Category Archives: Jewell in the Rough

She Is Beautiful

There’s this woman i know, in fact have known for…oh, about seventy-one years.

She is beautiful.

Today is her birthday.

Even though i am married to the perfect woman for me, i love this woman.

That’s okay, by the way. You see, she is my sister.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s another one of us. He came along later, somehow the smartest of the three of us. She has a great relationship with him as well.

 

 

 

 

She always has been pretty. She was a marvelous student and teacher: elementary school, piano. Wish i had learned more from her.

 

 

 

 

 

She grew up. Met a man. Good man, great athlete. Even better father and grandfather.

 

 

 

 

 

They had a boy. Good man. Good father. Great damn near a brother for my  younger daughter:

 

 

 

 

Then there were grandkids.

She is one of the best grandmothers ever.

She also, like her son is a brother, a second mother to my daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

She had some pretty serious health problems, but she is fine now. Even great.

 

 

 

Happy Seventy-First Birthday, Martha Estelle Jewell Duff. Remember you will never be as old as your older brother, and we all love you.

Willie Nod the Older and the Ugly Duck(ling)

This one also hit me in the night. But i slept through, waking early in the morning and remembering. So i sat down to simply record the main thoughts. But it wouldn’t let go and i kept writing until just a few minutes ago. i hope you like it. Apologies to Hans Christian Anderson.

Once upon a time in a land and time far, far away, there was an old man who had left Newport, Rhode Island long ago and returned to a different place in an even earlier time.

Willie Nod, the older had been ostracized by everyone, family, friends, and the citizens of his borough. He also had lost his ability to talk to the animals as he aged.  There was one exception to people not liking him.

No one liked old Willie Nod except his beautiful, blonde, young granddaughter who was ten-years old.

Once a week, the little girl, her name was “Lil” for Lily, not “little,” would come over to old Willie Nod’s cabin in the woods, and they would go deeper into the woods and walk around the small pond, a pool from a creek that flowed throughout the year with a small bridge the old man had built over the shallow end of the stream.

Much earlier in this different life, old Willie Nod was quite wealthy with a huge house in a grove of trees with a beautiful garden of vegetables and flowers all maintained by his gardener who also was a close friend who had been the gunner on the barque when old Willie Nod was the second mate. In a sea battle with a pirate ship, the gunner, named Griswold, saved the old man’s life when a pirate was about to decapitate him from behind with a cutlass.

When old Willie Nod left the Navy, he started a business selling goods from ships returning from the Far East to the citizens of the small seaport village on the East Coast. His business flourished and expanded to cities all along the coasts of the country. He became fabulously wealthy and built his mansion with the garden for his wife who bore him a son named Leopold Nod, but she died during the birth of their only child.

The old man returned to the coast, found the barque and found the gunner who had saved his life. Old Willie Nod built the cabin in the woods for Griswold and hired him to be his gardener. Griswold met a lass who was the bartender and waitress in a nearby tavern. They married and lived in the cabin.

Old Willie Nod’s son left soon after becoming of age. Leopold hated his father, blaming him for the death of his mother and vowed to never talk to him again.

Then, Griswold’s wife caught a fever working at the tavern. Griswold cared for her for a month in the cabin before she died. Griswold died within the month. It was never known for sure if he had contracted the disease that killed his wife or if he died of a broken heart.

Old Willie Nod buried Griswold outside the cabin next to the gardener’s wife and moved into the couple’s cabin. He gave his mansion and all of his wealth, except for a small stipend for himself to live on, to his son. But Leopold continued to disavow any connection to the old man and continued to refuse to talk to his father even though they only lived within walking distance of each other.

The townsfolk did not like old Willie Nod. They thought they should have received some of the wealth, blamed him for the death of Griswold and his wife, and believed Leopold was right in blaming the old man for his mother’s death. So old Willie Nod lived pretty much all by himself, going into the town to buy provisions once a month and returning to his cabin in the woods.

Lil, his granddaughter, asked about her grandparents. Leopold’s wife told her the story. Curious, the young girl saw old Willie Nod when he was in town for provisions and followed him when he walked back to his cabin. Old Willie Nod was, of course, delighted when the girl explained to him she was his granddaughter. Thus, she began coming every week, occasionally more often, but her father Leopold thought she was going to see a friend, not his father.

At first, old Willie Nod and his granddaughter would walk to the pond and around it. As they walked, the old man would tell Lil about her grandmother and how beautiful and caring she was. Then he told her about his life and the places he had been and stories about the many people he had met.

After one walk, he brought her into his cabin and gave her a cookie. She saw the many books stacked and piled into every corner and the shelves lining every wall. The old man had saved all of his books when he moved to the cabin and continued to read in all of his spare time of which he had a lot, both spare time and books. When Lil remarked about the books, the old man then began to read books with her. After that, their walks around the pond were spent talking about what they read.

On one walk, there were two swans with six cygnets swimming in the pond, but the last cygnet was different, awkward and with a different color.

“What an ugly duckling,” Lil said when she saw the swans.

“You just wait and see. They all, including the one who does not look like the others, will become beautiful swans like the cob and the pen,” old Willie Nod said, explaining the birds were not ducks, but swans. When she returned the next week, they read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling” together.

Throughout the summer and autumn, old Willie Nod and little girl would spend their time together reading and, when the weather allowed, walking to the pond where the swans and their cygnets continued to swim until early November when the birds flew south.

One day after spring came the next year, the two were walking around the pond. As they reached the bridge, seven beautiful swans swept down from the sky and landed in the pond whooping, seemingly happy to be back. The old man and the young girl laughed with each other as they counted the swans. Their count revealed one was missing. About the time they realized there were only seven, they heard a harsh quacking overhead. Suddenly, there was a swoosh and a duck, brown and not very pretty compared to the seven swans, splashed awkwardly onto the pond.

Old Willie Nod and the young girl continued their walks visiting the seven swans and one duck on the pond. The duck became their favorite. Often she would swim to the shore, waddle up to them, and quack loudly making them laugh. They began to bring her bread crumbs. She would eat most of the crumbs before the swans would rush to her, push her away, and eat the remaining crumbs. The duck would quack angrily from a distance but always got more than the swans, which made old Willie Nod and his granddaughter laugh with each other.

You see, an ugly duckling grows up to be an ugly duck, but sometimes that is an advantage.

 

 

The Misperception of an Anachronism

This, granted, needs to be severely edited. i wrote it this morning when i woke up way too early thinking of several things to write, and not able  to get them out of my head, or more accurately afraid i would not remember them if i did not record them, i got up and recorded them on this terrible enslaving, addicting machine. Then i wrote some more on the plane, and finished it after lunch in the incredibly comfortable home of my friends who live in San Francisco, if not life-long damn near and for eternity,  just a few minutes ago. And i wanted my friends to read it. In the rough, before the severe edits.

The old man woke up early this morning and could not quit thinking about how he was an anachronism now, and then the old man wondered why, and then he thought about it some more.

It was this small prism of time, and then it went away. Just like that.

Our country had won the great war. The folks who won it had come through chaotic times to, not only survive, but succeed. Many had seen the previous great war of the world and won that one too.

These folks had relatives who had fought against each other in a senseless war created by hotheads who somehow got others, not only to fight for their cause but to kill their brothers. Both sides. And all of it had so many reasons for happening and so many ways to deal with the outcome, they only managed to outlaw the name of slavery, morphing it into prejudice and hate and abuse and intolerance.

These folks had survived financial chaos and ruin when the financial finagling of greed brought that house of economic cards crashing to the ground.

The folks created this place in this prism of time through which this anachronism sees. His misperception.

These folks brought about great national pride, a sense of invincibility, a sense of rightness, a sense of economic prosperity.

It happened everywhere across the country. In my little slice of that pie in that small prism of time, i came into the world on one side of a small town the middle of a beautiful and very sheltered life. They called it a town, even a city, and it became that city thing eventually, but when i was born and grew up, it was, to paraphrase Sonny Boy Williamson although i’m pretty damn sure Sonny Boy certainly didn’t have Lebanon, Tennessee in mind…or maybe he did, it was too large to be a village and too small to be a town. The people i knew were magic, religious to a fault, friendly – we all went to church, not only on most of Sunday, but on Wednesday, to Vacation Bible School two weeks in the summer, to a revival every night of the week when that circus came to town. The folks there were the older, never to be questioned folks.

i grew up believing what i saw: Our American forefathers of stature were heroes with no flaws. George Washington never told a lie, especially about that chopping down that cherry tree. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson loved people and believed in total equality. They fought the bad guys. Andrew Jackson was a hero. He too fought the bad guys. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett killed bears with their knives and when necessary with their bare hands. Kit Carson saved the West. They all fought the bad guys. i knew. i read it all in books.

i believed what i was told: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Wash my hands. Red and yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves all the little children of the world. Your body is a temple; don’t smoke or drink or cuss – well, okay: i knew that was what i was supposed to do, but i still wanted to smoke like every man i knew plus Humphrey Bogart did, and i sure wanted to know what was so bad (or good) about alcohol and i took cussing to a new level of art, fitting for a sailor-to-be.

i was to do what i was told. Little children were to be seen and not heard. Brush my teeth. Don’t suck my thumb. Work hard and you will succeed. Save your money and you will become rich. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

And we went to the mountains to watch the Indians, the Cherokees dance, and they wore big headdresses of feathers flowing down their backs to their ankles and then we were boy scouts and wearing loin clothes and leather moccasins and dancing in unison hopping on the dirt floor of the main tent at the state fairgrounds. And those Indians for which we did not know there could be another name were the good guys in our cowboy and Indian games: scouts, partners, heroes,

And we played with abandon from when we got up until when we went to bed. Outside. All the time, heat and cold, snow, but not rain. Then we played on the porch, making up games. And we ran all over the neighborhood, almost all over the town. We didn’t feel poor. We went out after breakfast, played until dinner, aka lunch, were back for supper, and in the summer out again to catch fireflies and fight off mosquitoes until bedtime. We fought and were bullied and we learned right makes might, not the other way around; we learned the end does not justify the means; we learned to be honest and not try to get the best of anyone else in money, in games, and in life by cheating; we learned to play by the rules; we learned to obey authority, and because we believed authority played by our rules, we did just that, unless, of course, it was something fun and we didn’t think it would harm anyone; we learned to not show off after we scored, just hand the ball to the official; not to brag; be good sports win or lose. We were taught to be respectful, listen to our elders.

We didn’t lock our doors, car doors, house doors, any doors. We learned to give to the poor, to eat all the food on our plate (which was substantial and fried, not sautéed, with bacon grease and good, oh so good, especially with biscuits and butter. which also would be dessert with sorghum molasses) because the little children were starving in Africa (Yep, my mother really told me that more than once when we had broccoli or Brussel sprouts for supper). We drank milk because it was good for us. Suicide cokes were dangerous.

And we got the chicken pox, measles, the German kind, mumps, but we got to listen to the radio in the downstairs bedroom and “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Tom Mix,” “Gangbusters,” and “The Shadow” visited our bedsides, and we had our tonsils out after being put to sleep with that gross smelling ether, but it was okay even though it hurt when woke up because we had ice cream.

We played on the farms of relatives and milked the cows at first light for fun and ran through the fields and fished in the creeks and hunted with our Red Ryder BB rifles, then later with a .22 and then with the .410 shotgun, and then with the 12-gauge.

We cleaned the house and the windows and the dishes, and stripped and waxed the real wood floors, and cleaned the coal clinkers from the deep recesses of the basement. We mowed the lawn, raked the leaves, clipped the hedges, and early on helped hang out the wash on the clothesline in the backyard. We got spanked, this goofy guy continually, for doing wrong, but we knew it was because they loved us (teachers included) and because we had done wrong.

The boys respected, if not worshipped the girls, putting them on that pedestal, and the girls wore dresses, and we wanted to marry them, and we took them on dates to the movies and put our arms around their shoulders and tried to cop a feel, not knowing or caring or feeling bad about what was driving us to do such a thing. And we gave them our letter sweaters and our friendship ring to wear around their necks, and they ditched us for older guys. You know, the juniors and seniors when we were freshmen. But we loved those girls and began to go out with the younger ones and we would go up on Billy Goat Hill or on the gravel road down by Spring Creek and make out with the moon shining on us and never get very far and the ones that did got into trouble they married and grew up fast. But we always respected them for being women, different, but with a shared experience with us.

Then, we all grew up too fast. We wanted to. Why, i don’t know.

But things started hinting in the back of our minds maybe it wasn’t all that wonderful. We didn’t know the world was not this magical slice of earth, not the place too large to be a village and too large to be a town. because the slice was divided down mostly geographical lines but there were these other folks sharing this place too large to be a village too small to be a town, but we didn’t see them except when they were hired folks or we came across them coming down from the balcony at the movie theater because they weren’t allowed to sit downstairs. But we didn’t think about it…yet.

And all was right with the world…except for the Soviet Union, those damn communists…and what we didn’t know. The Soviets were the bad guys, eager to beat us, and never worrying about what was right to reach their goal of world domination, and they had bombs, big bombs that could blow us up like Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and we were sore afraid, and did drills to hide under those flimsy little desks and run like hell to the mustering spot out in front right after we learned about Jill and whatever his name was and their dog Spot.

And then there was this other thing about these people we never saw in this place too large to be a village too small to be a town because the slice was divided down mostly geographical lines, but they were these other folks sharing this place, but we didn’t see them except when they were hired folks or we came across them coming down from the balcony at the movie theater because they weren’t allowed to sit downstairs. But we didn’t think about it…yet.

They were there on the other side of town out of our mind until we started to grow up and wonder about that song, that children’s song at Bible school: Red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loved all the little children of the world, and then we asked why. There were no good answers, only anger and fear embedded in righteousness expressed as a bad answer.

Then two cousins married two Indians, who never had heard of the words native American, and these men of the Lumbee tribe were good, loyal folks, even fighting in that next little war over there in Korea. And i loved those two guys who married my beautiful cousins and i wondered why we considered them different and why they lived on reservations.

But then it was time to move on, and i dreamed of the big cities, the big stadiums, the big big and starring there in my role of hero. And i dreamed of women loving me and marrying one for life with two kids, a cat, a dog.

And then…it didn’t happen.

The underbelly of this place too large to be a village too small to be a town began to reveal itself and the magical hero did not appear before thousands, but found out he had to work just like his folks told him and even then you could get whacked in the head if you played the game the way you were taught: you had to promote yourself, sell yourself to the highest bidder and then stab the bidder in the back so you could become the bidder and everyone else was the bidder, and you had to stand out, wear something outlandish, grow hair you had to take care of since you were different you had to be vain, and when you scored you had to do an act, a pantomime to show the folks you were cute, better than them, entertaining.

And it was true: this place too large to be a village and too small to be a town had existed for a only a small moment in that prism of time. And i was of it. i was an anachronism. And i had misperceptions. The world i long for really didn’t exist except for a glorious few of us in a prism of time and place non-existent before or after, here or there.

While thinking about it, i thought about what was: war, financial depression, hate, anger, brother against brother, greed and power winning over good sense and caring for others and the right thing to do, sides not caring about anything but their own interests, convinced they knew/know the right way for everyone when they weren’t/aren’t too good at doing what’s right for themselves. Hmm, sounds strangely similar. Oh yes, we’ve made progress. We live longer, we don’t have to do all of that hard word we did before, we eat healthier, we are more watched, monitored, sensitive, and politically correct is now a concern. We keep trying to make everything equal by endorsing the unequal. We know more and are less constructive because we know more. Children don’t play in the yards any more. They don’t have to handle bullies by themselves. They are monitored, coached, tutored to succeed, rather than to live well. Someone is always watching over them…like that is a good thing.

And the anachronism came to this conclusion: we are still okay. There are reasonable people who deal with people as individuals. If others try to take advantage, play the game to win at all costs, be self-centered, the reasonable ones give it up. Ain’t worth it. They know they can manage themselves and love and care and do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Been like that for eternity. Check it out.

Still, i would like to go back to that place too large for a village and too small for a town in that prism of time, where all i knew was goodness.

Like i said, an anachronism i am.

The Big Shift

The following was written a number of years ago and another version was published in my Lebanon Democrat weekly column shortly afterwards. Good memories:

SAN DIEGO, CA. – Several weeks ago, I had my truck’s air-conditioning repaired before a golf outing in the desert. Driving back, I recalled learning to drive a standard transmission.

Jimmy Jewell, my father, had a career as a mechanic in Lebanon. In 1920 when he was six, he stoked the wood-fired boiler of the mobile sawmill my grandfather, Culley Jewell, operated for Wilson County farmers.

Jimmy Jewell started working for Donald Philpot’s Ford dealership in Lebanon in 1933, located where McDowell Motor Company, owned by J.P. McDowell, later occupied the northwest corner of North Maple and West Main. . He later worked for Bob Padgett’s Dodge-Chrysler dealership until he went to work for Jim Horn Hankins at Hankins and Smith Motor Company on East Main in 1940.

In 1955, he and my Uncle, Alvin “Snooks” Hall started their automobile repair business. Bill Massey later joined them and the business became the Jewell-Hall-Massey Garage. I remember the Mobile “pegasus” above the storefront on West Main. In 1957, my father and his life-long friend, H.M. Byars bought into Jim Horn’s business. Hankins and Smith became Hankins, Byars, and Jewell.

My father, as most fathers do, taught me how to drive. He showed me the rudiments of standard transmissions, but he didn’t teach me how to drive a “stick” shift. I practiced in a used car he brought home on occasion. But it was difficult coordinating shifting with the clutch, and I pretty much gave up on the concept. My driving lessons were in my mother’s 1958 Pontiac Star Chief or in my father’s 1955 Pontiac, both automatics.

H.M. was responsible for me learning to drive a standard transmission. He really didn’t teach me, but he was certainly responsible. In Height’s 1960 spring break, about six months after I had turned sixteen, I was working at Hankins, Byars, and Jewell, mostly pumping gas, checking tire air pressure, and washing car windows.

One afternoon, H.M. came out and announced he had to pick up a Johnson Dairy milk truck and bring it back for repair. He asked me to accompany him. As we came out of the Johnson Dairy office, H.M. tossed me the keys, stating, “I know you can drive a standard transmission, right?”

As my parents can tell you, I was a bit stubborn and thought I could do anything well. So I acceded I could drive a “stick.” H.M. tossed me the keys and left without another word. I vividly recall getting in the seat and looking at the ominous gear shift rising from the center of the floorboard with a black knob on the end.

I was faced with a rather significant dilemma: start the milk truck, learn to shift on the fly, and drive back down the busiest street in town, around the square, and back up East Main to the dealership. Or I could admit defeat, call my father and have him come and get the milk truck.

As usual, I chose the worst option.

I bucked and stalled my way from West End Heights, past Castle Heights Avenue, and over the railroad tracks and onto the square. On the square to a symphony of bleating car horns, I stalled twice and bucked continuously, until I emerged on the east side and reached the shop.

Miraculously, the milk truck and I made it unscathed without wiping out one vehicle, pedestrian, or storefront. In fact, by the time, I got the vehicle to the service bay, I felt like I might have gotten the hang of driving a “stick.” I thought I was ready for a GTO. I don’t recall anyone agreeing, but I don’t recall any significant problems driving a standard transmission after that.

I was adamant about teaching both of my daughters to drive in a vehicle with a standard transmission. Both are admired by many of their friends because They can drive a “stick.” Both had cars with standard transmissions and appear to be glad, maybe even a tad proud, their father taught them.

When their grandfather started driving, it was a bit different. They didn’t have automatic transmissions, and they didn’t have drivers’ licenses. Jimmy Jewell was grandfathered when they began issuing those symbols of big government. It is a big shift from when he and I started driving and my daughters’ driving experience.

I’m glad they didn’t have to learn on a Johnson Dairy milk truck. I am also glad H.M. Byars made me learn in that way. It taught me a lot of lessons.

Random Thoughts on an Early Monday Morning

You might have read some of this stuff from me before. i don’t care.

Monday. Again, i awoke way too early, even for me. Don’t know why unless it’s become ingrained from my near ten years of Lebanon Democrat column deadlines. Of course, the sea, oh, the marvelous sea, is also ingrained even though my last time on a ship at sea was thirty-three years ago. That morning watch, the 04-08 where i would be awakened by a boatswainmate, the messenger of the watch at 0315 so i could get to the bridge and relieve the OOD by 0345 and feel the day stirring and smell the coffee and bacon and eggs aroma wafting up from the galley to the starboard bridge wing, and hearing the radio communications among the squadron ships begin the chatter, and seeing first light creep up on the horizon, and the pinkness and the freshness of the new day dawning, and the captain coming out to sit in his oversized and raised chair on the starboard side for his first cup of coffee of the morning and swapping hellos because there wasn’t much usually going on at 0600 in the morning and how the oncoming watch came up early, 0700, to relieve me so i get the last breakfast in the wardroom before officer’s call and quarters and the beginning of the work day when i would start to fade around 1000 waiting until the midday mess to skip and hit the rack for a NORP.

Oh yeh, this early stuff is still with me.

***

Regardless, once again this Monday early morning, my brain started in low gear and was rumbling in third. I couldn’t find the clutch before four in the morning. This oft abused brain refused to shift back to idle. Like my Mazda 3 hatchback, my brain has six forward gears, straight transmission…er, standard. Okay my car buff buddies, keep me straight here. It may be okay to write this early, but it damn sure ain’t okay to do research for a faulty memory. It’s Monday morning for Christ’s sake, too early to look stuff up.

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One thought, which has occurred before is i am one hell of a lucky man. I have had a really good life. Oh yeah, there have been some surprises, some downturns i wasn’t expecting. In fact, there are a couple still smacking at me today. That ain’t right, by the way; ain’t right someone at seventy-three should still have downturns. After all, dealing with all of the growing old, dealing with all the…i was going to be polite and say “stuff,” but no: dealing with all the other shit is right on. Old age illnesses, parts breaking down, stiffness, going to one doc or another what seems like at least every week. Watch friends grow old faster, have worse things go wrong. Like dying. Still don’t know how my parents made it to their late nineties, not because of their health. My father was an incredible specimen of good health. My mother had some serious problems for almost forty years. But they were troopers. The thing about them i find amazing is their dealing with all of their generation of family and friends leaving them behind. Man, that is tough. i must get better at that if i am going to be one of those outlasting the others.

*   *   *

Lying there this morning, i was reassessing what i’ve done. i do that often. Need to let it go. Move on. You know. It started with thinking about what a bad golfer i am, especially considering how much i play. Shouldn’t complain considering my age and the occasional good hole i have. Still do it, like all of the others…except maybe for Peter Thomas, the best golfer i’ve ever played with. He’s the one who taught me i shouldn’t bitch about my play, instantaneously or long-term unless i hit some 300 golf balls a day, every day, for more than a decade. Then i can bitch. Got a long way to go.

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Nah, i really haven’t done much. i had the potential somewhere back in the dark ages. Then i didn’t grow up. I remained just shy of five-seven. Stopped the vertical thing around junior high. Kept expecting to be six-two, 180. Didn’t happen. As most of you know, i have not grown up in other ways as well. Still, in spite of a checkered career for assessment, i made it to commander, and as i love to repeat, my last operational CO, Captain Frank Boyle on USS Yosemite gave me what i consider the ultimate compliment, calling me, not a seaman, not a sailor, but a mariner, something he and i knew at that stage of our time on ships was the real compliment (He was too, a mariner). Got to spend 14 out of 22 years on ships, nine or eleven, depending on the way you count ’em. i’ll take that even though i would go again if they still had steam ships without all of the GPS and computers they have today.

And i was a good sports editor at The Watertown (NY) Daily Times before that gig was cut short because of the need to take care of my family financially. Don’t regret it, but i did love it while i was in it.

Hadn’t made a lot of money. Don’t miss it, although i would like to make Maureen feel more secure and there are a bunch of people i would like to go and see. Maureen would like to go see places not seen before. i would like to go to old places (that aren’t gone or drastically changed) or to old friends, but money is a little to tight to cover all of those dreams. Still okay.

  *   *   *

i admit i’m a goofy guy, even brag about it. i really don’t do too many more goofy things than most folks, but i don’t mind my goofy antics being broadcast and am pretty honest about my goofiness. Don’t believe in fooling folks.

i don’t know where it comes from. My parents were great parents but they certainly weren’t goofy. Probably the depression and the war and religion of the time kept ’em straighter, non-goofy. Daddy loved to tell stories, even some on himself, but that was about it.

Perhaps, just perhaps, i might get my goofiness from my Uncle Bill Prichard, my mother’s youngest sibling and only boy. He could be real goofy, but man did he have a laugh. Like him, i might have become a  pilot for a war. Uncle Bill, he flew mustangs out of England. Man!

In Navy OCS, those aviators enticed me to join them in the air (SEALS did too; why, i don’t know), but i was a passable swimmer, not a real good one, and i wasn’t sure i could get through that requirement, so i demurred. But i also had had that at-sea moment, and the decision to go surface really wasn’t that difficult.

*   *   *

So i went to sea. If you don’t know, i am trying to write a book about that last operational tour. It’s about the first women as officers or enlisted to spend extended out of port time as members of a ship’s crew or wardroom. And of course, it’s about me. You see — and i may have told you this before as well — i loved the sea from the get-go. In the book, i included a letter i wrote to my wife of a month, Maureen, which began shortly after we left Mayport, Florida for an eight-month deployment to the Indian Ocean. The letter concluded about ten days later in the early morning of the day we stood into Rota, Spain. i bragged about communicating with the sea. Yeh, “bragged” is the right term. After all, i loved my new wife with absolute gusto (still do) and i wanted to impress her.

But yes, i did feel that incredible old lady, the sea, and i communicated. Perhaps that’s a little to mystical or hokey for many. But in 1963 on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) (in the NROTC scholarship program from which i unceremoniously but no less dramatically left like a rock the next spring), i walked to the port life-lines amidships on the ASROC deck between the forward and after stacks. It was 2210 or thereabouts, after taps because the crew’s movie in the DASH hanger had been a long one. The wind was off the port beam and blowing the roar of the boilers from the stacks away from me. i could see the white foam rolling down the side of the ship. The bow wave was lapping at the sides. The sea was dark, the deepest dark blue that exists. The moon was on the port side. i stood there. To this day, i swear that lady, the sea, floated out and grabbed me, down deep in my gut, and i could feel her talking to me. i was hooked, even though i was too goofy to know it.

*   *   *

So i think yes, i have had a good lucky life and can deal with the bumps in the road when they keep coming even though i’m registered old and they shouldn’t hit me now. But you know what? That’s life. It ain’t, as my friend Dave Carey once told a group of senior officers in our seminar, it  ain’t easy. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. It would be damn boring if all went smoothly, everything went our way. We are supposed to deal with problems cause humans, in case you haven’t noticed, all of them, cause problems. It’s an adventure. Deal with it. Laugh at it.

So now, i ain’t working…well, i ain’t formally got a job. So what am i supposed to be doing? i think giving back is my job. i want to tell those younger than me what happened, what was different, and how we/me dealt with it right or wrong, so perhaps, just perhaps, they can learn from my good moments and my bad. Listen to my views of the world and what it has been and what it should be and what it hasn’t been, what it is, and what it shouldn’t be.

But it seems i’m over the hill. Those younger dudes don’t listen to me. Too old. Oh, they nod their heads like they heard me. But they weren’t listening really. They just keep on their way, probably mumbling about that crazy, goofy old man rambling about the good ole days, even some of those good ole days were pretty damn lousy, just like theirs will be. Sort of feel patronized in a way. Oh, many folks my age or near it, they read and agree…as long as it doesn’t cross their locked and loaded, lines in the sand, refusing to budge views of the world and all of their opponents, demons really.

So i’ll just do my thing and hope, not optimistically, but hope a few folks might learn a few things from my ramblings and modify their way of doing things just a little bit for the better.

*   *   *

One sort of political comment, or cultural, or something. This must be prefaced by noting i don’t consider myself a racist or a bigot or prejudiced at all. There may be people who choose to think i am because of the color of my skin, where i come from, the way i talk. i know i cannot write anything here that even hints of disagreement with any political, religious opinion that won’t get slammed. i will point out when attending Vanderbilt basketball games from 1962 to 1964, which i did with amazing loyalty, every home game, without fail except that part about not studying on those nights and flunking out (one F, 14 D’s in four semesters, a record i think), but to the point, the pep band would play “Dixie” and the student body would stand and sing as almost one because there would be a half-dozen or so of me and my brothers who would remain seated, and when berated and denigrated by those highbrow rednecks around us, we would proclaim we didn’t root for losers.

But i do feel the need to make an observation about this take down the statue thing. To leave them there and recognize it was a much different time in history. There were many things wrong and we couldn’t do it right so we had this awful war among brothers, white and black as folks call us i think wrongly and killed each other with abandon. We started on a path of improved but not perfect equality. There were clowns then and clowns now who were too damn selfish to admit equality was just that. But doesn’t destroying statues, taking down crosses, defiling others symbols of belief, all of that kind of thing, seem just a bit like ISIS, Al Qaeda, even Hitler, destroying history. i mean, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. i’ve got my sea i can see from my hilltop or dip my feet in if i drive about 15 miles or my memories, oh my memories. i’m probably not going to miss those statues in the South, but it does seem we are incapable of dealing with each other reasonably. It’s my way or the highway, it seems. Well, i don’t think anyone is going to take my highway. Navy steam ships are gone. Sportswriting the way i lived it is gone too. Religion, that ole time religion, good ole Methodist stuff, seems to be gone also. Tolerance, understanding, communicating, compassion is only on one side of the line or the other. Seems like that golden rule, you know “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is passé, or even obsolete.

Sad.

 

The World’s Most Frustrating Game

i often mention i’m playing golf.

i play golf twice a week nearly every week. Often, i play three times a week. i have been known to play six times a week.

i like golf.

i don’t know why.

First off, nearly everyone seems to be better than me.

Second, when i start improving, i think i can make my goal of being a ten handicap. i have gotten as close as a 14. Then i back slide. i default to all of my bad habits. i play much better on the driving range, chipping area, and putting green than i do on the course. i am a mental wreck.

Thirdly, the game teases me. i used to think i was a decent athlete, not top tier, but pretty good in the sports i undertook: football, baseball, basketball, tennis, racquetball, bowling. Not really good mind you, but somewhat of a shade over decent. i now believe i was a figment of my imagination because of golf. The good shots, the lower scores, all are just pure luck: the golf gods teasing me. i know, know i’m not a good golfer.

My example? i was down to a 14 handicap at the end of last year. i was getting better. i was hitting the purest shots i’ve ever hit. i had found what i thought was the best grip, stance, etc. to putting. i had learned to chip better. Matt Brumbaugh, the pro at Sea ‘n Air, the North Island Naval Air Station course, had helped me immensely. Talking about the game with Pete Toennies, who unfortunately plays a lot like me, only a bit better, helped my mental attitude.

i was going to get to at least a 12 handicap, perhaps even lower.

It all went south. Big time. i’m back up to an 18, pretty much where i have been all of my life.

And then Friday, i proved it.

Sea ‘n Air. Perfect weather. Beautiful vistas. Great friends. By the third hole, i almost quit and walked off. “Why i am playing this game?” i asked, “Why put myself in such depression?” A couple of bogies, along with doubles and triples, no pars through seven holes. Depressing. Then i birdie eight and nine.

i think, “Oh man, it came back in spades. i’m going to tear up the back.” Nope. A couple of bogies, one triple, no pars. Oh yes, i birdied fifteen and seventeen. Four great holes amidst disaster, chaos.

Go figure.

So i keep telling myself i’ve played golf for almost sixty years. I’ve only played in a foursome with someone i did not like two or three times max. If i don’t think about my game, it’s damn enjoyable.

And

About twenty-five years ago, we were in the lobby of our time-share in Park City, waiting for transportation back home after  week of skiing. Several others were also waiting, and two men, both just past middle age, began talking.

“Where you from,” one asked.

“San Diego,” was the reply.

“San Diego,” the other mused, “You must play golf.”

“Yep,” the San Diegan confirmed.

“What’s your handicap?”

“Fourteen; what’s yours?”

“Eight.”

“Eight! Wow,” the San Diegan admired, “I’d give anything to be an eight. If I were an eight, I would be perfectly happy.”

“No you wouldn’t,” the other golfer answered.

He’s right, and that is why golf is the most frustrating sport in the world.

And why this post is labeled “jewell in the Rough.” That’s where i spend most of my time.

 

People of Color

Time to get some blood a’boiling.

i have a complaint.

i am almost positive it will upset most who read it. It will also produce some outrage, disagreement, and maybe exception from those who misinterpret my concern and use my thoughts incorrectly to support something like racial inequality, prejudice, etc., which is exactly opposite of what i intend to convey.

But what the heck. i’m going for it.

Why does a group of people who don’t like some collective label, or someone else in an effort to be politically correct and helpful, come up with something that is inaccurate? The government even got into the act, changing the names  for “race?” (or dancing around even that on their forms). What does it matter? Oh, i know: data.

Among several other terms i won’t mention here, i’m talking about the term “people of color.”

What the hell does that mean?

It seems it was meant to mean any person who is not caucasian.

i think it means i don’t have any color. i beg to differ. i’ve got more color than almost anyone. My arms, due to exposure to the sun most of my life, and the thin skin older folks acquire bringing about frequent cuts, blood, and scabs gives me more color than most. My body has gone from baby paleness to Tennessee summer brown except for the shorts-hidden area and now with a myriad of colors, including the baby paleness returning to the sun screen protection required of old age. My face, and especially my practically bald head is blotched. My neck is…well, i guess you could call it “red,” but i think it’s more rust colored: lots of golf sun, you know, but still “redneck.”

To tell the truth, it doesn’t bother me when someone calls me “paleface” or “redneck.” They are being relatively accurate.

But “people of color” takes inaccuracy to new heights.  And i would add i am definitely not “white.” i don’t look like a sheet. i don’t think i’ve actually ever seen a “black” person either except for this one in Papua New Guinea. But that doesn’t count. One of the marriage rituals for the cannibal tribes at the time was for the bride to paint her entire body in black pigment (i have a postcard with a photo of a bride like the one i say, but that’s a different story and not one to be told here).

i think we need to quit messing around with this stuff. And why do we have to differentiate? There are so many variations of racial mixing, we really don’t know anymore. For example, Barack Obama is the only person of whom i am aware who is really an “African-American.” Folks don’t call me “European-American.” i did meet some “European-Africans” when i was in Africa over thirty years ago.

If your family has been here for more than 100 years, then i think we should just cut all that out and call you an American. Of course, we could start  calling all  folks by their country or continent or both. So i should be labeled “European-British-American-Southern-Californian” or something. Some bright and lazy crown could turn it into an acronym (EBASOC).

Now don’t get me wrong, i think we should all honor our heritages and not denigrate other races, heritages, home of our ancestors, etc. But i’m getting a little tired of people getting wrapped around the axle because someone called them a name they didn’t like.

i acknowledge and accept previous comments by my dear friend, Dr. Kathy McMahon Klosterman about being aware of others’ sensitivity (or perhaps “sensibility” is a better term here). She’s right. Furthermore, i have not experienced the degradation, the debasement, the injustice, and all of the other things i don’t know about because i haven’t experienced them.

Perhaps i’m just too simple to grasp the concept.

But to be perfectly honest, i wish we would just drop all of that “color,” “race,” and all other means of separating us.

How about calling us “souls?”

Reflections in the Crud Days

i took a walk this morning (Tuesday). Yippee ki yay. It was the first time i’ve done any real physical activity in exactly three weeks. Hip hip hooray. The doc said i could walk if i didn’t overdo it. Glory hallelujah. It was glorious. Hoorah. And to top it off, i got this view about half-way through the one and half mile circuit:

i appreciate everyone’s concern and well wishes, but to be honest, other than some breathing issues, coughing, lots of phlegm, laryngitis, fitful short sleep, and enough meds to choke a horse, it really wasn’t all that bad except, excuse my French, i’m really tired of this shit of not doing anything.

But compared to others i know and care about, this has been a piece of cake. i am not complaining, just a little whine with my lunch.

i think…no, i hope it’s nearly over. The wave has crested. I am fairly confident i can now claim i am on my way to recovering from the crud. The doc says i should be good to go by the end of next weekend, about four weeks. FOUR WEEKS.

Man, that’s a long time. i know now.

Really, i was okay. i was just uncomfortable. It was a virus, coupled with sinusitis that morphed into “asthmatic bronchitis.” i knew i was going to pull out of it.

The worst thing was doing NOTHING. i never get a lot done because i keep hopping from one project to another and spend one hell of a lot of time procrastinating, but this was so not me, this just sitting around. When i asked if i could play golf, the doc damn near went epileptic on me. “Rest!” he said, “Rest is a major factor in getting you well. Stressing your breathing before you are recovered is the worst thing.”

So i have been sitting on my a…, ah well, you know. i didn’t have the energy or concentration to write or read, so i slept…sort of. i slept as much as i could, not much but a lot of time in bed trying . i watched more television than i have in the last ten years. And i generally don’t like watching television unless it’s a sports contest with some personal interest.

i am not complaining. There are so many people of my generation who are in much worse condition, dealing with terrible health issues, facing death with nobility, and quite a few already are sadly gone.

i really wasn’t worried…almost. It’s that time. I’m seventy-three. As Gayle Marks Byrnes said to me, “We are survivors.” That’s not bad. It could be worse. The Social Security Administration has a web page stating  “A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.” When i ran their individual assessment, it predicted 13 more years and my lasting until i am 86.3. My parents lived to just shy of 97 and 99. i’ve got a good chance to keep on ticking for a while.

Still, i’ve had a long pause. The situation led me to think and reflect. You see, when the doc said “asthmatic bronchitis,” some bells rang. When he ordered x-rays to ensure it wasn’t pneumonia, i became more concerned. My mother suffered significant allergies leading to asthma and other physical problems for most of her latter life. My maternal grandfather died early from what everyone now believes was asthma. My father-in-law died from esophagus cancer, and my father, after a life of incredible health, was done in by pneumonia.

My concerns, at least for now, have been put out to pasture.

But who knows? It’s gonna be what’s it’s gonna be, and i don’t think i have a lot of say about it. i’m fine with that.

i am a very lucky man. i have had a wonderful, exciting, groovy, successful, happy, an interesting life. But i don’t think it’s all that different from most people’s lives. And i rest now knowing i always tried to do what’s right. Yeh, i failed a couple of times but without the intention of doing anything that wasn’t right. Bad judgement. i have some people who don’t particularly think much of me. Their choice, not mine. It’s okay. i don’t blame them. i’m not in their shoes, don’t wish to waste my time thinking why. i don’t like them any less.

Whenever i do go, i can go satisfied about what i’ve done and what i’ve not done.

That’s one of the things i resolved while sitting around reflecting for three weeks.

i also wondered if other folks spend a lot of time thinking about things like this. i wondered if it was a good thing or not. i remembered Dave Carey telling me and others how the POW’s had a lot of time to talk to each other about things they thought and felt, much more than all of us who didn’t spend that time as prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton. When they did talk about sensitive, private things, they found out they had similar thoughts about many deep things.

i thought i would share this just in case there are some other old farts who have considered the end of all this like me. They might like to know there are others who spend time thinking on similar lines. Hmm, maybe there aren’t any who think about this stuff.

i know i have committed to writing. What kind of writing and how much is up in the air, to be determined. That’s the underlying purpose in my two-week writing retreat to Flagstaff next month.

This piece initially was about four times longer than it will be when i finish. This crud gave me a lot of time to reflect upon a lot of things. But i cut a lot out. i was…well, i was rambling. i won’t make any promises because i have committed to change before only to rationalize myself out of it shortly afterward.

The bottom line: all of my reflection has led me to a couple of conclusions. i hope to spend the rest of my life unafraid, continue to always try to do the right thing, write in a manner that is consistent with those two objectives, and not worry about what others think.

And have fun. At my age, life is too short to fool with all that other stuff.

It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free

i was a good ole boy, a young good ole boy to be sure, but essentially a Southern small town boy still unaware of what lay out there in the magical world of the written word. The now sadly defunct Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee gave me a look see into literature courtesy of  Majors Harris, Donnell, and Wooten.

i was titillated by the joy of fiction by Vanderbilt’s Dr. Sullivan in the course we called “Novels.” — i was not really supposed to be there, but it was my last shot to bring my civil engineering major grades up to a C average. Prior, the engineers and the Navy would not allow me to wander from the rigors of math and science to pursue my whims, but that summer of 1963 gave me liberty to choose my courses. So i had to retake “Statics,” the one course i flunked in four semesters of 19, 21, 20, and 18 hours of courses which that civil (oh, what a terrible description of my course load) engineering department and the Navy ROTC scholarship minions demanded while i was dumb enough to think i was smart enough to attend all sports events, party damn near every night, gambol at every chance, and play cards and drink beer until the early mornings, stopping only on the day before exams to cram one night on coffee and “No Doz” to make passing grades even though each ensuing semester signaled a continuing slide down the academic flunk out tunnel until i finally came to within one course of flunking out without failing a course. Fourteen D’s in four semesters (in addition to that one F, taken over that fateful summer and raised to a C). But that wondrous summer i took Drama 101, Philosophy 101, the dreaded Statics (2 something), and Sullivan’s Modern British and American Fiction (4 something: it was a senior and graduate course).

i didn’t make it but the beauty of Carson McCullers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and of course, my hero and Vanderbilt’s own Robert Penn Warren took me away to another planet. i was then undeniably, officially in love with writing, albeit a rather naive love of the monster i adored.

But nine months under one Mister Fred Russell, erstwhile and nationally known sports editor of The Nashville Banner, whetted my appetite for writing, especially sports writing. Feeling my oats once again, i entered Middle Tennessee, the “rather parochial” (as described by Dean Richard Peck) bastion of teaching education, and more stubbornly pursuing a BA even after the Dean of Arts and Science, my academic counselor, stunned, questioned my sanity with “Are you sure? You know you must take a foreign language (Spanish: that didn’t take either). You know you would be one of the first ever to major in English as a BA, not BS?” and “hmm,” i thought, “How strange?” and “BS just doesn’t sound right or literary enough to me.” And so i took to my pursuit of writing, sports writing to be exact.

i wandered through a rather bizarre world. i moved back home. i continued writing for the Banner, now as a county and sports correspondent. i began my brief but very enjoyable career as a radio man, deejay at WCOR AM/FM. i commuted to Murfreesboro with my buddy Jimmy Hatcher, Ken Berry, Clifton Tribble, and other friends in the early morning, traversing back and forth on Murfreesboro Road, more formally known as U.S. 231 and more informally as road kill trek, getting home in time to have dinner (that’s the noon meal from where i come) with my father, usually a baloney and American cheese slice sandwich with iced tea before laying down on the two couches in the den for a joint midday nap. i took required classes like physical science because the chemistry and physics D’s didn’t transfer, and later trigonometry, which i had taken under Colonel Brown in CHMA’s advanced math program. And i passed both with A’s without ever opening a book, and becoming the lab assistant for the physical science professor, which let me flirt with a lot of pretty coeds. AND i took wonderful literature courses where i was challenged and others like English Literature where the old lady professor, Dr. Emily Calcott read Percy Bysshe Shelly’s nine cantos Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem; With Notes verbatim in class. All of it. Seems like that summer course took about two dozen years.

And then i took Dr. Peck’s Shakespeare class, and i began to see the world, or at least my small literary part of it, differently.

And finally, i met Dr. Bill Holland. Bam! We became friends. He took me under his wing and revealed a whole new world. He was from Mississippi, been a surveyor for the Army Corps of Engineers. Got his Romantic Literature doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Yeh, that one in Scotland. Wrote his dissertation on the common thread in literature from Chaucer through Shakespeare through the Romantics, especially one Mr. William Wordsworth. i was told he received a “first class” doctorate, one of ten awarded in the history of that university. Yeh, that University of Edinburgh.

So we talked about Mr. Wordsworth, and i compared “time” of WW and RPW (Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798” and Warren’s “The Ballad of Billie Potts”). And he liked it. And we talked some more. And i cut other classes to discuss deep things in his office like the symbolism in Bob Lind’s Top 40 hit, “Elusive Butterfly (of Love),” and what was it Billy Joe McAllister and that strange woman threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” and did Plato err when he got the decimals from Egypt wrong and Atlantis consequently was really in the Adriatic, not the Atlantic, and more and more and more.

But before Holland, i was not into Romantics. i mean why would a good ole boy be concerned about some Englishman who wrote about daffodils? Now, i like daffodils and even more to the point, i think writing about daffodils and butterflies can be manly. Caring but manly. i like that.

Two days ago, i learned it was William Wordsworth’s birthday from “The Writer’s Almanac.” i had known that but forgot. To honor him, the writers and editors of the “Almanac” included a Wordsworth poem.

i read. i’m so glad Dr. William Holland, my friend, introduced me to that guy who wrote about daffodils.

It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free
by William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year,
And worship’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.