Change Remembered

It’s that time again: Change. Hope. Recollections. Promises.

Been there. Done that. Hope i can do it several more times.

Sarah went out to her wonderful friend’s party. Heather de Ocampo is one of the best. i am wishing both of them a swing upwards and a healthy and happy new year.

i’m wondering how the Austin branch of family is celebrating.

We, are sitting by the fire; Maureen’s new soup is, as always delicious. Her salad, as always of the kind that made my father say if he could have those every night he could be a vegetarian, but i think he forgot about his eggs and Tennessee sausage breakfasts. The fake Christmas tree, a concession to our spending Christmases on Signal Mountain is stored in the garage attic with all of the other decorations that came down. There is little likelihood either of us will make the magic turnover. We are not concerned.

And tomorrow will be a new year. 2019. What lies ahead in the next 365? Can’t tell. One thing for sure, there will be change. Always has been. Always is. Always will be. Change can be good or bad. Disregarding calamities beyond our control, we have the choice to make it good for us or bad for us. Our choice.

Now this is a little more challenging this year: thinking about change. After all, i’ve seen seventy-five years, three-quarters of a century of years with change. And now i’m older. Feel it in my bones (and several other body parts). Not bad considering the things this body has been put through by some nut who didn’t have a lot of sense about what was good for him.

So what about this next year. i’m old enough to not be concerned. It will be. There will be change, good and bad, guaranteed. And you know what? i believe you and i will deal with as necessary to make it as good as you and me can make it for ourselves and others.

As Judy Lewis Gray posted today, this is a remarkable occurrence every year for the opportunity to rejuvenate old promises, resolutions we call them. It’s a remarkable yearly accounting of us with the opportunity for, as we said in the Navy missile world, mid-course correction.

And what do i remember?

Home. Lebanon, Tennessee: a quiet little country town with not a great deal of concern beyond the county limits. Good folks in a place with a dark underbelly we still have not eradicated. Good folks. Gospel singing on Sunday night. Sports. Work. Treating neighbors like neighbors. Friends from church, elementary school, junior high, high school, and beyond and lasting. Forever.

Vanderbilt. A place for gaining lifetime friendships. Good times, bad academic habits. Learning in a place that has evolved into trying to make it right for everyone.

Middle Tennessee State. Working and learning for a change. Dwelling in an academic world of literature i loved then and continue to love today. One of my other passions.

Navy. Ahh, the Navy. The sea. The lady i loved with abandon, with passion. She was my soul mate. Navy ships were my vehicles for communicating with her and making more friends.

Ahh, hell. i could go on and on and on. There are so many folks i would like to share this moment, this precipice of change with tonight. There are so many tales i would like to tell about change in my life. But time is limited, and we are cutting it short in the Southwest corner tonight.

My ingredients are laid out for my black-eyed peas and cornbread for fixing (Tennessee term) tomorrow. We will partake in the afternoon and salute to change and promise.

i hope you have positive change and fulfilled promises in 2019.

Old Gone

When one has reached the precipice of really old, like 75, there are moments of regrets about what is no longer.

Today, i felt old, like something was gone. Why? It was.

Late morning, we packed the car, said goodbye to my sister and her husband, who once again have given us a beautiful Christmas, and drove our rental car to the Nashville airport to spend the night in a nearby hotel before flying back to the Southwest corner tomorrow.

It was unusual. Well, it hasn’t happened quite like this before, but it’s been four years since it’s been like it always was, or at least like it always was from 1992 through 2014. But this time, we didn’t fly out of Chattanooga or take a shuttle to Berry Field to fly out that day. No, this time we spent the night in a hotel.

Forever and forever, since i became a wanderer, my last night anytime i was in Tennessee headed back west was with my parents in Lebanon.

Old ways are gone.

Of course, that is the way life is. It moves on. Change is inevitable. People pass on. That is neither good nor bad. It’s what we make it.

Still, driving on I-24 from Chattanooga to Lebanon over those mountains and past those hills and through those valleys on a road i’ve traveled more times than i can count, not even considering our trips on US-41 before the interstate was completed, i kept thinking how i would not turn north of US-231 or north of I-840 to head home to Lebanon, but how i would keep going because that is the way it is now.

OId is gone.

It is not such a good feeling for an old man, regardless of how he reasons life is meant to be that way.

It’s okay. Next year will be a good year. Daughters, son-in-law, grandson, other relatives will do just fine. Me too.

But i miss old.

Christmas on the Mountain

My sister, with Maureen’s assistance, makes Christmas a gastro delight: In addition to Christmas breakfast and dinner, and a Christmas Eve supper of her taco soup and cornbread and her pre-Christmas welcome back dinner of spaghetti, she also makes brownies, boil custard, and her wonderful chocolate chip cookies for continual nibbling here and enough for Todd to distribute to many friends on Christmas Eve. This year, she thus far has used over ten pounds of sugar, over five pounds of flour, and more than five dozen eggs…and we are still eating. Then you add children church services with candlelight on Christmas Eve (the old man did not make the midnight service this year: too old to stay up that late after dealing with the three whirling dervishes and concerned that if i went twice, the walls just might tumble down) and this is Christmas morning, before the fire is started and before young’uns arrive. Merry Christmas to all. Noel.

Rambling Man

i am a “rambling man.”

Well, i am not quite like Hank Williams as he described himself in his “Ramblin’ Man” or the Allman Brothers claimed in their song of the same name, although i guess i’ve been to enough places, gone from enough jobs to another, and had enough loves to qualify on that measure.

But i’m talking about rambling thoughts. i have enough of rambling thoughts to be called a rambling man in triplicate. i’ve had more than a few rambling thoughts on this trip back east. In fact, i’ve had so many ideas about what to post here, i haven’t had the time to do it. i am wondering if other folks have that kind of rambling and feel the need to write about them.

So right now, i’m rambling. Here are some, but not all of those thoughts. i wanted to capture them here and plan to write in depth about many of them later:

◊  Henry Harding remains my best friend. A short meeting last Tuesday confirmed our friendship, regardless of how long  we haven’t seen or talked to each other, never stops, just picks up again.

◊  Vanderbilt athletics is a gem within this state, often overlooked and never with the support it should have. Tuesday, i met David Williams, the retiring Vice Chancellor of Athletics who has forged a program dedicated to Commodore Athletes being true “Student Athletes” and giving them a college experience preparing them to live well long after athletics are behind them, preparing them to be good people.

◊ Southern women have an elegance and a gentleness hard to match. Ann Eliot is a superb example of that elegance and gentleness.

There are many other thoughts rambling around this rather empty head.

But this early evening, i went to church. No, the walls did not fall down. The Signal Crest Methodist Church held a service with children acting and narrating the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was fun and it was Christmas.

i felt a stirring in my soul i had not felt in a long, long time. Now, as i sit amongst family and a passel of grand nieces and nephews, it is Christmas Eve. It is a good feeling.

May all of you have a wonderful Christmas and a bountiful New Year.

Thoughts on a Road Trip

Christmas must be here. Bedlam is rampant at the Duff home on Signal Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeh, it’s Saturday. Christmas is not until Tuesday, but a six-year old grand niece and the three-year old identical twin boys that appeared at my sister’s home this afternoon put an exclamation point on the season being in full bloom.

But later in the evening, the quiet has returned. Tommy, Abby, Olivia, Allie, Max, and Culley have gone home. Todd has gone up to the master bedroom to read. Maureen and Sarah are either reading, on the internet, or asleep.

My sister Martha and i sit in the family room with the Christmas music boxes, the new jigsaw puzzle in piles on the work table, the big tree still glowing, and now with the children gone, a fire in the fireplace. Quiet.

My thoughts went back to our getting here, far way from children at Christmas. On  our drive from Lebanon to Crossville and then to Signal Mountain, i thought of many things about home. i’m talking about Tennessee, specifically East and Middle Tennessee. That is where i was driving.

It was rainy on both the ride from home in Lebanon to Crossville and the ride from Danny and Toni’s home in Crossville to Signal Mountain. It was lovely.

Bucolic. That’s what i thought as the clouds provided a blanket on the shoulders of the hills and mountains we drove through. The rolling meadows were still green for the most part. The deciduous trees had lost their leaves, leaving them stark with the aspect of loneliness but the pines and the cedars loomed dark green in the vista. Occasionally, there would be a farmhouse with a barn nearby, working places even if the barns and other outbuildings had faded paint and a couple of boards missing. A few had “See Rock City” in white on the black roofs under the faded red barns. Bucolic.

Home, i thought. These folks on those farms are home. It is their life. It is a hard life, no doubt, but simple, and could be self-providing for all if needed. Home. Bucolic. Peace. That’s what i thought.

And i thought of all the people i know who had never seen this part of Tennessee. They would be on the interstates. Yeh, we were too for most of the drive to Crossville. But from Crossville to Pikeville to Dunlap and up the switchbacks to what we call the backside of Signal Mountain, it was all country.

Bucolic. i thought of those folks on those farms and Christmas morning and how they might have a cedar tree like we used to have when the three children would go out to Papa’s farm and chop down the tree and haul it back and pull out the old cardboard boxes from the attic and decorate the tree in the corner of the living room, and wait in anticipation. And how these folks in those farmhouses would have Santa visit even though there was a fire by the hearth, and they would laugh opening gifts and then eat a dinner from mostly things off the farm.

And how after all of the ruckus of the celebration was over, the old man would lean back in his chair by the fire and take a nap, and how the children would play around the tree with their new toys, and how all would be right with the world in this world so far removed from the network and the cars and the four, five, or more lane roads, and the glitter and the lights.

Peace. Bucolic.

i wish all of you could have taken that ride with me. i think it would be good for all of our souls.

Noel.

Hairy Tale Lost

Well, well, well. In the seemingly continual ways of an old man, i remain perplexed and frustrated. i started this thing about the beardette and followed up with a two columns entitled a “hairy tale” published a number of years ago. i found a third and will likely re-post it here soon, but none were the one i was thinking about. i can’t find it. So i am reinventing.

When one had spent three years in the Navy as an officer who had to enforce haircut regulations in the middle of the long hair hippie craze, you can become rather confused about this hair thing. That is what happened to me in 1971.

Fresh out of my three years of Navy active duty, i became a reserve at the Watertown, NY center when i became the sports editor in waiting at the Watertown Daily Times. When i reported aboard, my hair was regulation Navy. The older editors and reporters for the paper took me under their wing, and included me in activities, leaving out the younger long-haired guys. The younger set avoided me, thought i was some throwback to an older culture, which they disdained along with me even though i was more in their age group.

Then, i discovered the reserve center was concerned regulation hair cuts were not conducive to younger folks staying in the reserves and were very lax, i commenced to let my hair grow (i still had some then) to match the other young reporters on the Times’ staff. i did not cut my hair for six months, had it trimmed, and then let it go for another six months. It did not grow straight and long, but curled and was thick all over my head (remember this was a long time ago).

The older set at the newspaper began to exclude me and started treating me a bit more like an upstart. The  younger reporters warmed up to me. i became good friends with many of them.

Then came my active duty for training, a two-week period i spent on the USS Waldron (DD 699) out of Mayport, Florida. With four days to drive and report aboard and wishing to make a good impression on the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, i went to a Watertown barbershop and received what today would be called a “buzzcut.”

When i returned to the newspaper after my two weeks of training, the older set once again warmed up to me and considered me as part of their clique. The long-haired set went cool and kept me at a distance.

By the time my hair began to grow longer until i left my dream job a year later (to ensure financial security for my wife and new daughter), i was accepted by both sets and all was well.

i have thought about this over and over. i did not change because i cut my hair or let it grow. i was exactly the same person. Yet there was definitely people judging me, assuming i was something i wasn’t because of my hair length. i found this strange. i no longer worry about what other people think because of my hair, whether it is short, long, gone on my head or my face…except what my wife and grandson prefer.

To judge people because of their hair seems very small to me. Had i not worked in a variety of cultures and disciplines and experienced that bizarre judgement of me, i might find a haircut or facial hair offensive, but not now.

So for all of those follicle challenged folks, all those folks with dreadnoughts, all Santa Clauses, all shaven souls, all those with scraggly beards, all those with long locks, do your thing.

And oh yes, Merry Christmas.

Hairy Tales II redux, redux

My posts about my beardette drew more comments than i expected. The below is a reprint of a Lebanon Democrat “Notes from the Southwest Corner” from about ten years ago. i posted the first column i wrote about hair here last January. i have had a long association with the lack of importance of hair, poking fun at our concern about hair for as long as i can remember. This one is a look at the military’s preoccupation with hair length:

SAN DIEGO – If you look at my photo accompanying this column, you can tell I am hair-follicle challenged. This could be the reason for my fascination with barber shops.

To be honest, it does not seem fair. My father, at 93, still has an almost full head of hair. My brother’s hair, at 57, is starting to thin. I figure he will catch up to me in about 2040. Even my old buddies, Henry Harding and Mike Dixon, have full locks (although the color has changed). Every one has their burdens to bear, and this is one of mine.

Yet after a few forays in hair restoration treatments as my hair got serious about leaving in my mid-30’s, I decided fighting the futile fight would only make me look like not me. Observing those who had tried different solutions, they don’t appear natural, normal. I realized I had a more serious challenge of keeping the real me in somewhat reasonable condition. If you have seen me lately, you know I have not fared too well in that arena either.

But I am happy and I loved barbershops. Another reason just might well be my spending some 14 to 15 years on Navy ships.

In case you don’t know, Navy ships had barbershops when I went to sea. Some guys with the “storekeeper” (SK) rating manned the barber chairs with not much barber training and guidelines to make the haircut conform to regulations, regardless of the desire of the barberee.

Officers on ships could get appointments. The enlisted waited in line. The haircut normally took about five minutes. In no way did the one-chair barbershops, except for the chair, resemble Pop’s, Mr. Eddins’, or Alberto’s barbershops, of which I previously have mentioned fondly.

When I completed “destroyer school” (what a lovely name), I reported to the USS Hollister (DD788) and became the Chief Engineer. The Hollister was a reserve ship out of Long Beach. It was in the early 70’s and the men’s style of the day definitely did not include Navy regulation haircuts. Length was glory, apparently. The reserve units of the day were very relaxed in enforcing haircut regulations, because hair was so important to the younger set, it was assumed many reservists would simply quit rather than whack their hair.

It was also a common practice for the wardroom officers to leave early Saturday afternoon on the reserve weekend to frequent the officer club on base. This occurred one spring Saturday when I had the duty as command duty officer (CDO, the senior officer in charge while the captain and executive officer were ashore).

One of our regular officers was a brand new Naval Academy graduate. After the officers left for the club, I changed the watch bill and put the new ensign on the quarterdeck (the only egress and ingress for the ship), and directed him to make sure no one went ashore without a regulation haircut.

Around 1400 (2:00 p.m.) after the ensign relieved the officer of the deck (OOD), at noon, I walked out to see how it was going. About 80 reservists were in the barbershop line, spilling out of the superstructure just forward of the after gun mount and around the fantail.

A few minutes later, the ensign called me in the wardroom. One hirsute second-class petty officer had requested to speak to the command duty officer. I agreed.

The young man was enraged. “I have an appointment with my hairstylist at 1600. If you let me go ashore, I will get a haircut.”

“Sure you can go see your hairstylist at 1600,” I said sympathetically, adding, “Right after, you get a regulation haircut.”

It took almost four hours and a tired barber, but they all finally went on liberty.

Nearly all of the officers who had gone to the club did not return for the evening. Next morning, quarters exhibited probably the most regulation haircuts seen in the reserve units of the period. It also produced more screaming and yelling than one would expect. The reserve officers were enraged we required their troops to get haircuts. Fortunately, my captain thought it was as funny as I did.

Oh yes, all who had suffered the barber’s shears that weekend remained in the reserves. Reserve pay was a good augmentation to one’s income, which suggests, hair isn’t quite as important as we often think it is.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about that. Look at my photo again.

Beardette postscript

A number of folks have already responded to my post about my beardette. Some favoring the look, some not.

i did not mention in the original post, two of my motivators for trying it was 1) i am at the age where doesn’t matter what i do, i’m not going to get any prettier and i started off by not being pretty, and 2) i am too old to worry about being attractive to women even if i could magically attract them.

Beardette

i just flat forgot Lebanon, Tennessee is quite a bit different from the Southwest corner.

You see, i was trying this thing out. It had not been successful before, but i thought might pull it off until i hit my hometown Tuesday.

In 1979, Amphibious Squadron Five was going to be at sea for three weeks before hitting its liberty port of Hong Kong. i decided to attempt to grow a mustache and a beard. i would look in my mirror above the sink in my stateroom two, three, or four times a day rubbing what you could call stubble or fuzz to see if it was growing. The night before we entered the harbor and moored, i looked one last time. i asked myself would i let myself go on liberty with a growth like that on my face and admitted i would not.

i shaved the feeble attempt at a beard that night. i kept the poor excuse for a mustache. The later eventually became marginally acceptable.

i should have known. i got my head hair from the maternal side. It’s gone now, like theirs. It was going then, but i was too stubborn to admit it. For some reason i cannot fathom, i got my facial hair from the paternal side. My father could not shave for a week and no one would know. Of course, he shaved every day. In Lebanon, Tennessee from oh, the 1920’s  until i left in 1967, facial hair, even a mustache was considered a capital crime — i was always wondering how Col. Brown, my calculus professor, and Col. Ingram, the commandant at Castle Heights could get away with mustaches. i think it was because Col. Brown actually had been an army colonel, and Col. Ingram was from Virginia, and folks in Lebanon probably considered him a foreigner.

My brother grew a beard once. i thought it was sophisticated looking. For another inexplicable reason, he got more lasting hair on his head and more than fuzz on his face. He looked cool. Our father thought it looked shaggy.

My son-in-law, Jason Gander has magnificent facial hair. His beards are of mountain man stature. i think that is because he is from Kansas.

But me, not so much.

i tried again about ten years ago. Then, my beard was splotchy and thin, but passable i thought, until i looked sternly in the mirror and confessed i was fooling myself.

i shaved again that night.

i should note i have kept my mustache because my greatest success with women was when i had a mustache. More importantly, my wife liked it until she allowed me to shave it about two years ago. When my grandson Sam saw me shortly after i was shorn, he told me he missed my mustache. It’s back and will not go away…for my wife and my grandson.

Over the last two years, i have been too lazy for three or four days and believed my facial hair was getting better, i would not shave for another week or so and then give up.

Then sometime in late November, i forgot to shave again for several days. i decided to let it go. i told Maureen i would keep it until it was time to go to Tennessee for Christmas and then decide whether to keep it or not.

i kept it. It’s not really a beard. Too splotchy. It would work if i were around Civil War time. Some of those guys had impressive mutton chops. That’s what i would have had. The bare spots are just above my chin. There is another problem. My left side is pretty constant in thickness…er, thinness, color, i.e. white, and the bare spot has grown in or over. The right side is in a muddled state, thick and thin, and a mixture of brown and gray. It also grows out rather than down my face like the left side.

i began to like it. Folks in the Southwest corner have had different opinions about it. Some like it. Some look at it with a look of disgust. i told them it wasn’t really a beard. It was a “beardette.”  However after a dinner with friends one evening, Maureen told me i looked sophisticated, academic. That was enough to keep it, this beardette.

But then, i went to see my friend, my almost brother Henry Harding and his wife Brenda. When they saw me, i saw the look of surprised dismay on their faces. i realized Lebanon hadn’t changed that much.

In several days, i will meet my sister at her home for Christmas. i did not want her to look disgusted or possibly have a heart attack when she sees my beardette for the first time. So  i’m posting a couple of photos of me and my beardette to ease her into this.

But i think it’s going away after i get back to the Southwest corner to never return again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord help us.

Thoughts in the Air and Later

This began somewhere over Arizona or New Mexico.

We are headed to Nashville. It’s a three to four hour flight. There is lots of time to think.

i’ve been thinking about my recent posts concerning coming home for Christmas. i reread a couple. Good warm thoughts, you know; this Christmas cheer thing. i’m pretty good at it. There is nothing wrong with that by the way. In fact, that is the way it’s supposed to be.

The old saw about there being more suicides during the Christmas season has been debunked, but i know there is a lot of sadness around this season of Joy and Noel. i have some of it.

i haven’t had a Christmas without a tinge of sadness since 1977.  There always has been someone missing or something just a wee bit out of kilter ever since then. i won’t go into why. There are quite a few events that have placed that tinge in my heart during these  forty otherwise glorious Christmases between now and then. There is no need to beat dead horses (oh, the politically correct will have a field day with that phrase).

Four of those Christmases in the past forty years were alone, or alone as someone can be surrounded by shipmates somewhere far away. Not too much to regret about that. i signed up for it…well, not exactly to be away from home on holidays, but i knew that was part and parcel of my deal. Can’t complain.

A Christmas i’ll always remember: Maureen’s and my second, 1984. Just the two of us and two dear friends to whom we are still close. Jacksonville. Maureen and i had missed our first Christmas together. i was in the Indian Ocean. But we made up for it in ’84. i remember the antics of Doc Kerrigan and i on Christmas Eve, which i shall not go into here, maybe later. Later that evening, Maureen and i attended the service at the nearby Episcopal Church. The 11:00 p.m. service. It was small, quaint, beautiful, and wonderfully decorated, tastefully. i felt like i was in a Currier and Ives Christmas scene (without the snow). We sat in the small balcony. The music captured us, took us to a land of peace, just the two of us together with hymns on our first Christmas. Christmas Day was spent with our new friends. Laughter, fun, joking around. Couldn’t have been much better. But somewhere in all of that, in fact several times, the tinge smacked me on the back of my head.

Just to be clear that tinge of sadness will creep in this year again. i am into a day on the ground in Nashville and my hometown and the tinge already has whispered to me. That could be nostalgia. We are staying in a motel. In my hometown. We always stayed with my parents, not hotels or friends before. We thought of staying with my friends again, but i didn’t want to infringe on their Christmas plans with family. It seems strange. We went to the cemeteries this morning to say our good wishes to those who won’t be with us this Christmas. Graveside is a lovely place to reflect on wonderful times past, of course with a tinge of sadness.

We drove around town. i was glad to see the square moving back into a neat place to be with boutique shops, the antique stores seeming to be more quaint than shabby. There is even a restaurant or two. Reminded me of old Lebanon except for that ugly Burger King franchise on the northwest corner of North Cumberland. That burger store and other replacements of places in my past made me realize Lebanon isn’t exactly my hometown anymore. That’s okay. Things change. i just had to deal with another tinge of sadness.

But i’m okay, by the way. As with all things in life, tinges of sadness at Christmas time are part of it. i go back to my mantra developed out of the blue when i was handling the arrangements for my father-in-law’s final round of golf (we spread his ashes on the hole where he made his first hole in one). Ray Boggs was more than the father of my wife, he was one of my closest friends. The impact finally hit me hard. i almost lost it. Then, it came to me i should behave and deal with it the way he would want me to deal with it. And he would want me to celebrate, have a good time, remember the good times, certainly not be sad, and certainly not lose it. i didn’t. That is my guideline for getting past losing it, getting past tinges of sadness.

i got through my nostalgia tinges today, and i will get through them for the rest of this season. But they will be there.

And i will have a “merry” Christmas. In fact, it will be glorious. It’s about the birth of that guy that brought a promise that still hangs in the air. A new beginning. New hope.

Joy to the World.