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-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.

Notes from the Southwest Corner – 6: Good Things Happen for Those Who Wait

i have been remiss in posting my old Democrat columns on Thursday. i plan to resume and maintain that practice. i hope my Lebanon friends and family understand.

SAN DIEGO, CA – Last Monday, Ms Denise Joyner, the Lebanon High School Athletic Director called and announced Estelle Prichard Jewell had been selected as an inaugural member of the Blue Devil Athletic Hall of Fame.

Estelle Jewell is my mother.

About a year ago, J.B. Leftwich, a weekly columnist here, a close family friend, and my mentor in journalism (which I have noted frequently), wrote a tribute to Estelle and suggested she might have been the best women’s basketball player in the history of Blue Devil Sports. For her size, his suggestion just might be a slam dunk.

In a 1935 district tournament semi-final, Estelle scored 33 points for the Blue Devilettes girls basketball team and was named to the all-tournament team. For the 1934-35 season, she scored 283 points in 19-games. This was during an era when most games were low-scoring affairs, rarely exceeding 30 points total. Her single game and season scoring records stood for a quarter of a century.

She will be inducted during a half time ceremony during LHS basketball games, December 14

I am elated. LHS’ Hall of Fame is honoring her just after she turned 90 in July.

I am anxious to learn of other inductees. Clifton Tribble, Don Franklin, David Robinson, Ann Lucas. Louis Thompson, David Grandstaff, Hal Greer, and many others immediately come to mind as probable selections. It bemuses me to think of my mother standing next to these heroes of mine and receiving her plaque.

Estelle Jewell today does not come across as a hall of fame athlete. Being 90 certainly belies her earlier skills. She also tops out at five feet tall. I saw her take a shot once. It was a two-handed push. She jumped and spread her legs when she shot. From fifteen feet, it hit nothing but net. I don’t think she could do that now.

In reflection, she laughs about her play. “I got 33 in the semi-finals,” she says, “but I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn the next night, and we lost.” I have never heard her brag about her accomplishments.

In her recollection of a game at Mount Juliet, she recalled how she would try not to drive for a lay-up on one end of the court because she might run into the Ben Franklin stove underneath the basket. The stove heated the entire gym.

Not considering the stove, it was a different game then with three zones with two guards on the defensive end, two forwards on the offensive end, and two centers in the middle who passed the ball from defense to offense. One dribble was all that was allowed.

Still, Estelle’s accomplishments remain exceptional.

Her shooting skills were probably enhanced by chores. Her grandfather, Joseph Webster, the retired Methodist circuit rider, would give her a penny for each fly she swatted and killed inside the farmhouse on Hunter’s Point Pike.

Her endurance and strength were likely abetted by other chores she and her two sisters and brother undertook while her mother was a care-giver, working day and night (Her father, Joe Blythe Prichard, died young and the family lived with their grandfather).

When her hall of fame career in sports was concluded, Estelle quickly put it aside and went to work. She learned secretarial skills at the County Court Clerk’s office in the old courthouse on the square. She worked for the Commerce Union Bank on the north side of the corner of the square and East Main Street. She married my father, Jimmy Jewell, in 1938, three years after she had graduated from LHS.

She is a reflection of all of the women of that generation whom I have known: practically feminine with a firm grasp of reality; frugal but willing to lavish gifts and love on her family and friends. She is a product of hard times (the depression), frightening times of sacrifice and victory (World War II), security produced by hard and loyal work, and change without end. They are strong, balanced, and loving women.

But every once in a while, basketball will come up in a conversation, and you can still see the sparkle in Estelle’s eyes.

When I called my mother for congratulations, her and my father’s excitement made it an unforgettable phone call. She was thrilled. The news was something to feel good about.

Thank you, Blue Devils for proving in a good place like Lebanon, good things do happen, especially for those who wait.

Notes from the Southwest Corner – 5

This is later than Thursday, my intended schedule, because we are on our Texas sojourn. The first part of the sojourn was a return to a past home of mine. Earlier, i have posted the introduction to that return. Now Maureen and i are savoring our time with Blythe, Jason, and of course Sam. So parts of this Democrat column written over 15 years ago is timely. Of course, seeing my family is a wonderful time. Yet it is eclipsed when i look at Sam and remember — with my usual technology acumen, i cannot find the photo i meant to include here. i will add later…when i find that photo.

Closure on the San Diego Fires

SAN DIEGO, CA –Thanksgiving will be special out here. Our six-month old grandson Sam is coming. I expect him to captivate the natives here pretty much the same way he captured the folks back in Tennessee in August.

His August trip celebrated his great grandmother’s birthday as well as his first visit to his ancestral home. This will be his inaugural visit to the Southwest corner.

Out here, I normally smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition which began with Sam’s Texas great grandfather many years ago. The fire in the smoker will be the first we’ve lit of any kind since the cataclysmic fires a month ago. It has seemed disrespectful to the people who lost 1300 or so homes.

The smoker fire and the Thanksgiving celebration will be a symbolic closure to the tragedy. But the stories of the fires will burn a long time.

After a month, recollections of those fiery days return when the marine layer has brought mist and dew to our neighborhood. When I walk the dog in the early morning, I can smell the acrid aroma of the fire. That smell is something I will not forget.

Since the fires, the news has focused on praise for firefighters, heroism, survival, and neighbors supporting each other.

Now, the drama is picking up.

Early on, news reports indicated the Witch Creek and Rice Canyon fires started from high power electricity lines. These two fires were the most destructive, burning more than 200,000 acres and destroying 1131 homes.

The origin was high winds pushing power lines together, creating severe arcing and igniting the un-cleared brush underneath. Last week, lawsuits were filed against the power utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).

Finger pointing has begun. County, city, and SDG&E officials are blaming each other for not clearing the brush and trees around the power lines.

Yet the ability to not only survive but to recover and flourish is still the biggest discussion around here.

Several families lost their homes in 2003 and again in the October infernos. Their resiliency is incredible. One elderly couple twice struck is considering building their third home underneath the ground, but they are adamant about staying on their property.

Many stories of heroism and support have filled our senses for a month.

One couple in Rancho Bernardo spent the night in the center of their swimming pool as the fires raged around them and destroyed their home.

Another family built their dream home in the back regions of Poway, a community ravaged by the Witch Creek fire. The father had installed cisterns and pumps for such a crisis. Several weeks before the fire, a fire chief told him one of the safest actions would be to stay inside the house. The chief explained wild fires driven by high winds would blow past the house; homes usually ignited and burned from embers and small brush fires after the inferno had blown past.

Then, the family of three and a young worker were caught by surprise. The pumps failed. Remembering the admonition, they gathered in the house. The fire passed. They described the noise as sounding like a fast freight train, similar to many descriptions of a hurricane. The heat was intense. But the inferno blew past. When they emerged, they put out several smoldering spots on the roof and doused several small shrubbery fires with a garden hose.

Across the county, charred landscape dominates the views.

The high desert chaparral will rebound quickly. Although evidence of the fires will remain for some time, winter growth will bring green to the hillsides and next spring, it will be hard to find the fire lines.

Replacing the houses will take several years. Some people who lost residences in the 2003 fire have still not completely rebuilt. Of course, some homes will never be replaced.

One good story has been generosity. Supplies provided by other residents more than met the demand from the half-million evacuated. The San Diego Red Cross has asked for donations to be given to other charities. Their coffers are full. People do care and have shown it.

So out here in the Southwest corner, we will smoke our turkey, salute the brave, and be thankful so few homes were lost. We will give thanks for a new beginning.

That makes it even more special to have a new grandson out here for the celebration.