A Pocket of Resistance: A Few Thoughts on Memorial Day

i am not a big fan of government induced holidays. i would prefer we celebrate mostly on our own when we think it’s appropriate, and that doesn’t mean a barbeque, baseball, game, water frolics on the lake, or going to the beach. It also doesn’t mean large fireworks displays to awe the masses. i like the holidays Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. i also like to wish folks happy birthdays and anniversaries, although admittedly, i am not real good at that, even with my own birthday calendar, Facebook, and Linked In reminders. That is just me. Folks can argue we should have or not have certain holidays from many different angles. Each is entitled to his or her own opinion. i’m not into convincing anyone i’ve got it right. i don’t keep score, and this is not a contest.

But for Memorial Day, I take two moments to honor those who suffered or fell in service to defend our constitution. Before 0800, or for those of you with military service: “Colors,” i climb the old railroad tie steps to the top of my hill and lower my flag to half-mast. Around noon, i repeat my climb and at 1220 in accordance with Navy tradition since i don’t have any saluting cannons for the 21 minute guns salute (begun at noon when available), i two-block the flag (that’s raising it to the top for landlubbers). On each occasion after completing the act of honor and remembrance, i turn and look west over the ships of the Pacific Fleet moored at the Naval Station below, out to the majestic Point Loma, a citadel for the bay, to the horizon of the Pacific from whence my father and i returned in the conflicts of our time when so many others didn’t.

Many, like my father, went with great sacrifice to their own personal and family life because we were in a conflict that threatened our very existence as we knew it. Others, like me, went because it was a requirement. Many of us, like me (significantly younger than my father when he enlisted), went with no sense of putting our lives on the line, even though we did exactly this – in my case, it was a remote possibility but still a possibility). i am sure those who made the ultimate sacrifice covered the spectrum of these reasons for service as well.

Yet i am also sure every single one of us knew we were going “to defend the constitution;” not the country, not the residing president, not congress, but the constitution as represented by the flag, or “ensign” as we Navy folks are wont to say. We knew and know because we gave our word, made an oath, swore to defend the constitution. And we did, in many ways, and today we honor those who made it a short lifetime of service.

I stand silently in respect and wish we had not changed the date from May 30th and turned it into a day off to have fun.

Today is also the birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson as noted in “The Writer’s Almanac,” along with a quote of the philosopher. i marvel at Emerson’s ideas of Transcendentalism, and think he made a lot of good points. From today’s “Writer’s Almanac:”

From the essay “The Over-Soul” (1841):

“The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-Soul, within which every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from his character, and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand, and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that Wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man, we can know what it saith.”

Have a good day and pause for a moment of respect for those who fell for us.


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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Golf, rain, and Pat Bryant

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

SAN DIEGO –As I begin this column, I wish I were home but then recall Brenda Callis’
words on a trip to the Southwest corner several years ago.

I don’t remember the reason Eddie and Brenda were here, but it was their first May trip to
San Diego. The weather was Southwest corner perfect: a sunny mid-60s to low-70s. The winter blooms had been overtaken with the spring outburst, and the jacaranda trees were covered with their lavender blossoms. That May in Lebanon had been hot and humid. Brenda’s comment was to the effect San Diego was like a breath of fresh air.

She was right.

But San Diegans know a different May. The first half of May is normally what Brenda and Eddie experienced. However, in the middle of the month, the marine layer comes rushing on shore. The days are mostly overcast and cool.

Residents call it “May Gray.” It precedes “June Gloom.” The two combine for my least favorite time in the Southwest corner. Yet the average May rainfall is only 0.21 inches.

But on Friday morning, it was raining, and I did not play golf. Even worse, it rained last Friday, and I didn’t get in my golf round that day either.

What in the name of El Niño is going on? Between this weekend and the last, the rainfall total is more than two inches, ten times the average monthly amount, and in the middle of a catastrophic drought.

In the past, the Southwest corner would experience a month of rainy weather. Somewhere between October and March, overcast dominated. During that period, rain seemed to come on Fridays, my golf day. We adapted and kept playing. It was rain only. Thunderstorms come once every three to five years on a July night, lasting maybe ten minutes.

Last Friday, we followed our past habits and teed off at North Island in a slight drizzle. By the time we hit our approach shots, the drizzle had become a steady downpour. We were undaunted. I tended the flagstick as the best golfer in our group stooped over a long putt. A bolt of lightning arched through the sky. About five seconds later, the thunderclap boomed. As we looked back, our other foursome was headed to the clubhouse. In the rain, we debated, and called the clubhouse. “There is another cell coming through in 15 minutes, and there are three or four more behind that one,” the attendant told us while checking his Doppler on the computer. We headed back, a rarity. But at our age, we don’t mess with lightning.

The one bolt was the only one throughout the day.

The incident recalled another Friday twenty years ago when we gathered at the Miramar course, then a Naval Air Station. We were having coffee before the round when Rod Stark, our best golfer observed, “If it rains after we start a round, then I will keep playing, but I’m not going to play if it’s raining when we start around.”

Marty Linville, the third of this trio who have played together for thirty years, and I readily agreed, “Yeh, we’ll keep playing if it starts during the round, but we won’t play if it’s raining before we start.”

Finishing our coffee, we walked out to get our bags and go to the first tee. Rain was coming down in sheets.

Marty looked at me and said, “Heavy mist. Time to tee off.”

We did.

There’s always a silver lining. Just before my first rainout occurred a week ago, the postman left a package on our doorstep. I found a bookend golf trophy, a golfer poised for his swing, and a photograph of my aunt, Bettye Kate Hall with Dr. Joe Bryant.

Dr. Joe Bryant and Bettye Kate Hall, my aunt. The photo came framed in my gift from Pat Bryant.

Dr. Joe Bryant and Bettye Kate Hall, my aunt. The photo came framed in my gift from Pat Bryant.

The package came from Pat Bryant. She wrote she enjoyed my columns, and the trophy was for the ones about golf.

I cannot express how much Pat’s gift and note meant to me. Pat and Doctor Joe have been like family with ours since they first showed up in Lebanon in 1963. Doctor Joe relieved Dr. Charles Lowe as our only family doctor since before I was born. Mother considered Pat one of her best friends. Pat is the epitome of all that is good about my parents’ generation and the togetherness of Lebanon.

The storm in the Southwest corner passed. On Saturday, I played Singing Hills in the sun, temperature in the high 60s. There are silver linings.

Thanks, Pat.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: “Strong Inside:” a personal experience, conclusion*

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, May 12, 2015. i have made some edits and additions to this version. The asterisk in the title is to mark the end of the newspaper column series. However, i intend to write several more thoughts here in the near future. Perry Wallace, Andrew Maraniss have provided me with a fresh and positive look on a subject that has been in the back of mind for more than half a century. Mac Koch, Billy Parsons, Cy Fraser, Alan and Jim Hicks, and especially my brother, Joe Jewell, have given me succor while i have revisited the problem of race having an impact on our relationships with each other. Thanks.

SAN DIEGO – Last week, in a note to Andrew Maraniss, the author of “Strong Inside,” I wrote I could write about my contemplations about his book for a long time.

Flanked by two Vanderbilt coeds, Athletic Director David Williams, honors Perry Wallace and Andrew Maraniss at a Vandy basketball game December 4, 2014.

Flanked by two Vanderbilt coeds, Athletic Director David Williams, honors Perry Wallace and Andrew Maraniss at a Vandy basketball game December 4, 2014.

But I am not a crusader. Perry Wallace was a crusader. Maraniss, in his own way, is a crusader. I, however, need to return to writing about notes from the Southwest corner.

Yet, I need to get my head around this before closing the topic.

When Perry was forging his path in SEC basketball, young men were in a unique situation. In addition to racial equality, the Vietnam “conflict” was raging divisively. In many ways, how we reacted to both situations was similar.

Our parents, Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” had won the biggest war in the history of the world. They were a disciplined lot and taught their children to respect and obey authority while simultaneously giving us opportunities to explore new paths their generation did not have available.

My family, like Perry’s, was a working family. My siblings and I, like Perry, were brought up working. We were taught Christian values, human kindness, and that children were “to be seen and not heard.” As the rumble of right and integration became the daily headline, we did not understand. We were out to forge a brand new world for ourselves…or at least I was. When I matriculated to Vanderbilt, I was out to become rich and famous and yes, escape the confines of Lebanon. i was young, a dreamer, and the “grass was always greener.”

But we also received mixed signals. Our world had been segregated for almost as long as it had existed. I knew five people in Lebanon whose skin color was quite darker than mine. I thought it was wrong, but I didn’t think about it very much. I had other things on my mind.

When Perry was being recruited for a basketball scholarship, there was yet another large obstacle weighing on me. I discovered I was still eligible for the draft when I received my “1A” notice. By a great deal of scurrying and some political influence by Joe L. Evins, I was accepted to Navy OCS just before I graduated from MTSU. All of my plans for greatness and riches were put on hold. My generation reacted to Vietnam in a manner similar to how we reacted to integration.

We were all over the map.

Again, I didn’t think about it too much. I just kept putting one foot ahead of the other, doing what was necessary to do what twenty-something’s do: not thinking very much about anything but what i was doing and where i was going, and not much about the latter.

Perry graduated from Vanderbilt and has had a successful life from my vantage point. I’m

glad. He more than deserves it. I didn’t think about that very much either until I read “Strong Inside.”

Almost 200 years ago, Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher wrote, “It is quite true what philosophy says; that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards.

Since I finished reading about Perry Wallace and his trials and tribulations I have tried to understand backwards.

In retrospect, Vanderbilt succeeded in what I’m sure was an unintended way. Perry Wallace fit the requirements necessary to be the first black man to play SEC basketball. When Jackie Robinson was being interviewed by Branch Rickey to become the iconic first black man in major league baseball, Robinson inquired, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”

Rickey responded, “No. I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back.”

Perry Wallace was perfect for his task, although the burdens he bore should have been less, much less.

But we didn’t know.

I am too old to launch a campaign to right all of the wrongs of my past, many of which still exist but in more subtle ways. Without a lot of money and political clout, any effort on my part would resemble a tinkling cymbal.

Sometimes government intervention is necessary to right wrong. It was then. But government intervention, legislation, and enforcement is never enough. Never enough.

Only we as individuals can eradicate the blight of racial inequality. The effort must come from deep inside of all of us, regardless of skin color or status in society.

I have believed in equality in a quiet, non-confrontational way. Believing is not enough.

Perry Wallace and Andrew Maraniss have made me aware. They have allowed me to understand backwards,

Considering Kierkegaard’s admonition to live forward, I will try to do better going forward.

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