Yesterday, i posted birthday thoughts for Blythe. i had picked out too many photos to accompany those thoughts. So here they are today, with loving memories of our good times together:
As is my routine, i reread my post this morning. i laughed. i had gotten my terms mixed up. At my age, it’s excusable to do that but not excusable to let the mistake continue. In mentioning Shakespeare’s and my friend, Pete Thomas, i described the Guinness and Bass mixture as a “pink and tan.” i was thinking of the old army uniform, which was still the uniform at Texas A&M when i was an NROTC instructor there. i should have written “black and tan.” Oops.
Today, it was hot. Hot for the Southwest corner. Fires too. Something to discuss later.
Part of Maureen’s and my strategy to deal with hot included lunch at a cool place.
We chose Blue Water. It’s official name is Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill. It’s in the hotbed of unique cuisine, made popular for wonderful food of all sorts, not some place to go to be cool or be seen. It’s located at the end of India Street, the old, old road which begins in what was Little Italy, now the place to go to be cool or be seen. Although Maureen is cool and a sight to be seen, i am definitely not either. But at the northern end, India Street tees into Washington Street is not trendy. It’s just crowded because the food is so damn good.
There is an iconic Mexican restaurant with hot border Mexican Food, one of the biggest draws and probably the oldest in this little area of wide spread diet genres. It has a park across the street with concrete picnic tables. My buddy from amphib days, Bruce Brunn, and i used to run around Balboa Park at lunch and then stop for tacos and beer at El Indio and eat in our sweaty running togs sitting on the curb so as not to gross out the picnic bench sitters.
There’s this Brit pub called Shakespeare’s. Today, it was packed and ribald with soccer watchers. One of my best friends of all time, Pete Thomas and i would meet there for an evening meal featuring black and tan’s, i.e. Bass Ale and Guinness. i would order the shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, or fish and chips.
There is Wine Vault and Bistro, an incredible dining experience with paired wines for each pre-fixe course. It remains one of our finest experiences in dining and we go at every chance. i couldn’t begin to describe how wonderful a place Chris and Mary have created.
On the corner, there is Gelato Vero, a small place with little sitting room Maureen claims has the best gelato in the world. i ‘m not a gelato guy and her claim is a bit expansive. i can’t argue, but it is good.
There are a number of Johnny-come-lately’s attempting to lay claim to culinary excellence by geographic association, but not for us. We’ve got the ones we go to.
i think i’ve mentioned these favorite of ours here before, so i will refrain from more explantation except for Blue Water.
You have to wait in line. There are no reservations and it is always packed. You can’t claim a table early. The staff assigns you a table based on the number of your group and your preference, if available. We normally sit out on the patio where they have about ten small tables, but it really doesn’t matter. The food matters.
Today, we argued…er discussed what we would order all the way through the fifteen or twenty minute line wait. Maureen likes to share. That’s not my thing, but i will and am getting better at since i am old and somewhat conscious of my waistline. We would have liked to order damn near everything on the menu, most as either a sandwich, a taco, or a salad. Fish. Seafood. High Quality. You can pick out some of those to take home, no, all of those from the seafood market crammed into the side of Blue Water.
As we neared the order/pay young lady, i caved. We ordered the half-dozen oysters on the half shell with separate mild and spicy sauces. And we ordered the sashimi special with Ahi and yellowtail tuna.
It was quite simply, the best yellowtail i’ve ever eaten and the ahi would match up against the gazillion of pounds of sashimi i’ve had everywhere, including Japan.
From my experience at Blue Water and listening to those in line who have also eaten there before, that is a common adjective about the food: “the best,” whatever it is.
It is one of those places we go in the Southwest corner we find so good we keep returning and returning. And every time. i mean every time i wish two people could be with us. My son-in-law Jason loves all kinds of good food. He is extremely knowledgable as well. He and Maureen have discussions about food, and it sounds like Greek to me. i always wish he were with us.
Then there’s this guy up in San Francisco. We’ve been brothers for half century plus. He loves food. Together, we’ve spent an ungodly number of hours dining at places running the gamut of low end dives to high end dining over those years. He’s the other one i wish were with Maureen and me.
But since they aren’t here, we’ll just have to go back to Blue Water and wish for them again.
It was forty-six years ago today.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, i had returned from putting out the sports section of The Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York, and i mean UPSTATE New York, still one of my favorite places in the world over three-quarters of a century.
i had a sandwich for lunch and laid down for my usual afternoon nap. After all, i had gotten up around 4:00 and walked to work, getting to my desk before 5:30. It was my routine, i thought the nap was well deserved since on most previous evenings i had been at a sports event, mostly the Watertown Royals semi-pro baseball game.
My wife nudged me gently to wake me up.
“Jim, I broke water,” she announced in an offhand manner, “It’s time to go to the hospital.”
After her water broke, Kathie called the hospital to let them know she was on her way, arranged the apartment for me in her absence and for her return with our new infant. She packed what she would need at the hospital. She was orderly and calm.
The sports editor was catatonic. He threw on some clothes, grabbed her small suitcase, and ushered her down the stairs of the second floor apartment. He didn’t exactly break the land speed record getting to the hospital, but let’s just say he didn’t tarry in traffic.
He drove the blue 1966 Oldsmobile Cutlass to the emergency dock. She said something to the effect about his being silly and directed him to park in a regular space about a block away. They walked to the check-in counter. She was checked in and put into a room. He got to stay there for roughly three hours. They kicked him out. It wasn’t like it is today. Perhaps it was predictive of what would happen later.
He had supper out with his good friend and high school teacher Earl Weidemann and returned to the hospital. It was around 6:00. They parked him in the expectant father’s waiting room, a rather dark hole, and he waited there, worried about his wife and excited about what was imminent.
Just after 9:30, his wife gave birth to his daughter. She was beautiful, sporting a goodly amount of black hair. He was in heaven but not allowed to stay long. Her mother looked absolutely gorgeous and oh, oh so happy…perhaps because the worse part was over.
In just under two months, he would leave. The Navy looked like a good move for him to support his wife and new child, and he had chosen to give up sports writing and return to the sea. Unfortunately, it would require him to be away for long periods of time, while this new overwhelmingly force in his life would remain with her mother. His choice for them.
But oh boy, was she loved. She and her mother stayed with her mother’s parents, Colonel Lynch and Nannie Bettie in Paris, Texas but spent significant time in Tennessee. Both families adored her. Still do. One of his favorite photos of her was while he was in the Mediterranean. Her uncle, Uncle Snooks, who loved all children, seemed to have a special place for Blythe. Even though they all loved her, it was real close to the most lonely four months of his life.
When he returned, they began the Navy life in Newport, Rhode Island. Then, they moved across country to Long Beach. Then south to San Diego. Then to Texas A&M. It was a glorious time for him because he was with her even though the marriage was floundering, and he was lost at the thought of not being with her.
So she grew up well. He spent as much time as he could with her, nearly all of his thirty days a year of allotted leave time. Her mother was good about letting her travel to places to be with him and with his parents. She spent a lot of summer time in Lebanon, Tennessee, having fun.
It was as good as it could be except for Christmas. After he went to extra effort to be with her and her mother for two Christmases, he realized her mother would be lost without her for Christmas, that he was a third (or fourth or fifth) wheel on Christmas. So he gave it up. Christmas was never as good for him as it had been with her.
There are many photos of them together. He may post more later just so he can revisit good memories again.
And then she became Maureen’s daughter.
It was a wonderful thing. Then she had a sister. They are wonderful together. It makes him happier than anything in the world when they show their happiness together. He has been known to have tears well up when he sees them together.
Finally, finally, they produced a son: Samuel James Jewell Gander with his two middle names honoring his great grandfather. The old man, by now, Sam’s grandfather is so proud of Sam, his buttons damn near burst when he talks about him. If there is one thing in his life the old man would change, it would be to spend as much time as he could with Sam.
But the world and factors one can’t control often keep us from having what we want. And so it is.
She has a wonderful job now. She has a good husband. She takes care of her mother and her mother takes care of the three of them, especially Sam. It is as it should be, or as close as it can get. For his daughter, he accepts that as enough.
And oh boy, at forty-six (today), she is an incredible woman with an incredible son.
Happy Birthday, Blythe.
i reread my post from last night this morning, and i realized there were a couple of things not there i wanted to express. Several responses from friends to that post made me determined to make this addition.
And oh by the way, Independence doesn’t include a free pass.
As Major Kenneth Morgan, the erstwhile Latin professor at Castle Heights defined in my 1958 freshman class: “Freedom is the ability to do anything you want…as long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s freedom.”
Those folks 242 years ago fought against tyranny for their (and our) independence. We have fought in our continued effort to pursue the ideas of independence, freedom, and equality against other tyranny. It ain’t easy.
To have freedom, each of us has to be accountable, responsible, and work. Yes, work. We seem to be all fired set on not working, on having fun, on doing what we want to do. Well, work is part of that. If we are lucky, our work is part of what we want to do, not something we have to do. But sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.
With the idea of independence, freedom, and equality for all, then we need to work for everyone’s independence, to step forward and fight for that independence, to speak up against self-interest, fear, and of course, downright prejudiced regardless of how well it is cloaked in some crazy idea of it being the right thing when those things threaten our or anyone else’s opportunity to be free and equal…so they too can have that responsibility, accountability and work for a better country.
And we should celebrate our independence today and every day and give thanks for those before us who gave us the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to do our part.
i hope you all have had a wonderful Independence Day.
It wasn’t all that good of a day, this Independence Day eve, if you will.
Oh, i got a lot of things done, but, as usual, none of them ever quite reached conclusion: lots of loose ends to tie up. Then, it looked like things were turning around. i went to the driving range and once again, thought i might have found some magic solution to consistency in hitting a golf ball, an illusion of magnificent proportions. Still, it felt good.
Then i came home for Maureen and i to tag team on dinner, a grilled steak being my contribution and of course Maureen’s incredible salads (once prompting my father to declare he could be a vegetarian if that was his fare). We tagged team on cleaning up as well, and then we sat down to watch the Padres play the Athletic in Oakland.
In the sixth inning, i gave up, passed the remote to Maureen and walked outside to the sitting area. Of course, even in the first part of July, one does not sit outside in the Southwest corner without a top shirt, which i added. i sat here as the glow of the sunset and the city turned dark and once again, opened up this infernal machine.
i thought about tomorrow and all of the stuff people will do. We will go to the North Island Naval Air Station and play golf with our wonderful friends, Pete and Nancy Toennies. Then we will repair to their home on the island for burgers. It will be a good day, and if we are lucky we will miss the traffic in the morning and return early enough to miss the traffic in the evening. We would prefer not to engage in the throng enhanced craziness some folks call a celebration of independence.
Independence is a tricky concept. If you are truly independent, you are utterly and uncompromisingly alone.
Some 242 years ago, the folks who escaped the tyranny of autocratic rule and oppression against many beliefs crossed an ocean, and subsequently defied that tyranny to win independence.
For them. Not for the folks who were here before they got here and not for the folks who came after them, regardless of how they got here if they were different from them.
Those folks who were trying to gain their freedom from tyranny had some rather incredible ideas about true independence and equality. Of course, it was for them, not for any others not of their background and ethnicity.
But the idea of equality, freedom, and independence for all was the core of what they founded even if they weren’t completely true to the idea of that concept for all.
It was the idea of complete freedom and equality that formed the best governmental system the world has ever seen before or since.
But we keep trying to fix it. Trying to make it better for…For whom? For us, not them.
You see, all of these folks since practically the beginning of time think they have the unquestionable right idea of how to make it all perfect…for them.
And every one of those ideas about what is right has a common problem. They are exclusionary. Those ideas are about what works best for them. Not everybody. The solutions are exclusionary.
Now, i’m not claiming to have an answer. i guess all of you people who know the answer and excoriate those who disagree are smarter than me. However, your answers for the problems always seem to leave someone out or throw rocks over the wall at all of the bad acts out there who keep you from getting your way and disagree with your solution.
i’m not that smart.
i hope. Oh lord, i hope i’m not exclusionary.
Freedom is freedom. For everyone.
No system, not modification of a system will bring real independence.
No exclusion. Peace. Lack of hatred and fear. People treating people in their personal relationships as equals, treating them as equals. Wow. What a concept.
And you know what? As imperfect as it was, those folks who declared independence back 242 years ago, then fought for their independence, then won, they had the right idea.
And it’s that idea of independence we should be celebrating. Wait. No, not celebrating with picnics, eating too much bad food, drinking too much and admiring fireworks supposedly representing something that brings noise, destruction, and death, and all sorts of other ways of having fun.
No, we should be celebrating by quiet contemplation of how we can serve those who gave us the chance for independence with their sacrifice and their creation of the idea of true independence and equality. And then we should consider how we, as individuals, not of some political, religious, or other exclusionary grouping, but how we as our individual selves can deal with the folks we encounter as equals and as humans who are equal too us.
Don’t think that will happen.
But tonight outside my house on the coast of the Southwest corner and tomorrow while we are enjoying being with our friends, in the back of all of my thoughts will be thankfulness for my forebears who not only came up with an idea about true independence but fought for it and won. And then i will consider how i can best contribute to the idea of independence and equality for all.
May you have a wonderful Independence Day…and think about it.
i had this pop into my head last night as i was putting the house down for the night. i was tired. As i took my evening pills, this thought popped into my head. i mean it popped in there and i knew it was not going to be there in the morning unless i wrote it down. So i came back to this infernal machine and pounded out the thought, expanded on it a bit. This morning, i smoothed it up a bit till it sort of sounded to me like it should.
i was going to send it to three of my best friends, the three i know to whom i can say pretty damn well what i’m thinking and not be thought of less, even if they don’t exactly agree: Henry Harding, who is my brother from childhood, who i don’t see anywhere near often enough, and who gives me strength and hope while staying grounded; Pete Toennies, my Navy sidekick (or am i his…who cares) who disagrees with me to the point where we can’t agree who disagrees with whom first, but is always there to laugh at the absurdity of it all; and then there is my brother Joe, my best friend, who went to the opposite corner of the country from me (or perhaps i went here after he settled in the Northeast corner), who had a totally different career than mine, i.e. preacher/Navy officer, and who thinks like i do except more sanely. Then i said to myself what the heck. I should have no secrets. Too hard to keep them just like it is hard work if you lie to others or yourself and then try to live by that lie.
So here it is:
he saw it coming, knew it was not going to come out well for him,
he just kept right on like nothing was wrong;
he saw it coming
like an old time steam locomotive, screeching whistle, belching smoke,
barreling out of the fog headed straight for him
he kept moving on down the tracks
as if he was going to stop that boiler of metal moving fire with his bare hands,
like the herd of bison, roaring, snorting out of the dust they raised
on the plains
he just kept on plowing toward them
with his mule and plow;
don’t know why;
he never did know why;
he just kept headed for sure disaster;
perhaps he just thought he was grand enough
to brace himself against that steaming, screaming locomotive
to rend asunder that roaring, snorting, thundering bison herd
all by himself;
putting one foot ahead of the other
doggedly moving toward the inexplicable but inevitable
train crash, stampede.
i think not;
he just had enough faith, enough trust, not enough sense
was bullheaded enough
to believe he could somehow get through
There was a side to my father and JB Leftwich not seen by a lot of people. Over the years and with the passing of many of their friends, these two became best buddies. They got involved together in a number of shenanigans.
It began with some joke postcards and letters the two of them exchanged when one of them went on a trip. i don’t know who started it, but i suspect it was Coach Leftwich. On a trip, JB or my father spotted a risqué post card and send it to the other back in Lebanon. Coach would respond with a funny letter with all sorts of false stories like how the police were looking for the guy who sent the postcard.
This letter was the result of my father sending Coach a postcard featuring a huge gorilla. Unfortunately, i do not have copy of that postcard and what fictitious story my father wrote on the backside. But here is Coach’s reply:
i wrote this column for The Lebanon Democrat in the summer of 2008. i still laugh when i think about the Subic Navy Base in the Philippines.
i laughed even harder when in a 1979, i watched the “Saturday Night Live” parody featuring John Belushi about a Navy recruiting commercial of those days. It started pretty much the same with inspiring music with the voice over stating “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” The SNL skit showed a Navy ship and then zoomed in with Belushi and other actors in Navy dungarees on their knees cleaning a head, working in a steaming laundry, and chipping paint.
Then the camera zoomed out and the announcer regally intoned as he did in the real Navy ad, “Join the Navy and see the world.” Returning to the ship, the announcer proclaimed the latest in exotic ports: “Bayonne, New Jersey.”
There was a lot of truth in the parody, but i beg to differ. Of course, i was an officer and not subject to the menial labor the enlisted had to endure. But it was an adventure, often an arduous one, but an adventure. And i did get to see the world. Somewhere, someplace, some time, i posted either my retirement speech or a summary of the part where i listed all of the places the Navy allowed me to visit. In short, i covered a lot of the world. i did not got to Northern Europe , around South America, or all the way to either pole. But i got pretty much everywhere else.
Of all of them, Subic was closest to “Fiddler’s Green,” the mythical paradise for seaman. It was wild. It was wooly. Often, it was dangerous. But boy, was it fun. The column didn’t tell all of the tales of Olongapo. It wouldn’t be well accepted in a a small town local newspaper. But here is my recollection from ten years ago:
My Friday arrival in Lebanon and events of the previous week have produced significant and insignificant problems requiring my attention. After dealing with these problems, I need to step away for a few moments. So I have chosen to revisit the far side of the Pacific.
My Navy career sent me to many places. My shipboard stops also allowed me to see foreign ports from a vantage most travelers never experience.
Over 14 years at sea, I discovered some special places for me. Many have changed beyond recognition, but others have maintained certain aspects which can take me back to those adventures at sea.
Subic Bay, Philippines is not the same. This U.S. Navy port was home away from home for several generations of sailors. Our presence was established after World War II, leading to the 1956 commissioning of the base. In 1959, the Navy ceded some land back to the Philippines. The town of Olongapo was born.
It was a bawdy, wild, and inexpensive sailor’s liberty port. The stories are wilder than most folks can imagine, and from what I saw, they are probably true.
One of my favorite stories about Subic and Olongapo concern my father. In 1975, Jimmy Jewell flew from Lebanon to Honolulu, joining around thirty other family members of the USS Anchorage (LSD 36) crew on our return to San Diego.
After standing out of Pearl Harbor, I was the officer of the deck (OOD) for the evening watch (8:00 p.m. until midnight). My father stood most of the watch with me.
I took the time to recount my travels: the South Vietnam evacuation, port visits to Manila: Sasebo, Japan; Okinawa; Hong Kong; Taiwan; Korea; and Johnson Atoll, a nuclear test site in the South Pacific.
I described loading and off loading Marines and equipment as well as the zig-zag route Anchorage took from Pearl to Vietnam, backtracking due to changing commands and typhoon avoidance.
At some point, my father asked me which port did the sailors like the most. I pointed out the sailors not only liked Subic the most, they were upset their time there had been limited.
He asked why they preferred Subic. I then described what went on in the legendary liberty port.
I told him of how I would watch the crazy antics from the Mariposa (butterfly), an open air restaurant on Magsaysay, Olongapo’s main road. We watched a ribald comedy in real time. A painted tray hung on the wall which declared restaurant rules: “No shoe shine boys, No vendors, No street hookers allowed inside.”
When I delicately told my father of the carrying-on’s in Olongapo, he shook his head and did not believe sailors could like the place.
Then over the course of the five-day transit, Jimmy Jewell went around the ship talking to the crew. He asked them what they liked and disliked about the deployment.
Five days later as we were preparing for entry into San Diego Bay, my father and I were talking again as I stood watch.
“Son, I couldn’t believe you could be right about the sailors loving Subic,” he said, “But they sure do.”
Europe versus the Far East
Constantly, my wife and I discuss where we should vacation. She has lobbied for Europe where she traveled through three summers in the 1970’s. Although I too have spent time in Europe and the Mediterranean, I argue we should travel to the Western Pacific.
We have been to Europe several times. We both love Ireland, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona. Eventually we want to visit Europe again.
In 1988, Maureen went on a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and spent a day in Hong Kong. Her short stay convinced her the Western Pacific would be a good place to visit. Five years later, we spent a week in Hong Kong on a group trip she earned through business. Hong Kong was even better than either of us anticipated.
Now we both hope to go back and visit Japan (not Tokyo, but Kobe, Kyoto and the island of Kyushu), Hong Kong again, Singapore, and Taiwan.
I am glad Subic Bay is no longer a U.S. Navy Base. It has been turned into a tourist mecca for the Philippines. I am glad my wife is not interested in going there. I definitely don’t want to revisit, especially with my wife.
i was walking across our cul-de-sac to our neighbor’s house to tend to their dog. It was just before nine.
i was not in a good mood.
Sometimes that hits me, a dark mood more or less out of nowhere. i think one reason is i have done a pretty good job of living life to its fullest, and as the vagaries of older become clear, i realize the “to its fullest” part is fading, if not mostly already gone. Sometimes darkness descends because i feel all the hatred, self-interest, and meanness in the world, and i don’t feel a part of it, out of it. Sometimes, it’s just something that hits for no apparent reason.
Then something happens. Like last night.
As i walked down the street, i wondered why it wasn’t completely dark yet. Yeh, it’s right close to the longest day of the year, but this is the Southwest corner, not further north. Nine at night in the Southwest corner is dark any time of the year. But i looked between the houses and over the mesas. The western horizon had a pink aura. The sun was gone, long gone, but yet it was sending its aloha’s. The glow enchanting. I felt better.
i put the dog to bed for our neighbors who were away on a short vacation. He is an old, sweet dog. i felt guilty leaving him alone.
When i locked up the house and headed back, the ring of pink glow on the horizon was gone. But i looked up and Venus was so bright in the western sky it looked like she was coming out of her socket, headed somewhere, like near us.
i stopped in the middle of the street, looked up and slowly turned around. The heavens were alive with old friends. Altair, part of the constellation Aquila, the eagle carrying Zeus’ thunderbolts, is one i used to shoot with my sextant taking star fixes at twilight and after morning’s first light. Such was the kind of navigation i found connection with the past, not the slick satellite GPS they use today which is simply data – yeah, more accurate, quicker, but boring data.
As i usually do when i walk out of our front gate at night, i found the North Star, Polaris, the brightest star in the Little Dipper (part of Ursa Minor), found by following the two stars forming the outside of the bucket on the Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major), the means of finding one’s way at sea long before sextants.
For some reason when i spot Polaris, i think of the Navajos the Hopi’s, the Pima’s, the Anazai. i don’t know why. i also think of them when i go out in the morning at first light. i know why then: the Navajo’s had the doors to their hogans facing east, so the rising sun would shine on them to begin the day.
Last night, i looked more. The moon was rolling from the south, southwest to eventually go beyond the west horizon . It was two days shy of being a full moon, white, bright.
i continued: Gemini, the twins, Pollux and Castor was almost directly overhead. Close by was Orion, the boastful hunter placed there by Zeus when his wife Hera had the boaster killed by a scorpion.
Of course, i had my “Night Sky” app on my iPhone helping me. i used to recognize many when i was a navigator at sea, but that skill has faded like many others. i was delighted when Alan Hicks introduced me to “Night Sky” in Sonoma. We were sitting in his back yard with a sipping bourbon for a nightcap. We studied the night sky like many old mariners likely do when they are together at night, outside sipping bourbon for a nightcap. Alan pulled out his phone and we went back years to our nights at sea. Thanks, Alan.
Last night, i realized i was reconnecting. The sea, where the night sky is blanketed with stars, the sea where mariners are given “a star to navigate by.” Yes, Mr. Masefield, i too would like to go down to the sea again.
The sea and last night connects me to enormity. People are people, the world is the world, the universe is there. There is hope and quiet and peace. Last night in the dark, my darkness faded and i smiled.
i drove by it the other day, but it was gone. It was a different time, a different world. It was lovely.
We had been one of the first ones in the development. Our first house was the first inhabited on the cul-de-sac, and one of the first overall. It was the first home we owned.
Our home was on the corner of Red Oak Place and J Street, a comfortable 1600 square foot, single-level with a fireplace in the family room. We might still be living there except this wonderful daughter came into our lives four years later. We needed more space with a baby and my retiring (sic), so we moved.
The back slope bordered a farm and J Street did not go further west than our property. It was like living on the edge of two cul-de-sacs. Our development was at the eastern end of the urban spread. About a mile east was a small development from the 1960’s built next to the community college. About three miles dead south was the 100,000 acre Scripps Ranch. That was about it. In high school, my brother-in-law and friends used to bike from Lemon Grove to these high desert, scrub brush hills for squirrels and rabbits. When we moved into that first home, the big ranch still existed and there wasn’t much else.
My dog loved it – i say “my dog” because even though Maureen and i got him while we were in Florida, he quickly became my dog, or to be more accurate, i became his special human. There was no master involved. He was my best friend.
His name was McCaslin after Ike McCaslin, the young boy in Faulkner’s story, “The Bear.” We called him Cass. He weighed between 70 and 75 pounds and was all muscle with a heart of gold. He loved children and practically everyone else. He was technically a yellow lab, but his coat was golden like a golden retriever’s.
He was also a runner, like “if i can get out that door, i’m going to run as far as i can and you can’t catch me until i’m ready…or you drive the mini-van close and open the door.” He also could collapse, like “i don’t really care where you want to go, i am tired; i ain’t going; and i’m gonna lie here, right here, until i’m good and ready or you pick me up and carry me.” This was all right when he was a puppy coming back from the beach at Ponte Vedra, which was about half a mile, but it was a bit more difficult at 75 pounds and around two miles from home on the high desert in eighty-degree weather.
He body surfed at Coronado’s dog beach and would do so until he drowned if i didn’t make him stop. He chased and played with coyotes. He rolled o’possums. He damn near yanked my arm from its socket when a roadrunner darted out of the scrub brush and took off down the trail with Cass, the rope leash and my arm with him, right on its feathery tail. Oh, the stories we can tell. But this wasn’t supposed to be about my buddy.
This was supposed to be about the lost walk.
You see, that place i passed by the other day, now people, cars, streets, and houses upon houses used to be Cass’ and mine. Civilization sort of ran out about a quarter block east of our house until you reached the community college about three miles further east.
When we hit the end of the road literally, i would take the leash off of his collar and we would slowly ascend to the mesa. In less than a couple of minutes, we could feel like we were completely alone. We were. There was all sorts of game. When we reached a canyon filled with acacia we could watch the hawk leaving and returning to his nest: a big, red-tailed hawk.
Not quite a half mile into the mesa, we would turn left and walk down the slope into a deep arroyo. As with most of them, the stream at the bottom was not much more than a trickle, but trees and bushes abounded compared to the high desert scrub of the mesa. We could hear many birds chirping away. It was cooler.
One holiday morning (i think it was Easter but i don’t remember well), Cass and i headed out. As we got to the top of the mesa, there was a large manzanita along the path. It had grown up leaving room underneath the low hanging canopy. i sensed something as i walked by and realized there was a person curled up asleep underneath, a pretty good hiding place from the Border Patrol. i’m sure he or she was an illegal. After all, we were only about five miles, if that, from the border. I called to Cass and put him back on the leash as we walked by. i wondered what kind of conditions, what kind of hope for a better life would drive someone from their home, their family to cross the border in fear of being detected and with no real means of sustenance, walk to somewhere unknown.
We let him alone. After all, it was Easter, and i’m pretty sure Christ would have let him be.
i saw others, some walking brazenly down the path with a cheery “Hola” for me, which i returned. A few asked for food or water, but on my walks i had none.
And Cass and i kept walking. After all, this was more like no-man’s land. It was ours to enjoy but also to share.
On the south side of the mesa, about a mile from our start, there was a concrete slab about eight feet square. i surmised it was likely an out building for the folks who owned the property years before. Back then, there were a few cattle raised here, but not many. Perhaps it was a feeding station.
When my nephew, Tommy Duff, came out with his mother, Cass and i took him for our walk on the mesa. When we reached the slab, i told him it was a way station for cowboy elves, who still roamed the mesa. i made up some stories about them. i don’t know if Tommy really believed me or not. Funniest thing is i began to believe in cowboy elves and hoped they still were roaming the mesa.
But no more, not the other day when i drove by.
The development men came back and built and built and built. There was another development just east of us. J Street jutted further into the mesa. My father would walk up and watch the huge machinery level the land, filling in the arroyos and the valleys, and watch the large water sprayers cross and re-cross the leveled areas, spraying their water to cut down the dust.
It’s all houses, single family detached, town homes, condos, apartments. People. Then they added schools and green parks and watered and watered, but it was desert and the water wasn’t enough and the wildfires came and the new folks were sore afraid. And we moved about two miles as the crow flies where i would watch the fires from my hill and look upon the development.
Cass lived until just past fifteen. We had open space and hiking trails to walk at our new home. We did exactly that until his hips became stiff and his eyes became cloudy and our walks were confined to a short circle around the back of our neighbors’ homes bordering on the open space. Then one night at bedtime, he rose from his prone position to walk in our bedroom with me for the night. He stopped and looked at the one step up to the front entry landing. Then he turned his eyes up to me and told me in no uncertain terms he was ready to go, that his quality of life was no longer worth it.
I cried then. i cried when i put him down. i cried when i buried his ashes in the flagpole at the top of our hill where he could look down on the realm of open space and the once high desert mesa he ruled.
When i walk up to the top of the slope and stand by the flagpole where he lies, i no longer cry. I actually get a feeling of joy knowing he’s there in his place.
But when i occasionally go out of my way to go by our old house and pass what used to be our playground, i feel sad we just keep adding people and water and somehow take away the joy of this high desert land.
i wrote a poem about Cass relating to this tale and it is below:
Cass Done Gone
a part of my soul left today.
the stubborn, ole cuss of a lab was more me than him
i worshiped the way he defied the world
until it no longer mattered.
some people told me
i would know when it was time.
i did not believe until
that silly old dog told me two nights ago and
told me last night it was okay.
he has been my mirror, my dreams, my soul
i could tell him me like i can tell no other.
i am not ashamed of crying, feeling lost.
my granddaddy would scoff:
it isn’t the way it was back then.
there is an emptiness in my soul.
i am really not sure i’ll recover.
yeh, the pain will go in time;
the emptiness will be covered by events passing by,
but the hole will never be filled,
he was one of a kind to me.
he was me
he is gone.
i will bury his ashes at the top of the hill behind the house.
you can see the beach where he body surfed;
you can see the trails where he ran with abandon,
scaring hell out of coyote, rabbit, possum and birds alike;
if you turn around you can see the home he ruled
welcoming unknown people as if they were long lost friends;
taking on all dogs who foolishly entered his territory:
the doberman, the big shepherd, and all other intruders
stood clear after one encounter .
my feet feel cool now.
For most of his life, he would lie under my desk,
while i read, contemplated or typed with
his head resting on my feet.
the silence is awkward:
even in his sleep, he would grunt, wheeze,
kick the walls, chasing something in his dreams,
run sweet dog again;
pant with delicious tiredness after chasing the blues away;
scan the field with those keen sparkling eyes that
always read joy to me;
catch the next wave to bound into the bubbling surf
shake the misery with the salt wetness
from your coat of gold;
lick the face of someone
to give them unmitigated joy.
goodbye, sweet Cass.
goodbye, you joyful part of my soul.