Mist on the Mountain

Late yesterday morning, i took Maureen on my walk around my sister’s neighborhood on Signal Mountain.

Although we don’t have the snow my brother has in Vermont, there is an extremely slight chance we will have a dusting before Christmas, some semblance of a white Christmas. Still, it feels like Christmas here. It is damp, cloudy, turning toward cold. On our walk, i not only took the above photo, i felt something strong and wrote about it:

Mist on the Mountain

it was a walk on Signal Mountain several days before Christmas.
foggy, as it quite frequently is this time of year
in a moment
away from the nice homes
not on the brow overlooking the magical world of Chattanooga
down, down, way down below
in the woods
the walk was in the mist
no, not just mist,
clouds settling upon the top of the mountain,
a delicate fabric covering the world of high;
then, i felt them.
they didn’t talk to me, no instruction, no guidance;
it may have been inside of me
but it felt as if they were in the mist,
the mist on the mountain;
this was a favorite time for them:
the trip down the state and east a bit,
Christmas with the family;
laughter, perhaps i heard laughter;
i can’t be sure
i felt them
just as sure as i will feel the warmth of the fire
sitting on the hearth tonight
while the outside will be shrouded
in the magical mist of the mountain.

‘Tis the Season

i have long railed about holidays being extended and becoming more and more commercial.

Well, Christmas doesn’t count.

As noted earlier, we got into the spirit shortly after the turn into December with our decorations.  Although i have made negative comments about yard blow up decorations, our neighborhood is aglow with every kind of decoration possible, i think. i like it.

Before leaving for our annual Christmas on Signal Mountain, we had the Boggs’ Christmas. Sister Patsy came over with her son Bill Boase and his wife Laura. We had Maureen’s haute cuisine version of gumbo, not a Christmas turkey, but boy oh boy, was it good. As we were getting it all going, i walked outside on an errand. This is not yet sunset. It is  not the superb photography of Brian Lippe’s sunsets. It just struck as just right for a Christmas celebration.

Maureen, Sarah, Bill, Laura and Patsy. The goofy guy is the photographer.

Quite a few were missing, but those of us who were there fit just about right. It is nice to have a Christmas celebration at home. It felt good.

And nothing pleases Maureen more than to do the house up right for a dinner party. She outdid herself this time with the table decorations. Winter roses (Southwest corner, remember) added to the splendor.  Sarah and Maureen, as they usually do,  made a great team.

Then we left. It was, as nearly all flights are, not as much fun as they used to be. With Maureen’s penchant for being prompt — i was concerned since our flight was scheduled for a 6:30 a.m. departure, she might want to spend the night in the airport — we were up at 3:30. For some reason, neither of us had slept well. Being “pre-TSA” helped but boarding — i remember one or two times in the distant past making a flight by going from curbside to boarding in less than five minutes, arriving at the gate to slide in the plane as the doors were closing — is still irksome at best, infuriating most of the time.

But i was coming home, or at least to a Tennessee Christmas with my sister’s family, which is as close as i can get to 127 Castle Heights Avenue of a half-century ago. We flew American, no longer the pleasant experience i remember from years past. Gouging travelers appears to be the new mission. We flew to Charlotte and caught the next thing smoking to Chattanooga (Sorry, Jamie Jacobs, but the time between flights kept us from a rendezvous with the Uncle Jesse clan; when i have a stop there, i always promise myself someday, someday, i’m going to make it a week layover and actually spend time with my cousins).

But all of my concerns melted on the hop to Chattanooga. There are no photos. i was too entranced, and American Eagle’s Bombardier CRJ-700 aircraft has small portholes, especially when sitting in an aisle seat. Yet, nearly all of the trip was just simply enchanting, carrying me back to many memories. The flight heads west, west, southwest and flies on the eastern side of the Smoky Mountains. It was sunset or twilight for all but the last several minutes of the trip.

The setting sun, the clouds, the folds of the mountains, and the mist cast a magic spell on me. i was back on a countless number of hops around this part of the world a half century ago, peering anxiously out the window to find a familiar landmark or simply to marvel at the beauty of the countryside, the green, green country country side with farmland dimpling the woods below while the mountain sky scape took my breath away. i was taken to those mountains and the cabin across the walking bridge over the waterfall where we stayed time after time in the wonder of those hills.

i even went back to my first read of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage as the sky scape mirrored my memory of  Lassiter and his Utah mountains. Magical i tell you, just like Christmas.

Then we landed. Martha met us at the airport. When we arrived at her Signal Mountain home, there was Christmas before us, in the pandemonium only available with a four-year old grand niece and identical twin, two-year old grand nephews:


Allie, Culley, and Max in one of their quietest moments.




This is the second calmest of about twenty “stair” photos.





And then there were Happy, as her grandchildren have named her most appropriately (Todd has been nicknamed “Grumpy” which tickles him to no end).




i’m telling you, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas:

The Duff Christmas Tree.
The Duff fireplace. Yep, those stockings will be filled for Todd, Martha, Tommy, Abby, Hannah, Olivia, Allie, Max, and Culley. It is a big Christmas.











Yup, Christmas. And you would have to be an unreformed Scrooge not to feel it.

One British Christmas of Yore

Hong Kong. Christmas Eve. 1979.

Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five, his staff, and his flagship, the USS Tripoli (LPH 10) had drawn Hong Kong as their liberty port over Christmas and had pulled into Fleet Landing on the Hong Kong side right next to the great Fleet exchange.

Staff officers Mike Peck, the Tactical Air Control officer; Pete Toennies, the UDT advisor; OW Wright, the admin officer, and me, the staff’s current operations officer, had become good friends and running mates since i joined them in Hobart, Tasmania in November, and we had proved we were good liberty hounds. We were ready for Christmas in Hong Kong.

Mike and i had been in this wonderful city several times before. Mentioning the name of Johnny Lee, the tailor, got us a room in the Holiday Inn on the Kowloon side, a much improved version of the chain than those in the states. In Hong Kong, it was considered a luxury hotel. Mentioning Johnny Lee gave us the large room with two queen beds for $65 US dollars a night.

There are a number of sea stories related to this liberty, but i will stick to one aspect of our port stay.

The British Navy contingent in Hong Kong had hosted a reception for the squadron the day after we arrived. Mike and i hooked up with lieutenant junior grade in the British Navy, and we had a great time swapping stories. Unfortunately, i don’t remember his name, but i do recall he was a helicopter pilot who had been retrained to drive their surface effect boats in Hong Kong with the mission of interdicting any attempts at illegal immigration. This had been a big problem for the Brits after the evacuation of Vietnam as many of those displaced were trying to get into Hong Kong.

The three of us hit it off. To show our appreciation of the new friendship, we took the Brit to Gaddi’s, one of the finest high end dining establishments in the world, housed in the famed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It was a good evening. So Pete, Mike, the Brit and i ran around for several days. The younger helicopter/surface effect boat driver invited us to Christmas Eve mess at the British Navy’s wardroom.

The HMS Tamar is the tall white building by the bay behind the Navy ships, either US or British. It was turned over to the Chinese when Hong Kong was transferred from England to China.

Now the officer’s mess in their wardroom was no ordinary place. The wardroom and the accompanying galley were not on a ship. They were on the penultimate floor of the British Navy’s Hong Kong headquarters, a thirteen story building on the waterfront. The Brits called it the HMS Tamar, as if it were a ship. The wardroom was actually two stories high and the bayside was a huge glass window looking out on Hong Kong. The city and its lights were a beautiful sight on Christmas Eve from that vantage point.

The HMS Tamar’s wardroom consisted of about one hundred officers, about a third of which were women, something US Navy officers weren’t accustomed to at the time. With shrimp cocktail appetizers and drinks, we chatted with all of the male and female officers before sitting down for the evening mess. It was a traditional British Christmas feast that seemed to have no end.  Roasted goose and roasted gammon (smoked ham) were the traditional meats but the British Navy added roast beef. Then there was roasted chestnuts with Brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, pigs in a blanket, parsnips, and swede (rutabaga), ginger bread stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and concluding with, of course, English Christmas Bread Pudding.

All of this of course, was accompanied by continuous libations of wine, whiskey, and of course, gin. It was all very, very lovely.

After dinner, we continued our discussions with just about everyone in a Royal Navy uniform. We were like celebrities. My glass was much like the professor in “The Bishop’s Wife” when Cary Grant, the angel kept magically filling the writing professor’s glass.

Just before midnight, i was looking at Mike and Pete, thinking it was about time to say our thanks and give our hosts Christmas wishes, catch the elevator, and walk back to the ship, berthed between the HMS Tamar and the U.S.Fleet Exchange. But the group of about six junior officers insisted we attend midnight mass with them. If anything, this contingent about half men and women officers, had consumed a lot more beverage than any of us. Regardless, we agreed. Then they exited the main wardroom and started walking up the stairs. i was surprised there was another floor and asked where we were going.

“To the chapel,” they informed me.

i would like to say we filed in quietly with decorum. i think Mike, Pete, and i mustered the strength to approach some semblance of decorum. But it was a pretty raucous bunch who found seats in two rows toward the back of the small chapel that held about 150 people, if that. Our group was laughing and continuing to have fun until just before the service. Then, one of the female officers behind us, tapped me on the shoulder.

She pleaded with whispers for us to help them out. One of the male junior officers had hidden a fifth of gin and brought it into the chapel. He was also blown out of his mind and close to passing out. The young female officer asked me to take the gin and hide it through the service. She explained if the senior officers caught him our any of the English in our group with the booze, they could be booted out of the service, not the mass, the British Naval service.

We, somewhat dubious, complied with her pleas. She passed the bottle to me under our seat. With Mike and Pete’s approval, i slid it up under my sports coat and cradled it with my left arm as inconspicuously as i possibly could.

The service went on, but i was too nervous to pay much attention. Getting up and down for the liturgies and hymns was a frightening proposition. With great difficulty, i successfully maneuvered through the stand/sit requirement each time. At the conclusion, i breathed a huge sigh of relief. Pete, Mike, and i had worked out a strategy, whispering during the service. We would file to the left to the center aisle and they would move as rapidly as they could without causing attention, leading interference for me. i would continue to cradle the booze with my left arm, hopefully looking as if nothing were amiss.

i had just cleared the aisle and was headed for the exit when the plan ran afoul of what Kevin Kline’s character in “Silverado” would have called “bad luck.”

Unbeknownst to us, the commodore, Captain Jim McIntyre, also known as the “Silver Fox,” was attending the mass, sitting on the front row with the British commander and a couple of Hong Kong notables. He spotted me and my interference walking quickly toward the door. He walked more quickly, caught up with me, grabbed my left shoulder, and spun me around.

“Sure am surprised to see you three here,” the commodore laughed.

i wasn’t thinking much about the commodore yet. When he spun me around, my grasp on the bottle of gin slipped. i lurched over catching the bottom with my right hand and moving it back up into its hiding place as covertly as i could.

Reaching out with my right hand, i shook his and said, “Commodore, you don’t know the half of it,” concluding, “It’s good to see you here as well. Merry Christmas.

With that, i turned before the conversation could continue, caught up with Mike and Pete and rendezvoused with our new British friends. They were ecstatically happy with their new heroes as we returned the bottle of gin. The female officer’s whose plea we had answered kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and thanked the three of us for saving their hides.

They never knew our all of our hides could have been in deep, deep trouble if i hadn’t caught that bottle on the way down.

Christmas Day was anti-climatic, quiet and spent mostly on the ship. But it had been one great Christmas Eve, one i’ll never forget, but i hope i don’t have another like it.

Merry Christmas.


How They Might View This Season

My parents loved Christmas.

As they aged, they didn’t decorate as much. They were practical folks, bred in tougher times. Going silly on decorations was not their style. They liked it simple. Having grown up when money was tough to come by (but living simply and well was still possible), they were frugal.

In the latter years when Mother’s ailments dictated Christmas in Lebanon rather on Signal Mountain with my sister’s family, we had to insist we get a tree and decorate it. They thought the small, fake, frosted tree with red bulbs was enough, that and the old wreath Daddy would pull out from storage and hang on the front door. Oh yes, they would put their wooden angels on the mantel. And hang the stockings she had made back in the early 1950’s for Joe, Martha, and their goofy son.

They never lacked in the true spirit of Christmas. It was always one of the best things about  my years to watch their happiness and love at Christmas time.

With all of the hate and blame and things they would have deemed un-Christian going on right now, i think his photo from about five years ago displays how they both would have felt:

But i remember both of them looking more like this:

And i know with all certainty, they are hoping and praying that all of their wide expanse of family and friends beyond counting will have a peaceful, wonderful, loving, and joyful Christmas.

Me too.

A Chief of Legend

This post is a old Navy sea story of mine and is really true. It is not for folks who are overly sensitive and certainly not for those who are politically correct.

He was notable, a legend amongst us, at least amongst Navy folks.

1970. Sasebo, Japan in mid-January. i was the new XO of MSTS (now MSC) Transport Unit One (gone with the wind of time) which road USNS troop ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back. He was the master chief corpsman. i cannot remember his name for now. But he is indelibly etched in my memory bank, how frail and sketchy that might be. i met this jocular, white haired master chief shortly after i reported aboard.

First story:

The master chief liked to gamble a bit. So he frequently visited the game room (aka slot machine room) at the Sasebo Chief’s Club. As we were getting underway for our overnight steam to Pusan, Korea, i spotted him with a large bandage around his head and jowls.

“What happened to you, Master Chief?” i inquired.

“I broke my jaw,” he tersely replied.

“How?” i asked just as tersely.

“This woman, a dependent wife hit me in the chief’s club,” he responded.

Somewhat astounded for several reasons, i pursued, “How could that have happened?”

“Well sir, i went into the game room and grabbed a stool for an empty slot…at least i thought it was unoccupied,” he continued, “Well, this woman apparently had had a winning streak and left her machine for a moment. When she came back, she got mad at me taking her slot machine and hit me.”

“She hit you and broke your jaw?” i stated, even more amazed, “Must have been one big woman.”

“No sir, XO. She was tiny. i think she was the Japanese wife of one the chiefs stationed here.”

“She was a tiny Japanese woman, and she broke your jaw?” i stated, totally flummoxed.

“Well, sir,” the master chief embarrassedly concluded, “She hit me with her purse. It was full of quarters.”

Second Story:

The Master Chief was single. He had decided to get a vasectomy. The Navy medical facilities did not provide for such procedures in 1970, but he had found a Army dispensary outside of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, arranging for the procedure on our next port call.   As we were departing Sasebo for our overnight excursion to Pusan, i went down to the ship’s infirmary to the unit’s two doctors who had become good friends. The master chief was working furiously on a cardboard sign. i suspected it had something to do with the red light district in Pusan where most of the single unit members frequented when our ship was in port.

“What are you doing, Master Chief,” i questioned.

“Well XO, this is going to be my last port before my  vasectomy, so i’m going trawling.”


“Yes, sir. Just before i go on liberty, i’m going down to the galley and get a whole chicken, thawed. Then, i’m going to tie it on a long line and this pole with the sign on it. When i get down to about the San Francisco Club, i’m going to walk down the middle of the street with that chicken at the end of my pole. i’m thinking i’ll catch me several of those women.”

Although wary, i still asked, “Master Chief, what does the sign say?”

He held it up so i could see. In big block letters, he had scrawled, “Get the last live load.”

Yes, he was a legend.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This old irascible curmudgeon was rolling into his “Bah, humbug” phase of Christmas. It happens about this time of year every year.

For reasons beyond his control, he has had this phase for about oh, say for about a half a century. It occurs when he realizes he yet again won’t be spending Christmas with someone whom he holds very dear.

Up until he left his hometown to wander (and wander he has, although nearly all of it was not planned; it just turned out that way), he spent Christmas with his family: his parents, his brother and sister, family in Lebanon and Chattanooga (Joe, Martha, Nancy, all of the Prichard’s, did they ever go to Florida for Christmas? He can’t recall although their is some vague memory of a warm Christmas in Daytona, perhaps another one of his illusions).

Then life and the world outside of our hamlet smack dab in the middle of Tennessee began to take him away. Several Christmases were spent away, far away completely out of his control: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Diego Garcia to name a few. The military can do that to you. Then there was this marriage thing and Christmases inevitably was divided between families. Then there were three families geographically separated (divorces and remarrying can do that, you know).

And that’s where it really started. When the world and life takes one away from the perfect Christmas. That was 1979. It was the first Christmas of not being with his daughter Blythe. Christmas has never been the same since then. That old humbug phase has been there ever since.

The closest he has ever gotten to that perfect Christmas began in 1992 when Maureen, three-year old Sarah and he went back to Tennessee, Signal Mountain most of the time, to be with his parents and his sister’s family. The Duffs have become his Christmas, and even though he is missing a daughter, a grandson, his brother and his family, and his wife’s family, it has been a beautiful Christmas every year.

Still that sadness is there as he has had to make choices about with whom he  spent Christmas, or rather who he misses at Christmas.

When they first started going to Tennessee again in 1992, he had family and friends housekeep for him and there was an abbreviated version of Christmas with Maureen’s family before they left. Even though the Southwest corner family still gets together for an early, abbreviated Christmas, the housesitting has evolved into someone looking after the pets on a daily basis. In those early years, they continued to decorate to the fullest although the tree was dry and crumbly by the time they returned. When the housekeeping stopped, they stopped the decorating. This was about when he created the legendary “NOEL” sign.

About four Christmases ago after Sarah moved to Texas, Maureen and he missed their house being Christmasy and bought a fake tree, something he vowed he would never do. So they decorated the tree, put up a minimal number of other decorations and of course, the “NOEL” sign.

But this year, Sarah is back home for a brief period. You get two sentimental and caring women together and you are going to have Christmas decorations, full-blown.

This year, they do.

No, he still won’t have that perfect Christmas. He will not be with his other daughter Blythe and his grandson Sam (and yeh, you too, Jason). It’s been a decision he has made every Christmas except one, trying to do what was best for everyone of his family he loves. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and do the right thing. He has bitten quite a few bullets in his day.

But this year, it’s a bit different, this curmudgeon humbug thing. The women decorated.He put Christmas music on the iPod and plays it frequently. It not only is beginning to look a lot Christmas, it’s beginning to sound that way as well.

The old curmudgeon humbug sort of got into the spirit. You know, the reason for Christmas, for joy to the world, for hope, for caring and giving., for children, and birth, and that star.

Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:

It is the season and the menorah is something Sarah made in elementary school. A Jewish family came to our Christmas party. The girl was a friend of Sarah’s. The wife was very thankful for us having that menorah card in our decoration. The reindeer was also made by Sarah a long time ago.


Then there are the music boxes Sarah has received from her aunt almost every Christmas. These are on the table in the alcove between the family room and the dining room.




These music boxes and the nutcracker are on the living room mantel.




These poinsettias in the entry are ones Maureen couldn’t resist. She had made me throw away the fake ones i got from Home Depot several years ago for five dollars. Oh okay, mine were quite a bit worn and they did look fake, but other than that they were fine.


That’s Santa and a bit undersized reindeer with a sled for Santa who won’t fit, but it holds Christmas cards nicely on our “daughter” table.


Then we have our stockings, acquired as a gift several years ago.





This has removed my stocking, which my mother made me about seventy years ago, from the in-house decorations. So i moved it to my work (hah, hah) space in my garage. i actually really like it here. i know Martha’s is in her home on Signal Mountain, and i wonder where Joe’s is in Vermont.




A cross-stitch is in the guest bath so we can relate the legendary Jewell-Hall story about why it is so…well, legendary.



Almost finally, there is the tree. With the fake one, we have options. i turn on the colored lights in the morning to welcome the wakers with a good feeling. In the evening, we turn on the white lights to add to the family room’s Christmasy atmosphere, also abetted by the fire…which is not fake.








The coup de gras is the “NOEL” sign, which after countless hours of wire cutting, splicing, soldering, and hair pulling (if i had hair). After completing then hanging of the sign, i hung it up and turned it on. The two light strings illuminating the letters are, we discovered two different whites. The “warm” whites are whiter than the clear whites. But i ain’t changing it out again this year. Maybe next. Meanwhile, the legend grows.

And all of this is really to say very few people have a “perfect” Christmas. Sadly, some people have dark ones because they are alone. But everyone, if they try, can get into the spirit, the real meaning of Christmas, and rejoice. Even this old curmudgeon humbug can have a merry Christmas.

May yours be especially wonderful this year.



My younger daughter turns twenty-eight today.

As with many twenty-eight year olds, she is struggling with finding herself, trying to determine if she needs to continue the way she’s been going or change course. i think…no, actually, i hope it will turn out alright for her. I know i have little control over what happens next.

When i was twenty-eight, i was making monumental decisions about my course for life. i was a sports editor in a great mid-size daily in upstate New York, The Watertown Daily Times, on my way up. But it was tough financially. As with most careers, there wasn’t a lot of money in the beginning, and my life, our lives were going to be changed drastically in six months when Blythe was due. i wanted to remain the sports editor as i discovered it really was a passion of mine, but to make the income for a family of three, i was either going to have to go to a big city daily and work the night desk, etc. for a while, take the national news or state news editor jobs at The Times or do something else entirely.

My wife, feeling the economic crunch as well i was, wisely asked what about going back to the Navy. i had thought about it but not mentioned that possibility because she was an “Army brat,” and i believed she had enough of being a military dependent. To provide the needed security for my wife and child-to-be, i decided i would apply for reinstatement to active duty. i did and was selected by the skin of someone’s teeth. i was one of six returned that year.

My course was set, at least temporarily (as it is in all things called life). And having Blythe as my daughter and going back to sea were two of the best things that have ever happened to me. The sea was my passion. i think i was a pretty good officer, a leader, but i thrilled deep inside every time i took the watch on the  bridge and taking the “con,” driving a steam ship through the seas in most conceivable situations and damn near every kind of weather. i retired as quickly as i could when i knew my ship driving time in the Navy was over.

My new course was set, as Sarah was born the day i retired, actually just over six hours after my retirement ceremony concluded. My course, as it is in all lives, keeps changing.

The course for life will keep changing for Sarah as well. i hope she has as wonderful of an adventure as i have since changing my course at twenty-eight.

She has had a good start:

Sarah, 1994
Sarah 2017

Happy Twenty-Eighth Birthday, Sarah. May your course in life be through calm waters except when you need a thrill.

No, Noel, No

This would be better if i had taken a night photo of this year’s traditional Christmas decoration folly. But i was involved in many things (as usual), nearly all not really necessary (except golf…as usual) and was rushing around (as usual) and didn’t think of a taking a picture until i had dismantled the offending lights. Last year, it looked like this:

Without any skills at “photoshopping” a photo, i have cropped this one to give you an idea of what my sign this year looked like when i hung it with a light string out:

The annual disaster is now on my workbench in the garage. i hope to have all the lights working and, of course, i’m piddling with a new innovation (of the goofy guy kind, not new technology) and hope to make it even better than ever. By my count, that is about a dozen modifications in about twenty years, not counting the original Colonel Jimmy Lynch had me help hang on his roof in Paris, Texas many, many Christmas moons ago.

My wife has pointed out that my modifications have made little difference and somehow brings up Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation.” This disparagement of my Christmas decoration efforts all began when i hung the sign for the first time sometime in the 1990’s and immortalized it with a Lebanon Democrat column. i also made the mistake of telling my tale of woe to my close friend Pete Toennies who thought it was so funny he asks me to repeat it every year.

So in keeping with the tradition, i offer the tale as it appeared in The Democrat and has appeared here on several occasions:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: An Embarrassing Christmas Moment

As I have noted previously, I am in Tennessee for Christmas, not in the Southwest corner. The below events, however, did occur near San Diego.

Have you ever had one of those days when everything turned into an embarrassment? I had a champion day like that several years ago.

It started innocently while I hung our outdoor decoration, a home-made “NOEL” sign from the eave of our garage, hoping to get it up before my wife’s friends arrived for their Christmas dinner.

Maureen and her six friends have been meeting monthly for dinners 15-plus years. They had this December dinner catered, did it up right. It was Maureen’s turn to be hostess.

It was dark when I began. I was at the top of my step ladder attaching the second of two wires from the sign to a hook secured to the eave when the ladder lurched and toppled. I grabbed a metal ornamental grating above the garage door.

There I hung, my arm intertwined with the “O” of the sign. If I tried to drop, the sign could catch my arm and do some pretty bad stuff.

I yelled, but Maureen had Christmas carols at top volume and didn’t hear. I tried to think of what to do while simultaneously wondering how long I could hold on. The dog wandered underneath, occasionally looking up as if I was a very strange person hanging there.

After several minutes, a neighbor’s son and friend pulled into the driveway several houses away. As they emerged, I swallowed my pride and yelled “Help.”

At first, they could not discern who was calling. Then they spotted me and came to help. The dog decided to protect me and began barking threateningly. The boys hesitated. I assured them the only danger was being licked to death. They finally righted the ladder and helped me down.

I thanked them profusely and then studied whether I should tell Maureen or not. Now that I was back on solid ground, I decided it was too funny not to tell her. She was incredulous and not particularly amused.

I did not realize my embarrassment for the night was just beginning.

While Maureen made final arrangements for her dinner, our daughter, Sarah, and I went to a local spot for supper. The little place was an oasis of sorts in Bonita, where there were only Mexican, Italian, and fast food restaurants. The attraction was being different and having a wide-range of ales and beers for golfers finishing a round across the street.

When we arrived, two couples were at tables and three guys sat at the bar. As we neared the end of our meal, the largest of the guys at the bar walked to the door and then turned back. I noticed his eyes seemed glazed. Then he walked back to the bar.

Suddenly, this guy and the one on the other side grabbed the guy in the middle off his stool, slammed him into the wall and started pummeling him with their fists. The three male diners, me (instinctively) included, approached from one side and two cooks approached from the back. Sarah had retreated to the door with the two lady diners. I grabbed the big guy. He spun and fell backward, slamming us into our table, knocking it over with shattering glass. It gave me some leverage, and we spun to the floor with me on top and knocking the wind out of the big guy. The other two diners helped me hold him until he calmed down. The cooks had quelled the other assailant. The two left quietly.

Even though the waitress wanted us to not pay our bill, we paid and left for home. On the way, I talked to my daughter about what I should have done (directed her outside before joining the fray) and what she should do the next time if she were ever in a place where a fight broke out (get out and away and not come back until she was sure it was over).

I was feeling pretty good as we arrived home. Then Sarah dashed out of the car, ran into the house and yelled to her mother in front of the caterer and her six friends dressed to the nines amidst fine china, Christmas decorations, and haut cuisine, “Mom, Dad got in a fight in a bar.”

Some days, I just can’t get a break.

May your holiday season be embarrassment free.

And may all of you have a most wonderful and amazing Christmas Season, and please, please, please (as James Brown would implore) remember the reason this all occurs every year.

Grantland Rice, Knute Rockne, and Fred Russell Are Not Laughing

Yesterday. Maureen was off to a luncheon and then took Sarah to see her Aunt Patsy, who is recovering (well, thank goodness) from surgery. The afternoon, actually pretty much the whole day was mine.

i did a few productive things, but generally screwed off as i am wont to do. Old man privilege, you know.

Then, i sat down in front of the television. Yes, i have knocked all sorts of sports, professional and even college. But after all, this was Tennessee and Vanderbilt playing for all of the marbles…oh, excuse me that was about 100 years ago when they played each other for all of the marbles. This time, they were playing to escape embarrassment and dump that embarrassment all over the other team.

i should have been happy, Vandy escaped embarrassment by a score of 42-24. i am a huge Vanderbilt fan in case you weren’t aware. i should have been overjoyed.

i wasn’t.

Happy for Vandy. Yes. But there was an emptiness there.

Growing up, i was fascinated with both teams. i loved…no, i worshipped football, and these two teams along with the Lebanon High School Blue Devils and Castle Heights Military Academy Tigers were my idols. They were front and center in my life from August to New Year’s Day every year from my first recognizable thoughts until i joined the Navy.

The Bob Neyland and Bowden Wyatt Volunteers were far and away the Tennessee superstars in those days. But i rooted for both the Commodores and the Vols as well as my high school teams. i spent copious hours learning about the stars of all college and pro teams.

The Vols and the Commodores remained almost equal in my adoration until November 29, 1969. UT was my favorite because of their success and their idiosyncrasies. When they quit wearing high top black football shoes, stopped donning only only orange jerseys and white pants, gave up the single wing, and i became a student at Vanderbilt, my favorite switched  to the ‘Dores, but i still rooted for both teams except when they played each other.

But on that fateful day 48 years ago, i flew into Knoxville from my ship in Norfolk and attended the game in Knoxville with Vandy friends. We sat in the closed end zone. Because of the timing, i wore my Navy service dress blue ensign uniform to the game. Throughout the game, the Vol fans surrounding us, cursed us, denigrated us, and threw coke and whiskey on us.

i remain not enamored with many Vol fans but i root for the team, again except when they play Vandy.

So i should have been just fine Saturday. But i wasn’t. i felt an emptiness. It’s not fun to watch a team get beat when they are down. i wanted both teams to win. To see a proud tradition with my memories of games in Neyland Stadium, sitting in the end zone or on the northwest corner hill when that end was still open, on a crisp, cloudless day was magic. It was college. It was Tennessee. It is no more. There is this dearth of loyalty. When they built that behemoth stadium for capacity bragging rights (and money of course), and then dumped Johnny Majors followed by doing the same to Phillip Fulmer because they didn’t win enough to satisfy the blood thirsty, it changed.

Now the Vols’ culture is an athletic administration searching for an answer and a conglomeration of fans, many, if  not the majority of which are sore losers. Some even denigrated Vanderbilt after Friday because their team got beat, badly. Go figure.

That is sad.

It is also sad UCLA after several good seasons, but not quite the pinnacles they reached three or four decades ago, fired a good coach, and hired a bounty hunter. Chip Kelly had a good record at Oregon and a bad one with the Philadelphia Eagles. He will be paid $23 Million over 5 years. That makes Kelly the highest paid state employee in California. Hmm, that makes some statement about priorities.

It wasn’t sad to learn the results of “rivalry week.” Top rated teams fell like dominoes, including the top two, Alabama and Miami, getting whacked by Auburn (Earl Major is smiling) and Pittsburgh. This of course, throws the whole bowl and playoff system into an uproar. And that’s bad for these folks. They are going to lose money. Oh, okay, they aren’t going to make as much money.

The results also point out the absurdity of a playoff system and the ranking systems. A good football team can beat a great football team in any one game. That doesn’t mean one team is better than the other. It means one team won and one team lost, and no one ties because the frothing at the mouth fans and administrations AND the coaches didn’t like ties.

Brain injuries may kill the sport. It is already becoming more and more of a freak show. i confess i have mixed emotions because playing the game (a defensive linebacker, not the running back star for which i dreamed), even practicing, was some of the finest, most rewarding moments of my life. Yet, i am very glad my grandson is not interested.

It is sad the college game has morphed into something making no sense. It wasn’t perfect, but growing up, a nine-game season and five bowl games seemed like its own heaven for this fan. Conference championships were determined by the season record against the other conference teams. The rankings were subjective and created all sorts of dialogue. Today, those rankings, just as subjective in spite of all the stat gurus, strength of schedule, computer input and famous committee members are just as subjective but creates venom at perceived injustices.

Back in…lord a mercy, i find myself writing “back in my day,” but it was back in my day, there was a symmetry to the season. Nine games, not a ridiculous twelve, no real patsies for warming up,  conferences maxing out at ten schools in a region, not some giant and rich organizations running a conglomerate of teams across the country. Back then, there were traditional rivalries, regional for most of the games. A conference champion was declared and the winners of the major conferences with some nod to independents (yes, i liked Notre Dame and Penn State being independent) went to five, FIVE bowl games, played on New Year’s Eve, one: the Gator Bowl, and the other four, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and the Rose Bowl (from east to west on your radio dial), the  on New Year’s Day.

Over. The season was over. January Second. Every year.

i think Grantland Rice, Knute Rockne, and Fred Russell would agree with me. It’s sad.



A Time for Thanks, II

The Thanksgiving weekend is winding down with Saturday football rivalries, which out beloved sports media has blown all out of proportion again. The Santa Ana, which brought about one of the warmest, if not the warmest turkey day in recorded thermometer readings history. Christmas…er, holiday decorations are blooming all over. And i’m rededicating myself to get through this Christmas season and our annual trip to Signal Mountain without gaining twenty pounds. Fat chance. No pun…oh yes there was a pun intended.

But before we kick Christmas preparations into high gear, i have one more thanks to give. It’s sort of general, but it’s really specific.

As i was driving home from Friday Morning Golf yesterday, it occurred to me i have a second family, not an official one of course, but no less real. There’s this group of men i’ve been lucky enough to have run into over the last thirty-eight years. We are not an official organization although we have made fun of ourselves in that regard, calling ourselves the curmudgeons, even having a celebration of the “Order of the Curmudgeons” and unanimously electing Marty Linville as “The Grand Whiner” culminating with anointing him with a fez embroidered with the group name and his moniker.

The closest thing we’ve got as a regular  meeting is that Friday Morning Golf outing, taking place every early morning of the fifth day of the week since the spring of 1991. But the closeness of the group goes far beyond just golf and nineteenth hole beer every Friday. It has expanded. Our wives have been included. Others have become satellite members or  are totally included, nearly always through golf. There is no limitations on group affiliation except for the requirement to have a very thick skin. No one escapes razzing, name calling, put downs, and must laugh at themselves along with the rest of the group, only to plot how to get revenge in the same manner.

The initial affiliation came in 1979. Pete Toennies, Al Pavich, and i ended up on the Amphibious Squadron Five staff for a WESTPAC deployment. Afterwards, we all kept rotating in and out of the Southwest corner, and never missed a chance to get together, nearly always golf was involved somehow, although racquetball and running were also joint ventures. And oh, i forgot, we partied, dined, and consumed quite a bit of adult beverages. You see, that was an intrinsic part of our culture.

JD Waits, who later was my shipmate on the USS Okinawa and roommate in perhaps the most perfect apartment and setting for single men since the beginning of bachelorhood, became part of the group. Of course, we blew that and both became engaged and married instead of fulfilling the potential that condo with a boat slip occupied by JD’s twenty-five foot Cal promised.

Then, during our last tour of active duty, Rod Stark and the aforementioned grand whiner, Marty Linville, became my golfing partners on weekends (the gestation of Friday Morning Golf). Pete Thomas was also at the Amphibious School in Coronado and has become a permanent satellite member.

Jim Hileman, whom i met through Maureen at our wedding, is also a significant contributor and full-fledged member, often one of the primary…er, excuse the French, shit tossing initiators of the curmudgeons. He fits in.

Our golfing skills have eroded. For that matter, so have our racquetball and running skills taken a hit. Most of us have had major surgery or some damnable condition that comes with growing old. But we still play every Friday.

But it’s much more than that. We could call it camaraderie, esprit de corps, even friendship, but we don’t spend much time fooling with that kind of name-calling. Yet there is no doubt in my mind each one of us would help out any of the others of us if needed, and sometimes not even if needed.

But as i drove toward home and a major NORP, another Friday requirement driven by the early, early morning round, i thought about the guy and his wife who deserves special mention from me.

When Pete and i returned from that 1979-80 deployment, i was a renewed bachelor having gone straight from Texas A&M to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia to join the deployment in progress. i had no place to live except on the ship. Pete and Nancy didn’t think that was right, and they insisted i stay in their small home on I Avenue in Coronado. i stayed in the makeshift bedroom, which had been the dining room for about a month before finding my own place. Pete and i played innumerable evening games of racquetball, ran together, and i was even invited to play Sunday beach volleyball with Pete’s SEAL buddies.

The three of us have wandered in and out of each other’s lives since then with Maureen joining us after our marriage. We’ve spent numerous vacations together, usually staying in one of their time-shares. The results have been legends unmatched with laughter.

The Toennies have helped either Maureen, myself, or our family members on too many occasions. Pete has instigated a number of actions to gain employment for friends and family…and the two of them are always there.

As they were two days ago. Our plans for the holiday were somewhat discombobulated by a number of factors. We were leaning on going out, but once again, Pete and Nancy intervened, asking us to join them. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. Nancy’s 97-year old father and former UCLA quarterback and pro-player (and Georgetown basketball player), an interesting man with interesting tales, Ben Regis, and Dan, the Toennies’s son. Sarah joined us.

Damn near a perfect day.

And i really couldn’t ask for more. Thanks, Pete and Nancy…for everything.

Nancy, Maureen, Pete, Sarah, and the goofy guy.
Dan, Ben, and Nancy
Dan and Ben.