South Pacific.
This was taken the week after MacArthur returned to the Philippines. It is the beachhead encampment and stores being offloaded from cargo ships.
And what Monday and this weekend is all about. This one is a US military cemetery on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Many of the men buried here have relatives who have never seen their grave. i honor all of them with a silent moment while i conclude this post, and i will honor them again tomorrow and Monday.
Thank you folks for your service. i will not forget you.
i awoke this morning around 6:15, unusually late for me. i was charged to take care of one of about two hundred thousand chores i had either invented by myself, had been requested by my most significant other, or required, like damn near everything in this twenty-eight year old house. i also thought i would finish a post i promised Eleanor Hicks.
Then i remembered a phrase that had passed through my somewhat scattered brain either from a dream or an actual thought blossoming up like a dandelion in my head.
So i scrabbled around the office as i usually do to start the day, rather than doing the stretches i should do every morning, had a lovely breakfast with Maureen, piddled, and sat down to consider the fairly substantial to-do i had planned.
That thought just refused to go away.
So i added some words, got a little bit enthused, added some more words, and liked what i had written, just a tad off center from what i usually enter here:
i walked on the dark side of the moon
where living, breathing gargoyles screech,
where souls with black hearts rule,
slithering about everywhere with no compassion;
i could not see the world;
indeed, it was dark and damp
with coldness of the sickly kind;
i walked through the dark side of the moon
without guilt; therefore
unharmed by the living gargoyles and souls with black hearts
although they screeched their pitiless cries of harm and fear;
finally, i turned in the darkness to ask
“why are you so cold and heartless
when, if you just walked with me
from the dark side of the moon,
you could see the light;”
the gargoyles and dark souls scratched their heads;
a couple began to walk with me
from the dark side of the moon;
the others retreated to the dark;
the breathing gargoyle and the dark soul
who walked with me to the sunny side of the moon
smiled when they met the light and warmth;
the gargoyle turned into an infant angel;
the soul lost its darkness and glowed;
i thought how sad the others had stayed
on the dark side of the moon;
for the two who walked with me,
my walk on the dark side of the moon
was worth it;
enough reason to continue walking.
This past Sunday, Eleanor Hicks ran the Bay to Breakers run in San Francisco.
Eleanor is one of my favorite women of all time. The daughter of my Vanderbilt friends, Alan and Maren Hicks, she is an attorney for Google. She is also astounding: a good athlete, an adventurer, one of the smartest and caring people i know, and perhaps one of the best read people on earth. She is as much a daughter as a friend (Eleanor, i purloined your photo off of Facebook).
Bay to Breakers is the longest running run (pun intended) in the country. The first one was in 1912 with 218 entrants, 186 runners who showed up, and 121 finishers. And so it began. It routinely has 50,000 plus running. In 1986, it peaked at 110,000. It begins on San Francisco Bay, near the Embarcadero runs up the hill on Howard Street, takes a jog on 9th Street and another jog on Hayes Street. It is pretty much down hill from there going through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean beach. 12K run. 7.53 miles.
i ran it. Twice. 1982, 1983.
Of course, as usual, i didn’t have a clue what i was getting into. i was the weapons officer, aka first lieutenant on the amphibious helicopter carrier, USS Okinawa (LPH 3). Master Chief ETCM B.R. Kellish and Senior Chief NCCS Woody Brown came up with the idea. The master chief was from San Francisco and both were highly rated California marathon runners. The two of them were responsible for organizing many runs in San Diego. Then they came up with an Okinawa team running in the Bay to Breakers.
CWO-4 JD Waits, my co-conspirator in many scams, and Major Lou Rehberger, the Marine Air Ops and a constant running companion with JD and me, considered our options. We announced it would be a go for us.
i flew up in the ship’s CH1 Huey helicopter. Rehberger was the pilot. i was the qualified right seat safety observer until we picked another Marine pilot at Pendleton. There were five of us and the crewman. BR, Woody, JD,and a couple of others met us for the run.
We all put on running shorts, white USS Okinawa singlets, some wore Okinawa ball caps, and all of us had secured a toy helicopter on top of our heads with a large rubber band. We thought we were dressed well. But the gamut of costumes and floats driven by runners were incredible. So we were a bit embarrassed. The run started at 8:00 am. We got there around 7:15 and were so far back from the starting line, we didn’t cross it until around 8:10. As the run started, those who had dressed warmly for the San Francisco cold mornings shed their outer garments and threw them in the air. Clothes were hanging from every electric, phone and light line for the several blocks before we reached the starting line.
We were moving at a fairly decent clip but kept noticing there were a lot of runners drinking beer. One of the guys had tucked a twenty in his running shorts so when we hit the Ninth Avenue and Hayes street jog, we veered right into the market on the corner. We bought a six pack of Miller Lite and returned to our run.
As we emerged from the market, a party passed by us. Apparently, there had been a formal event the previous evening. About a dozen of the party goers showed up at the start in their tuxes and evening gowns and were making the run. They all had champagne glasses and about four of the guys were toting magnums of champagne. When they spotted us, in unison they yelled, “You mean you are drinking light beer?”
As we approached the Haight-Asbury district, speakers were hung out seemingly every window and the music was bouncing everywhere. We passed a runner who was wearing an overcoat. As we went by, he opened the overcoat. He had stuffed a woman’s stocking with cloth and affixed one end into his pants, the stocking fell down as if it was his business. We were at first stunned until we realized it was a stocking, not what we thought.
The rest of the run went well. We had another beer and agreed to run the next year.
That’s when it became complicated.
I was disappointed JD could not make the next year’s run because of a schedule conflict.
BR and Woody decided to do it up right. BR asked his family members who still lived in San Francisco if they would like to participate. Several were excited to do so, but one niece said she would love to but she wasn’t a runner. That’s when the idea hatched.
The two chiefs made a small wagon out of plywood and a child’s toy wagon wheels. They attached a swing chain to the front with chain harnesses for four runners. On the wagon they put two lawn chairs and a large cooler up front. As this was progressing, i asked my fiancé Maureen if she would like to join us. Not being a runner but a trooper, she said yes. The lawn chairs were for BR’s niece who would not run and Maureen who could hitch a ride if she decided not to run the entire race.
We flew up and met our other runners and carriage about the same place, several blocks from the starting line. BR had donned a super hero costume of tights, colorful shorts, and a long-sleeve thermal underwear shirt with “Captain Ugly” painted across the chest of the shirt. He had added a curly red wig. Perfect.
BR’s niece came in a black gown and sported a calla lily. She regally established her royal presence on the cart’s lead folding chair. Maureen, after sitting in her chair while donning her running gear, then began running rather than sitting in the chair. She never sat in the chair again. Four of our runners, including me, slipped into the swing chain harnesses. There was a plan for us to switch out occasionally for breaks, but somehow Rehberger and i were always two of the mules pulling the wagon the entire seven and a half miles. There were lots of strange rigs, some elaborate, in the race, but we certainly got our share of attention (As i recall, the number of runners had swollen to 60,000 from the previous year).
With all of the ridiculousness involved, one task had not been worked out: who was going to bring the tow mules their beers? Maureen, being the caring soul that she is ended up being the beer hauler and ended up running more than anyone else because she was constantly running back and forth between the cart’s cooler and the runners. i knew marrying her had been a superb decision.
As we entered Haight-Ashbury again like the previous year, there was this guy in an overcoat again. When i spotted him, i yelled for Maureen to check him out. Sure enough, as we got close, the guy, who was also sporting large sunglasses, opened the overcoat and out flopped the stuffed stocking. At first, Maureen gasped at the sight. Then she realized what the stocking actually was and laughed all the way to the finish line.
About then, we began to have a problem, the toy wagon wheel’s tires began to smoke a bit. They had been rubbing against the plywood sides of the cart and the rubber was overheating.
Maureen took on another task. She opened a can of beer and poured it on the smoking rubber. She did this with a couple of beers. We were alarmed. Not that the rubber was burning, but afraid our beer supply might not last. At about the five-mile mark, the last of the rubber had fallen off and we were pulling the cart with metal hubs for wheels.
Undeterred but significantly slower, we continued to pull the cart with the princess niece still aboard.
The last half-mile was a challenge. We had reached the beach and the remaining distance to the finish was through beach sand. It would have been tough with rubber wheels, but the metal hubs made it even tougher. As we swallowed down another beer (or two), we refused to quit towing. After all, we were stubborn mules. It was a slow run. Completely worn out, we crossed the finish line amid cheers.
Gasping, we got out of our harnesses and waited in one of the twenty or so lines to get our tee shirts. Maureen and i both were gassed, but we were proud of ourselves and laughing at the exploit. That’s when we discovered the guy in the overcoat was right behind us. He turned out to be a great guy and we laughed all the way to the tee shirts where we bid each other a fond farewell.
We found our other runners and someone asked where were our cars. Well, with about 60,000 people on the beach, parking was at a premium. Our transportation was over a mile away. So the spent runners/towers/beer deliverers of Captain Ugly’s bunch trekked one last time to our cars.
BR suggested we stop at one of his old haunts for lunch. The tavern was a great place and somehow all of us began drinking salty dogs. Not a good idea.
But it was over. We said goodbye as we left the bar. Lou, Maureen, and i went to one of my favorite dining places of all time, Pacific Cafe on the third level of the Ghiardelli Plaza. It had great fresh seafood and the back of the bar had an arched window, like an oversized version of what was in the Perry Mason television series, looking out at San Francisco Bay with Alcatraz right in the middle of the window. As with all good things, the Pacific Cafe is gone, replaced by condos and business offices.
After our dinner, the three of us got to the airport on time to catch our flight back to the Southwest corner.
Tuesday, friends in San Francisco informed us we had made the the headlines in a sidebar of The San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the race: “Captain Ugly’s Team Was Well Received.” That’s the best i can remember the headline. Somewhere in my pile of stuff, i have a copy of the story. If i ever find it, i will post it here.
If you don’t believe me, here’s proof:
And Eleanor, i hope you had as good of a time at Bay to Breakers this year as we did in 1983.
The letter came with extra scotch tape on the seal.
She was family famous for wrapping Christmas presents, usually about a roll of scotch tape on each package regardless of package size. We would laugh and she would laugh. She had and still has a great laugh. She also continues to use lots of scotch tape.
The return address label has a puppy on it. She and her brother had a dog when they were growing up in Red Bank, a suburb of Chattanooga. His name was Spot. The puppy on the label did not look like Spot, but it brought back memories. Her name is listed as “Mrs Nancy Schwarze.” She is also known as Nancy Orr Winkler Schwarze, a history lesson in her name.
Being she is on the other side of this country, we don’t see each other often, certainly not often enough. When we were growing up, i thought she was one of the prettiest girls i had ever seen. She was. i have a photo where she looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor, but it’s late and i’m not going to look right now.
Nancy is two years and change older than me. Her brother Jon, who passed away several years ago was between us. They were so much cousins they were like another sister and brother.
The letter was addressed to Maureen, but Maureen was in Cleveland with high school friends. i cheated and opened it. It was a very nice, heartfelt letter generated by a communication Nancy and Maureen had a month or so ago. The two are alike in they love family unconditionally.
The letter contained lots of news about her family and how she and Bill Schwarze, her husband are doing. It also told of her folks, my aunt and uncle Pipey and Evelyn Orr and the war years.
Then she related a story about the three cousins, Nancy, Johnny, and me. i did not know about this one. i will not attempt to rewrite but give you Nancy’s narration from the letter (with Maureen’s approval):
Jim was two, i think. He was not exempt from getting into trouble. One day, Granny was keeping the three of us out on the farm (the Webster land on Hunter’s Point Pike) while our mothers had gone to play bridge (This was during the war and Daddy and Uncle Pipey were still in the Seabees and Navy respectively). When they got back and came into the house, Granny was sitting in a chair and the three of us were sitting on the couch. The only bath tub in the house was a metal tub on the back porch (i have a photo of that too, but again, not tonight). Our mothers asked Granny what happened.
It seems we found a jar of Vicks salve or Vaseline and rubbed it all each other from head to toe. Granny gave each us a bath in that tub. After that, we went out to let the cows out of the barn, and we rolled in manure. Another tub bath for each of us. Granny sent us out to play and we all played in the do dirt (cow pies and dirt). After the final bath out of nine she had given us that day, she put us on the couch and dared us not to move.
I (Nancy) was probably the instigator, but I will never admit it.
Now Nancy, my sister, and my brother have better memories than mine. And Nancy did get us, as well as herself, into some difficulties, but i suspect that threesome were all culpable in the antics that afternoon.
Maureen might tell you i haven’t changed.
But i will never admit it.
i wonder how many children in this country today have a chance to do that. i’m pretty sure the answer is none. Sad.
i have been juggling a whole bunch of balls for a while and haven’t been putting a lot of stuff out here.
Some of that reduction is because spring is here…or was here. i wrote about that. Like the first part of May is Southwest corner wonderful. The week started off that way. i now am required to check the garden each day. i have added a composter, and there are cats and bobcats who have found the garden box looks very much like a litter box. Now why a bobcat would consider a litter box for deposits is beyond me, but apparently at least one thinks that way.
i am not the gardener my father was. i don’t hold a candle to Andrew Nemethy, Martha Tate or Susan Felts when it comes to gardens. i don’t even come close to my neighbors, Spud and Vonda Mumby and Ralph and Debbie Lavage even though two of Debbie’s five chickens have fallen into the claws of the bobcat or kin who created an account in my little 4×8 box garden. It’s just i wanted to have home grown tomatoes and strawberries.
So the first part of last week, i walked outside to tend my garden and experienced the glory of May spring. Out the kitchen door lies another project. i will be expanding and rearranging this flagstone to lead to a sitting/reflecting area, perhaps with a fountain next to the bougainvillea outside my office window. As i walk across the patio, the tree in the planting area is in its regal splendor. i love the colors in this tree. Since our gardener, Paul Shipley is on a hiking trip along the Pacific Crest trail, he can’t tell us the name. For a long time we thought it was a plum tree. The Phoenix Robellini in the planter box is in its last days. Between Paul and i, we will be replacing with plumeria, a smaller, prettier plant with leaves throughout the year, at least in the Southwest corner. i get to the work area. Right before the gate to the back slope, is one of our two coral trees. This one is of the Mexican variety. The Chinese version is bigger, but i’m into these. The blooms last for about two months, sometime in the spring. Like now.
i reach the fence my neighbors and i built about a quarter of a century ago. No, i have to admit i was just unpaid labor. Pablo, who is long gone back to Spain or Mexico, did the bulk of the work. The fence here is where Billie the alligator-hunting Louisiana Swamp Dog scales to go get the neighbor’s dog’s toys. It also is one of better spring spots. And that’s before the agapanthus begin blooming. It’s a pleasant place to do my minimal garden tasks and roll the composter. The garden itself is the beginning an experiment. Perhaps it is a connection to my father. Or perhaps this trial is my way of admiring nature and how oh so much better homegrown vegetables, fruits, and even chicken eggs are compared to the store bought kind, no matter how “fresh,” “range free,” or “organic” they claim on the shelves in the markets. As you can see, it’s not much but i’ll get tomatoes and strawberries pretty much all year long, and since i have my night visitors, i’ll be planting more onions throughout the year as well. It brings comfort to me.
But as i said, May Gray moved in early. It’s doleful to live in gray, especially in the Southwest corner, but i can handle it knowing it won’t halt golf, i can wear a sweater in the early morning and late afternoon. And just after first light, i walk out to retrieve the newspaper. No, i haven’t trained the dog or cat to get the paper, nor do i intend to train them. i mean i can be greeted by Mount Miguel with her diaphanous silk shawl of misty clouds peeking over our neighbor’s roof (Later, i will repost a poem about this particular mountain again). And feel like i really am home.
Then, just to prove me wrong, May Gray after just under a week of chilly damp weather breaks. We are having our rather sizable slope cleared. i began to nibble at it about two years ago and never really got traction. It’s a lot of work and old men have thin skin, so i would come away looking something like a bloody pin cushion. i was a bit sad to see the workers clearing the acacia with their chain saws. It would be a lovely day to work hard on the slope: not too hot, not too cool, low humidity. You know, Southwest corner weather at its finest. Well, since my bride decided not to wait 350 years for me to clear the slope, i must do something else to be outside. i worked the garden and composter a bit, then i took the young alligator hunting Billie for a walk. My walk is a truncated version of the long one i used to take with the lab Cass where he chased and played with coyotes who, it turned out, were fearful of such a maniac. He also rolled over o’possums, damn near caught up with a road runner while taking my arm out of socket, and would take off to be on his own for a while at his whim.
Perhaps someday, i will do that with Billie. It would certainly get me back in shape because there is are two stretches about seventy-five yards in length on a ten percent upward grade. That’s in the future. Now, i must be satisfied with the trail behind our neighbor’s house. Billie is fine with that. No alligators, of course. But there are ground squirrels, lizards, and all sorts of other fauna, including the aforementioned bobcat, and although the coyote population seemingly has diminished, i’m sure there are plenty of them out there, not to mention the snakes, foxes, and tree rats. However, as pleasant as it is (and somewhat remarkable when we consider we are smack dab in the middle of suburbia), there are high desert dangers which appear innocent enough. i don’t think i’ve seen this type of cactus anywhere else. It’s local nomenclature is “cholla.” i learned shortly after moving off of the island of Coronado and out here in the truly high desert to be wary. The cholla cacti are innocent enough looking, even pretty this time of year. Yet you can’t get too close. i know and was reminded again today. After we returned from our walk, i went outside to check how things were going. As i made a move, it felt like i had been cut on my knee. It stung. i thought i was bleeding although no blood was coming through my trousers. i raised the pant leg above the knee. There were two spines stuck into the side of my knee. Tiny things. But man, they sting and they somehow planted themselves through my trousers apparently when i unknowingly barely brushed one on the walk.
The walk’s over. i’m listening to the last throbs of the chainsaws as the young men flail away at the acacia. i’m thinking this is a good place. It’s in a big, big city but not too close, just accessible. i can see the Pacific from the top of my slope. The weather is good as it can get. Then i think of all of the places i have lived in my seventy-four years. About fifteen depending on how you count. i liked them all. Enjoyed the weather. i am in a good place now.
But i would like to go home for a bit. Lebanon, Middle Tennessee, Nashville, the lakes, they are still in my bones.
i am not particularly fond of most mandated days or weeks or months. i don’t like someone or some organization telling me i should be giving something to someone, honoring a group of people by sending them a gift or even a card and then celebrating by going somewhere to have a good time (providing income for a bunch of folks selling stuff with the theme for the day of celebration.
Except for one.
i am surprised some group hasn’t protested honoring mothers is an insult to their way of thinking. i guess mothers are considered pretty necessary for this whole thing called living for just about every group, although several groups nowadays are likely to disparage fathers for being a part of it.
Mother’s Day. Here’s some of mine:
Katherine Ferrell Webster. One of the matriarchs of my family. The maternal, Prichard side. My great grandmother.
Estelle Prichard Jewell, my mother. She was multi-tasking, working full-time for most of her life while running the Jewell household and dealing with three children for seventy years, one of whom had to have been one terrible something to deal with. But she never flinched, never complained about all she had to do. Her love for her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren was palpable.
And there were these others. Granny, Katherine Prichard Jewell, my maternal grandmother who was always there for anyone who needed her. The grit in her craw (i’ll repost my poem about that) keeping her darting to and fro Lebanon, Chattanooga, and Florida for her children and her grandchildren, not to mention the Heights’ goobers under her watch as “barracks mom.” Aunt Bettye Kate Hall, who was my second mother along with every child of any of her or Uncle Snook’s kin. and Aunt Evelyn. Kindness, grit, and love pound in all of their veins.
Above on the left, Granny Prichard with her flock: goofy kid, Johnny Orr, Martha Jewell, Bill (Butch) Prichard, Nancy Orr, 1947.
Then there was Kathie. She wanted to be a mother, and she has always been the best there could be for Blythe. i grudgingly gave up being a live-in father for Blythe for numerous reasons no one, certainly not i, could understand, but the clear overriding decision i made was because i knew in all my heart, Kathie would love her daughter without limitations, just as i had, and she needed her more than me. i also knew Blythe’s mother was the best mother for her daughter and mothers are critical to a child being brought up in the best way possible.
i was on spot. Kathie continues to be the best mother ever for Blythe.
Mama, Carrie Myrtle Orrand, Jewell, my paternal grandmother. She passed away in 1951. What i remember is sweetness coupled with Southern practicality of a mom. When i walked home from school in the first grade, Ronnie Collingsworth started a fight with me in our front yard. i apparently won rather handily — as i recall with a right jab to the jaw. Mama Jewell was watching through the living room window of my Aunt Naomi’s house across the street. She called Granny, my maternal grandmother who was keeping me and my brother and sister that day and told her i should not be punished because Ronnie started the fight. My father told me his snack after school was when he got home, Mama Jewell would have a sweet potato boiling in the kitchen’s wood-fired stove. He would pick the potato out and cover it with butter. That was his snack.
And of course, Maureen. Her love for Blythe, Sarah, Jason, and Sam never ceases to amaze me. Even when she had the intense high-pressure job (which she did so well), she never slighted any of them. Her ability to discuss and understand them is an amazing thing. She brings joy to me in many ways, but being a mother to my children and grandson is a blessing for me.
The last in this post holds my heart in her hands. It is with a satisfied joy i follow Blythe (and Jason) in the way they are raising my grandson Sam. She is really remarkable in her role.
Of course, there are others. Many others. Martha, my sister; Carla, my sister-in-law; Kate, my niece. I could go on and on.
Mothers are special, no critical. They should be honored. There should be a day set aside to honor them. And those included here were essential in my becoming who i am. i honor all of them for what they have done for my family.
i am not sure folks not from the Southwest corner can grasp the severity of “May Gray,” made even worse by extending into “June Gloom.” Perhaps Aussies around Perth have the same period of similar weather. Let’s see, that would be “November Gray” and “December Gloom” (Just doesn’t have quite the same impact without the alliteration, does it?).
Regardless, it ain’t fun. In fact, it’s my least favorite time of the year out here. To make matters worse, it came about a week too early this year.
Sometime in April until the middle of May is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s spring. The cool of winter gives way to sunshine, not too hot, not too cool, but just right. The colors change and alternate throughout the period: Japanese pear trees, then the coral trees, then the jackaranda. Bougainvillea takes off, gardens stretch their wings, and spring green abounds before turning to desert summer brown. Joyous comes to mind as the way it affects me.
It’s gone. Left too soon. Thursday, i played golf with Maureen at the Coronado Golf Club, a terrific public course and still affordable. We teed off just afternoon. Gray. May Gray. Ugh. Worse, it was cool enough i wore my wind shirt the entire round.
Approaching the second green, my eye caught some aerodynamics in full action. An osprey had caught a large fish and apparently was carrying it back to his nest for the ospreyettes (my word). A seagull was not pleased with the osprey out performing him in the bay fishing competition. The gull was pissed and swooping to and fro at the osprey before veering high or low or left or right, climbing up to swoop once again at the course diverting, annoyed osprey. The two continued on with their air show until they were out of sight.
It was beautiful. It was nature framed by what used to be my work home, Naval Amphibious Base, Glorietta Bay (over which the show was on display), and the gray, gray sky. The only good thing about May Gray that afternoon.
As usual, my golfing friends and i teed off early at Sea ‘n Air on Friday. In case, you don’t remember, the Naval Air Station, North Island course borders on the south facing beaches of the Pacific.
It was not hot. It was not cool. My friends back home in Lebanon, Tennessee would scoff (in fact, nearly all of my friends not in the Southwest corner would scoff) when i describe it as cold. Don’t care. It was cold.
Sure it was in the high fifties and low sixties throughout the three-hour, twenty-minute round (we play fast when there’s no one in front of us). But the Japanese current was whacking us in the face. It may not have been cold by most standards, but we were cold. i wore a heavier wind shirt than i had the day before, but i was wishing i had worn a parka.
You see, about this time of year, the deserts east of here start heating up. The Japanese current runs counter-clockwise from the Western Pacific up to the Arctic Circle and swooshes down upon us, carrying all of that north pole cold with it. When the two, the desert heat and the current cold collide, the marine layer hangs over the coast (aka us) and the wind blows the fog, the haze, the cloud cover, and the cold into our bones.
And this lasts for about six to seven weeks.
It should be spring turning into summer. i’m ready for Tennessee spring. i’m ready to feel the sun against my skin. i remember how i could not wait for mid-May sometime when i was back home because it was like the signal to go swimming at Hazelwood or Horn Springs. i remember it was when the bat didn’t sting your hands because of the cold. The baseball uniforms were sweaty by the second inning. You could wear tee shirts out at night to catch the fireflies, “lightning bugs” to some of us. It was warm.
Not here. i have learned not to go swimming in the ocean until two days in August when the water temperature is around seventy degrees. Summer won’t hit us until July, or at least something like Tennessee summer except the humidity here hovers around forty to fifty percent.
Of course, it ain’t bad for playing golf, pretty much like the rest of the year. So i guess i will just have to endure May Gray and June Gloom. And the middle of the day is usually pretty nice.
The title of this includes my word. It refers to my overabundant use of commas. i mean, it ain’t just the “Oxford Comma,” which i believe in because i grew up having that comma before the last item in a list and preceding “and” pounded into my head by damn near every adult i ever knew.
i put commas at every juncture of everything and sometimes just out of my inclination when there is no juncture, just no need.
Why oh why do i like commas?
Don’t know. Don’t care…well, i do care because i do not wish my overabundance of commas to confuse. After all, isn’t the purpose of all of these rules: to make writing understandable?
It is the bane of my writing: these commas. More than that, there are a lot of words, and i mean A LOT of words i should eliminate to avoid confusion. Some of them i keep in because it is my intent to write something that way, even if it is incorrect (hmm, another comma there). Some of those words are just poor editing on my part, the real culprit of my commatoast, used to reflect “comatose,” out of it, asleep, lazy. You know. So i apologize for making you guess which is which.
But that’s not the reason i have not been writing lately (“but” and “that” are also words i include a lot even when they are superfluous; fortunately most of you don’t have to listen to me talk — but that may change soon). i haven’t been writing much here lately because i am finally intently diligently (Look, ma: not commas…well except for the one inside the parentheses) working on my book about Yosemite and our deployment to the IO with women as part of ship’s complement — an aside: i love my working title: Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings.
i’ve also resumed activity in getting things done around the house. i’m old, hopefully just like my daddy was old, and even though i’m retired (sic), i want to do things besides sitting and staring at this addictive screen with all of its magic. Like painting the exterior door to the master bath; doing another flagstone project before tackling the giant one, the courtyard (i’m pretty bad about overuse of semicolons also); replanting root bound stuff all over the yard; remounting my flagpole at the top of the hill; cleaning out the garage (again: and parentheses and dashes are another overabundance of mine); repainting and reorganizing my home office; and on and on and on. Those things make me happy, although i cuss a lot (old Navy kind of high level cussing) when i’m in the midst of them.
Which brings me to my Facebook dilemma. i am glad Facebook is around. Facebook has allowed me to connect and reconnect with folks i like. i can keep up with them, make my writing available to them if they choose to read it with all of those commas and stuff but mostly just exchanging pleasantries with old friends in a much more effective way.
Still there are problems.
Now i don’t worry too much about those FB folks making my data available to bad people. Yeh, it may be a big deal but i’ll guarantee you no Ruski or Republican or Democrat is going to change my choice in political votes by sending me shit or subtly suggesting stuff. Even good friends will not impact my philosophy or voting choices with their rather incessant one-sided blasts at the other side, usually copied from some media source that reflects their position.
As for finance fraud, scams, taking my money under false pretenses, i think i’ve got enough safeguards to handle most of them, don’t do anything stupid like responding to suspicious stuff on the internet, so i don’t worry about this kind of stuff very much. Maybe i should. i don’t and believe i am happier that way. i also have some confidence in myself to be able to handle any problems if they do arrive on my doorstep.
There are other problems. i don’t like people hitting me up to spend money on their particular charities, causes, research for cures, even helping out the less fortunate. i’m tight. i give what money i feel i can afford to things important to me. Don’t need others telling me where i need to get poorer.
You see, Facebook has a massive glut of stuff i just don’t even consider, but they still show up on my timeline. i also have a rather large amount of friends. Everyone of my “friends” are people i actually consider friends. i feel guilty when i don’t go through all of my timeline because it’s enormous and would take up all of my time to do so. And a lot of friends use Facebook apparently in the belief they can influence my decision making. Perhaps on extremely rare occasions. But not really. Those kind of posts are just noise to me. When i know i’ve missed posts by my friends, i feel badly. i want to see all those posts when they are dealing with relationships, especially ours.
My only solution right now is to do the best i can. I will not stop Facebooking (i think i made that up) simply because i enjoy my relationships with my friends. i apologize to not responding to your posts.
So Mister Zuckerburg, if you can stand my commas, thank you for creating this thing that has made you disturbingly rich. You have allowed me to reach out and maintain new and old relationships, and it has made my life richer, not in money wealth, but in happiness, and that is worth a whole lot more.
When i find myself flailing over which of the two gazillion things i need to do, i often decide to rumble through old stuff. This is a result of today’s rumbling.
i found myself staring at the photo, wondering what she was like. Knowing Granny, her daughter and my grandmother, i think i have a pretty good idea. Still, i didn’t know her.
She married a minister, a Methodist circuit rider who rose to bishop in the church. So she must have been rather devout in her religion. She was beautiful. i never really thought of her daughter as beautiful until i saw a photo of Granny (Katherine Webster Prichard) at eighteen. It took my breath away, and i see evidence of that beauty in this one.
The back has handwritten notes.
The first one is in her hand. The photo was a gift sent to her brother, Ammon Ferrell, who was in Platter, Oklahoma at the time. The story as i remember it is he went west to…well, i guess what any young man who sought adventure did in those days: to be a cowboy, perhaps. Again as i remember it, it didn’t turn out quite that way; he apparently was a cook, ran the chuck wagon for some outfit. It didn’t do him well. He came or was brought back home in not too good of shape. His brother-in-law and sister put him up in a cabin on their property off of Hunter’s Point Pike until he passed in the summer of 1930. Ammon was seventy-six when he passed. His grave is off of Webster’s Lane on what was the bishop’s rather large farm just northeast of where Walter J. Baird Middle School now educates children who probably not aware of Ammon, his sister, or the bishop. The second note is in all probability in the hand of my aunt. My cousin sent some memorabilia to me from my Aunt Evelyn Prichard Orr, this photo lady’s granddaughter. The photo was included. So it seems to reason, Aunt Evelyn wrote: “Grandmother of Evelyn P. Orr, Estelle P. Jewell, Bettye Kate P. Hall, Billy Prichard.”
After the photo lady passed in 1933 at eighty-five, Aunt Evelyn, Mother (Estelle), Aunt Bettye, and Uncle Bill helped the bishop through his final years. The Prichard family had returned from Gotha, Florida where they lived for about three years in hopes of the climate positively impacting their father’s failing health (my grandfather, Joe Blythe Prichard). The climate did no good, and Grandfather wished to come home to die. When he passed, Granny, his wife, took up 24/7 care giving to support the family.
My mother told me of Aunt Evelyn, fresh from graduating from Gotha High School, would arise in the morning, cook, with the help of her siblings, a fried chicken and biscuit breakfast for the bishop. Then she would walk from the farm (still on the outskirts of Lebanon proper just south of where Castle Heights Avenue North now connects with North Cumberland, which before the spread of city development was once Hunter’s Point Pike) across the square on up West Spring Street to Cumberland, where she excelled in academics and basketball. But she walked home in the midday, prepared lunch for the bishop, and return uto campus for the afternoon. When classes and practice were completed, she would make her walking trip again back to the farm to perform supper chores. Aunt Evelyn is a heroine in my mind.
Part of that obviously came from the lady in the photograph.
Katherine Ferrell Webster, my great grandmother, is our link to the Ferrell family. Joe Ferrell and i knew of the connection and were going to investigate the links more thoroughly, but Joe, my good Lebanon friend, passed away last year.
So i sit and look at Katherine. Times long ago, different, gone. Sometimes i wish they knew quite a bit of what we know now but hadn’t been invented or discovered yet. Sometimes i wish i didn’t know what they didn’t know. Simpler days.
But i always wish i could have known her. i’m pretty sure i would have loved her.
Been quite a while for me to be away from writing here.
Been working. Home projects, cleaning, organizing, those kind of things. Been thinking. Been goofing off. Been wrestling…with myself. i’ve also been working on my book; not enough, mind you, but working on it. And yes, i’ve been playing (sort of) golf.
You see, i am a septuagenarian. In fact, i’m smack dab in the middle of septuagenarianism (and yes, Blythe Jewell Gander, Judy Gray, and several other grammarians of note, i made that up). In spite of my parents living just shy of ninety-seven and ninety-nine, i am surprised to still be here. When i was in my late teens, early twenties, i figured i would flame out before i reached fifty. i had given up my dream of being a super three-sport star excelling in football, basketball, and baseball, and making it to the college and professional hall of fame in each sport. Oh yes, i also expected to be the next Roy Rogers on the silver screen.
Yeh, i dreamed big.
When the realization my dreams were not to be smacked me in my unrealistic head, i decided somewhat vaguely i would be a jazz guitar player playing solo in a small night club and die of some strange digestive disorder in a single flat in an old apartment building in downtown San Francisco .
Now this kind of plan or whatever one might call such a strange ambition is really remarkable considering who i was and where i was. i have no idea of how a Tennessee small country town boy could come up with such an idea. i was a decent athlete but by no means the best in Lebanon or Castle Heights. i was also about a foot short and a hundred pounds light of even being considered as a star athlete. i had no concept of what San Francisco was like. i could barely play the piano and couldn’t hit a lick on a guitar. i really had no interest in playing jazz. Hell, i wasn’t even sure what jazz really was at the time. It just seemed like a cool thing to me…and i didn’t see any neat thing about living past fifty.
These thoughts were even more remarkable because at the same time in my life i decided the happiest people in the world were farmers. They got up at four, milked the cows, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, had a big breakfast, worked hard all morning, had a dinner (noon meal, you non-Southerners) of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, tomatoes, and another vegetable all from the farm, drank buttermilk, went back out into the fields to work until the cows were called in around four, called it a day, got a cane pole, and some bait and walked down to the river and fished for a while, had a light supper, and went to bed around eight. i thought they got a lot of satisfaction out of their work and their land and didn’t have to fool with all of the other fools in this world, at least as little as possible.
Yup, i had crazy thoughts then. Still do. But i am no longer amazed i’m still here.
My mind about this obviously changed somewhat.
Then this morning, i went early to get a blood test. It seems now that i’m older, blood tests are a way of life. i’ve learned some tricks about blood testing. Like going early so if i have to fast i won’t have too long after waking up to eat. Also if you wait until later even with an appointment you could be in the waiting room like forever. As i sat in the lobby as second in line this morning, i wondered why waiting in the lobby was such a big deal to me. After all, i’m retired. i’ve got all day.
But it went quickly and i headed home as school was beginning. It so happens the route home, if one avoids the busiest four-lane surface streets, goes right by our old house, the original one for Maureen and i, and an elementary school.
i was struck by the traffic. Not just traffic, but crazy people trying to beat others to the drop off point to the point of cutting other people off, speeding in the school zone, and acting like the world belonged to them alone. Never have understood that. Marveled at it when i would pick up Sarah from Burton Tiffany Elementary years ago. Crazy people.
Then i thought about home. A long time ago. Home. Walking to school. Really pretty much on my own from six years on. Had to let ’em know where i was going. Had to get home for dinner and supper (yes, it was Southern) even though i was not really good about that and Mother didn’t have a cell phone back then. i saw the school children being ushered in, protected, more parents and supervisors than children almost. No cops. Hmm…We had a policeman in the morning and afternoon, and school patrol. Period. i can’t remember any teachers being anywhere near Main Street. Am i just fondly inaccurately remembering?
Freedom. That’s what i thought when i ran into that school traffic this morning. i don’t know if it’s better, worse, or the same only different for those children. But there certainly isn’t a lot of freedom for them. Yeh, this goes along with not going out to play, watching television, playing computer games, all that. And then when they are older, playing music that can blow your brains out of your ears and offensive to anyone older than fifty. Don’t get it. Where’s the tune? Where’s the love song? Where’s the slow dance? Where’s the music to make you wanna dance, not jump and down as in some ancient ritual?
Our parents knew we were going to hell (Hmm, maybe they had something there), listening to that music, swinging our hips like that, combing our hair back, not doing the waltz or foxtrot. Hell, i tell you. So, i will not berate those kids next door who had a poolside birthday this afternoon and blew open the kitchen door with the decibels, although they probably didn’t. i probably didn’t shut it all the way and the dog got out. But that’s my excuse. Man, there was enough testosterone over the fence this afternoon to eradicate the need for viagra if it could be captured and transferred to old men.
i remembered Hazelwood and Horn Springs. Swimming. Sun. Girls in bathing suits, diving and laughing. Bobby Darin singing “Splish Splash,” Bill Doggett playing “Honky Tonk.” Oh, i pined for those girls. Never had a steady after Elaine Davis in the eighth grade until i fell in love about a dozen times in less than six years. Those boys next door seemed so sure of themselves, laughing and yelling. i wonder if any of them felt lonely like i did. Ahh, but they didn’t have Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely.”
Different? Yes. i can’t judge. Too old. Not too old, but too distant, too removed to really have a clue what they are going through.
Yet i can’t help thinking our world lost something when children quit walking to school, when all of the sports were invented by the children, not organized, where television was something kids watched in the late afternoon and the Saturday morning shows on television. When the Saturday movies had cartoons and good guys and bad guys and the good guys always won by playing fair.
And the world was smaller, much smaller, like maybe five, ten miles from the square at best because the big city, Nashville was thirty miles away, a day trip.
An oh i could go on and on, and probably have too much, and probably will take up this theme again and again.
You understand? i miss my growing up in Lebanon, Tennessee in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It’s a lost world. That makes me sad.