Notes from the Southwest Corner: It is/was a lovely little town

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, August 26, 2014. 

SAN DIEGO. – I intended to write about automobiles again, but decided that topic needed a rest.

Besides, I became nostalgic when my life took another turn. On Tuesday, I retired from Pacific Tugboat Service. It has been a good run. I loved going down to that old pier, arriving before “crew-on,” when it’s time for the captain and his crew to board their boat for an early morning task. The bay bridge lights arch underneath the stars as those stars begin to fade with first light. Walking down that pier, especially at low tide when egrets and great blue herons can often be seen working the shore line, makes me feel alive.

Work was becoming more of a grind than pleasure. Pacific Tug may call me to assist in special, time-sensitive projects, but essentially, I am retired. It is time.

In the past year, our family and Lebanon lost Jimmy Jewell and Estelle Jewell. Their departure has changed our game plan. We were lucky to have had them into their late 90s, relatively healthy and of good mind. They were a joy, but they were ready to go. They had made their peace with their Lord. And we must move on.

I am seventy. My sister Martha Duff has noted I have some of my father in me. It is not likely I will ever stop working. For now, I will continue to write this column and try to give you readers something to think about, something to reflect upon.

Saturday in the early evening, we drove to dinner in La Mesa, a community on the eastern edge of San Diego. The 125/94 freeways are the primary corridor from our home to the eastern edge. The route is dominated by Mount San Miguel, a sentinel looming over the landscape like a feudal overseer. This time of year, Mount San Miguel is brown, folds of brown hues wandering up to the top where man’s need to communicate is symbolized by a collection of antennae, standing like high-tech steel guardians of the Southwest corner.

Mount San Miguel is not a super high peak but it dominates the vista. I imagine the ancient Kumeyaay climbing up to the zenith and sending smoke signals: a bit far-fetched, but a satisfying thought to me. One of my better poems is about Mount San Miguel. On Saturday’s drive, I became nostalgic thinking about how things used to be in the Southwest corner.

Of course, I translated that to how things used to be back home.

As with most of the world, Lebanon has grown. There is a certain civic pride in the population increase and the expansion of homes and businesses. Financially, this is good, if not necessary, for the tax base and continued improvements in the quality of living.

But I come from a different place.

I was born in a country town, a county seat with a majestic old yellow-painted courthouse lording over the center of activity called the square where we went to get almost everything…except antiques. The only antiques I knew growing up were family hand-me-downs.

The four arteries out of the square were two-lanes. South Cumberland ended in a ford. Murfreesboro Pike was a hilly road extending from South Maple.

West Main was mostly majestic homes lining the two-lanes out to Johnson’s Dairy, or thereabouts, when the world as I knew it turned to country.

Castle Heights was a conglomeration of old buildings with beautiful architecture and sprawling grounds of athletic fields, drill fields, and a nine-hole golf course with brown dirt (or sand) greens.

Of course, it changed. Four lanes became de rigueur for the arteries. West End Heights was the new development for people moving up in the world. Commerce rolled in with Lux Clock, Precision Rubber, TRW, Texas Boot, and others.

Until I left, we walked to school. Newsboys delivered “The Tennessean” in the morning and “The Banner” in the afternoon on bicycles. Boys in grey uniforms marched to church on Sunday morning, and wandered down to the movies on Wednesday afternoon. We never locked our cars and only locked our home at night when we went to bed.

There is no photograph with this column. The pictures are in my mind.

I think Lebanon is doing pretty well compared to most towns. But to be truthful, I miss my old home.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Lessons from my father

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

SAN DIEGO. – Writing about Earl Major and his Porsche 911 brought memories of my introduction to automobiles over two thousand miles and 54 years from the Southwest corner.

My father was qualified to teach anyone how to drive. He had the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best automobile mechanic in Lebanon. But he really didn’t teach me a great deal by direction or example.

He would say, “Let’s go; you drive; here are the keys.” I would climb into the driver’s seat of the 1955 Oldsmobile or the 1956 Pontiac (officially a Hankins, Byars, and Jewell car) and go for a ride while he sat silently in the front seat.

When I turned 16, I got my driver’s license, a story previously recorded here.

I became the driver of my mother’s 1958 Pontiac Star Chief. I believe my father actually got the car for himself, but took the option of air conditioning (yes, it was an option back then) and automatic transmission for Mother, who always drove our nicest car. The Star Chief carried the biggest engine Pontiac made in that era of muscle cars and three two-barrel carburetors. It could sit up on those wheels and howl. Of course, that didn’t happen when my mother drove it.

Shortly after I secured that precious license, the Castle Heights Key Club held an evening meeting in a Chapel classroom. I asked my parents if I could take the car rather than walk the two blocks. Surprisingly, they agreed with the admonition to come straight home after the meeting.

Of course, I was sixteen and rarely listened to what adults told me unless they were coaches. After the meeting, I asked my friends Mike Gannaway and Jim Gamble if they would like to get a shake at Snow White (back then, Snow White was a new hamburger and ice cream mecca for teenagers). They, of course, agreed. After all, I was the first of us with a real driver’s license. Satisfied with our milk shakes, we headed back to town. Being my first time driving without parental supervision, I took the liberty of hitting about 50 mph on West Main, then a 30-mile per hour speed zone.

The Lebanon Police caught me just before I reached Joe Grave’s service station next to where Oak Hill Drive is today. The policeman wrote me a ticket. I sheepishly took my friends home. After parking the car in our driveway, I came into the den shaking in my boots. Suffering from a teenage superiority complex (most folks would call it “stupid”), I decided to take the offensive.

I knew my father had received a speeding ticket about a month earlier. Walking into the house, parents and siblings were spread out on the various chairs and sofa watching television.

“I pulled a ‘Daddy,’” I said trying to be as cute as I could be.

“What do you mean?” my mother, smelling a smart aleck kid in their midst, queried me.

“Well, I just got a speeding ticket.”

I shall not elaborate on what happened next. But it was not pretty. The fact that I did follow explicit instructions and drive straight home added to my misery.

At the breakfast table two days later, my father informed me he and I would be going to the courthouse together Saturday morning. I had to go before a judge then. Mid-morning, my father and I headed to the square. Because of my father’s reputation and Lebanon being a real small town back then, he had arranged a private session with the judge. I was unaware the meeting had been arranged between the judge and my father.

I was too frightened to think about any of that. Parking outside Seat’s Studio, that old courthouse looming before me had me quaking. We entered, climbed up those worn wooden stairs, and went to the judge’s chambers. The room was small, dark, loaded with big law books. The aroma of cigar was pervasive.

Unfortunately, I do not remember the judge’s name. He was a large, older man (gigantic he seemed to me). He did not yell, or threaten me, but he did tell me I could end up in jail if I got another ticket.

When we left, my father asked me if I had learned my lesson.

It was probably the most effective chewing out I ever received.

But I must confess after a while, I sped again.


This is the car although ours was blue and white.

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A Pocket of Resistance: Dancing to the Music

Recently, Maureen and i went a wedding of one of her work associates with whom she has remained close since retiring.

i shall not mention names because i have not asked the bride and groom’s permission to write about their wedding.

The wedding was held at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe. Rancho Santa Fe is the high end area occupied by the rich and famous just northeast of Del Mar in the middle of San Diego county, several miles inland from I-5. Maureen calls it “Rancho Fantasy.”

Fairbanks Ranch is a beautiful, elegant setting. The wedding was scheduled to be outside but the threat of rain took inside.

Maureen’s friend met her new mate at a ballroom dancing class. She is Jewish and he is Mormon. She has two grown children. He has five. All of the children have plentiful children of their own. It was a Jewish wedding. The rabbi was wonderful. If i had a complaint, it would be he was so kind to ensure everyone understood what was going on. He explained each step of the ritual, then said the rites in English, and repeated them in Hebrew. The whole thing took a while, but it was delightful.

The reception was also at the country club with a delicious dinner for more than 100 attendees. The usual speeches were made and then the dancing began. A significant number of the guests were from the dance class, and boy, could they dance. Maureen and i danced a bebop but i recognized i was outclassed and sat for the rest of the numbers. Maureen managed to get back out on the floor several times.

There was every kind of dance from the foxtrot to western swing line dancing to break dancing. There were very senior citizens to six-year old’s on the floor. When we left, they just concluded the chair dance where the bridge and groom were raised in a chair and paraded around the dance floor. It all was hysterical good fun.

It reminded me of Mrs. Brown’s dance classes at Castle Heights. When i was in junior high, Mrs. Brown, the wife of Col. Brown who later taught me calculus and analytical geometry, started a dance class after school. She asked my mother is she would have me attend for free, not because she saw the potential Nureyev or Astair in me, but she reasoned if i came the other boys would also come.

i don’t know if i was the reason. i don’t recall trying to influence anyone, but the class had about a dozen boys and a few more girls. i learned several steps in the foxtrot, box waltz, and cha cha, but if there had been grades i suspect i would have failed.

The wedding and reception was a great success. i kept marveling at how many people with such diverse backgrounds and great age differences could unite over a wedding and have such a terrific time together. Maureen, our friends and i did also.

You might remember this from a Facebook post. This was the wedding.

goofy wedding


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