Notes from the Southwest Corner: Dickens revisited and we aren’t talking about Little Jimmy

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, July 22, 2014. This one was a tough column to write: i wanted to pay my respect to Glyn Ed Newton with taste , and i also wanted to acknowledge the many responses (many were correcting my identification of the boys and coaches in the accompanying photo) to my last column about Little League. So this is what resulted:

glyn_ed-LyndaSAN DIEGO. – Sitting out here the Southwest corner, the seat can get cold and lonely sometimes.

When I feel my seat is a bit too far from home, I refer back to something Dave Carey taught me. Dave, a POW in Vietnam for over five years, often cited the first line of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I have used Dave’s quote of Dickens several times in these columns.

As mentioned here previously, I succeeded Dave in our last Navy position of directing the leadership and management training on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. Shortly after he began handing over the reins to me, I heard him speak to a group of senior officers. After reading Dickens’ lines, he pointed out we each had the choice to decide if it’s the best or worst of times.

I thought then and now if Dave could choose it was “the best of times” after years of incarceration in the Hanoi Hilton, I should be able to do that was well.

*     *     *

It was difficult to choose the “best of times” when Jim Leftwich notified me of Glyn Ed Newton’s untimely passing. Glyn Ed’s accomplishments are striking but have already been listed in this newspaper.

On a personal level, Gyn Ed was much more than just his accomplishments. Lynda, the older daughter of my mentor and friend JB Leftwich, married Glyn Ed in 1965 after meeting him at the University of Tennessee. He became a full partner in the Leftwich clan and consequently, the extended family of Leftwich and Jewell.

When the two families rendezvoused, most often during the Christmas season, for a “happy hour” at JB and Jo Doris’ home, Glyn Ed was vital in the “happy aspect” of the affair. His spirit was indomitable, he was always full of life and always interested in the other person.

Lynda and he were a great coupling of understanding, focus, and most importantly caring. They have been a statement of love and caring embodied in Coach Leftwich and Jo Doris. Together, they have been a great success, both career wise and personally.

I remember praise of my father and JB that apply to Glyn Ed: He was a good man. Glyn Ed will be missed. He was one of those who made life “the best of times.”

*     *     *

I also discovered this week a bad memory can have an upside. In this case, my bad memory brought about some good things. Last week’s column brought to the fore the Jewell’s are still a positive force in Lebanon. My comments about Jake Jewell’s exploits on the diamond brought me back in contact with another side of my family.

Jake’s father, Paul, and I had a nice conversation last Wednesday, and Wendy, Paul’s wife, and I are now engaged in family history going back beyond Bassel Jewell, who came over the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone on the back end of the Revolutionary War. I am looking forward to more conversations with Paul and Wendy, and especially Jake, about the family.

*     *     *

The Little League column also provided re-connections. Jim Andrews, known to many as “Moon,” straightened out my bad memory a bit. Jim was my coach along with Billy Swindell during my Babe Ruth League playing days on Lea’s Butane Gas team. It was fun and probably the best baseball I ever played. Catching Mike Gannaway was a kick. Mike, a good friend at Lebanon Junior High and Castle Heights went to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship.

Jim gently reminded me the coach in last week’s photograph was Woodrow Manning. When I learned it was Woodrow, the memories came flooding back. I was extremely lucky in coaches, both in Little League, and Babe Ruth baseball.

*     *     *

Several others have come forward to correct my memory. Mike Dixon, a man of incredible recall when it comes to sports events, pointed out Eddie Taylor was the ace pitcher of Lebanon Bank, Mike’s team and league champions. So the guy I identified as Eddie was actually John Couch, as Joy Wahl correctly pointed out. I also heard from Bob Buhler, another good friend from that era.

There are still a lot of holes in my memory. Yet I have no problem remembering it as “the best of times.”

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A Pocket of Resistance: An amazing family gone

It is difficult to think about my mother without thinking about her two sisters, one brother, and most of all my grandmother, Katherine (Granny) Webster Prichard.  Mother was the last one and the last of the Wynn/Webster/Prichard clan in Lebanon, Tennessee, who have been in Lebanon since the 1700′s. Love you, Mother, Granny, Aunt Evelyn, Aunt Bettye Kate, and Uncle Bill. It is too late tonight to include a photo of my uncle, but i will, i will.

Ode to Three Sisters and Their Mother

The old lady came busting out of the old century;prichard_women-rev01
where she had been
an exquisite china doll of immeasurable beauty;
young men chased her
to allowable limits in the Victorian South
after we turned from reconstruction
while Teddy was roustabouting with Spain
in that little skirmish we often forget.
Remember the Maine.

But Granny came busting out;
fire in her belly, grit in her craw, pluck in her spirit, gleam in her eye;
with the handsome man who won the chase,
taking her and his bloodhounds
to the retired circuit rider’s farm out on the pike
where Granny’s circuit rider father would
preach occasionally without the horse or mule
in the hamlet of Lebanon,
smack dab in the middle of Tennessee
where some bright folks built the square
over a cold water spring
they discovered in “Town Creek”
in yet an earlier century.

…and the children would come around wartime,
dropping among the years of the first big one
we resisted until the Luisitania
took its hit and sank like a rock;
…and the children came,
five in all until one died
as young family members often did
in those pre-antibiotic days.
The handsome blood hound man who chased
criminals through the woods
took his own hit,
a decade after the war.
So the little maelstrom with grit in her craw
packed up the chillun’s and the belongings
making the trek to the groves
of central Florida
for a couple of years to
escape the sinking of the hound man
and the attendant feelings thereof.

In thirty-two, they came back home,
each with some grit in their craw.
Granny, the queen of grit,
went to work,
taking care of those who needed care
outside the family in order
to take care of her own.

…and the children grew up early,
cooking the meals, washing the clothes, cleaning the house,
gathering eggs, milking the cows,  pulling the weeds;
before playing ball,
earning money until
they went to college in the little town,
or went to work,
or both.

The second big war came,
again in a wave of terror,
This time in an atoll’s pristine harbor,
taking hits, sinking to the shallow harbor depths.
Remember the Arizona.

The brother went off to war after marrying
a woman of another religion from down the road,
west a bit, in the big city.
he flew a plane named after his lady Colleen,
returning to the Tennessee hamlet, still
with fire in his belly, grit in his craw, pluck in spirit, gleam in his eye
before leaving for the orange groved paradise
he found on the southern trek several years before.

The preacher man was gone;
The hound man was gone;
The brother was gone;
The three sisters and their mother,
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes,
with their three new men
stared at the world,
staring it down straight in the eye,
earing it down with their labor
until the world cried “uncle,”
admiring their fire and grit and pluck.

There were circles entwined with circles of family;
the circles orbited around the threes sisters and their mother:
all was well.

…and the world rolled on;
Granny finally gave up her pluckish ghost with grit in her craw;
no longer would she braid the waist long hair,
tying the braids atop her head
as she had done for so many years;
the three sisters rallied with
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes.

The grandchildren of the matriarch
spread with the four winds, remembering.
When the circles got together,
the three sisters remained the constant,
demanding the world stay in their orbit,
and the world was warm with laughter and love and
a sense the world was safe
as long as they all inherited
fire in their bellies, grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit; gleam in their eyes.

The world is older;
Granny is gone;
the youngest sister recently joining her,
the oldest failing fast:
The three sisters leaving us slowly with
the fire waning to embers, but still there is
grit in their craw, pluck in their spirit, gleam in their eyes;
staring down the world.

Such a lovely world they have shown us.

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A Pocket of Resistance: Remembering on her birthday

As Blythe pointed out in her post with the wonderful photo of my mother with her great grandson Sam, Estelle Prichard Jewell would have been 97 today, but she went to laugh with her husband in May. i am proud to be her son for many reasons, but right now the one thing that stands out to me today was how she rose to the challenge when the man of her life left her side after more than 75 years last August. She accepted her loss and was elegant, courageous, funny, and maintained a mind with an incredible memory and intellect up until the end. Even now, i will stop in the middle of some late afternoon activity and think “i need to call Mother,” which i did almost daily for those last nine months. It was a high point of my day. Blythe, i too miss her.

Ode to the Last Sister

The scene was quietly stately;estelle 1945-1
The halls were hushed; the talk quiet.
She sat by the casket, a sympathetic smile on her face.
Those paying their respects would stop for a minute,beside the casket and look at the lovely lady in repose,
to pray i think;
then step aside, stoop and shake the sister’s hand,
the last sister I’ve taken to calling her,
condolences they would say in several different ways.
Occasionally, she would see someone dear;
her older husband, but still lithe at ninety-two,
would offer her his arm;
she would shuffle over, have her conversation,
return to her chair.

It is difficult to lose a younger sister,
almost as bad as it would be to lose a child.
With her younger sister in repose,
her older sister in Florida, not quite right
in recollection and failing slowly,
this middle sister donned her coat of family responsibility,
wearing it regally,
playing to the needs of the visitors,
worrying if all was going smoothly,
asking about others,
worrying over not remembering names.

It struck me she was queenly
when the family gathered at her place
she was the center of it all.
As always, her man was circling, getting things done,
but she was the epicenter.
Her hair was white and pretty,
not plastic blue:
she never varied from the natural color;
her eyes still had the gleam of humor:
when one brow was arched,
everyone still scrambled to get out of the way
of whatever was to come next.

Another family member said it best as we struggled with what was going on:
“We are saying good-bye to a different age.”
And so it is.

And the world rolls on, caroming off of what makes sense
to find paths of illogic and darkness
when light and hope should be on the trail.
But the one last sister has her own world,
which she rules
by herself now.
As I think back to the scene,
I recall her moving toward me
(for i am her oldest son)
in a moment of weakness
at the “visitation” as they call it in the South.
As she neared, I could see she didn’t want
to be regal or responsible
for that infinitesimal moment;
I moved to her as a tear or two escaped.
As I held her against my chest,
I could tell the moment had passed,
kissed her on the forehead
let her return to her regal civility:
I knew she would be all right.

Sure ‘nuff, she rebounded, took up the gauntlet
doing what she had to do
with that fire and grit and pluck
and ooh, that gleam, that wonderful gleam in her eye.
That is the way in the middle of Tennessee,
or rather has been the way,
and will be the way,
as long as she can keep the fire stoked;
there are others, daughters and other women kin
other women in other families
who will keep the fire lit,
we are saying good-bye to a different age.

This is the first of two posts honoring her. They are poems i wrote about her and her family several years ago. They have been posted here before and are included in A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems.


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