Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like…

Tomorrow, i will be putting out updates on the website including a new, easier, and secure way to obtain a signed copy of my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. i am creating more posts on my journey with the book and what i consider exciting news about my new project.

i worked today. It felt good. For kickers, i visited my friend and saving grace with all things of the web. Walker Hicks not only fixed a lot of things in my giddyup, he got me on track again. He’s a guru plus.

i also attacked a number of home projects today: wrapping gifts and finishing up shopping, organizing and actually making some progress rather than my usual moving one stack to another place and another stack to where that one had been. A couple of other things got done as well. i was planning to write and organize some more tonight.

Then, i grilled hamburgers. i stacked the fireplace with wood, lit the fire, and went out to the grill and began that process. It was about a half-hour before sunset behind our hill. i had my bluetooth speaker on, and my library of songs, shuffled, began with the B-side of the Silhouettes’ 1957 hit, “Get a Job.” I always enjoyed “I’m Lonely” more than the huge hit on the other side. With the crackling of the needle before the song began — i digitized about 250 of my 45 RPM records — i knew what was coming. With a glass of Bordeaux in my hand while tending the sizzling burgers. i looked up at our flag on the top of our hill.

Seeing the sight above, i ceased my thoughts of more work. We ate the burgers, fries, and bean salad on dinner trays in the family room as is our custom. But no television tonight. We put on some Christmas instrumentals and rested. Maureen came over to my chair by the crackling fire and removed my book to the reading table and sat in my lap. Our heads rested against each other’s. We held hands.

Man, it’s been a great day, and it’s beginning to feel a lot like…well, you know.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Whatever it is, it ain’t baseball

This was one of my old curmudgeon rants in my third weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat. i was correctly criticized for raining on the Boston Red Sox’s World Series Champion parade. i confess my Padres now are doing the same thing, hopefully with the same result, as was done by the winning Red Sox back in 2007. So i think i understand impact of a parade rain. Yeh, my team now also resembles Saruman. Still, major league baseball and other pro sports are out of control, and the crazy money being spent by fans to bulge the pockets of owners and fans is profane.

In Sunday’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports section, Aaron Rodgers, the 2020 MVP quarterback for the Green Bay Packers reportedly described this season as “180 days of having my nose hair scraped.” My thought was what if they had not had a season and devoted those nearly one million COVID tests to folks who were in much greater need than football players, and that doesn’t even count baseball and basketball player tests.

Our priorities remain nonsensical to me.

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over. 

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs. 

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee. 

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers. 

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball. 

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century. 

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters” who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host. 

Fred Russell would be sad but would find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

And yes, if it didn’t cost so much i would still have season tickets for the Padre games…that is, of course, if they will let fans in the stands.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Finalities

October 2007, Column 2. Here’s my second weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat. It’s hard to believe it was 14 years ago, harder yet to believe i haven’t been home for more than two years. Yet i still remember standing at the top of my hill with other neighbors watching that fire, trying to determine if its route would impact us, and having our daughter wake us to see Mount Miguel in flames. That’s when we left and moved to Coronado to stay with our good friends, Peter and Nancy Toennies for one night. Fortunately, we have not had that experience again although wildfires are even more a threat now than they were then. The Southwest corner has its fires and earthquakes, but there are natural and man made disasters everywhere. You just have to choose your poison.

SAN DIEGO, CA – This second weekly column has been tough to write.

In a rare exception from my usual pell-mell, last minute throw-it-together mode of operation, I followed the tenets of making any worthy task a success. I determined the desired outcome as I started; I outlined the important steps and created a timeline for completing those steps; I gathered notes and resources and researched needed missing pieces.

Then came the fires.

I tried to stick to my plan and to my regimen. The fire had a different plan, however. It preoccupied my every sense for three days, even though I only briefly felt true concern for my family or my home. Even if I could have eliminated the overbearing presence from heat, smell, smoke, ash, news reports, incoming phone calls checking on us, or outgoing ones checking on others, the fires pervaded every sensible thought I tried to have on other topics.

This is my sixth start on this column. I wanted to write about connections and memories and good stuff. I am compelled to write about the fires.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. Only seven deaths have been reported so far.

The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local news program, it was revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Returning from our evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and place them back from whence they came. We must clean ash on and in the home without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

As I started on those five other columns, I attempted to escape the fires. Early this morning, I realized I needed some closure.

Of all of the horrible statistics of devastation and costs and of all of the reports of bravery, kindness, futility, anger, meanness, selfishness, and the other aspects of human nature, I have been most intrigued with a whole bunch of people, including me, dealing with finality.

Many people dealt with the prospect of finality in many different ways.

There’s an old adage about living every day as if it were going to be your last. Yet most of the three million people in San Diego County refused to believe it was their last day. 

Many ignored the evacuation orders and stayed behind. Some decided they did not trust the government to do its job. Some thought their presence would protect their homes. Some refused to leave their pets and livestock. Some valued their possessions more than life itself.

Learning from the 2003 fires, the ordered evacuations were more successful this time. One of the reasons was most of the evacuation centers in 2003 did not allow pets. With no where to go without their pets, people refused to evacuate. This time, the evacuation centers allowed pets as much as possible and had pet care built into the evacuation plans.

Of the half million who chose to put more days between them and finality, there were also many diverse reasons for doing so, and many different ways of going about it.

Some panicked and simply left seeking shelter somewhere. Some had planned thoroughly beforehand and methodically carried their plan out. Some like our family had pieces of the plan in place and tried to stay ahead of the curve, tried to make wise choices based on the information at hand and assessing the risks and benefits.

I experienced dealing with finality as I chose what to take and not take with us on our departure. It put some different priorities on what is important when we returned home.

I suspect the thoughts of finality will fade quickly for those who escaped home loss like us. We are already re-prioritizing without consideration of this possibly being our final day. 

Most of us who have gone through this twice take a little bit more learning away this time. Finality is closer to home.



Notes from the Southwest Corner Redux

A long time ago but after my completion of my Navy active duty in 1989, i began writing some special reports and special interest articles for my good friend Sam Hatcher and The Wilson Post as well as for the The Lebanon Democrat. These occasional articles led to Amelia Morrison Hipps, the editor of  The Democrat agreeing to my writing a weekly column for the OP-ED page. For several years, we added another weekly column we titled “Minding Your Own Business” — i always wished i had insisted on naming it the same as the unpublished book, JD Waits and I co-wrote with the title of Pretty Good Management.

For a while, a day or so after the OP-ED columns appeared in the paper, i would post them on this site. But that was long ago, remember?

In the past several months, i have slowly realized i was writing fewer and fewer posts about my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee. Lots of factors caused this, but i was not pleased.

In the last several days, i decided to re-post those “Notes from the Southwest” columns with the goal of…well, enjoying my revisiting my past, a rather ideal one no longer possible. i hope that readers of this site will enjoy them as well. My plan is to post one each week, but i currently reluctant to lock in just one day.

The below is the first one, published Monday, October 15 (my sister’s birthday it just occurred to me), 2007. i should add there were several more jobs, most notably with Pacific Tugboat Service after this column was written:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: My Connection
by Jim Jewell 10/15/2007

SAN DIEGO, CA – I live in San Diego. My home remains Lebanon.

I live here because I married a native, a rare breed when I met her. Yet I am more of a Middle Tennessean now than when I left for the Navy in 1967.

I like San Diego. In Tennessee, I cannot see Navy ships from the top of my hill. My home does not require an air conditioner. But Lebanon has a charm which won’t let go. I have said many times, the song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” describes my feelings.

I am torn between two worlds.

I probably have had more jobs than almost anyone. The Navy was largely responsible: I was a first lieutenant, anti-submarine officer, and shipyard coordinator for a sonar suite installation on a destroyer; executive officer of a Navy unit aboard a merchant marine troop ship; anti-submarine officer on a guided-missile destroyer leader; a destroyer chief engineer and shipyard overhaul coordinator; an NROTC associate professor; current operations officer for an amphibious squadron; weapons officer, overhaul coordinator, and training officer on an helicopter carrier; executive officer of a destroyer tender; director of leadership training, and facilitator for an excellence seminar. I was also sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times in New York between my first Navy obligation and reinstatement to active duty.

Fifteen jobs in twenty-three years.

Generating the list, I also considered other jobs I’ve had, starting at ten years old. This includes yard maintenance; newspaper delivery; water plant worker; grave digger; service station attendant; auto parts inventory worker; camp counselor; clothes salesman; sports writer; newspaper correspondent; and radio announcer. Eleven jobs in fourteen years.

After the Navy, I carried on job instability.

A life-long job was created when my wife gave birth to our second daughter the day I retired. In a little more than a week, I went from being a commander to “Mr. Mom.”

In this capacity, I chased more occupations: writing the first draft of a friend’s book about his Prisoner of War (POW) experience in Vietnam; organization development consultant; energy regulatory newsletter editor; facilitator for Department of Energy nuclear site reorganization; career transition consultant; automobile sales trainer; customer service trainer; business development manager; military training marketer; business management columnist; awards shop manager; and executive coach.

The jobs in this phase total fourteen, bringing the grand total to forty jobs. That’s pretty close to being a jack of all trades. I believe “master of none” also applies.

Underlying all of this flitting about have been three constants. I have a great love for my family, who remain my top priority. Lebanon has always been my home, and I remain connected. Finally, I have always had the desire to write.

This column attempts to tie the three together. “Notes from the Southwest Corner” is intended to give my perspective on Middle Tennessee, a recollection of my youth, and other thoughts I would like to share.

I want to describe places I’ve been and people who affected me. There will be some thoughts about running an organization and some “sea stories.” I plan to present similarities and differences between life on the “left coast” and in Middle Tennessee.

I won’t tell you HOW to do anything. Most of you are as smart as me and can figure it out on your own. I will refrain from political comments. Also, I don’t plan to make any religious pitches.

My goal is to write well for a place I love. I am shooting to give you anecdotes and thoughts which you can use as you see fit to your benefit.

From birth until 1967, I lived across the street from J. Bill Frame. He was the publisher of The Lebanon Democrat. He was one the most intelligent, knowledgeable people I have ever known. He was also kind, and understanding. The Democrat was journalism as I knew it then, and he may be the reason I have this drive to write. J. B. Leftwich, while a professor at Castle Heights taught me journalism.

So in a way, I have returned home. It is with joy I write for the Democrat. It is with pride I write where J. Bill Frame once ruled. It is an honor to write alongside J. B. Leftwich, who taught me and many leading journalists in the country.

Writing here is real close to coming home.

I hope you enjoy the read. I know I will enjoy the ride.

Giving Thanks

As i began copying this from my Lebanon Democrat columns, it occurred to me that many of you likely are giving thanks this will be my last “Thanksgiving” post this year. To tell the truth, i’m getting a bit tired of it myself. This column from five years ago is one of my favorites. You may recognize some of my thoughts from earlier posts. Even so, this column from five years ago is one of my favorites.

While i give my thanks, one will be for being where i can not worry about all of the craziness that has besieged us this year. i am old enough to observe it all with some sense of clarity, with no need for panic as we are relatively secure, and if we continue to be observant and careful, we can escape from the pandemic and not endanger anyone else. i am thankful you and i are in this country which, in spite of the disagreements of who and how, has the desire to become a better place for all of us to live.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Giving thanks (2015)

SAN DIEGO – It’s that week again: the one with the day to give thanks.

In the Lebanon of my youth, “Thanksgiving” was pretty much a stand-alone event. Sure, the children knew Christmas was a month away. Yet, we weren’t chomping at the bit. Until my late teens, a month was a long time. I was worried about being good, because that old man up north was “making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice.”

It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.

Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.

Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.

The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.

The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.

With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.

The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.  We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup. All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.

My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.

Everyone ate too much.

The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist. There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.

And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.

*     *     *

This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.

Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.