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