Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

Selected columns written for the Lebanon, Tennessee Democrat newspaper from 2007 to 2017 about living in the Southwest.

Notes from the Southwest Corner – 011: Change

This was published around Christmas time quite a while ago, the day before 2008. i chose to publish it now, as it is in chronological order of the earlier efforts to recapture my time with my hometown newspaper. It also addresses change. Lebanon has changed since i wrote this column. It has grown. It is becoming more a suburb of Lebanon. They have widened and improved many roads, especially the interstates. Thus, traffic is much worse. They have torn down more of my memories. There are a lot of nice places and the town square has new life. The biggest change is my parents are gone, which means i can’t come up with excuses to go back more often, and my stays are shorter, much shorter. But i will be back, and hopefully, another dinner with Maureen, Henry and Brenda, Eddie and Brenda will occur again. It cannot be soon enough.

Tennessee in general and Lebanon in particular is not only a Christmas escape for me; it is a place to reflect on change. This year, the change, past, present, and future, seems more palpable.

Often, we refuse to accept change as inevitable. We spend post-Christmas creating New Year Resolutions, which we usually blow off in a week or so.

Just before Christmas, my wife and I shared a dinner at the Chop House with special folks. Change joined us for the evening.

Growing up, I spent almost as much time at the home of Henry Harding; his maternal grandparents, J. J. and Maude Arnold; and his parents, George and Virginia Harding, as I did at my own home. Henry remains my “best” friend. He and his wife Brenda joined us.

The couple’s troika was completed by Eddie and Brenda Callis. Eddie has been a close friend since we met in high school as sports competitors from Castle Heights and Lebanon High School. Brenda’s father, Jim Horn Hankins, recruited my father to work for at Hankins and Smith Motor Company in 1939, and they became partners in the late 1950’s. So Brenda and I have known each other pretty much all of our lives.

We spoke of families, children, grandchildren, and parents. We spoke of friends. We spoke of adventures growing up and shared stories of places we have been.

Essentially we talked about change.

We talked amidst change itself. My sister, Martha Duff, had played in this structure, now the Chop House, with her friend Kay Lucas, when it was the Castle Heights superintendent’s home, and Ralph Lucas served in that position.

Down the road, my mother played with the son of the original occupants of the Mitchell House, which Danny Evins so graciously renovated for Cracker Barrel’s headquarters. Further down on the original Castle Heights Avenue is the house my parents bought in 1942 when it was one of only two or three houses on the street and where they lived for sixty-one years.

On the dining area wall hung a picture of my brother, Joe, attired in a Heights jersey. A photo of me at the 1962 graduation dance hung in the opposite quarter. The placement was appropriate. Joe and I always seem to end up in opposite corners even in choice of homes: Joe in Vermont, me in the Southwest corner. We often reflect on how we have managed change differently.

At my age, change seems more important. I long for what use to be, overlooking the negative aspects of the past. The past seems more poignant. The need to share memories with my family, especially the new grandson, is strong.

Change is never what we expect it to be. The 1950’s predictions for the next century are comical looking at them from this end. Sometimes change is better than expected. Sometimes change is worse.

Growth, i.e. change, in Middle Tennessee is small compared to San Diego. A community of 100,000 has grown up about three miles south of our home since a large ranch estate was settled in 1995. The expansion of developments may soon extend to the Cleveland National Forest to the east.

The increase in population has produced traffic congestion. Water supply is more tenuous than ever. Utility rates have risen dramatically. Housing costs are astronomical. Politics has become more profitable and more divisive.

The plus side is convenience in shopping and dining. The developments are rife with parks, walking trails, nearby modern schools, and an increase in services.

When I see change in Lebanon, I winch with concern it may drive away many of the things in Lebanon I hold dear. However, it seems to me Lebanon has managed change pretty well since I left for the Navy in 1967. Good change without destruction of the past appears to have been the rule.

Dining with my life-long friends, it occurred to me they (and you folks who live here) have permanent connection to the past, which might explain the change management of the community. The sense of community is not strong in the Southwest corner. Change seems more precocious, more uncontrollable there.

Before this article is published, I will be back in the Southwest corner, attempting to manage change positively. If all goes well, I will return to Middle Tennessee several times in the next twelve months and find change continues to be positive here.

It’s a nice place to come home to. I hope that never changes.

Notes from the Southwest Corner – 010: Masirah, Oman: A Different Place

Most of this post is included in my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. i still find it amazing that women are subjected to such bizarre thinking that prevents them from making decisions for themselves.

SAN DIEGO –J.B. Leftwich’s column in The Democrat two Fridays ago provoked some memories of a land far away.

His column addressed change from his student days at Cumberland and today. He also discussed inequality towards women (more tactfully than I would) in the Muslim world and the recent news sensation of the polygamist offshoot of the Latter Day Saints.

I complimented J.B. on his column, and added I soon would tell him about women on the island of Masirah, Oman.

J.B., always with a sharp eye and ear for the news, suggested the topic was good fodder for a column. So here goes:

Masirah in 1983

Much of my last Navy deployment was spent anchored off the coast of Masirah. The USS Yosemite was sent there in 1983. What was to be a five-day repair mission for Battle Group Alpha, the USS Ranger (CV 61) and her escorts, turned into forty-five days and then another thirty days on station.

The ships moored alongside the anchored Yosemite. The repair and maintenance sessions lasted four days. Working port and starboard shifts (six hours on and six hours off), we accomplished what normally took more than two weeks.

We also played a role in the Ranger’s recovery from the fire in November. Six crewmen were killed. The carrier lost half of her power and maneuverability. Yosemite provided repair assistance and her asbestos removal team, making further repair of the damage possible.

Each Tuesday, we would halt most repair work and replenish. A C-130 would fly supplies from Diego Garcia to the former Royal Air Force base, which had evolved into an Omani base manned mostly by former RAF personnel. CH 46 helicopters from one of the battle group’s ships would ferry out the supplies. The small flight deck created for a short-lived drone helicopter program was too small for landing. Consequently, the ten- hour operation was conducted with loads being lowered to the deck by the helicopters.

I was the ship’s coordinator for the operations, which kept me from going ashore. However, several officers and senior enlisted were allowed to go ashore. The helicopters would fly them to the island after the first load and return them after the last.

A Different Place in Time

The stories brought back were astounding. The air base, located on the northern end of the island, was not too unusual except the British were very excited to have Americans visit, and their hospitality was unlimited.

The local culture, however, was a major shock to all who visited.

In 1904, the British ship, Baron Innerdale, went aground off of the Khuriya Muriya islands at the south end of Oman. The largest boat on board embarked 17 people and ended up on Masirah. The specifics are unknown, but a fight resulted in all of the boat occupants, except a boy passenger, being massacred.

Sultan Faisal of Oman learned of the incident, investigated, and executed a number of locals at the site of the massacre. Local legend says the sultan razed the village of Hilf and decreed no one on the island could have permanent housing for 100 years.

While the lack of permanent housing may be myth, it appeared to be the order of the local culture in 1983. Local village buildings were constructed of plywood sheets and cardboard. The Yosemite visitors noted it was like going back a 1000 years in time.

Most of us have seen the burqas worn by women in Afghanistan. The culture of Masirah in the early 1980’s was even more draconian concerning women. They were required to be covered, but instead of a veil, they had to wear soft leather contraptions down the middle of their faces. The idea was the leather would flop to one side or the other, allowing the woman to look at anyone only with one eye.

When women passed child-bearing age, they no longer were allowed to live inside the houses, such as they were. A husband could declare and effect a divorce by raising his hands above his head and clap while he turned around three times.

I was amazed at the juxtaposition. While the Yosemite was at the leading edge of women becoming an integral part of our military forces, we were next to a culture which had not advanced in hundreds of years.

I wondered then and I continue to wonder what those Omani men in the Masirah village thought as our young female officers in Navy uniforms mixed freely with the male officers.

3/3 027- 04/21/08

Notes from the Southwest Corner-009: A Grave Situation

The series of previous Lebanon Democrat columns continues. Due to the times of publication, the columns will not be in sequence. For example, there were two columns published earlier than this one, but the subject of both was Christmas. This is one of my favorites:

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 21, 2009 – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to the Cedar Grove Cemetery.

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

Notes from the Southwest Corner-008: Blue Devil Hall of Fame Induction: There’s No Crying in Basketball

i apologize for the number added to this headline. i am trying to keep track of what i have and have not posted of my Democrat columns. This one is special to me. It was a thrilling time for me. My mother was not in the greatest of health, having battled with asthma since her sixties and not walking well when we arrived at the high school. The long walk to the gym was difficult for her. We sat on the front row, across from the Blue Devilettes’ bench.

When they made the presentations, she, having played the earliest, 1932-35, was called to center court first. Randy Sallis offered to get a chair because it would be a while as they introduced each initial Hall of Fame recipients and described their feats. Estelle Jewell refused. She stood through the entire ceremony.

Perhaps that, in a small way, showed the determination and the will she had necessary to be a class athlete and a live a wonderful life.

Lebanon High School honored the initial 13 inductees into the Athletic Hall of Fame, Friday night, during the half-time of the Blue Devilettes’ 60-49 win over Warren County High School. Andy Reed covered the event well in the Saturday edition of The Democrat.

My comments are a bit more personal. You probably know my mother, Estelle Prichard Jewell, the lady in the front-page picture of Saturday’s edition, was part of the program.

My heroes of my pre-teen years, Don Franklin and Clifton Tribble were there. Most gratifyingly, I talked to Gill Robinson, who accepted the award for his late father, David Robinson, who played along side Franklin, Tribble, and Robert Dedman, also an inductee. David was not only a hero; he also was my coach at Castle Heights and reset my shoulder in place when I separated it during a practice.

My friends, Louis Thompson, and his wife, Peggy McDonald were there for Louis’ induction. I had not seen these two special people for more than 45 years.

Rita Rochelle, although she played after I had left for college, sports writing for the defunct Nashville Banner, and the Navy, started her fabulous career as a freshman when my sister, Martha Duff, was playing her senior season.

If anyone’s athletic performance at Lebanon High School accurately could be called heroic– I often guffaw when a television commentator describes a golfer’s shot as heroic – it would have to be Loharrel Stevenson. Stevenson was not only a superb high school and college athlete but also broke the color barrier for the Blue Devils while I watched Perry Wallace doing the same for Vanderbilt and the SEC, both giant steps toward impartiality.

My sister and I sat in the third row behind the inductees during the first half of the Devilette’s game. It had not changed a great deal since she played and practiced there and I played many weekend pickup games. Nostalgia was running rampant in our veins. We exchanged sports stories and recalled our mother’s retelling of some fun moments in her career and our recollection’s of our friends and heroes.

When the first half was over, the board walked to the foul line on the west end of the court. Randy Sallis, a board member, walked over and escorted my mother to receive her plaque and stand at center court while the rest of the inductees received their plaques and joined her.

Amidst all of the current hype and overdose of athletic awards (ESPY’s?) and the excess commercialism of made-for-television (or at least scheduled for television) sports events, the halftime ceremony received little media coverage outside of Lebanon.

But as my sister and I watched the presentations unfurl and watched our 90-year old mother beaming that fabulous smile of hers, we sensed each other had tears welling up, ready to burst. Martha, a pesky and consistent defending guard several years ago, corrected the problem with a modified quote from “A League of Their Own.”

She quietly told me, “There ain’t no crying in basketball.”

As we left for more formal photos of the inductees in the library, I stopped and talked to old friends, Jim Harding and Bobby Byrd, a good “coming home” experience by itself. Before walking down the exit corridor, I turned to look at the gymnasium scene one more time. It will no longer be the high school gym if I ever get back.

The moment captured a wonderful tradition and transition of Blue Devil sports for me. There remains something healthy and right about high school athletics.

Thanks again to Clint Wilson, Denise Joyner, the Board of Directors, and the Booster’s Club for perpetuating the good things.

Notes from the Southwest Corner -7: Barber Shops – The Beginning of a Hairy Tale

Before you begin reading this post, a column from quite a while ago, i have ceased going to barbershops. The reason is not so much the cost having risen astronomically, although it is a contributing factor, but it would end up costing about $2.50 cent per hair. About 10 years ago, maybe 20, i went and bought an electric razor. i cut my hair almost down to the nubs and ask ask Maureen to check and tidy the mess up. But of course, i have some stories about that as well.

SAN DIEGO, CA – When I started writing for The Democrat, I planned to write from ideas saved over the years with a focus on connecting and comparing my Southwest corner to Middle Tennessee.

Then events seem to keep popping up, demanding I write about them. This week, nothing has interrupted my original intentions.

Barber shops are an interesting study of human nature. I am not referring to the franchise stores but the locally owned shops which have been existence since the barber gave up doing dental work out here when the West was young and dentists were in short supply.

For about a dozen years after I moved to this neck of the woods south of San Diego, I got my hair cut at Alberto’s, located in a strip mall across from Southwest College on a mesa, about four miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies.

In many ways, Alberto’s reminds me of the Modern Barber Shop where I received my first haircut just off the square on West Main Street in Lebanon. Growing up, my haircuts were mostly administered by “Pop” at the Modern Barber Shop and later his own place in the Dick’s Food Mart mall.

As I moved into my teenage years, my father and I went to Edwards Barbershop, located across from the end of University Avenue on South Maple. It was a one-chair shop.

Alberto’s looks very similar to both and even smells the same, a pleasant, somewhat musty aroma. There is a clock running backwards so it will read correctly if you are looking at it through the mirrors back of the chairs. It would have fit in the Modern Barber Shop, Pop’s, or Edward’s.

I first started going to Alberto’s in the mid-1980’s after spotting John Sweatt in a chair. John was commissioned as a Navy officer about three or four years before me. He had been a strong supporter for me on the Castle Heights football team when he was a senior and I was a sophomore. Later, he gave me some hope I might actually complete Navy Officer Candidate School when he visited me in my barracks, resplendent and fearful (to my senior officer candidate tormentors) in his lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) dress blues.

I decided Alberto’s would be good for me as well.

Alberto is a small man with salt and pepper hair and a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. Although his five children are spread from Alaska to San Diego, he still lives in Tijuana and remains a Mexican citizen. His English and my Southern don’t always mix well, but we communicate adequately. He always cuts my hair the way I ask and trims my mustache at no charge.

Alberto reminds me of Pop, although I probably would have been banned from the city limits had I tried to grow a mustache in Lebanon in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The strongest tie is not their barber skills. Alberto’s ethics growing up in a middle class Mexican neighborhood are very much akin to Pop’s. Giving a great service for a reasonable price; they were proud of their work, enjoyed their customers; and in turn, their customers enjoyed them.

Bob is the second in command at Alberto’s. He knows everyone by name. Curiously, Bob always looked like he needs a haircut with a long, untamed mane.

Still he gave me one of my favorite barber shop stories:

A couple of years ago, a recently retired man came into the shop while I was waiting.

Bob stated, rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, George?”

George affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

George replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

George, pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

When this occurred, I thought, “At the core, there is not much difference between barber shops in the Southwest corner and in Middle Tennessee.”

And there is an unlimited supply of barbershop stories in both places.