It has been over three weeks since i have made an entry here. One reason was procrastination. As Amelia Hipps, the editor of the Lebanon Democrat can tell you, i am a champion of that particular practice.
But there has been more behind this layoff than mere procrastination.
Business took me to Hawaii, and i focused there. Keeping company with associates -- including the joy of playing golf -- was a full time job for a week. It was fun, but it was work too. i am not complaining but my focus was there, and trying to write around 11:00 p.m. with a three-hour time lag and a full day behind me just did not work. After all i am a bit older than i used to be.
But the real reason was i have been working on three long writing projects. The long read below is one of them. They are a four-part series of columns i wroted for The Lebanon Democrat's weekly "Notes from the Southwest Corner." The project remains incomplete, but the four columns are some initial thoughts on race relations since i started thinking about such things in my early high school years.
These are not meant to draw my line in the sand. I hope it is the beginning of a dialogue couched in reason and not rhetoric. i am sure folks on both sides of the issue of race relations between caucasians and negroes in the United States will take issue, but my objective is not to make policy, protest the current state, or add to the vile, sound bite, propaganda which fuels anger and bias. i simply want to make people re-think where they stand on the issue and what they might do, in some small way, to make it better.
But this is a long introduction to a long post, so i will stop and let you read, and, i hope, think a little bit.
The Other Folks in My Growing Up, part one
SAN DIEGO – Growing up in Lebanon, we had many visitors, friends and family, coming in and out of our home on a constant basis.
Guests, whether just stopping by or coming in from out of town and staying overnight or longer, were more frequent than now in the Southwest corner.
There also were regular visitors to the Jewell household. Two of those visitors came to work, and they are an unforgettable part of my memories.
One was Jake Hughes. Jake came every Tuesday (as I recall) to pick up the garbage.
In a world before garbage disposals and garbage truck compactors, Jake would arrive, park his wagon as much off of Castle Heights Avenue as he could without sliding into the drainage ditch, running between the yard and the road.
His wagon was an impressive sight, similar to the ones I saw in the westerns I loved to watch, but with automobile tires, rather than the, iron-rimmed, wooden spoke versions in the oaters. I wanted to ride Jake’s wagon but never did.
Jake would dismount, haul the garbage can out to the front, heave the contents into the back of his wagon, and return the large can to its normal resting place out back.
My overriding memory of Jake was not him, but the smell of garbage. Trash in those days was mostly foodstuffs. What we now simply dump into the sink disposal was deposited out back where it baked in the sun for a week or so.
When Jake completed his rounds, he and his mule would plod back home on a bend in Hickory Ridge Road and add the load to the existing pile. When we would drive out to Wynn Prichard’s farm further west at the intersection with Blair Lane, we got a re-smell.
Excluding the smell, I admired Jake. For me, he was a lesson in work ethic. With me, he was a kind, quiet gentleman but focused on his task at hand.
The City of Lebanon got into the trash collection business sometime in the mid to late 1950s, just before my bunch of buddies started working for the public works department under Jessie Coe. I remember being secretly relieved when Jim Harding was assigned to ride the new garbage trucks rather than me.
I assume these new compactors on wheels put Jake’s mule out to pasture. Sometime later, Jake sold his property as the area west of the city became populous in housing developments. An impressive home now sits on the bend which was Jake’s property.
I hope Jake made a lot of money off of his business before it closed. And I hope he profited greatly from selling his land.
He earned it, the hard way.
Vicey Shavers was another influence on my young life. Vicey cleaned some but her principal reason for visits was to keep the Jewell children when Mother or our grandmother could not be there.
Vicey was smaller than my grandmother, no small feat as my grandmother topped out at four foot eight and eighty pounds.
I remember Vicey being kind but strict.
My fondest memory is when, around five years of age, I would stand next to her in the narrow kitchen while she washed dishes with the sun streaming through the kitchen window. Just for me, Vicey would tune the small kitchen radio to WSM and the half-hour “Sons of the Pioneers” program featuring Roy Rogers. Together we sang along to “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water”.
When my mother returned from her work or errands, she would load us all in the 1948 dark green Pontiac and take Vicey home, a small house south of East High Street. I believe it was at the intersection of Sycamore and Lake Streets.
I recall being excited about the short trip to Vicey’s home.
I loved Vicey.
Roy Bailey African-American Museum
The article generating this column announced the April long celebration of the Roy Bailey African-American Museum and History Center’s fifth anniversary in Lebanon. Special afternoon events at the museum have been held every Saturday this month.
I wish I could come back for at least one of the Saturday afternoons, but business precludes my return for the near future.
Still I will think of Jake and Vicey often. They are special people to me.
The Other Folks in My Growing Up, part two
SAN DIEGO – Last Monday, I wrote of people who were important to my growing up well in Lebanon.
There were others.
My brother Joe had a closer relationship to Sam Hearn than I did because Joe wisely spent more time than I did working part time and generally hanging out at Hankins, Byars and Jewell, the Pontiac dealership sandwiched between the old First Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church on East Main.
Still, I remember Sam Hearn well. He was an amiable guy and I remember him seeming to take me under his wing, a sentiment expressed well by brother. Recently my father, the maintenance supervisor and the “Jewell” in the ownership name (originally Hankins and Smith) told me Sam “helped me out a lot.
I also know my father was one of the few people who visited Sam on a regular basis in the hospital several years ago when Sam was on the final leg of his life’s journey.
Sam was a good man.
I must sadly admit I do not know the real name of the other man important to me and my coming of age. “Dub” was one of the two permanent city employees at Cedar Grove Cemetery. I worked with him for three summers.
Dub was a big man who had hands seemingly the size of hams. He came to work, regardless of the heat or cold in bib jeans (coveralls, some call them), a long sleeve shirt, a sports coat, and a worn brown fedora. He was the power part of the team, wielding a shovel or a pick like it was an extension, almost effortlessly, as we blocked off the grave site and created a smooth square hole in the ground, a little more than four feet deep.
He worked tirelessly regardless of how hot and humid the Tennessee summer had thrown at us. When there were three of us digging a grave, “Mr. Bill” – my mother and I believe his last name was Allison but memory, in this case, may be mistaken -- would take a few turns but he mostly was the supervisor as I took on more and more of the digging tasks.
Still Dub would eventually do the bulk of the digging. His turn with the pick, loosening the clay; or the shovel, either clearing the broken earth or squaring the sides; was always longer and more frequent than Mr. Bill or my time in the grave.
In the maintenance tasks, Dub never seemed to slow down. He was a working machine, and I had a hard time keeping up with him.
But the thing I recall more than any other aspect of Dub was recognizing what an incredible man he was. Physically he was imposing. But even though he was illiterate, I eventually realized he knew everything that was occurring and knew how to handle it appropriately.
He was a kind man with a deep chuckle when something struck him as humorous. I recall the glint in his eyes when he nodded understandingly after I had done something a rookie grave digger might do or pull a mischievous prank.
My fondest memory came from Wednesday’s. He and Mr. Bill knew I played baseball on the Lebanon American Legion team. Home games were no problem, but leaving work and catching the old school bus for away games made it tight.
Invariably on Wednesday’s with an away game scheduled, Dub would look at his watch around three and comment, “Mr. Bill, I can’t handle the work we have for the rest of the day,” adding, “Why don’t we let Jimmy go now so he can catch that bus for his baseball game.”
Mr. Bill would always agree and I could get home, change into my uniform and get to the bus with time to spare.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
On my last day of work at the cemetery as I prepared to go to college, I decided to pull a prank. When the mowers ran out of gas as they did in the late morning on that final day, I would take the two large gas cans and fill them up from the tanks out back of Mr. Babb’s house on the north end of Cedar Grove. There were two tanks and rather than drawing from the gasoline tank, I drew from the kerosene tank.
After I returned and filled the mowers, I took to trimming around monuments as Mr. Bill and Dub started the mowers. In less than a minute, the cemetery was filled with white acrid smoke. The mowers coughed and sputtered to a very smoky stop.
Upon the mower gas tanks and smelling the liquid, Mr. Bill looked up at me and said, “Jimmy, I believe you don’t know the difference between kerosene and gasoline.”
I said, “I’m really sorry, Mr. Bill.”
“Well, it’s going to take us a little while to clean out these mowers before we can get back to it,” he continued, “You might as well take the rest of the day off.”
I looked at Dub. I knew he knew what I had done and why. I could tell by the gentle smile and the glint in his eyes.
We said our last good-byes.
Connections in a Far Away Land
SAN DIEGO – I was in Hawaii last week where the fusion of culture, ethnicity, climate, and vistas sparked many ideas for columns.
As usual, I did not record most. Several great columns lay on the cutting floor of my selective memory editor. I figure I need to go back to the islands to jog those memories.
On the last day of my trip, Mrs. Mary Harris, the director of the Lebanon African-American Historical Museum, called me to tell me about Pickett-Rucker Chapel’s upcoming 144th anniversary. The May 16 celebration will include a church service in the morning and a concert in the afternoon.
I wish I could be there.
Much of the following is incomplete and requires my apology for poor memory of names. This personal fault is odd considering my heritage. I often call my parents in Lebanon to fill in the blanks in my column. My father, Jimmy Jewell, working on 96, is often my source for the history and geography of Lebanon.
My mother, Estelle Jewell has a bear trap memory, and at 92 still can recall facts and names from the beginning of my 66 years and beyond. When I was seeking information for my past few columns, my mother spoke to Mrs. Harris. The two worked together when Mrs. Harris was a teacher at Highland Heights and my mother was the secretary for Roy Dowdy, the superintendant of Lebanon City Schools.
As I wished I could be home for the Pickett-Rucker celebration, I made more connections.
A Great Sing
While commuting to Middle Tennessee in the mid-1960s, I worked at WCOR as an AM and FM disc jockey. Infrequently on Sundays, I would rush home for lunch while Coleman Walker, the station manager, held down the fort for both stations.
Somewhere around Trousdale Ferry Pike, U.S. Highway 70, and Bluebird Road, there was a concrete block church. If the timing was right, singing would be booming out of that church when I passed. Occasionally, I would pull over to the side of the road and listen. The music was magic.
I always wished to go in, but never had the time. I needed to get home, hurriedly eat, and get back for my afternoon “Top 40” radio program.
A Connection, Far Away
In the early 1990s, I went to pick up some cleaning and met a large, gregarious man.
As we exchanged jokes, he finally asked, “Where are you from?”
“Tennessee,” I replied.
“I thought so,” he said recognizing my accent, “What part?”
“Lebanon,” I said, “About thirty miles east of Nashville.”
“I know,” he said, “I spent my summers and a lot of time in Lebanon with my kin. I grew up in Nashville.”
Incredulous that two humans chatting in a store in the Southwest corner both had connections to Lebanon, I shared memories of home with him. His stories captivated.
Of course, I do not remember his or his family’s names. I do recall they owned or worked a lumber yard.
As I drove away, I wish I had gotten his phone number to invite him and his wife to dinner. But I did not and have often wondered how I might find him to extend that invitation.
That Ain’t Right
Several years later, I was playing golf at the Miramar Naval Air Station (Miramar is now a Marine air station). On the first tee, my friend, J.D. Waits, talked to the group in front of us.
After they teed off, J.D. told us three of the foursome had worked for him in an F-14 squadron. After the round, we joined them at their table for a beer.
I sat next to John, who had been a senior chief aviation technician (ATCS) and retired in the Southwest corner. When I queried him last week, J.D. could not remember John’s last name either..
John noticed my accent and I told him I was from Lebanon.
“I graduated from Wilson County Training School in 1956.” he noted.
“Wow! Where did you live?” I asked.
“Dixon Springs,” he said
“Huh?” I wisely queried.
“We didn’t have a high school in Dixon Springs where I could go. So my parents put me on a Trailways bus every morning. I rode the bus from Dixon Springs and back for four years,” he explained.
“That ain’t right,” I concluded.
Floods, a Long Jump, and a Long Way to Go
SAN DIEGO – In the Southwest corner, we followed the floods of Middle Tennessee closely with phone calls back home, media reports, “The Democrat’s” web cam of the square, and a surprising source, “Facebook,” the social networking internet tool.
I know there are hard times yet ahead. In that regard, the floods are similar to the fires in the Southwest corner of 2004 and 2008. The shock of such disasters wears down to a discouraging reality when facing the long road to recovery. After the media blitz reporting of the initial disaster and the follow-up national on-scene commentary, those left with the aftermath must grapple with the clean up and recovery pretty much alone.
My heart goes out to all of those who have suffered from the disaster and face the long, hard road ahead.
The floods interrupted my other thoughts about back home and wishing I could be there for the Pickett-Rucker 144th anniversary.
A church service and concert are suitable means to address the flood and celebrate a long history of goodness.
My recent columns have addressed other folks connected to my Lebanon who have shaped my attitude about people and relationships. A 1963 spring experience also impacted me.
Kent Russ & Ralph Boston
Kent Russ precipitated that moment. Kent was a post-graduate at Castle Heights my 1958-59 freshman year and a wingback in Stroud Gwynn’s single wing. He also was declared the Heights “outstanding track man of the past decade.”
Kent matriculated to Vanderbilt where three years later, I joined him, Jimmy Smith, and Hughey King as Lebanon members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. In addition to running track at Vanderbilt, Kent also ran on an AAU 440-relay team.
Another team sprinter was Ralph Boston, a Tennessee State alumnus who broke Jesse Owens’ world record long jump, won the event’s gold medal in the 1960 Olympics and was the world’s Track and Field Athlete that same year. He continued as a track star until shortly after finishing second to Bob Beamon’s world record long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Kent asked me to join him at a Tennessee State and Florida A&M track meet. I jumped at the chance.
Arriving, we bypassed the grandstands and went trackside where Kent introduced me to Boston, who was a timer for the meet. After a short discussion, we moved down the track and watched Bob Hayes, later of Dallas Cowboy fame, break the world record in the 100-yard dash in 9.1 seconds.
Who Sits in the Back?
Afterwards, we thanked Boston and he asked for a ride to pick up his car at his mechanic’s shop. Approaching the car, I opened the back door.
“I’ll sit in the back,” Boston commanded.
Thinking an Olympic champion shouldn’t sit in the back, I started to protest.
“No, there is just too much hatred round here, and we could get into trouble,” he explained.
I thought, “This ain’t right.”
Sit-ins had become a common protest in Nashville, and Clarksville’s Wilma Rudolph, who had won three 1960 Olympics gold medals had been involved in protests there. Ralph commented Wilma got taken in by the more strident protesters.
After thanking us, he went to pick up his car.
Returning to campus, Kent told me the NAACP had ordered Boston to not compete in a Houston AAU track meet because of the segregated audience. Boston paid to fly to New York and confront the president, Dr. Robert Weaver. Boston told Weaver he would compete wherever he chose because he believed his performance would have more impact towards equality than not competing.
I have refrained from political comment in this column for numerous reasons. I believe this issue transcends politics, rules, quotas, or protests.
I grew up with limited access to a wonderful bunch of folks like Mrs. Harris, James Cason, and many others: good folks with good intentions. I am amazed we still live in a mostly separate world.
One of my favorite children hymns when I was still going to Vacation Bible School was “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Three lines I particularly remember are “Red and yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his site; Jesus loves all the little children of the world.”
My feelings are similar to what I felt in the 1975 evacuation of Vietnam. I don’t know what we could have done or should have done, but we should have done something better.
It is time for us to get together in the truest sense of the term, both back home and in the Southwest corner.
There’s still a long way to go.