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

Monday, September 7, 2009

Charlie Baird: a Local Icon

SAN DIEGO – I planned for this column to be about a humorous 1993 trip to Tarrytown, NY, a follow-up to my reveries about Seattle.

But during a phone call while still in Seattle, my parents informed me of an event to change my plans.

Charles Howard Baird died Sunday, July 26.

His passing and his contributions to Lebanon and life have been well documented in this newspaper. His memorial service and interment in Wilson County Memorial Gardens alongside his beloved Erma concluded Saturday.

The fabric of Lebanon I often write about is a bit more frayed around the edges.

Charlie Baird rode the star of Lebanon and Wilson County in its ascendency like Pecos Bill rode the hurricane down by the Rio Grande.

Charlie was 96 when he died. He had a fruitful life. As with others in his generation, he lived in forward gear.

Major, Tennessee Native

He was born in the community of Major. An internet search will not reveal exactly where Major was. Major was swallowed by the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Charlie was a surveyor of the project to make his homeland a state park.
Charlie, like G. Frank Burns, always looked forward while remembering the past.

Charlie came to Lebanon to complete his high school education (with honors). He stayed and became a driving force in the community. He started working at the Lebanon Woolen Mills in shipping. I believe it was 1931. Fifty years later, he retired as general manager and vice-president. His Woolen Mills was not only a huge commercial success in Lebanon; it was a model for industry in the Mid-South.

I could go on about the success of Charlie Baird, but the local news media already have well chronicled that success.

Golf Stories

The last time I visited with Charlie at his home on West End Heights, we shared our golf stories as we have done since he found out I played the game. It did not bother him knowing I’ve never been a very good golfer like he was. We both loved the game and that was enough.

In our visit, Charlie talked about his father’s ability to throw a baseball. Perhaps that is where Charlie’s athletic ability came from.

The Bairds and the Jewells have been close for a long, long time. I believe it is typical of many families in Lebanon. Such relationships are often based on attending the same church.

From their church relationship, the Bairds, Jewells, Dowdys, Spains, Leftwichs, and others formed a bridge club, well described by J. B. Leftwich in his column.
Charlie Stories

On my May trip home from the Southwest corner, my father told me a bridge club story which occurred in the Smokies.

My family owned a large cabin between Sevierville and Maryville. It became a bridge club custom to spend a long autumn weekend there. My father and my uncle, Snooks Hall, would go early to take food and clean up the cabin before the others arrived.

One year, they discovered a man from just upstream had stocked the creek with fingerling trout so he could don his waders and fly fish. A contingent of the trout had settled in a pool just under the walking bridge leading up to our cabin.

During a lull, my father baited the ubiquitous porch fishing pole with white bread and caught a few trout. He threw them back.

When Charlie arrived, my father mentioned the trout to Charlie.

Charlie said, “Why Jimmy, where’s a fishing pole? I’m going to catch some trout.” He caught about six, cleaned them, and asked Erma to cook them for his supper.

When they sat down for supper, Charlie had his trout and everyone else had the planned meal. Charlie took one bite and proclaimed, “Why Jimmy, I think that is the worst thing I have ever tasted.”

I can hear his raspy laugh.

My father also tells about Charlie when a California trucker delivered materials to the Woolen Mills. Not wanting to dead head his truck back west, he asked Charlie if he knew where he could get a load to carry back.

Charlie told him to drive up to Crab Orchard and load up with sandstone. The trucker did as Charlie suggested and made good money on his return trip.

That is Charlie Baird to me. Good ideas, good stories, always looking to help someone.

We will miss him.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Darkness In the White Snow

In amongst the revelers, experts of the slopes,
the old man found himself alone
in powder the first day after the night storm:
Family had departed for duties;
the friend to join him had demurred:
the old man was alone
in white white.
He drudged through day one alone,
fighting through the powder,
feeling the muscles ache,
stiffened by age;
no running through the hills or
on the beach;
he left the slopes early,
taking a nap;
rested, he visited an old haunt:
like the newspaper man he was at heart,
returning to a bar
just like the old days
except there was no newspaper;
the stories were his, not reports for newsprint,
with the old gent tossing down
old fashions with the best of them.
day two, on the second run downhill,
the old man decided
to cut his trip short,
dedicating the day to old times:
he hit the slopes early:
He rode to the top;
skied, skied
even better than he could remember:
he had always hit the slopes
like a linebacker,
but this day he conquered the longest runs,
flowing gracefully down the gradient
on newly groomed slopes of elegance
of white on white
until age caught up
and he fell ingloriously
down the slope.
Picking himself up, he thought:
“time to go,” and he went.

Packing, he decided to have one last brew
at a local bar across the street
Sitting there, he reveled in aloneness,
before he caught the van
to the cavernous airport,
much like the old bus depots
he had spent waiting in his youth;
SLC the code called it;
and he caught the plane,
leaving aloneness behind him.
Time had stopped in his aloneness;
he wandered around in his mind
as he moved
down the slope,
onto the barstool,
into the terminal,
on the plane;
he dreamed of her, a reality,
but something he could not touch;
when he saw her in his dream,
he saw the past,
even while swishing down the slopes,
he would feel the old dog with him,
the ports of call,
the realities of ships at sea
a long, long time ago
they all seemed to fit
with the image of his muse,
which he had long abandoned
for cynicism.
On the plane ride back,
he looked out the small port
at the black sky,
she had been there
and would likely be there for a long time,
someone he could not touch,
could not have
as old men have young friends,
he wondered
if he could be good for her,
he realized
was probably all that really mattered.

Bonita, California
March 28, 2007