Notes from the Southwest Corner: Potpourri time again

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, October 14, 2014. The accompanying photo of Dirty Harry was a three-column job at the top of the op-ed page. In addition to being a great “Director of Content” (or Editor as old folks would call him) for a local newspaper, Jared Felkins has some great ideas. 


SAN DIEGO – As I write on Saturday, autumn is in the air in the Southwest corner, even though the air is quite a bit different from the autumn air back home.

I have fond memories of autumn about there then and here now. One of the definitions of “potpourri” found in the “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is a mixture of dried petals of roses or other flowers with spices, kept in a jar for their fragrance. My wife makes a potpourri up frequently. I associate them with the turning leaves back home. Another definition is a collection of miscellaneous literary extracts.

This weekend, I find my mind filled with such autumn recollections, anchored by one event in particular.

*     *    *

My computer forecast predicted rain for the Castle Heights Homecoming, but the photos I’m seeing show even if there was some rain, it did not deter the reunions. The Castle Heights Homecoming is unique.

Each year, I’ve haven’t attended because of Southwest corner commitments. I greatly regretted missing the 2012 homecoming, my class’ 50th reunion. My memories of my four years on the hill are most poignant when autumn rolls around. It was a wonderful time of year. The annual celebration is a great way to remember.

All of the CHMA alumni owe thanks to all of the cadets who turned the old library into the Heights museum, and especially Rob and Susan Hosier who have been the main drivers of bringing our memories alive.

*     *    *

In the rush to meet a deadline – not really: I am, after all, the great procrastinator, and without my mother, Estelle Jewell, my resident history resource – I did not include two of my father’s main fishing partners in a recent column. Glen Bishop and Gwen Baird went on many fishing trips with Jimmy Jewell. As with everyone else who fished with him, they considered him a friend and a good man.

*     *    *

Returning from San Francisco, I marveled at the beauty of the land here outside the cities. We avoided interstates as much as possible, driving along splendid vistas of shoreline, hills, and the agriculture world of the mid-coastal area.

Once away from the hubbub, this is a beautiful place. It is different from Tennessee but just as beautiful. Every time I am in the California hills, I am reminded of the scenery in “One-Eyed Jacks” starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden.

*     *    *

Another advantage of the Southwest corner is timing. College football games begin televising at 9:00 a.m., NFL games begin at 10:00. Except for events on the left coast, night baseball and football games usually are completed by 10:00 p.m. All of the scores of sporting contests are in the morning newspaper. Amateur baseball is played year round. Still, I prefer to watch Vandy and Tennessee sports events in person.

*     *    *

On Friday night in Albuquerque, San Diego State’s football team dropped favored New Mexico, 24-14. The Aztecs rushed for 397 years with Donnell Pumprhey scoring two touchdowns and 246 yards. Pumphrey’s 93-yard rushing touchdown was reminiscent of LSU’s Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss in 1959. But the Aztec’s run took me back to a much closer comparison: A much better and clearer image is Clifton Tribble cutting through the line for the Blue Devils in the early 1950s. I can see him cutting left, then right, and outrunning the entire defense. Pumphrey’s run was that good.

*     *    *

I have come to agree with Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force. I laughed at the line for years, thinking it could be an excuse for doing nothing.

Then on Saturday, Maureen returned from her yoga class and proclaimed, “Look, I learned to do the side crow today.”

Thinking her a bit daffy but wishing to show support, I asked her to show it to me. She did.

She has been practicing yoga for a long time and began going to a class almost daily since her retirement four years ago. I recognize yoga would be good for me at my age but have crafted great excuses to avoid. No more.

I cannot adequately describe the pose Maureen accomplished, but if I tried it I would look like a pretzel after it had been run over by a steam roller.

I now know what Dirty Harry meant when he stated, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: A bunch of different worlds collide

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, October 7, 2014. Maureen and i are back in the Southwest corner. It was a wonderful trip thanks to Alan, Maren, and Eleanor Hicks, but we missed Cy and Julie Fraser and their family. Tomorrow, i will write of our adventures with photos, but tonight, we are relaxing and getting back on a less than hyper schedule. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass remains a truly unique experience.

SAN FRANCISCO – Five years ago, Maureen and I made our first trip from the Southwest corner to San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and have only missed one since then.

Ever since I wrote my first recounting of the experience, each successive year I am initially disinclined to repeat myself. Each year, I recant that inclination and end up with my observations in this column

This year, I was even more disinclined to write of this past weekend. Two of the mainstays of our group attendance, Cy and Julie Fraser, were unable to attend. Julie is our road manager, and Cy’s love and knowledge of all types of music, especially bluegrass, kept us informed and eager for the next act on stage, or rather all six stages. With them there is varying list of other folks who tag along with the Frasers.

For the first time, we chose to drive up from the Southwest to stay, as we always do, with Alan and Maren Hicks in their lovely, comfortable home in Forest Hills, an area straight up the hill from Golden Gate Park. Even though the Fraser’s absence left a hole in our lineup, our coterie of Alan and Maren, their daughter Eleanor, and the two of us attended. It didn’t seem quite the same, and I considered another topic for this column.

Perhaps my age plays a part, but this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was even more poignant for me, convincing me I once again should recount the experience here.

Each year, I am amazed at the number and variety of people who attend. They come in all ages, sizes and all places matching the variety of the performing artists. This year, we met folks from North Carolina, New Orleans, and Nashville. The attendance figures have not been published as I write. The crowd over the three days was significantly more than the 750,000 in 2013. I guess there were around 800,000 this year.

The numbers are due in part by the fact there is no charge for attending. The festival was founded by the investment financier Warren Hellman. He completely paid for the entire event for a dozen years. He established an endowment to continue the festival after his death and to keep the entire affair commercial free. This was the 14th festival.

The collision of people from all walks of life, a complete journey through the political spectrum, religious and sexual preferences, and ethnic backgrounds is stunning. Maureen and I went to see Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the Arrow Stage. An Asian couple allowed us to sit with them for the show. In front of us was an older gentleman in jeans who had stapled bottle caps to the fingers of his glove with a tie of metal strips he played like washboard. Several people down from him, two turbaned Sikhs swayed to “Mr. Bojangles.” One had added a golf visor to his headgear.

Even in the unusually hot weather, one man was dressed as Santa Claus. There was a man in a masked outfit completely covered with colored sequins. Even his 10-inch wedges shoes were sequined. Police on horseback roamed and one was nuzzling a cat being held by its owner.

The collision of people was not a collision but a synthesis focusing on enjoying the moment with each other. The Monday edition of “San Francisco Examiner” reported not one major crime was committed during the three-day event. “That is not a surprise, as the…festival has a reputation of offering a safe environment for people of all ages…It’s a family atmosphere, a family event.”

There were people most likely bitter enemies in the political arena, religion, or philosophy for living. Yet they stood side by side, dancing together to the Earls of Leicester, a group devoted to recreating Flatt and Scruggs’ style of bluegrass, right down to the western style fedoras.

That particular group took me back to Nashville in the early 1960s. I joined my two friends Cy and Alan in listening to the Foggy Mountain Boys every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. on WSM-TV. On free Saturday nights, we might go down to the Ryman around 10:00 p.m. The full house had filtered out by then. We usually found good seats down front to listen to Flatt and Scruggs and then Marty Robbins.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass brought me wonderful memories and hope for harmony, the musical as well as the human kind.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Brigadoon revisited after 100 years

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 30, 2014.  The photo accompanying the column has previously been printed on my Facebook page.

SANTA BARBARA, CAL. – This column is the last of my trilogy tribute to my father.

I am writing on Sunday, September 28, Jimmy Jewell’s 100th birthday. This morning, I thought about him and the Lebanon he knew, of his friends from that generation, of the changes he saw in the world and in my home town, and I thought of what he and my mother have meant to me concerning my relationship to that hometown of  Lebanon.

I must confess I have had a few rough moments thinking about him today.

My daughters, nieces, and nephews, recipients of his love all posted pictorial photographs of him on the web. I did too and thought how fitting we were honoring him through a technology which would have been out of science-fiction through more than 80 years of his life.

I think of the irony where I am as I write. Maureen and I have embarked on our first real road trip. Santa Barbara is the first overnight stop on our trek experiment. We have made car trips before, but they have been pretty much forced marches, petal-to-the-metal, cross-country, treks to complete, not enjoy.

We spent mid-day at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and landed in this Eden of the California Central Coast for dinner. Tomorrow (yesterday to you readers), we travel to the wine country of Paso Robles, and end up with our Vanderbilt friends in Sonoma. Together with Alan and Maren Hicks, we go to San Francisco in mid-week, where I have left my heart more than once, attend the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass phenomenon in what has become a tradition, and then head back to the Southwest corner.

By the time Jimmy Jewell was my age, he and my mother had seen all the continental states except Alaska and traveled across Canada. When he retired at the standard age of 65, they bought a RV, eventually upgrading to a fifth wheel and hit the road. At 70, I, with Maureen, am just testing the water in seeing our country.

After achieving success as an automobile mechanic with help from his older brother Wesley, Jim Horn Hankins, and Bob Padgett, building his financial base with ownership of Hankins, Byars, and Jewell with his life-long friend, H.M. Byars, he completed his career as a partner in commercial real estate and Hankins and Jewell Oil Company along with his other life-long friend Jim Horn.

Then he pursued two passions: travel and fishing. Jimmy would leave Lebanon with his trusted navigator Estelle riding shotgun. They would be gone for several months, seeing the marvels this country had to offer and loving their freedom.

But the activity he loved more than anything else was fishing Old Hickory, Center Hill and Watts Bar Lakes. Many of his friendships were formed around fishing such as those with Lum Edwards, Glenn Bishop, Wayne Barrett, and many others. Jimmy’s brothers Jesse and Huffman, his brother-in-law George Martin, his nephew Maxwell Martin, and eventually his other brother-in-law, Snooks Hall were brought into his fishing circle. Of course, Joe, Martha, and I, along with nieces, nephews, and grandchildren were introduced to the sport he loved.

He even took JB Leftwich fishing a couple of times. JB marveled at Jimmy Jewell’s fishing prowess on this page but never quite bought into the sports.

I have written of my father’s attributes and recorded many of his stories here. The attributes are similar to others of that Lebanon generation: strong, kind, caring, and pursuing their work and loves with passion. They created a world for their children, e.g. me, which no one will ever experience again.

We were protected but independent as we could be. We learned to love life and were taught true values for living good lives. For example: “The ends do not justify the means;” “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” and “Honesty is the best policy.”

Somehow, sadly, such homilies are out of vogue today.

The Lebanon I knew growing up is gone, along with the men and women who guided me through my youth. I keep thinking that Lebanon of yore will be like “Brigadoon,” not gone, just sleeping for a hundred years. I wish, futilely, that town will awake from its slumber and welcome me back as Brigadoon did Gene Kelly in the movie.

But I’ve always been a dreamer. My father also taught me how to dream.

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