Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time is a Relative Thing

AUSTIN, TX – Tomorrow, my three-week odyssey will end when my wife and I fly back to the Southwest corner.

Over a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, it occurred to me Einstein had it right: Time is a relative thing (or something like that).

More than a few years ago, three weeks were just a blink of “time’s winking eye” as Robert Penn Warren so eloquently put it in his epic poem “The Ballad of Billie Potts.”

Throughout my Navy career, a long time gone meant I was away from home for seven months or more. Three weeks was my ship’s maintenance availability in Naples, Italy when in the Mediterranean or Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines when in the Western Pacific, a blink of an eye compared to the entire deployment.

In 1990s consulting work, 18 months away from home base was easy for me. I still had the wanderlust which took me away from my hometown in 1967.

But these past three weeks seemed to be lengthy.

Time is a relative thing.

Incredible Feats

As my flight soars for three hours between Austin and the Southwest corner tomorrow, I will, as usual, marvel at our ancestors who made this the east-west trek in wagons. Those early pioneers carried their own meals on wheels. There were no McDonalds or Cracker Barrels. The stops were dictated by how far they could travel in a day, nearly always less than 30 miles. They had to time the travel to miss the brutal heat of the summer on the southern trails or the killer cold and snow of the northern passages over the Rockies.

Oh yes, flights were for the birds (only) and had Global Positioning System (GPS) existed, wagon-wheel ruts would have been the directed route, not I-8, 10, 20, 40, etc.

What will take me five hours total travel time from Lebanon to the Southwest corner took those folks of yesteryear more than a year. My annoyances of high-priced airport fare, security inconveniences, loud and inconsiderate nearby passengers, decreased flight service, and slow baggage claim doesn’t quite seem so bad considering their problems with broken wagon wheels, insubordinate livestock, dust, river fords, and marauding Apaches.

Time is relative.

Instant Development

During my Austin stay, I marveled at development time. Grandson Sam, crossing to the short-side toward three, went from diapers to “pull-ups” when he started to use the toilet proudly on his own (I know as I was the beckoned spectator a half-dozen times one morning as he displayed this newly acquired step toward maturity).

He also went from vigorously resisting teeth brushing to a strong self-starting supporter of dental hygiene in the space of three days. Six months ago, he was learning his first words. Now, he has running, voluminous commentary on almost everything, although occasionally, I am not sure what he is saying. This is likely due more to my hearing than his speaking.

Time is relative.

My two daughters grow closer together. They are 17 years apart in age, but their relationship is as strong as if they were only a year apart. They adeptly and speedily converse on “Facebook,” “Twitter,” and “texting,” while I wrestle with my email and web presence. Their time is in the realm of “Star Trek.” My time is in the realm of those pioneers and their Conestoga wagons.

Time is relative.

In another three weeks, we will turn around and repeat the Tennessee part of the journey. Christmas in Tennessee is the Southwest corner Jewell’s tradition. This will be our nineteenth straight year for the round trip.

I have about two months of work to chase during the three week turnaround. Of course, I must also catch up on my golf in the Southwest corner with my old Navy buddies, who have happily adopted the group moniker of “curmudgeons.”

Time is relative.

Old Friends Back Home

Christmas in Tennessee will surely take me back to the days of my youth but perhaps not as dramatically as during the Veteran’s Day week.

But I will spend time with my close friends, Henry Harding and Mike Dixon, something not afforded in the November junket. Hopefully, I will get to spend more time with other close Lebanon friends, and even meet anew old friends as I did with John Thompson on my recent visit.

We will recall our past adventures with varying degrees of accuracy and wonder where others have gone over these two score years.

Einstein was right: time is a relative thing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thanksgiving: No Smoked Turkey but That’s Okay

AUSTIN, TX – As I write this column, Thanksgiving preparations are underway and will be “all ahead full” when you read this.

My wife, Maureen, and our daughter, Sarah, will arrive tomorrow (Tuesday) for Thanksgiving with our other daughter, Blythe, and our nuclear family. Before then, Jason, my son-in-law, and I will have completed the bulk of the shopping.

This time last year, we had hoped a family tradition of Thanksgiving in the Southwest corner would take root and last longer than two years. But son-in-law’s new job prohibits travel during the holiday season, so Austin Thanksgiving is now the tradition…this year.

The one tradition which will not carry from the Southwest corner is my smoking the turkey. This is ironic since I first learned of smoking turkeys Christmas 1971 in Paris, TX. My then father-in-law, Colonel Jimmy Lynch, nailed turkey smoking. I think that turkey was the best I have ever tasted.

Even without smoked turkey, this is certainly a time for thanks.
Our focus will be on grandson Sam, who half-way through his third year, has welded this family together.

I thank him every day for that.

Cross-Country Thanksgiving

My parents will celebrate in Lebanon with my cousins, Bill and Kathy Denny. My sister, Martha, and her family will celebrate in Signal Mountain. My brother and his family, including his new grandson, Leo, will eat turkey in Queechee, VT. Our nephew Bill Boase will take over the turkey smoking for Maureen’s family in the Southwest corner. We will pretty well cover three-fourths of the country with our thanks giving.

Last week, I began the thanking season by thanking those who contributed to our family’s pride in the Veteran’s Day parade. It seems each trip back I discover yet another reason to thank Lebanon and its denizens.

Before I left, I reconnected with John Thompson. John, now a surgeon in Gallatin, was the Battalion Commander in our senior year at Castle Heights. The two of us and his wife Jan had a long discussion. The last time we had seen each other was 1962 when we graduated. He had my utmost respect 47 years ago and that respect continues today.

Ironically the next night, my brother Joe connected with John’s brother Eric for the first time in 42 years. “Young whippersnappers,” I thought.

Dee Jay Reunion

Also before leaving, I relived my radio days. Coleman Walker interviewed me on his Friday “Coleman and Company” program. He, Clyde Harville, and I shared the bulk of the announcing duties at WCOR from 1965 until I left for Navy OCS in 1967.

Preceding me, Coleman’s guest was John Jewell, director of the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency. John was another announcer for the AM/FM station, now WANT FM and WCOR AM, during my time there. Unplanned, it was old radio home week.

The route there is different now. I missed a turn before I found Trousdale Ferry Pike. From outside, the station building looked the same, ignoring the additions which are more than double the 1967 size.

Inside, it was a brand new world. The old FM broadcasting booth is now a closet as is the production room of that era. The AM booth is now a coffee station. MJ, the morning announcer sits a booth which makes our consoles look like Fred Flintstone compared to Star Wars.

Radio Then & Now

I left with the thought that some things change and some things don’t.
There is no more record cueing there. In fact, there are no 33 RPM records or the 45s we used to spin. It’s all computers and compact discs. I guess the disc jockeys can still say they are spinning them.

Coleman remains smooth, affable, and has retained his inquiring mind. I must confess I liked his “Birthday Club” better than his current program. His current one is on target and well, current, but the “Birthday Club” was ultimate entertainment. Nashville disc jockeys listened in to get material for their shows, high flattery in radio land.

So when I come back for Christmas, there will be more folks to visit. The list keeps growing. I’m thankful for that as well.

I will have a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. I hope all of you in Lebanon have a wonderful holiday.

When this trip concludes early next week, I will have been on the road for 21 days. I will be thankful to get back to the Southwest corner.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ode to the Last Sister

Ode to the Last Sister

The scene was quietly stately;
The halls were hushed; the talk quiet.
She sat by the casket, a sympathetic smile on her face.
Those paying their respects would stop for a minute,
beside the casket and look at the lovely lady in repose,
to pray i think;
then step aside, stoop and shake the sister’s hand,
the last sister I’ve taken to calling her,
condolences they would say in several different ways.
Occasionally, she would see someone dear;
her older husband, but still lithe at ninety-two,
would offer her his arm;
she would shuffle over, have her conversation,
return to her chair.

It is difficult to lose a younger sister,
almost as bad as it would be to lose a child.
With her younger sister in repose,
her older sister in Florida, not quite right
in recollection and failing slowly,
this middle sister donned her coat of family responsibility,
wearing it regally,
playing to the needs of the visitors,
worrying if all was going smoothly,
asking about others,
worrying over not remembering names.

It struck me she was queenly.
when the family gathered at her place
she was the center of it all.
As always, her man was circling, getting things done,
but she was the epicenter.
Her hair was white and pretty,
not plastic blue:
she never varied from the natural color;
her eyes still had the gleam of humor:
when one brow was arched,
everyone still scrambled to get out of the way
of whatever was to come next.

Another family member said it best as we struggled with what was going on:
“We are saying good-bye to a different age.”
And so it is.

And the world rolls on, caroming off of what makes sense
to find paths of illogic and darkness
when light and hope should be on the trail.
But the one last sister has her own world,
which she rules
by herself now.
As I think back to the scene,
I recall her moving toward me
(for i am her oldest son)
in a moment of weakness
at the “visitation” as they call it in the South.
As she neared, I could see she didn’t want
to be regal or responsible
for that infinitesimal moment;
I moved to her as a tear or two escaped.
As I held her against my chest,
I could tell the moment had passed,
kissed her on the forehead
let her return to her civil regality.
From my reflection, I knew she would be all right.

Sure ‘nuff, she rebounded, took up the gauntlet
doing what she had to do
with that fire and grit and pluck
and ooh, that gleam, that wonderful gleam in her eye.

That is the way in the middle of Tennessee,
or rather has been the way,
and will be the way,
as long as she can keep the fire stoked;
And there are others, daughters and other women kin
and other women in other families
who will keep the fire lit,
we are saying good-bye to a different age.

Bonita, California
March 18, 2007

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thanks to My Home Town

EN ROUTE AUSTIN, TX – As you read this, I will be winging toward grandson, daughter, and son-in-law in Austin with yet more fond memories in my treasure chest of Lebanon.

I just had a whirlwind trip into and out of my hometown. As a result, I have many thanks for all of you good folks.

Previously, I have written of Lebanon being “Brigadoon” to me and the people here being “Dear Hearts and Gentle People.” I must now add “Americana” to the list of my reasons for continuing praise.

Last Wednesday, I watched Lebanon pay homage to the service of its veterans, and the Grand Marshall was Jimmy Jewell, my father. He rode Jay White’s 1921 Ford “Hack” at the head of the parade, smiling and waving, sometimes even standing on the running board and leaning out, hanging with one arm on the roof, waving to the crowds.
Martha and Tommy Duff, my sister and nephew, rode along.

Parade Perfection

The weather was November perfect. As participants gathered on South Hatton, I thought this was the way parades should be, more people oriented than extravaganzas as is often the case in the Southwest corner.

The reason for the parade was noble in intent and respectful in execution. Veterans were honored. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice were at the forefront as it should be everywhere.

High school bands (Lebanon and Watertown) gave the flavor one must have at such proceedings. Assorted motorcycles, antique cars, the Shriner’s miniature 18-wheelers, and local politicians in show cars – regardless of political leaning, one had to be impressed with Susan Lynn walking behind her vehicle throughout the parade – and the Castle Heights elementary group, all added to my sense of being somewhere long ago.

I appreciated the Junior ROTC units of Army, Air Force, Marines, and particularly the Navy, but missed the Castle Heights marching band and drill team.

Watching the observers was as heartwarming as watching the parade. They too were a slice of Americana.

The concluding ceremony was just right.

Sacrifice Honored

The recent sacrifice of SPC Jonathon O’Neill brought veteran’s contribution to the present when his family assisted in laying the wreath and unveiling the monument in front of the court house.

The Gold Star Mothers, women who lost children in their country’s service of spread the salute to veterans across the years.

Of course, brother, sister, and I stood proudly while Lieutenant Colonel Henderson read of my father’s contribution.

It was a feel good day.

A Special Supper

The previous evening rendered another special moment. When supper rolled around on Castlewood Lane, the original family of five sat at the same round oak table where we sat over fifty years ago. We could not remember when just the five of us had been together since those meals in the breakfast room on Castle Heights Avenue. We have gathered many times since, but a spouse, another relative, a friend or a next-generation member was with us.

The fare: meatloaf, fried squash, string beans with fresh onions, coleslaw, and biscuits with ice tea and chocolate pie for dessert (Grandma Specials, I call them).

Our family has been particularly blessed. There are not many families with three children born in the 1940s who can sit down and have a meal together just as they did over a half-century ago.

Giving Thanks

Thanks need to be proffered to those who made our supper, and more importantly, Lebanon’s tribute to Veterans possible.

Jim Henderson had a major role in every aspect of the parade, including the Grand Marshall selection. Jerry Hunt played a significant part in the choice of my father, and J.B. Leftwich was involved in the initial idea as well as contributing to the selection process.

Donna and Larry Odom and the other folks at Henderson’s Florist provided a chair for our mother to sit while watching the procession and a blanket to ward off the wind, a kind gesture not forgotten.

Of course, I also appreciate all of the participants, the onlookers, and the ceremony attendees.

Finally, I want to thank the City of Lebanon and American Legion Post 15, the parade sponsors.

My world is a little bit brighter, my appreciation of my home town has grown a little bit more, and my pride in veterans, including my father, has grown even more.

Thanks, Lebanon and you good folks who make it what it is.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Going Quick

Two men, father and son,
hunched over a work bench
a number of years ago;
working on a project quietly
in the glare of the naked bulb
hanging above their heads;
they talked a bit,
focusing on the task at hand,
smiling quietly at the bond
they continued to build;
the old man with thick strong hands said,
“You know, son,
i’ve led a pretty good life,
got three good kids who have grown up well,
some good grandchildren, and
your mother;
‘bout the only thing I hope now
is when I go,
it’ll be quick.”

Bonita, California
June 7, 2008

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Father’s Moment: A Salute to His Generation

SAN DIEGO – Two days after this column is published, Jimmy Jewell will be honored for his military service.

Recently, “The Democrat” last week, announced my father will be the Grand Marshall of Lebanon’s Veterans Day Parade and included a splendid photo of him in his Seabee uniform.

His three children will be there to watch him marshal, even though I have no clue as to what a marshal does – this vision of a McClain School hall monitor keeps jumping into my brain.

In case you missed my earlier columns about “letters from home,” my father is 95. He looks and acts much younger. He volunteered for the Seabees in 1943 while my mother was carrying me, their first child, in pregnancy. He left on a Liberty ship roughly four months later and got back for my second Christmas, two years and five months of service.

South Pacific in WWII

He saw combat on in the South Pacific while running a motor pool for the 75th Construction Battalion. His stories enthrall me. He has earned the honor the City of Lebanon and the American Legion Post 15 have bestowed on him.

I am immensely proud of him.

I am a veteran also: Navy Surface Warfare Officer, 20 years, ten months, three days on active duty, and four years, 11 months, and change with the reserves. I am proud of that service.

I also am proud of all veterans we honor this upcoming Wednesday, which has avoided the recreational tone other national holidays relegated to Fridays.
Salute to WWII Vets

In a sense, honoring my father is honoring more than him. It is a tribute to the veterans of his generation.

Their sacrifice and dedication cannot be calculated by the mind-numbing statistics of that war. It was the last war, conflict, or whatever we call government forces killing people of other governments, in which our country’s very existence was threatened.

Even though 9/11 was a horrific, insane tragedy, our country has not perceived the threat to be more than localized terrorist attacks. In World War II, our country was faced with the very real possibility of invasion on both coasts.

Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan have been far-away wars. We debate and our policy ebbs and flows based on ruling parties weighing the threat against lost lives of military personnel, monetary expense, and political persuasion.

But I am not erudite enough to provide an informed opinion of rightness and wrongness of any of these conflicts. While in service, my job was to not question policy, but to say “aye-aye” and carry it out. This has spilled over into my post-service days. Regardless, that is not my purpose here.

My purpose is to note my father and those of his generation who served during that war left our shores, not only knowing they might not come back, but knowing that if they failed, our way of life could be changed for the worse forever. They had our future in their hands and they knew it.

WWII was different

In the subsequent conflicts, our warriors have known they have been putting their lives on the line, but the sense of our way of life being changed forever doesn’t seem to be included in the equation. Al-Qaeda has given us a taste of a threat to our existence, but the sense of impending doom has drifted back toward a far-way war with the passage of time away from September 11, 2001.

For four or so years in the 1940s, the sense of potential doom was real.

It would be impossible for me to list all World War II veterans from Lebanon and Wilson County, or even those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I wish I could.
Tennessee earned its reputation and its “Volunteer State” nickname in the War of 1812. The state and our hometown have continued to step forward at an amazing rate to volunteer for service. That too is something of which we should be proud.

So Wednesday, I will stand alongside my brother, sister, and many of you to watch the parade with my father as the Grand Marshall. I shall stand at attention and place my hat over my heart (Navy tradition does not include salutes while in civilian clothes).

My gesture will be to honor all veterans and especially those from father’s generation.

He and they have earned that honor.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Smoked Dreams

Another dream went up in smoke tonight;
It may have been my last;
i’ve been a dreamer most of my life;
It may now all be in the past.

My dreams were quite magnificent;
i never dreamed too small;
My life has never been as well spent
As the dreams i still recall.

Now, there are no dreams to chase;
i’ve watched them fade away;
i have my duties for others’ sake;
Dreams are luxuries anyway.

i sit in my chair, not dreaming,
Beside my unlit reading light;
My world is empty seeming;
In the pitch dark of summer night.

Bonita, California
August 4, 2006

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Wedding and a Great Man

SAN DIEGO – As I was prepping for coming home to Lebanon next week, a wedding took me to Upland, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles east of Pasadena at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Upland is an escape from LA bustle with big old homes with spacious porches lining wide thoroughfares with walking paths between the towering eucalyptuses on the street medians. The weather was Southwest corner perfect.

The wedding was a cacophony of cultures. The bride, Tawnie Cook, my wife’s second cousin, has an all-American paternal side, and maternal grandparents who emigrated from Mexico many years ago. The groom, Joey Ferrara, is Italian and several of his family members flew over from Sicily.

The ceremony was held in the large and well-appointed St. Denis Catholic Church in Diamond Bar.

The reception, including dinner, was at the beautiful Spanish-styled Padua Hills Theater in Claremont, where the mountains begin their steep ascent to the heavens. Cultures, age groups, and a variety of lifestyles celebrated together, a special feeling.

The bride’s sister and maid of honor Natalie, or “Cookie,” is close to our daughter. This spring, Cookie graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a dream-like campus on the ocean about 100-miles north of Los Angeles. Sarah visited her there UCSB before deciding to attend San Diego State.

So Sarah was almost a member of the wedding party without being in the wedding.

Beautiful bride, handsome groom, glorious setting: the entire day was just about perfect for a traditional wedding. Tradition crossed the world from Italy to Mexico to the Southwest corner. The vibes made me feel good. I even smiled in Italian a couple of times.

For me, a special part of the evening was the reception. Our assigned table included the brothers of the bride’s father and their wives. Maureen and I sat next to Rafer Johnson and his wife Betsy. Betsy’s mother was the best friend of the Tawnie’s grandmother and Maureen’s friend when they were growing up.

Betsy and I shared delightful conversations. She even found the Vanderbilt, South Carolina football score on her blackberry for me.

But I said little to Rafer.

There were many things I wished ask Rafer. But it did not seem appropriate to launch such discussion at a wedding reception – I later reflected this reluctance to invade another’s space as probably a good reason for not pursuing news reporting as a career.

I have since discovered many people no longer recognize Rafer Johnson when I mention his name. Rafer won the decathlon in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and earned the title of “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” He also captained the USA team.

After the Olympics, Rafer acted in movies with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, and Woody Strode. Following acting, he rose to vice-president of Continental Telephone and drew crowds as an active member of the “People to People” international goodwill program.

As good friend of Robert Kennedy, Rafer was at his side when the presidential candidate was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. Rafer was credited with restraining the slayer, Sirhan Sirhan, from fleeing, and retrieving the murder weapon.

I could not help but feel I was in the presence of greatness. Rafer exudes a gracious, quiet presence. The reticence in talking to him was mine. I suspect he would have abided had I been more forward.

Since the reception, I have thought often about Rafer and our dinner together. I have winced at the non-regonition when I mentioned his name to others.

Rafer should be the athletic model for our children (and us adults as well) to emulate. He should be the one everyone immediately recognizes when his name is mentioned.

Instead we talk about vain and very rich baseball, basketball, and football players, who make headlines with dysfunctional and even illegal behavior.

Rafer overcame prejudice, injuries, and other misfortunes to rise above and succeed through hard work, maximizing his athletic potential without performance enhancing drugs. And he has succeeded in life, big time.

I wish today’s college and professional athletes would have taken their cue from Rafer, not their agents or the media which fuels their fire for fame, rather than living well.

Regretfully, I do not think that is going to happen anytime soon.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

sea dream

i have found at my age i can get into a funk. i call it "a dark place." i have never spent a great deal of time in my "dark place," for it is a place i do not like to go. When there, i also have found it is easiest to get out by writing poetry -- or free verse or whatever it is i write that isn't exactly poetry.

i wrote this last night.

i am no longer in my dark place.

i think,
no, i dream
what was once,
it seems
to me
to be
when I went to sea.

i loved going to sea
there were no roads to follow;
there was simply landfall
out there
over the horizon;

the choice of heading
to sail
was really
up to me.

i no longer go to sea
with limitless possibilities
for heading
or dreaming:

i am on roads,
someone else’s roads;
the roads are narrowing
with fewer forks.

i have finally
come to grips with me
find I am no longer
in control
of me
or the roads
i go down.

i must live to expectations
i created:
the narrow road
with decreasing turns.

i wish
or dream
i had a cabin
in a woods somewhere
with a clearing for a garden.
i would hunt and grow
my food.

i would write with a quill
on parchment
by the fire and candlelight
in the evenings.

i would climb
into the feather bed
by the fire
close to where
i sat and wrote.

before i would fall asleep,
i would gaze out the cabin window
at the heavens
with millions of stars, planets, and moons,
visible because
i was in the dark
in the middle of the wood,
far away from the lights of
people population,
civilization, as they smugly call it,
just like it used to be
when i stood evening watches
on the bridge
on the sea
i love
with no roads.

Bonita, California
December 10, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Diver by Steve Frailey

This article was the genesis of a recent business leadership column from my "Minding Your Own Business" series in The Lebanon Democrat.

Steve Frailey is a vice-president of Pacific Tug Service with whom i have been doing work on small arms ranges on barge projects. He told this story when he and i were waiting for a meeting with a team mate company. i asked him to give me some more specifics and this is that product. He gave me permission to print it here. i will archive it in another section of this website before removing it from this blog.

My partner in the tug boat and marine business and best friend, Grant Westmorland, is a tall, some would say lanky, quiet type. He spends his days at the office perched in front of his computer in silent study of numbers and data. His routine is a nine hour grind with a few carrot sticks or a can of unadorned tuna breaking his day into equal halves. In winter Grant rarely sees his home or wife Robyn and his two young boys Connor and Spencer in the light of day.

We have been partners in this business since January of 2000. In that time we have gained a senior partner during a merge which caused our once small-time family operation to grow into a moderate small business with multiple locations and nearly seventy employees. Of this much larger “family”, I am the only one who really knew Grant “before”.

The mild mannered Grant Westmorland, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of a corporation today was once a man of steel and fortitude who bore little resemblance to Clark Kent. When I tell tales of a swashbuckling Super Grant who lived days by his wits and will out on the sea and by his charm and bravado at night aboard his flashy yacht very few believe or even humor me.

Not What He Seems To Be

It’s all true what they say about a book’s cover. The plainest of bindings and a simple canvas can belie a treasure of adventure, humor, danger and romance within. Even years later, under a thin layer of dust the story awaits to be retold;

In 1985 in San Diego, I just off a four year Navy hitch and back from Sardinia with my young wife. At twenty-two and full of ambition and youthful expectations I went in search of work.

I landed at the old Campbell Shipyard on the San Diego waterfront. It was a salty old-school seascape of rusting tuna clippers and saltier shipwrights. The sound of sea-gulls, caulker’s mauls and welding arcs was the occasional sound-track.

Sadly, the golden age of tuna fishing was dying a slow death and along with it the art of shipbuilding in the traditional style. Amidst the grayness of life in the shipyard were some outstanding characters full of color. In my first days learning the ways of my new life of coveralls and a tool belt I came across an exceptional find. Lying low in the water; nearly awash in fact, was an ancient barge built of wood. It rested against an even older pier at the end of the shipyard.

The barge was far beyond its most optimistic life expectancy but refused to sink into oblivion without a fight. A solitary figure rose up out of a watery hold grasping a length of steel wire in one hand and a huge wrench in the other. I watched as he struggled and won a minor wrestling match and dragged the wire back again into the depths of the barge.

The Diver

Time and again this man wove his wires into and out of the barge and over the span of a week or so he spun an intricate web of rusty steel sewn into the very spine of the old barge. Its purpose eluded me but I was captivated. I never spoke to “The Diver” as I came to think of him as he never paused in his labor.

I chanced a wave on occasion and it was returned heartily, wearily. He would be at his cause from when I arrived early for work and be at it yet when the lonely whistle blew at the end of a long day. The Diver was a man of steel conquering a ship of wood. He was tall, lean and grim. A Don Quixote tilting against a benign but mighty enemy!

The impression The Diver had on my young adventurous spirit was strong and lasting. I learned the shipyard had hired The Diver to ballast and dispose of the reluctant old barge by sinking it off shore. To send it to its watery grave, The Diver had to attach many tons of heavy ballast, hence the lattice work of steel wires. He had to attach huge steel tanks of air to buoy the mass until the fated day.

The undertaking was big enough for a small group of tough men. It was a grand feat for single man to accomplish, and accomplish he did.
The venture netted The Diver a tidy sum from which a business was launched. Over the course of ten or more years, I watched. My own career on the waterfront evolved and so did the The Diver’s.

Sweat, determination and guile would see The Diver through many a challenge, both physical and intellectual. That never-say-die attitude formed the feisty basis of a small tug boat and marine business that swam on a sea divided by mighty competitors.
A willingness to perform at any cost and a commitment to succeed for the customer built a reputation that is hard earned on the waterfront. Those who knew The Diver then knew him much as I did. A small slice of precious territory was earned for The Diver and his business.

Grant Westmorland

The Diver was Grant Westmorland. As we became friends and over the span of years I have been a cohort, shipmate, mutual shoulder to lean on and tilter against windmills with Grant. His single minded determination and will to persevere were only equaled by his good will, good humor and good taste.

Grant’s successes always have been celebrated in style. His flashy cars, the live-aboard yacht (complete with disco lights and wet bar) and Gucci fashions led to his greatest accomplishment; a trophy wife with brains and a heart as big as his.

Time marched on. Grant’s yacht gave way to a tract home on land, the Ferrari became a Ford. A couple rambunctious boys, a few salty-gray hairs, reading spectacles and a bigger, more “corporate” career and the trappings of middle age crept into and re-shaped the persona of The Diver.

The Grant of today is the picture of an American, nose to the grindstone, small business executive. Our many employees and customers have had an acquired impression of Grant as “The Suit”. We now have up and coming young bucks eager to stomp and roar on the decks of ships but opportunity to flex muscles and match strength on the waterfront has given way to flexing brains and matching wits.

The days of steel men and wooden barges are long gone. Grant’s youth was witness to the last days of cowboys on the waterfront. But The Diver is still in Grant. I see it all the time. I can’t look at Grant and not see The Diver and I wonder at how others perceive him as docile desk jockey.

The Diver Reappears

I have reason to tell this tale of The Diver. He recently made a grand reappearance to the astonishment and grudging approval of even the grisliest of our colleagues. This story will not make news or even waves, it is a reassuring pat on the back feeling that an old friend still has what it takes. The Diver was back again with grit and guile…

San Diego was once home port to vast fleets of gray ships of war. Bountiful tuna clippers crowded the docks with their catch and giant piles of net. Shipyards and their smaller cousins the boatyards were bustling, noisy places of activity.

The collective waterfront was San Diego’s identity. The sea air was San Diego’s signature on life. San Diego was more of a frontier town than a city then. Rules of conduct were loose and competition was...spirited Characters abounded in San Diego clear through the seventies into the eighties.

Gradually, the decline of the tuna industry, the end of the “Cold War” and a downsized navy fleet gave way to lollipop trees and gum drop bushes along the waterfront. Like teetering dominoes, once stalwart employers of skilled craftsmen fell to the wrecking ball as a convention center, a ball-park and hotel chains were filled with minimum wage earners serving hordes of wide-eyed tourists.

Entire livelihoods and traditions faded but were not forgotten as San Diego changed. Our Bay went from a military/industrial port to a shopping mall pond, seemingly overnight.

South Bay Waterworld

All the glitter pushed a minority few into a small corner of the South Bay, which became home to a rabble of waterborne vagrants, misfits and miscreants. The infamous A-8 Anchorage was a sprawling “Waterworld” collection of worn out yachts, fishing boats, barges, tankers, trawlers, skiffs, rafts, dinghies and even canoes.

Anything that barely floated and was not welcome elsewhere found its way to the A-8 and a slow death. A “Who’s Who” of San Diego’s vice called the A-8 home. Chief among residents was the “Party King” of San Diego. A floating empire known as the “Castle”, “Neptune’s Palace” and a fleet of makeshift water taxi’s serviced an underground clientele seeking an…alternative lifestyle away from the eyes of law.

Inevitably progress found its way to the A-8 and the powers of the Port Authority sought to clean out the anchorage. Legal battles were fought and won, little by little the last remnants of San Diego’s more unseemly past were evicted and the Bay began to sparkle as a whole.

The famed “Neptune’s Palace” sought refuge as a shadowy church as a final bastion against the establishment. The final blow was not a judge’s gavel however, but a winter storm that broke the moorings holding the Palace in place and allowed it to drift into the shallow flats in the middle of the South Bay. It became an environmental and visual nuisance to all.

Fast forward to 2009. Grant Westmorland is Executive V.P. of Pacific Tugboat Service at the San Diego headquarters. His responsibilities are varied and complex. He oversees a diverse business model and equally diverse workforce and management team.

His attention is laser focused on the bottom line and how best to meet the company’s, employee’s and customer’s needs. The friendly smile, dash of humor and good will are ever present but nary a hint of the old “Diver”.

Palace Removal

The Port of San Diego finally contracts the removal and disposal of the old “Palace” in the Bay but concern over the sensitive nature of the environment and the dilapidated state of the Palace make the undertaking a very selective process. Ultimately Grant Westmorland develops a proposal to salvage the wreck with no impact to the environment.

His was a daring plan that involved careful placement of underwater lifting devices, coordinated timing with tides and prevailing currents and concerted efforts of tug boats and crews. The risk of the structure collapsing and causing a major navigation and environmental hazard was very real.

From concept and planning to execution, Grant was at the epicenter of the project. He put in countless of hours of preparation at the drafting table. When it came time to install the lifting devices Grant trusted only himself to go into the cold water and perform the work.

For two weeks Grant worked tirelessly in the water attended by increasingly impressed crew members top-side. “The Diver” was back! He forecast the day and time of salvage to be at the height of the highest tide. It happened to be a late-night/early morning in the dead of winter. Grant entered the water early in the morning the day prior to adjust and prepare. He finally emerged from the water some thirty-six hours later.

Admiration Earned

To the astonishment of everyone except me, Grant spent well over thirty hours of continuous, strenuous work in cold, wet conditions with no rest, no break and the threat of failure hanging over his every move.

The precision of the salvage plan and the criticality of timing meant Grant could only rely on himself to make the right move at the right time. Only once the Palace was lifted clear of the water at a local boat yard could Grant relax. As is typical, he smiled and quietly cleaned off and went home.

The next day he was back at his desk as though nothing had happened. The many scratches, bruises and blisters told the story.

The eighties were an era. San Diego became a “City” and San Diegan’s felt the growing pains but got through it in style. Grant was a product of that era and his work ethic is deeply rooted in a time when uncertainty led to either complaisance or fortitude.

Grant is a success because of his fortitude. I am richly rewarded to have Grant as a friend and partner. I am gratified further that Grant has re-established himself as “The Diver” in the eyes of his peers. He does not swagger in his step, he does not need to.

That long, lean frame casts a longer shadow than ever these days.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Too Long

The world is a beautiful thing.
if not in it,
i could sit,
watch it
go by for hours.
but the seat is hard;
it's a pain in the ass
to sit on the cold concrete
too long.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Fall 1966

Monday, November 30, 2009

Traffic: the Not So Great Equalizer

SAN DIEGO – Except for wildfires in the Southwest corner, the year round climate is the best I have ever experienced.

Thanks to the Navy, I have seen pretty much all of the climates of the world. Although personal, my assessment has some validity.

I know I wax excessively about the Southwest corner’s weather, I have not expressed my opinion here Middle Tennessee has the second-best year round climate in our country. I have even encouraged Blythe, my oldest daughter and her husband to consider moving to Tennessee.

Of course, they live in Austin, TX, and pretty much all of Texas has terrible weather except for about two months a year.

Weather vs. Traffic

One attraction for living in the Southwest corner is weather. One thing which could make me leave is traffic.

Opinions about traffic depend on where we are and what we have experienced. I often moan about Los Angeles, but San Diego’s traffic is trying to compete. This became extremely clear to me just this past week.

I had to go downtown San Diego on a business errand last Tuesday. From our Bonita home, this is an early commute of about 30 to 40 minutes or 20 minutes in other hours. I left later to avoid the heaviest commute.

After a few miles, my wife calls to warn of a traffic backup on Interstate 5, the major north-south route to downtown. She did not know why. Soon, a friend called, adding the traffic was bad elsewhere. When I asked why, he said a woman was threatening to jump off a bridge near where CA-94, an east-west “freeway” intersects with I-5.

I immediately opted for a surface road route, because I cannot abide slow moving traffic.

It did me no good.

Every road was flush with really, I mean really slow-moving traffic. The woman’s crisis had become a crisis for everyone. The police closed off all south-bound lanes and all but two north-bound lanes of I-5, and closed all lanes on CA-94.

The woman’s problems had whacked the travel of about 300,000 cars (my estimation).
I determined my route and listened to traffic reports.

A Call to Henry

Having traveled about 100-feet in fifteen minutes, I called my friend Henry Harding in Lebanon. Henry and I talked for about 45-minutes discussing everything from family and friends, wives, football, and several jokes while I covered about half of the 17 miles to my destination.

The trip downtown took almost two hours. I made the trip home in 15 minutes. The woman came down after about five hours on the bridge.

Daughter Blythe taught me traffic was relative. She and Jason have been looking for a place to move from Austin for years. They have looked in the Northwest, the East coast, and other locales.

About six years ago, they were visiting here when we went for a Saturday morning ride. The traffic, although nothing like that precipitated by the woman’s threat to jump off a bridge, was heavy for a weekend.

Finally, Blythe said, “You know, I guess if we are going to make money in the traditional way, we are going to have to live in or near a big city, and we are going to have to deal with traffic like this.”

Not quite.

Nashville Traffic

In the spring of 2004, I was sent to Nashville to acquire certification as an ISO-9000 auditor. The location was on Briley Parkway. I stayed with my parents and drove their Buick to the training site.

The first morning I was motoring west on Interstate 40, passing Mount Juliet when the HOV lanes commenced (they call them commuter lanes in the Southwest corner). It was 6:45 a.m. While I drove in the number two lane, driver-only cars in those HOV lanes passed me. I was flummoxed about such blatant disregard of the two-occupant rule. Then, I noticed signs establishing the HOV lane restrictions starting at 7:30 or 7:00. This would generate gridlock out here where commuter lanes are always or start at 5:00 a.m.

The radio station gave a traffic report. The traffic guy described the situation on I-40 into Nashville as despicable. “Horrible traffic,” he said. “Real problems are on I-40 West into the city,” he whined.

I was amazed at the assessment. It would have been considered a high-speed commute in the Southwest corner.

It ain’t the same.

That’s one for the home team.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Rain

i walked slowly in the soft rain
settling on my coat
instead of bouncing off as a pellet would in the harsh rain;
the droplets gathered on my hatless head,
wandering down my face as I opened my mouth as if to drink the cleansing fluid.
after another few moments of the slow walk,
i broke into a run,
like a colt showing his heels to the world.
the spirit inside burst into a triumphant yell
complimenting the green surroundings of the wet day:
not damp, not murky:
free, wide, open.
a fleeting moment one only
captures in a lifetime perhaps.
the sun broke through the clouds.
the rain was over.

Nashville, Tennessee

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Castle Heights Collection of Autumn Memories

SAN DIEGO – “The Democrat” I received last week had one of my Castle Heights heroes on the front page.

John Sweatt, the son of Major Sweatt of biology fame in the basement of the old gym, stood on the left of the photograph. John was a member of the 1959 class of Tigers, and he took me under his wing when he was a post-graduate and I was a tiny sophomore blimp on the radar of Stroud Gwynn’s 1959 Tiger football team.

The other photos in the paper and on the “Spotted” section of the paper’s website showed old folks frolicking with their classmates of fifty years ago. To me, John does not look older than he did in August of 1959 when we moved to the second-floor barracks of Smith Chapel for our two-a-days pre-season practice.

I had not yet accepted I was not going to be the six foot, 180-pound second coming of Doak Walker, the SMU Heisman Trophy winner, and NFL star for the Detroit Lions. I was 5-6 and 128 pounds of not real bright. The 128 has morphed into something more substantial. The 5-6 has become permanent.

Johnson’s Dairy Orange Drink

I have previously mentioned after morning practices – where I would lose ten pounds of water weight – John gathered the town boys and headed to Johnson’s Dairy where we each bought a half-gallon of orange drink and gulped down before returning to the barracks.

Through that season, John took care of me. He, Earl Majors, and I all ended up with Naval careers, but I will never forget him watching out for the tiny sophomore.

The photo also evoked the memories Castle Heights autumn.

The sounds came first. On Sundays, the band’s march songs for the afternoon parade wafted down Castle Heights Avenue to our yard where I played in Middle Tennessee foliage at its finest.

Later, there was my daily walk through the arched gate up the narrow drive through the overhanging trees in their brilliant browns, yellows oranges, and reds.
Somewhere in my piles of photographs, there is one of Sharry Baird Hagar, who was on the homecoming court, and my date for the weekend. They are near the field with aster bouquets pinned on their jackets. Young women seemed to be prettier in the fall.

Maroon, Old Gold, and Souza

Pleasant memories: Castle Heights football in the splendor of fall, maroon and old gold football uniforms blending with the harvest colors, military march music matching the mood. John Phillips Souza would have loved autumn Saturdays at Castle Heights.

The gate is gone along with those glorious trees. The road is a thoroughfare, not an entrance to a way of life, also long gone. The gridiron is now Stroud Gwynn field, but more of a track for exercisers, youth soccer, and festivals.

Those autums were an amalgamation of folks. The Heights football team consisted of town-boy cadets Jim Gamble, Mike Gannaway, Earl Major, Jimmy Hatcher, Bill King, and me; resident cadets Jimmy Nunn, Day Johnston, Ronnie Ewton, Buzzy Friar, Dan Pritchett, Desmond Coffee, Day Johnston, Ronnie Naar, Hugh McCoy, and Tommy Higgs; returning graduate John Sweatt, and local post-graduates such as Ed Lasater, Larry Bucy, Gordon Skeen, Jimmy Byrd, and Kenny Berry. And the “PGs” from out of town such as Snookie Hughes, Happy Harper, Joe Chambers, Rusty Hodges, Delton Truitt, Bate Hobbs, Jim Pfeiffer, Glenn Hickey, Kirk Mills, John Taylor, Doug McAfee, and Glenn Hickey.

Great Coaches

The assistant coaches, Jimmy Allen, Frank North, and David Robinson, were all one could hope for as a high school player.

But it is a Brigadoon, a place I cannot go again unless I wake up in the middle of a hundred year sleep.

As I looked at the front-page photo, I wondered if John had the sense of returning to Valhalla. He has gone on to success as an important cog with Cisco. He married one of Lebanon’s true beauties and an intellect to boot in Suzanne Mitchell Sweatt.

I suspect Castle Heights autumn is even more poignant for him. He was steeped in it.

When I saw that photograph, I remembered those halcyon days, which don’t seem to exist with their innocence anymore in today’s commercialized, homogenized world, and how John made them so much better for me a half century ago.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Revelations amidst 700,000 other nuts

SAN DIEGO – This column is not about the Southwest corner or Lebanon, but about an event held the first weekend in October miles north of here.
College friends asked us to join them for the “Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass Festival” in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Cy Fraser, originally from Old Hickory, and his wife Julie took a long route from their home on Orcas Island in Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands. They had spent the summer in their family Michigan retreat and drove to San Francisco from there.

Alan Hicks, a New York City boy with East Tennessee roots, and his wife, Maren, also a Vanderbilt graduate from Atlanta, hosted us in their lovely home perched on a San Francisco hill.

The festival was a strange but successful amalgamation of diverse groups of every imaginable ilk.

Hellman’s Largesse

Warren Hellman, a director of the NASDAQ stock exchange and chairman of a successful private equity investment firm, sponsors the event. There is no entry fee. In its ninth year, the festival drew more than 750,000 people. There were six stages where 79 bands performed from Friday afternoon until Sunday night.

In the back of the crowd on Friday, we could not hear Lyle Lovett very well. So the guys went early on Saturday and Sunday, claiming a small side-hill plot with an unobstructed view.

Other family and friends joined us throughout the three days and many wandered to the other stages. Maureen and I stayed at the Banjo Stage, the main venue. The groups were just too good to miss.

Tim O’Brien and Ricky Skaggs were two Saturday highlights. Sunday, the Banjo Stage rolled out the big guns. Doc Watson, Earle Scruggs, and Ralph Stanley represented the old soul of bluegrass and country music. Emmy Lou Harris put the festival to rest as the final act.

Hazel Dickens: Crusader

Hazel Dickens, 74, stole my heart singing Appalachian hill music. To the more sophisticated, she sounded flat. To me, she sounded like good old country music. Raised in West Virginia, she was a figurehead for the unionization of the coal mines.

The festival was surreal to me.

I imagined the spirit and the crowd was similar to the famous Woodstock concert 40 years ago, but older, milder, and without the rain. The country music icons were inclined toward Southern religions and conservative politics (except for folks such as Hazel Dickens). Yet the site was San Francisco, the heart of liberalism, alternative lifestyles, and substances of the hippie movement (occasionally we would get a good whiff of secondary smoke). There were rabid country music buffs dancing in front of the stage with some of the wildest looking people I have ever seen.

Hellman has amassed a fortune. He is Jewish investment banker from New York. Yet he played his banjo alongside notables such as Earl Scruggs. He held his own, but it added to the strangeness.

Somehow it all worked.

For three days, 750,000 people had great fun without rancor except for an occasional “down in front” chant when someone blocked views. It was good times, good music and good folks, regardless of the cut of their cloth.

And we learned more about our group.

Tennessee Connections

Alan’s parents were both from Rockwood where my family and our Chattanooga relatives visited the Orr homestead.

Alan’s father, Mason Hicks, graduated from high school at 15, the University of Tennessee at 19, and became a doctor in the Big Apple at 22 after completing Columbia Medical School.

Rebecca Tarwater was a talented singer, dancer, and banjo player. She moved to New York to pursue her career and became involved with Jackson Pollock, the legendary artist who was a major force in abstract impressionism.

But the two East Tennesseans ran into each other. Then after a late night performance in Greenwich Village, Becky left her banjo at a club. Mason, although extremely conservative in nature, entered wild Greenwich Village and retrieved the banjo. The two began seeing each other and were married shortly thereafter.

Great romantic story.

On the flight back to the Southwest corner, I reflected on the weekend. With the current political rancor steaming on all fronts, it was nice to see people just being people and sharing good times with tolerance.

We plan to return next year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Adventure and a Tribute

SAN DIEGO – This column is an adventure in several ways.

First, it is the first time I have written poetry for a column since 1961 when I was the sports editor on the Castle Heights Cavalier.

Second, unless there is overwhelming positive response, it will be the last one I write in this column. Some folks who read newspapers just aren’t into free verse, and I am aware of that.

Third, it would be sad, because Grantland Rice and Fred Russell were well known for their column poetry. Of course, this is not Rice’s “The Four Horsemen” in rhyming thing when Castle Heights beat Baylor School of Chattanooga in football.

Finally, this is more of a tribute to my father, Jimmy Jewell, who turned 95 last Monday, than it is a poem.

Happy birthday, Dad.


When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.

His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight:
His hands are firm and thick and solid –
a handshake of destruction if he so desired, but
he has used them to repair the cars and our hearts;

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’35 before computers and units).

His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life itself into his hands
and beyond;
the tales of grease and oil and grime,
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;

they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.

His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man I know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man I know
with hands that tell the story
so well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shaft of Light

a shaft of light:
a broad-bladed knife,
hangs in the air
between the woolen clouds
resting on sunset’s pink dress
on the lady's shoulders;

a freighter, modernized,
decks in orderly clutter with
train-car sized cargo boxes,
sails under the knife blade;
silhouetted by
the shaft of light;
commerce, not romance or beauty,
is her reason for existence;
yet she fits the scene,
perhaps unaware, but still fitting;
moving under the blade’s shaft:
who, what are the crew;
are they aware of their part
in a small moment of beauty?
or was their crap game
too occupying to notice?

the blade slowly fades;
the pink dress
swells with night’s pregnancy;
woolen skies become
a black velvet evening dress,
sequined with stars;

had the freighter passed later
i would have missed her and
the shaft of light.

- South China Sea
- July 2, 1970

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fires, Firewood, and Fireplaces

SAN DIEGO – Although our current weather is not conducive, it is time to plan stocking winter firewood.

My wife, as usual, thinks I’m daft. She’s right, of course.

The Southwest corner’s recent weather has been different from back home. A Santa Ana settled in early. Temperatures have soared and humidity has plunged.

Last week, Bill and Nancy Schwarze visited us from Florida. Nancy, my Chattanooga cousin more like an older sister, has heard me continually boast about San Diego weather. So she arrives and the thermometer stuck at 90 degrees.

Wildfire Threat

While they made fun of my weather, we also monitored the wildfire potential. The weather has made the high desert brush more like a tender box than vegetation.

We had a brush fire flare up several miles east ten days ago. The 14-acre fire was put out quickly. Response has quickened since the big fire two years ago.
Friday morning, my wife saw a cloud to the southeast of our home.

“Oh no, a fire,” she said.

“No, it’s the off shore moisture-filled breeze losing a battle with the Santa Ana. It produces clouds like that one,” I explained.

I did not tell her a wildfire was my first thought as well. It’s natural here this time of the year.

So when I told her of plans to obtain firewood, she rolled her eyes in that knowing way women do.

Gathering Firewood

In the Southwest corner, there are several ways to acquire it. If I am industrious and thrifty, a confluence which happens about one day a decade, I will find a landscaper who is giving wood away in his back lot. I will sift through the pile, load the wood, and take it home for free.

If I am industrious but not as thrifty, I can drive to the eastward mountains and find someone who is selling it off their farm. No sifting required, but it will cost at least $50.

Obviously, having it delivered is easiest. But the biggest difference in firewood here and home is a half cord of wood will run over $150.

Rob Eatherly Connection

I intend to ask Rob Eatherly when I am home, how much firewood he gets from his portable sawmill operation. Rob, who grew up with me, clears land for farmers and others, often turning the cleared wood into lumber.

Rob was surprised to learn my grandfather, Hiram Culley Jewell, preceded him in that line of work. In 1918, my grandfather and my oldest uncle, Jessie Jewell, rode the train to Nashville, picked up the steam-driven sawmill, and drove it back to Lebanon, a two-day endeavor. When my father reached six, he was enlisted to stoke the boiler.

However I gather the wood this year, I will again perplex my wife when I start my first fire. The threat of wildfires will have passed: it would not be de rigueur to light one during the danger season. It also will not be cold enough for a fire. But I love a fire in the hearth. So I will turn on our fans to cool the room. Then with my wife muttering to herself, I will light my first fire.

Fire Not Required

In the Southwest corner, a fire is not ever really necessary. From November through March, we turn on our heat for about an hour in the morning to knock off the early chill. We might turn it on briefly in the heart of a cool evening, but don’t really require a fire at all. But I need one. Our family room will be nice and toasty for the evening.

I often wonder why I find hearth fires appealing. Growing up, no one I recall had a fire in the fireplace. Our fireplace was decorative only. Wynn Prichard, my great uncle had a Ben Franklin stove in his farmhouse. My parents’ generation seems to have found central heat a relief from fires in fireplaces. Hearth fires meant work to them, not entertainment.

Most people in the Southwest corner and back home have converted their fireplaces to natural gas. It is a sensible and effective means of having a fire in the hearth. But I remain a stalwart, stubbornly gathering the wood, hauling it inside, and lighting my fire.

My wife is a good woman to put up with me and my odd predilections.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Have you ever noticed
cobblestone streets
always run beside
auto dealers and
dirty brick buildings
with the name of the warehouse
painted on the side?

Nashville, Tennessee

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Not All Liberty Is Created Equal

SAN DIEGO – In my last column, Navy liberty slipped into the subject matter again.

Today’s Navy has greatly reduced liberty calls. Ship crew swaps at sea, security considerations due to terrorism, and shorter deployments to improve the sailors’ “quality of life” have cut down liberty calls.

In my time at sea, long deployments (nine months was the norm) were simply the way it was. Married officers and sailors groused about being away from their families. But they also considered they had two inalienable rights:

“A griping sailor is a happy sailor” was one such right. Complaining about everything, including long deployments, was exercised vigorously. Another right was hitting liberty ports with gusto on long deployments. Sailors simultaneously bragged and complained about these “arduous” adventures.

Now they can’t.

In previous columns, I have extolled my liberty ports, even bragged some folks might claim. But all liberty was not equal.

USS Hawkins

Allen Ernst, my leading sonarman on the “U.S.S. Hawkins” recalled one which for me was not so wonderful.

In 1969, the “Hawkins” was in Guantanamo Bay for three months of refresher training. Days started at 4:00 a.m. to check spaces for watertight integrity before the inspectors arrived.

By 6:45, I reported to the bridge to stand Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) at Sea Detail entering and leaving port. Once at sea, I was in a five-inch gun mount, in “Underwater Battery Plot” for submarine exercises, or on the bridge for General Quarters. We would get back to the pier around 6:00 p.m., have the wardroom meal, and write training reports, usually hitting the rack (bed) around 11:00 p.m. The process was repeated each weekday.

On weekends, the ship was in “port and starboard” duty sections. One-half of the officers and crew stood duty while the other half went ashore Saturday and Sunday. Liberty consisted of going to the Officers Club pool and bar and an occasional softball game.

When Ocho Rios, Jamaica was announced as our liberty port, I was excited. In addition to the great beaches, the Caribbean Playboy Club was there.

A Long Weekend

We dropped off the trainers 5:30 Friday and turned toward Jamaica. During Sea Detail, the Captain informed me he had qualified me as Officer of the Deck (OOD) underway, and I would be in charge of the ship in one three-section watch rotation.
Being the most junior OOD, my first watch was the “Mid-watch” from midnight until 4:00 a.m.

Sea Detail secured about 7:00 p.m. I grabbed a bite, retired to my stateroom, compiled after-action reports, and hit the rack around 9:30. I awoke at 11:15 to go on watch. Being relieved at 3:45 a.m., I went for some much needed sleep. It was 4:15.

Reveille sounded at 4:30 and Sea Detail was set.

The ship reached pierside about 8:30. As the morale and welfare officer, I greeted local representatives to set up tours for the crew. I was then informed my duty would be Shore Patrol officer for Saturday. I met the local police coordinator and took a tour of potential trouble spots. The tour ended at a police station downtown designated as Shore Patrol Headquarters, where I coordinated patrols and the return of offending sailors back to the ship.

After some wild evening events, the day’s shore patrol duty concluded. Reporting aboard, I then had to deal with a drunk torpedoman who wanted to go AWOL. Sleep claimed me at 3:00 a.m.

Thirty minutes later, reveille sounded. An ore ship came in early, and we had to shift to a mooring.

Liberty: Not

During this five-hour Sea Detail, the watch coordinator informed me the officer assigned Sunday Shore Patrol had not been told and had stayed in a room at the Playboy Club. Consequently, I went back to Shore Patrol.

Liberty ended in the early afternoon. Sea Detail was set, and looking aft, I watched Ocho Rios become smaller and smaller, just like my liberty. We secured Sea Detail at 6:30. I had the evening watch (8:00 p.m. until midnight). I slept like a rock until 3:00 when we set Sea Detail to return to Guantanamo and begin our training day: no liberty and five hours of sleep in 72 hours.

I thought then, “Nobody is going to believe this.” I am still not sure you will. But I know all liberty is not equal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Full Moon

can't think beyond; only think of past or now.

full moon tracing
an avenue
across the water
to me alone,
leaning on the railing.
at the end of
the deck’s wide expanse.
no wind here abaft
the stack;
only the wind’s whisper
rushing by the dark empty deck.

if only i could walk
down that avenue
to the moon.

- South China Sea, August 1970

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Connections Just Keep Making Ends Meet

SAN DIEGO – This column was about to be the dreaded moment for me.
I have prepared for such a moment with piles of notes and references to plow through and avoid the problems it presented.

The moment?

Sitting down with a column deadline approaching, I discovered I didn’t know what to write. This occurred last week. My preparations did no good. I didn’t know what to write.
Then just before trying to invent something, I opened my “Facebook” on the internet. My niece, Kate Hansen, had posted a photo of my mother, Estelle Jewell, with her great grandson, Leo Hansen, on their visit to Lebanon last week.

Lebanon Connections

It is a beautiful photograph, a link to what has been and what will be. Leo, my grand nephew, is connected to Lebanon just as Sam, my grandson was connected two years ago. I’m sure my brother hopes just as much as I hope our grandsons will remain connected to Lebanon. It is a good place to have connections.

I was in Palm Springs when I experienced my writer’s block and saw the photograph. I wrote last year about our crazy annual desert golf weekend. Even with another year to gain some sense, I and several golf chums drove there from San Diego. We played two rounds on Thursday because it was only 105 (with 20 percent humidity). Since it was 111 on Friday and Saturday, we only played one round each day.

A Navy Connection

In addition to insane golf, the trip here afforded another connection. The doctor, Frank Kerrigan, who was on my last ship, the “U.S.S. Yosemite” settled in La Quinta about twenty years ago. Frank and I became fast friends on our 1983 deployment to the Indian Ocean, and we remain close.

As usual, we spent the evening over a good meal catching up on each other’s adventures and talking sports. This year, we added his son, an eleven year old, to the mix. The connections grow.

A Marine Connection

On my way home Saturday, I stopped in an even hotter spot. Twenty-Nine Palms, the Marine Corps base, is the temporary home of a relative. Renee Hoskins is my cousin’s granddaughter. Nancy Orr Schwarze grew up in Chattanooga. Our families traveled to and fro over the mountains almost monthly to spend weekends together.

Nancy lives in Cocoa Beach, FL, and Renee’s family is in upper Michigan. It was nice to connect with a relative I had never met, especially one so dedicated to serving our country as Renee. She finished Marine boot camp in July and is at Twenty-Nine Palms for further training.

Another Navy Connection

Then just as I sat down to write the column, an email flew out of nowhere onto my computer screen. The sender was Allen Ernst. Although it had been almost 40 years since we had any contact, Allan had somehow found my email address. And we connected.

Allen had been my leading sonarman on the “U.S.S. Hawkins where I served as Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer. He remembered me well. He recalled the stories I told about grave digging in Cedar Grove Cemetery, and the worst liberty I ever had when the ship went to Ocho Rios, Jamaica for its liberty weekend during refresher training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Patriotic Connections

So the connections mounted up. Except for the connection between my mother and her great grandson, the other connections inter-related with a theme of military service.

And last Friday, we remembered 9/11. I found it fitting the connections were related to service to our country.

I am proud of Allen Ernst for his service to the Navy. For two years, he was invaluable to me as a member of the ASW team on the “Hawkins.”

I am proud to call Frank Kerrigan, who remains a dedicated medical professional, and provided incredible care to members of our Navy through three tours.

I am most proud of Renee Hoskins, who like many friends and their family members in Lebanon, has dedicated herself to serving our country. Her next tour will in all likelihood put her in harm’s way. She is a courageous young woman.

And all of us, in our own ways, rededicated ourselves to remembering those who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Summer Day

see the rain drops
traverse the latticework
holding up the rose plant;
the small pup
with brown bulging eyes
white paws
late summer afternoon
shady pines
brush the cool wind;
blue skies with
billowy clouds;
lemonade, bitter sweet
in the sweating glass
with quick melting ice;
oppressive heat
stunts the memory;
the murky coffee
is not lemonade;
listen to the tears fall:
beebees in a tin pail.

South China Sea
July 3, 1970

Thursday, October 22, 2009

one hundred miles at sea

one hundred miles at sea
this morning,
i saw a gull
flapping white
against the crescendo sun and
tremolo wind,
whitest i’ve ever seen;
the gull was captured
in a prism of time
from which i shall soon escape
to watch and listen
for mockingbirds.

Seoul, Korea
December 31, 1970

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two years, 100 columns, and a special time of the year

This column was written for publication in The Lebanon Democrat on September 7, 2009.

SAN DIEGO – About two years ago, I commenced writing columns for “The Democrat” from the Southwest Corner.

I probably wouldn’t have even thought about the upcoming anniversary, but this also happens to be the 100th titled column.

Another cue comes from news up the Southwest corner road. I wrote several articles about the October 2007 San Diego fires. The 100,000-plus acres burning just northwest of Los Angeles reminds me of those harrowing days. The LA fires have everyone in San Diego looking at the skies, hoping we will escape unscathed this time around.

Back at home, the Fair is over, school has started, and football is roaring its autumn song. I am glad the Titans have not diluted the enthusiasm for high school and college ball. In fact, observing from this distance, it appears enthusiasm for high school and college football is stronger than when I was growing up there.

Commodore followers, although they have not yet reached the level of Vol mania, have viable expectations of competing well at the highest level. Middle Tennessee’s Blue Raiders, although losing to Clemson, have proven they can play exciting football required in the Sun Belt Conference. Cumberland appears to have some excitement after losing their opener by one point.

If I count correctly in reading Andy Reid and cohorts, there are five respectable high school football teams to follow. I wonder if the Wilson Central, Mt. Juliet, and Lebanon rivalries will have the intensity of the Castle Heights and LHS friendly rivalry (and that was when we only played a pre-season scrimmage).

San Diego Sports

In the Southwest corner, Charger football is now a big topic. San Diego State and the University of San Diego are both generating football optimism.
Baseball retains some attention. Although the San Diego Padres have been lackluster for most of the season, the infusion of rookies has made them a credible ballclub again, and fans are starting to think of next year.

The signing of Steven Strasburg by the Washington Nationals for an absurd amount of money as the number one draft pick has folks anticipating him quickly becoming a star pitcher. A San Diego native, Strasburg certainly had eyes popping when he pitched for Tony Gwynn’s San Diego State Aztecs last spring, winning the Golden Spike award for the best college baseball player.

Of course, none of these are the central sports news here. The Little League World Champions, Park View of Chula Vista, have this city agog. Four players are in Bonita Vista Middle School which our daughter attended. The players have been regaled by the Chargers and the Padres, had a parade, and will have been on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien by the time you read this. Many here in the Southwest corner are concerned the players may experience difficulty dealing with the adoration while trying to get back into the routine of middle school.

Football & Fire Connection

There is a crossroads between the sports and the news in the Southwest corner. The San Diego State football team lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl this weekend. The Padres are playing three games in Dodger Stadium with hopes of being the spoiler in the NL Western Division.

The games were played but discussion continues as to the wisdom of holding the contests. Although 49 percent contained (whatever that means), The Los Angeles “Station” fire still rages above the hills of Pasadena. Fire, smoke and ash dominate the landscape, possibly making the games dangerous for athletes and fans. Although the Santa Ana and its accompanying heat have abated, high daily temperatures remain in the high-80s.
Celebrating Number 100

The San Diego Symphony presents concerts on the city bay front each summer. Most performances feature a noted singer or soloist for the “Summer Pops series.” But this past Saturday, we went for the the music and the accompanying effects. We were treated to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannon fire and fireworks.

Although an unusual entertainment for me, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a great way to celebrate 100 “Notes from the Southwest Corner,” and welcome in football, school, and the season, even if I though I am still looking over my shoulder for another kind of fire.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Willie Nod and the Rabbit

This was written with the idea of creating a yet uncreated children's book. It was originally written for my oldest daughter. The character Willie Nod is in several other pieces of this type.

Willie Nod and the Rabbit

Willie Nod decided it was time to have another adventure.
It so happened a rabbit was also ready for an adventure.
Like these things normally start out, Willie Nod and this rabbit ran into each other.
It happened in a field, which i would have liked to have been in Tennessee, but
The rabbit was scrawny, had bug eyes and long, thin, almost sharp ears,
Totally unlike the fuzzy, warm, slightly chubby, floppy-eared Tennessee rabbits,
Although it’s been a long time since i’ve seen rabbits in Tennessee.

Regardless, this particular field was near Yuma, Arizona,
Which partially explains the scrawniness of the rabbit.
This rabbit, by the way, had a name unlike most of Willie Nod’s animal friends.
Rabbits have been known to have names
Like Bugs, Peter, and of course, there was Harvey,
Although technically, Harvey was a puhka.
So this rabbit had a name too.
His name, oddly enough, was Rabbit Smith.

Rabbit Smith and Willie Nod met in this field in Yuma, Arizona.
Rabbit Smith liked the dry, hot weather of Yuma.
That’s why he was skinny and his cousin in Tennessee was fat.
In the shy way of rabbits, he said hello to Willie Nod.
Now most rabbits have lots of relatives.
Rabbit Smith was an exception, as he related to Willie Nod.
It did not make him unhappy, even though it did make him different.
“Well, Willie, if you don’t have a lot of other people to worry about,
You don’t have to worry about yourself so much.
i’ve never been too much of a worrier;
So one day, when i was all wrapped up in worrying about all those other scrawny, bug-eyed rabbits,
I decided I was worrying too much;
Took off; headed east.
All of those scrawny rabbits originated in California.
Those cuddly ones from Tennessee and other places have never really been rabbit enough to associate with us.”
“Anyhow, I got as far east as Yuma and all the rabbits had just about quit being around.
Stayed here ever since.
No worrying about all those other rabbits.
Oh, it sometimes gets a little lonesome, but
There’s always a prairie dog or two when I need to talk.
I figure lonesome is a whole sight better than worrying, or
Even more to the point, being worrisome,
For if I am worrying about all those other rabbits,
They must be worrying about me.”
Willie Nod got about as tired of this spiel as you did,
Wondering where it was all going to end.
It didn’t.
It just sort of stopped.

Willie Nod and Rabbit Smith kicked around together
For a couple of months.
Sometimes they would meet some of Rabbit’s prairie dog friends.
Sometimes they would see some acquaintances of Willie Nod.
Sometimes they would just walk together in the fields near Yuma.

One day, as it always happens, it was time to part ways for Willie Nod and Rabbit Smith.
You see, Rabbit had noticed Willie had a slight cold
The night before, so he made sure Willie Nod had a blanket before going to sleep.
“Willie,” he said the next morning, “I started worrying about you last night.
So I’ve got to go.”
Rabbit Smith went off, lickety-split, over the fields of Yuma.

Willie Nod wished that Rabbit had waited a minute before taking off.
You see, Willie Nod had figured out the problem:
There’s a difference between caring and worrying.
Some rabbits just can’t tell the difference.

At least, Rabbit Smith didn’t worry too much.

Coronado, California
March 21, 1982

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wilson's Ride

i wrote this in 1964, heavily influenced by Albert Noyes' "The Highwayman."

Wilson's Ride

Out of the night rode the silver-hued stallion
with Wilson a’plunging his heels in its side.
On to the dawn, Wilson drove like a hellion
with fury in passion, fury in pride.

Mud-water splashed on the melting white roadbed.
The horse hooves horrendously thundered away.
The red drops increased, his followers noted,
the followers who traced his tracks on that day.

Not tracked down for justice, but tracked down for vengeance,
Wilson lived best on the day that he died
His dying courage, the stallion's allegiance,
Now rest with his corpse on a sloping hillside.

Nashville, Tennessee
Spring 1964

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bluegrass in a Surprising Place

This column was published in The Lebanon Democrat before my poem "Hands" was published last Monday. I am trying to catch up. I am also trying to figure out why i am putting these on the web for free. Putting my writing out there for others to read is really becoming a passion, something my friend, Pete Toennies, and i discuss often. But we will see where this goes. i hope you enjoy.

SAN DIEGO – I was not a country music fan growing up in Lebanon.

The family listened to the Grand Ole Opry on our Saturday evening rides over Monteagle Mountain to and from Chattanooga. There weren’t any options as WSM was the only station we could receive.

My cousin, Graham Williamson, a fiddler who eventually played in Roy Acuff’s band, would let me sing Hank William’s “Kawliga” when his band practiced.

But I was into The Searchers, the Platters, and yes, eventually Elvis.

At Vanderbilt, bluegrass began to grow on me. On Saturday afternoons, we rarely missed Flatt and Scruggs with the Foggy Mountain Boys on WSM-TV. We occasionally watched the earlier “Porter Waggoner Show” but only to see Miss Norma Jean.

My friend, Alan Hicks

My close friend, Alan Hicks, became a bluegrass fan. Born and raised in New York City, Alan’s family roots were in Rockwood. Now he is learning to play the banjo, Scruggs style. Bluegrass made a connection.

In recent years, Alan and other friends gather in Nashville for Vanderbilt sports events and reunions. These visits usually include an evening at the Station Inn, the underground bluegrass venue, just behind Union Station.

Recently, Alan, who has had a successful career in the shipping industry, became the Director of the Southern California Gateway for the Maritime Administration in Long Beach. I have made several trips to Long Beach for business and continuing our friendship.

Alan asked about bluegrass festivals in San Diego. Soon after, he informed me there was a bluegrass festival in San Diego on the third weekend of August.


So while the Wilson County Fair was roaring two weekends ago, we spent that Saturday at “Summergrass.” Perhaps the most amazing aspect was my wife, Maureen, after initially declining to attend a ballet performance in Balboa Park, changed her mind and went with us. She had a wonderful time.

The three-day festival was at The Antique Gas and Diesel Engine Museum in Vista, another small community in the Southwest corner burgeoning with new housing developments. The museum has kept an area about the size of the Wilson County Fairgrounds exempt from the urban sprawl. Among relic engines and several hundred tractors of various vintage, we sat on a grassy knoll and listened to bluegrass.

Folks back home may be surprised to find bluegrass as a thriving genre in the Southwest, but it is alive and well. Of course, the second set featured New Found Road with all but one of the four-piece band from East Tennessee. I bragged a bit about the roots of bluegrass.

The day was idyllic in many ways. I seldom relax in such a manner. People watching, one of my favorite past times, was ideal, and I realized the folks in the Southwest corner aren’t a great deal different than the folks back home.

I wished for my parents as I know they would have enjoyed the scene, especially my father checking out the myriad of engines.

Food and Weird Signs

The festival in the Southwest corner did come up short in the food department compared to what I know was available at the fair. There were three small buildings, not much more than shacks serving hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, and the much ballyhooed barbeque with ice cream and pies vended in the corner of a large barn. One shack featured Mexican fare. The best was corn-on-the-cob sold by a Boy Scout troop from a tent.

The primary eating establishment had a menu posted above the order window. About two-thirds down were two line items. One item read, “Chili Bowl, No Beans, $3.75.” The next line read, “Add Chili to above item, $1.00.” I am still trying to figure out what one would get ordering a chili bowl with no beans and no chili. I was afraid to order and find out.

It was a full day and we were likely just as pooped as we would have been from a day at the fair.

On the way home, we passed the pet psychic building and discovered she had gone out of business. I wondered out loud how she should have known from her psychic powers. After all she knew my dog had been a cat around King Tut.

Maureen observed that maybe the psychic did know.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This poem was published in my column, "Notes from the Southwest Corner" in The Lebanon Democrat, Monday, October 5. It was written to honor my father, who at 95 remains the smartest man i know. He turned 95 on September 28. He is still teaching me how to live.


When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.

His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight:
His hands are firm and thick and solid –
a handshake of destruction if he so desired, but
he has used them to repair the cars and our hearts;

His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’35 before computers and units).

His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in war
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.

His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.

Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life itself into his hands
and beyond;
the tales of grease and oil and grime,
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;

they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.

His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man I know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man I know
with hands that tell the story
so well.

Bonita, California
September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009


She sits in the middle of the booth:
grey light of the rare, cloudy, wind-swept day
in southern california,
appropriately in mission valley,
frames her like a picture
in my mind;
She smiles and there are star bursts i see;
she tosses her head and her long hair
gracefully flows like symphony I hear;
she speaks and bells chime and wisdom flows
far beyond her years,
I think.
it is sweet connection,
perhaps because i am beyond her years,
with others claiming my attention
with responsibility – sweet sorrow of the unattainable, and
it frees us to talk freely –
i care in so many ways for
this woman
who must look at me and wonder
how a relic, a fossil came into her life.
Yet she too can talk openly,
making the old fossil glad,
even knowing it will not go beyond
the talking which rings the bells,
the booth sitting in the starbursts, nor
the graceful moves which flow like a symphony:
Dvorjak, I think;
appropriately the new world.

Bonita, California
February 13, 2007

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Caddy Corner Trips to NYC

SAN DIEGO – A good Southwest corner pal went caddy corner last week.

Pete Toennies, a retired Navy SEAL, lived in New York City through college at St. Johns where he is enshrined in the “Johnnies” Athletic Hall of Fame for swimming. His mother still lives there, attending Broadway matinees. Pete’s daughter, raised mostly in the Southwest corner, made a career move to the Big Apple a couple of years ago.

Pete did not want to go. A big man with old injuries, he does not like to travel. He wanted to visit his daughter and mother, but he would have preferred to stay in the Southwest corner.

I understand. I have been in New York City about a dozen times.

First NYC Tour

My first visit was a 1963 one-night stay, returning from a NROTC cruise. Ted Goldberg, my Vanderbilt freshman dorm mate was my guide. We drove down Wall Street, by the Waldorf Astoria, and by the Empire State building, but the drive through Harlem remains indelible because of my fright factor. Ted also took us to Greenwich Village where we ended up (for a very short time) in a lesbian bar.

The next trip was a 1967 Thanksgiving break from Naval OCS, when John Johnson, a close Vanderbilt friend and then a Columbia graduate student, hosted the four OCS midshipmen. We did not see much of the city, mostly relaxing and watching television sports. John found a grocery store which sold grits, and we served my Yankee buddies grits and eggs for breakfast.

John’s home is in upstate New York. I eventually became his sports editor at “The Watertown Daily Times.” We laughed about John being the most “Southern” of the Yankees at that get together.

A Christmas Party

I stopped by John’s during Christmas leave. We went to a holiday party on 95th and Park Avenue. Two other Vanderbilt friends, Alan and Jim Hicks, lived on a ridiculously high floor in a four bedroom apartment complete with a butler. After Mrs. Hicks, a former theater show girl, sang Christmas carols, I struck up a conversation with a pleasant fellow, and upon his query, expounded on why superior writers were predominantly Southerners.

I later discovered the patient gentleman was the editor of “Time” magazine.

On our way back to John’s apartment, we became separated. Before I found my way back to his place, I wandered around Spanish Harlem several hours in the early morning, another terrifying experience.

From then until 1993, my trips to New York were no-stop transits to and from Newport, RI. Then, I went to Tarrytown to facilitate a company teambuilding session. I thought it was far from the city. After all, it is next to Sleepy Hollow; yes, that Sleepy Hollow. It’s part of NYC.

I flew into LaGuardia around nine in the evening. Baggage claim and arranging transportation took an unpleasant hour. As the seven riders walked from the terminal, the driver told us, in a broken accent, he was subbing for his cousin.
The van drove around for about 15 minutes and then drove by the terminal again. I then knew we were in trouble.

A Long Ride

Tarrytown was the last stop. Two Canadian racquetball players, in a tournament in White Plains the next day, were scheduled to be dropped off just before me.
For an hour or so, we were awed by the city skyline, not recognizing the first drop off in Queens should have taken about 20 minutes. As time crept past 11:00, the racquetball players and I became concerned. The driver didn’t have a clue.

We stopped at a convenience store in a foreboding city section. The clerk was outside, drunk with a pistol in his belt. He was belligerent but finally sold us a map. For the next several hours, two of us read the map while the other gave the driver directions.

The Canadians insisted I get off first as I could not map read and give directions alone. I fell into my room at 2:30 a.m.

The results?

1. Even though my wife and daughter want to go back to New York (their visits were more tourist-like), I plan to stay in the Southwest corner.

2. I have the greatest respect for Canadian racquetball players.

3. If he figured out how to get gas, there is a substitute van driver, still trying to get back to LaGuardia.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Two Poems from 2007

Dreams and Innisfree

Mr. Yeats, that revolutionary son of a bitch,
wrote of the Isle of Innisfree,
creating yet another dream for me,
which i did not need for
i have dreamed all my life;
it’s time to put aside such silly distractions.

tomorrow, i will meet my muse,
who has a rather promising life to lead,
not needing some dreamer to interfere,
we will converse, enjoy our time
discussing the possibilities
in the ambience of a slightly
avant garde eatery:
she will go away again,
forging a path to success
in her world of business.

i will go home to whatever is going on there,
playing my role,
subjugating my dreams
it is about time i gave up dreaming,
enjoying a pretty good life,


then that ole sum bitch Yeats
tempts me with Innisfree:

I will succumb and dream again.

- Bonita, California
- June 17, 2007

A Pocket of Resistance

i have said several times,
“i am a pocket of resistance”
…and shall be, will be, until i no longer be me.
in the gray of twilight tonight
in this high desert
where only a few souls should survive
on a meager existence, yet
we have pumped in
life as we thought it should be
only to find out it wasn’t wouldn’t won’t
be quite what we imagined
i wondered who i be
i ain’t what i thought i would be
yet i dream of being what i could be me
in a land far away over the rainbow
and she walks into my reverie
and i marvel at all the things she has become
recognizing she will never be what i dream
because she is not a dream
and she does not know me
who could be what wasn’t me
for neither do i
and the world rolls on
and all the life around me is important
and as strong as the dreams are
i may not have the strength to give up that life
for what is certain to become something else
other than what we would want it to be,
yet i have a will to make it good,
make it right,
and i will will it so
and tonight, i walked down from the hill
and the free land protected from
the coming of population, and
i looked west into the pacific of the ocean
and its tones of gray and pink
long after the green flash had its chance to
knock us dead with disbelief
and i know
it is good
and i am right and should be what I could be
if i will it so.
she did that for me.

- Bonita, California
- July 23, 2007