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