Thursday, April 22, 2010

House Work, Then and Now

SAN DIEGO – This past weekend in the Southwest corner, I started working on cleaning out the garage while my wife’s attention centered on our version of spring cleaning.

Sometimes I believe, at least subliminally, garage cleaning is an avoidance ploy to escape spring cleaning.

Cleaning the garage is never complete, which means the other spring cleaning – now called “deep cleaning” – is done by Maureen or hired help. Saturday, when the hired help didn’t show, Maureen cleaned about one-third of the windows on our house.

Even my garage cleaning had been postponed for a required golf round. I was sheepishly ashamed when I returned to find how she had spent her Saturday. I would – really, I would – have sacrificed the golf and the garage cleaning to clean the windows.

My feeble excuses recalled a time when there was no excuse for missing spring cleaning.

Tasks for Home

Growing up, my mother would assign my spring cleaning tasks, which was nearly all of them. I knew every nook and cranny of our Castle Heights Avenue home.

I stripped and waxed the wood floors, and all were wood except for the kitchen until living and dining room carpets were installed and the den was added in the back. I washed windows. I cleaned out the basement. This was on top of the sibling shared chores of mowing, hedge trimming, dusting, vacuuming, and dishwashing.

Of course, my youthful chores were a mere dip in the bucket of soapy water compared to my parents’ contribution. They grew up working and have never stopped.

My mother cooked, cleaned, and got a penny for every housefly she swatted to a quick and merciful death.

An aside: I wonder if cotton wads plugged the holes in the screens of their homestead on the North Cumberland farm like those at my great uncle’s house on Hickory Ridge in my youth.

My father performed home chores as well as helping my grandfather, including stoking the boiler of the portable sawmill when he was six.

It seems pretty much everyone in that generation grew up doing manual labor and home chores. Just last week, my father and mother (a reminder: they are 95 and 92) picked out flowers and worked the flower beds around their home in Deer Park. My father washes the dishes, cleans and mops the floor, and fixes anything which needs it.

Ship Tasks

When I reported to my first ship, I was greeted with a whole new concept of cleaning. We had about six stewards on my first ship. They were mostly native Filipinos who, at that time, were not allowed to serve in combat ratings. There job was to do chores for the officers.

They cooked and cleaned the dishes. They woke us up in the morning and made our racks (beds). They cleaned our staterooms and the wardroom. They did all of our grocery shopping, and they even cleaned our shoes.

I got used to it. I even explained it as practical by telling folks it gave me time to do the myriad of leadership and combat tasks, including watch standing. Of course, I never mentioned the 300 enlisted crew members still had to perform their cleaning chores as well as their work-related tasks.

The steward rating was discontinued in 1974. Officers now have to do their own personal chores.

Satisfying Tasks

But my parents raised me well. I actually missed the daily (and deep cleaning) chores while on ships. Ashore, I reverted to my old working ways (in spite of the subliminal evasions).

I am not so sure I have given my children the same appreciation of chores.

If there is one thing which causes me concern about our follow-on generations is working hard on home chores has pretty much disappeared. Perhaps this was just me, a doting and often absent father of two beautiful girls. But it seems today’s children are much more into being entertained with television and video games, and are not plugged into real housework.

Yet when I visit my older daughter, she and husband have evolved into real workers. They clean, wash, mow, tend to the yard, plant, deep clean, and even have done major home makeovers by themselves. It seems they actually enjoy those chores.

I am glad. Except for missing this past weekend’s window washing, I find a sense of satisfaction in doing chores around the house.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Excuses and an article

i have many excuses for not posting anything here in almost two weeks. In my mind, none of them work. This was to be my top priority when i started it over two years ago, but of late, business opportunities, personal tasks, and of course, golf have gotten in the way.

i am not complaining, mind you. This layoff was of my doing and my choices, and many of them, golf excluded, were a product of responsible and realistic priority setting. Still, there is no question in my mind what i am recording here is more important to me than almost anything other than family.

The fact i am having a great deal of fun and feel like i could be usefully contibuting to our country's defense again make my business opportunities easy to put at the top of my priority list.

And golf? Well, i am playing a lot and shot a 40 on the front nine at Sea 'n Air on the North Island Naval Air Station yesterday. This makes it damn hard to sacrifice that escape.

So...i apologize. i hope to make at least four or five postings in the next two days. If you miss them, they will be in the appropriate section in the archives here.
i will try to do better.

Notes from the Southwest Corner:
JD, Wanda Peal and the King of the Cowboys

SAN DIEGO – Even with a Tennessee-like spring (although it was a bit earlier than the real Tennessee springs), the Southwest corner is not as much fun as it used to be.

One reason is one of my best friends and old shipmates left a number of years ago. On occasion, I have mentioned JD Waits in this column and have even related a story or two from his repertoire.

About a dozen years ago, JD and his wife, Mary Lou, left for Houston, then Raleigh, and now Bastrop, TX, near Austin, the last appearing to be a permanent move. Before his last tour at the Strike and Air Warfare Center” as Aviation Maintenance Officer in Fallon, NV, JD had spent his entire Navy career of 30-plus years based in San Diego.

Naval Aviation Wizard

He was an exceptional maintenance officer, winding his way through airman recruit to master chief, to warrant officer, to limited duty officer, and finally to an aviation maintenance restricted line officer before retiring as lieutenant commander.

When he was commissioned as a line officer, his active duty clock started over and he could have remained in the Navy until he was 67. But his detailer (assignment officer) insisted the next duty station would be “Belleau Wood” (LHA 3). The “Belleau Wood” was home ported in Sasebo, Japan with 70 percent of time spent underway. Mary Lou would not move to Japan, so essentially it would have been a two-year “unaccompanied” tour.

JD told his detailer to stick it, submitted his letter for retirement, and came back to San Diego. I was happy as I got to spend about another ten years with him. Even better, his tales of growing up in Houston and his Navy anecdotes were so good they eclipsed the term “sea stories” and were singled out as “JD tales.” Many could never be related in this column, but they were all funny.

My wife loved all of JD’s tales and still will burst out laughing when she thinks of one.

Wanda Pearl and the King

JD was born and raised in Houston. After his father died, JD’s mother, Wanda Pearl Waits stayed there until she moved to Austin just before JD and Mary Lou moved back there.

In the late 1980s, Wanda Pearl came to visit JD and Mary Lou in San Diego, a rare visit. JD gave her the grand tour, culminating with a trip to Apple Valley, CA.

For those who are not familiar with the Southwest corner, Apple Valley is in the desert between Los Angeles and Barstow. Development has finally blossomed there, but for years, there wasn’t too much attractive about Apple Valley.

But Apple Valley was famous. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans established their ranch there in the early 1960s and opened their museum there in 1967. The museum was moved to larger accommodations in Victorville about five miles away in 1976.

Wanda Pearl had been a Roy Rogers fan since he began singing with The Sons of the Pioneers in the early 1930s, which made my adoration of the King of the Cowboys merely child’s play.

When Wanda Pearl and JD returned from Apple Valley and the museum, we invited them and Mary Lou to dinner. The mother and son waxed eloquent over the Roy Rogers Museum.

My father later told me he was not too impressed with his visit there: “For one thing Trigger had been stuffed and was sagging a bit.”

Cowboy Gallantry

But Wanda Pearl gushed with her recounting of the museum visit. Then JD revealed why.

When they first arrived, the King of the Cowboys was near the entry in his full cowboy regalia. With few visitors there early, he offered to take them on a personal tour. JD trailed behind as Roy Rogers escorted Wanda Pearl through the memorabilia.

As they completed the tour, Wanda Pearl shyly asked Roy, “Mr. Rogers, would you mind if my son took a picture of the two of us?”

Roy pulled off his ten-gallon Stetson and replied, “Why little lady, I would be honored.”

Sadly, I never visited the museum. It was moved to Branson, MO in 2003 and closed last year.

That’s another reason the Southwest corner has lost some allure.

But I bet Wanda Pearl still has that photo of her and Roy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lost and Found; Found and Lost: a Brief History of Math and Me

SAN DIEGO – “Your middle school is now a jail,” he shook his head incredulously.

I tried to explain it was an evolution of a building in a small town; how it wasn’t a middle school, it was Lebanon Junior High.

I tried to explain how it was built in the 1930s when the former high school with the gymnasium in the basement had burned down.

How it was the high school up the hill from the football field, where the Sellars Funeral home is now located, before it moved across town behind the hospital, which is now a care facility, and how the building became the junior high; how it was built on the corner across the parking lot from the new elementary school named Highland Heights with the cafeteria in the basement.

But this native Californian was not buying it, honed in on a school being turned into a jail.

Donkey Basketball

My explanations seemed to just make the whole idea even more nonsensical.

I told him the 1936 gym ran along the north side between the two schools. It was where I saw donkey basketball when I was in McClain elementary. The locker room was in the basement. That was where my best friend Henry Harding, the ring leader, and other football players put itching powder in my underwear while I showered, and how it stung and burned, and eventually got Henry into a bit of trouble.

“You went to school in a jail,” the Californian kept muttering.

Apparently, they don’t reuse buildings out here in the Southwest corner: just tear ‘em down and build something else.

And I remembered how that old building was the beginning of my math cycle, found, lost, found, and lost.

I had done okay in math at McClain and the first year at LJHS, getting it done with as little effort as possible so I could watch Howdy Doody in the afternoon and Milton Berle’s “Texaco Hour” before going to bed. But in the eighth grade, I struggled until one afternoon. Mrs. Mora Purnell was helping me solve a problem. An explosion went off inside my head. I smiled and Mrs. Purnell responded with a smile of her own.

“I can see you’ve got it,” she commented wisely.

Major Leftwich/Colonel Brown

This would be a better story if then Major Leftwich had been my math teacher at Castle Heights, but his job was to mold me into a decent journalist and a better man.

I drew Colonel Harvey Brown. He had been a real Army colonel, ramrod straight, pencil thin mustache, and a short brusque flattop. He laughed wryly out of the side of his mouth and drove an MG sports car.

He was cool.

My math under Colonel Brown flourished. I am not sure how I made the cut, but I was in an accelerated program with LeRoy Dowdy, Frank Sutherland, John Thompson, and David Whitten. I took to it and stayed with the front runners through trigonometry, analytical geometry, and integral calculus. I’m sure Mrs. Purnell had a great influence on it happening at all.

Then in spite of my natural inclination, I chose an engineering major at Vanderbilt.

Somewhere in about a month into my first semester, I lost math. I don’t know where it went, but it was gone, not a good thing if you are a civil engineering student with the proclivity to play more than study.

So I struggled, specifically 22 hours of engineering calculus and statics, and left Vanderbilt not a great deal wiser.

MTSU/Daughter’s Trig

At Middle Tennessee, I profited from extremely wonderful English professors. Dr. Richard Peck and Dr. Bill Holland immediately come to mind, but all of that math stuff was gone, lost. Then as I entered the last summer before graduation, my advisor informed me I needed one math course to graduate. All of those D grades in calculus had not transferred as credit.

I found it again. Of course, it was rehash but I got an A in trigonometry.
Five years ago, my daughter asked me to help her with her high school math homework: trigonometry. I was thrilled and could not wait to demonstrate my acumen.

It was gone again. I couldn’t remember anything.

Maybe they should send me back to jail.