Notes from the Southwest Corner: Sunday, a day for parades

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

SAN DIEGO. – There are parades and parades, but the best ones were on Sundays in a land far away long ago.

With autumn looming even in the Southwest corner, memories of those parades are palpable in my memory. On Sunday mornings of my youth, the family would don their Sunday finest and drive down Castle Heights Avenue to West Main through the square to the First Methodist Church. En route, there would be a bunch of grey clad young boys marching in formation to the church of their choice. No, those weren’t the parades I remember.

We attended Sunday school and the 11:00 service (until my teens, there was only one Sunday morning service) and then rendezvous with Snooks and Bettye Kate Hall for Sunday dinner (yes, dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening fare) at either a local restaurant or a home cooked meal at one of the two homes.

Sunday afternoon, I would play in the front yard. There, I first heard the parades. The military march music floated down the hill from across West Main on what is now Stroud Gwynn field. The Castle Heights cadets, about 500 strong, were marching in formation around that field in cadence with the band’s thumping beat. The marching rhythm was inspiring to this young lad.

I think in all of those Sundays through junior high, I actually went to one, maybe two, most likely to see my cousin Maxwell Martin.

When I reluctantly began at Heights, I was not as thrilled with the idea of Sunday parades. Sunday was my uniform free day. In addition to Sunday school and church, the Methodist Youth Fellowship met in the late afternoon, and we then attended the evening service. A free afternoon would have been a delight.

Regardless, I donned my grey wool uniform, put on my grey combination cap, and shouldered my M-1 rifle on most autumn and spring Sundays. With the band leading, we marched down the hill on that narrow tree-lined road now called Castle Heights Avenue North, executed a column left and lined up on the north side of the field with the battalion staff facing us mid-field on the south side. The stands behind the staff were filled family and other observers.

The drill team performed its fancy drills with their silver helmets glistening in the sun while the troops, including me, sweated underneath the grey wool. Then with the band still playing, our companies would march counter-clockwise, more or less in step executing an “eyes right” while our officers saluted the staff with their sabers.

chma-pir-05As much as I groused about my Sunday afternoon being ruined, I actually got to like the regimen in a reluctant way.

The spring parades were much more impressive. That was when we donned the white pants, white combination cover, and the white webbing with brass buckles. However in retrospect, I remember the autumn “Pass In Review’s” as special in their own right. The autumn colors of yellow, orange, and brown were abundant. You could smell the season in the air. The marching music seemed to fit better with autumn.

At Vanderbilt, I suffered through what the NROTC called marching for a couple of years, and I didn’t go to a class or event without marching during my four months of Navy OCS in Newport, R.I. In fact my time at Castle Heights made me the go-to guy for spit shining and marching as an OC. But none of that compared to those Heights’ Sunday parades.

When I was the chief engineer on the U.S.S. Hollister (DD 788) in 1974, the officers were in the wardroom discussing the upcoming change of command in Long Beach. It was winter. A possibility of rain threatened the scheduled outdoor event. Considering alternatives, the weapons officer suggested marching the crew to the reserve auditorium about a mile from our pier.

The captain and I fell out of our chairs onto the floor laughing. We knew such a march would be total chaos. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

The Corps of Cadets and the Aggie Military Marching Band at Texas A&M reintroduced me to the thrill of marching in the late 1970s. But I was an observer, and the marching there was a big time event. Yet A&M couldn’t match the Heights Sundays in my mind.

It was a long time ago and unfortunately, Lebanon or I will never experience that weekly parade again.

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A Pocket of Resistance: “Once Upon a Summertime”

folks-anniversary-1Adjusting to retirement (sic…again) is a tough adjustment. i am finding myself sitting at the computer or wandering around the house marveling at my inability to schedule anything.

There are a million things to do. After all, i still want to write several more books, make my more regular entries on my blog (lord, i still dislike that term), create another blog with my Navy friends, Pete Toennies and JD Waits, do about an infinity number of projects around our house, establish a viable and realistic budget (hah!), and get my office and garage organized including throwing out a bunch of worthless stuff.

It seems i am having difficulty getting it all moving.

It’s been about a month since i left the employ of Pacific Tugboat Service, yet here i am staring at this confounded, time-eating laptop monitor.

This morning, however, i seemed to have made a breakthrough. Perhaps the transformation is coming.

This morning, Maureen made a scrambled egg, vegetable concoction with fruit on the side with Donny’s great Columbian coffee. Maureen makes great breakfasts and one of my favorite parts of the world is a leisurely breakfast and afterwards reading the morning paper with a second cup of coffee, all with Maureen. It reminds me of a Castle Heights neighbor telling me one of her joys was to look out her window into our family legendary breakfast room to see Mother and Daddy having breakfast together…every day except when on their travels, they were there for sixty-two years. The neighbor noted when she saw them there, she felt all was right with the world.

After this morning’s attempt to emulate my parents, i went into my office with some records (That’s what we called them but “LP’s” became the accepted term for 33-1/3 RPM wax or vinyl discs). While working on my computer, good friend Dave Zurell helped me get my stereo in working order. It was time to listen to music, old music i didn’t have on my IPod.

As i put on the first cut of the first record, i called for Maureen. As Tony Bennett sang “Once Upon a Summertime,” i explained the significance:

While commuting to Middle Tennessee after my colorful but incomplete matriculation to Vanderbilt, my parents allowed me to live at home, but i had to pay for everything else, including tuition. It was the way it should be, and i learned a lot. My county and sports correspondence work for The Nashville Banner would not meet all of my needs even when augmented by working for Jimmy Hankins at his clothing store in the Cedars of Lebanon Shopping Center (i think that was the original name).

An after Sunday School discussion between my mother and Jack Hendrickson revealed WCOR needed another announcer. i interviewed with Jack and Coleman Walker, took and passed my third class radio engineer test, and began working in the summer of 1965. i became the regular weekday evening FM announcer (107.3  on your FM dial), working 7:00pm until 10:30 Monday through Friday. On the weekends, i was the Saturday and Sunday AM disc jockey (900 on your dial) as well as the Sunday morning and evening FM man again. Sometimes i was alone attempting to run both stations with the two studios about forty feet down the hall from each other.

The AM stint called for me to be the Top 40 rock and roll dee jay. i called myself “JJ the DJ, the Weekend Warrior” and had an opening and closing spiel. The opening background was the “B” side of Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces “Searching for My Love.” My track was “Hey, Mister Dee Jay,” and i can still reel off my spiel although i don’t think it is quite as energetic as it was 50 years ago. The closing spiel i don’t remember but the fading out track was another “B” side. The hit side was the Swinging Medallions’ “Double Shot.” I closed with “Here It Comes Again,” a great instrumental.

Perhaps my best deejaying was on those weekday FM evenings. i came up with the program i called “Evening Accent.” Back then, the only interruption to music on FMs were five minute news casts every half hour and required public service announcements. I introduced “Evening Accent” with another spiel i still can recite emphasizing the fact the 3½ hours of music would be a “potpourri” of different types of music: jazz, big band, classical, and show tunes. It was fun, challenging and quite a bit of work to come up my play lists.

The show was especially rewarding in the two summers when i added the title of “Summer Accent.” I opened and closed that program with Bennett’s great tune mentioned before, “Once Upon a Summertime.”

When we started listening together in my office strewn with books and papers, Maureen and i simultaneously held each other and did a slow dance through the track.

It was a magical moment. i think i’m going to make it through this retirement thing okay. Of course, i may have to start every morning with breakfast, a cup of coffee, and dancing with Maureen to Tony Bennett.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

The accompanying photo has nothing to do with any of this. It’s just one i found in my organization effort. It was taken, i believe, at my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary (July 2, 1998) at the Cherokee Restaurant on Old Hickory Lake.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Admiral Baker: a world apart

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 2, 2014. 

admiral_baker-2SAN DIEGO. – Sometimes reflecting on places I’ve visited, where I’m from, and where I am, I often chuckle.

After I left Lebanon 47 years ago, I would often grouse about how hot and humid it was in the summers there. After spending 47 summers in a bunch of different places, I now can say with assurance, the summers in Lebanon may be the second nicest in the country, perhaps the world.

My perspective was underlined Friday when I played my usual Friday morning round of golf with Rod Stark and Marty Linville, my golfing partners for almost 30 years. We had changed our usual venue from the Sea ‘n Air course on the North Island Naval Air Station to Admiral Baker, the sprawling Navy recreation complex at the eastern end of Mission Valley.

With the course (actually there are two 18-hole courses, the championship north layout and the recreational south course, the one we played Friday) being inland, it is normally cooler in the early morning and much warmer midday compared to Sea ‘n Air. About halfway through the round, one of my friends began to complain about how hot and humid it was.

“Marty, it is downright balmy compared to what it would be like playing in Lebanon,” I corrected him. “Or Kansas,” I dryly added since both Marty and Rod are from that state.

Marty was correct in one respect. The Southwest corner has experienced about a two-week run of high humidity caused mostly by Hurricane Marie. The normal summer humidity out here runs significantly lower than 50 percent. For the past two weeks, humidity has been in the 60-70 percent range. The hurricane, over a thousand miles to the west, also has produced monstrous waves for the surfers and even caused coastal flooding as close as Seal Beach, 100 miles north of here.

But we were fine. After all, this is the place with the best year round weather in the world. And Lebanon, or Middle Tennessee, is a solid second…from my perspective. The summer rounds I remember back home were hot and humid, normally much more so than in the Southwest corner. However, the golf weather there is ideal compared to Texas. When I played the Texas A&M course in College Station, I would carry two shirts in my golf bag for changing into when the one I was wearing became too soaked with sweat.

There are other hot places to play golf. The Navy’s nine-hole course in Sasebo, Japan in 1970, actually about ten miles from the bustling city, would have been unbearable in the summer had it not been on Sasebo Bay with a constant breeze providing relief. Sasebo’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation also provided relief. A refreshment shack was behind the fourth green. If the beer didn’t cool us off enough, we could shoot a round of skeet out into the bay before continuing our round.

The Sasebo course could provide some adventure as well. On one round, we were about to hit our tee shots off the eighth tee only to stop and stare down the fairway. There were about a hundred white clad men bearing rifles charging across the fairway towards an old two-story building. These ninja like warriors were yelling in Japanese and firing their weapons toward the building. After they cleared the fairway, we finished our round. In the clubhouse, we asked the pro what was going on. It was the Japanese Defense Force in a battle training exercise. The building was the force’s band building.

Probably the hottest round of golf I’ve played was Mombasa Golf Club in Kenya. It was a beautiful century old nine-hole course overlooking the Indian Ocean about 400 miles south of the equator. The managers also recognized golfers needed a break from the oppressive heat and humidity. They provided young men for caddies plus a couple of extras. The extras hoisted 15-gallon ice coolers on the top of their heads, carrying them for the nine holes except when they were lowered in order for the golfers to be served beer or cold drinks.

When Marty complained, I thought about all of those other hot rounds and chuckled again. About the only other course I would have wanted to play Friday was Sea ‘n Air. After all, it runs along the south facing beach of Coronado and there is always a breeze.


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