Notes from the Southwest Corner: Birds, Mules and Basketball

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, April 8, 2014. For those of you who may not have met my mother, Estelle Prichard Jewell, she pushes five feet tall. Her basketball prowess was amazing. She scored a record setting 33 points in one game in the 1934-35 Lebanon High School (TN) season and her point total for that season (246, i think i recall correctly) both were not broken until a quarter of a century later. She was one of the original inductees into the Blue Devil Sports Hall of Fame. The second hummingbird received her morning meal from her mother on Tuesday morning, then stretched her wings and flew off for her grand adventure. Our nest is empty.

SAN DIEGO – Hummingbirds have become an attraction for us in the Southwest corner.

We enjoy watching them feed on the lavender outside our breakfast room most of the year. But our relationship has become more personal in the past month.

My parents have always been enchanted with birds. My father always was erecting bird houses where he and my mother could watch them. His last birdhouse still proudly stands on the fence of their condo in Deer Park. They too had a hummingbird feeder, but for some inexplicable reason, the little critters quit coming around.

Recently, Bill and Kathy Denny installed bird feeders outside my mother’s window at Elmcroft. I get daily reports of the visiting avians.

Back out on the left coast, a hummingbird built her nest outside our family room window. We watched the mother sit on her two eggs, each the size of an M&M and feed them after they hatched.

Last weekend, one of the hatchlings left to discover the world. The other remains, the mother patiently feeding her frequently. She will be gone soon, and we will feel like we have lost some friends.

*     *     *

Somehow this hummingbird thing made me think of Mule Day. My father once told me about Mule Day on the square in Lebanon, an annual spring event when folks from all around would bring their mules to the square for selling, trading, and showing off. I’ve seen photos of the event showing the entire square filled with mules. Jimmy Jewell and his high school buddies all got together, I believe it was in 1934, and made their plans for Mule Day.

I’m sure H.M. Byars and Jim Horn Hankins were involved in the plot. All of the boys played hooky on Mule Day and enjoyed the mule antics on the square. The next year, Lebanon High School made Mule Day a school holiday.

I’m not sure when the square quit hosting Mule Day so I searched the internet for information. To my surprise, I found Columbia still has a Mule Day, and it has turned into a big festival of sorts. I was even more amazed to learn Columbia considers itself the “Mule Capitol of the World.” I wondered if the winner of the beauty contest is titled “Miss Mule,” or perhaps “Mule Queen.”

My other mule story also came from my father. Jimmy Jewell quit high school before his senior year began in 1934. His father, Hiram Cully Jewell, had contracted tuberculosis, and Jimmy was the son who could go to work to support the family. Jesse and Wesley had their own families; Naomi was a switchboard operator for Ma Bell on Gay Street, but her income alone was not sufficient to support the family; and Huffman was still a few years away from being a full-time employee.

Wesley got my father hired at Philpot Motors, later McDowell Motor Company on the west corner of North Maple and Main Street. There was a flatbed trailer behind Philpot’s, and my father, after lunch on the square, would climb up on that flatbed and take a nap. The mule barn was just north on the corner of North Maple and West Market. The barn had a loud horn that called the workers back after lunch. That was father’s alarm for his nap.

*     *     *

Talking to my mother Sunday, I heard another story I had not heard before. As readers of this column should know, Estelle Prichard, was an original inductee into the Blue Devil Hall of Fame for her star performance on the basketball court. Approaching 97, she remains interested in the sport and was watching Notre Dame beat Baylor when I called.

She mentioned she had read a piece in the Sunday paper about the Nashville Business College’s women team. It was an AAU team sponsored by the now defunct college beginning in the early 1930s. When Estelle graduated from Lebanon High School in 1935, she took a position with Commerce Union Bank, then on the northeast corner of the square and East Main. The Nashville Business College team came calling and asked her to play for them.

She said her family discussed it and decided she should keep her new job.

She also mentioned Jimmy Jewell didn’t want her to leave.

*     *     *

Hummingbirds, mules and basketball: stories I could have never made up.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Golf tales: beautiful stories

Posting this has been delayed because i have been dealing with things most folks my age don’t necessarily deal with (he said hopefully). i am working at two jobs, one pretty much full time, one part time but takes up a lot of my life thinking about. Then we have this hummingbird thing, and budgets, and decisions, and a whole bunch of stuff i want to finish writing but can’t find the time to find the beginning…Oh hell, this was published in The Lebanon Democrat, April 1, 2014. 

SAN DIEGO – Forty-three years ago, I was shocked to learn my priorities for a newspaper didn’t necessarily jive with everyone else’s desires.

I was sports editor of The Watertown (NY) Daily Times when the newspaper decided to take a readers poll about what sections they read the most. Sports was way down on the final tally. I was shocked the sports section was not first or second. But of course, I spent my formative years in Lebanon, reading Fred Russell’s sports pages in The Nashville Banner first and the comics second.

With that in mind, I apologize to readers not locked on sports as something interesting to read. Sports make major headlines, sometimes even the front page this time of year. Major League baseball has extended its opening to March, ignoring the tradition of beginning the first Monday in April. College basketball’s March Madness has extended from the other end all the way into April.

And there is yet another sporting event looming called The Masters played in Augusta Georgia, the first of four “major” tournaments in the golf season,. It is the quintessential golf tournament in the heart of every golfer, whether a Southerner or some golf nut in the Southwest corner.

If you have read a few of these columns, you have probably realized I am a golf nut. In these columns, I have talked about learning the game at Hunter’s Point new course, even though my old mind had it about four years earlier than when it opened. Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, Jimmy Nokes, and I would regularly beat up the course.

To clarify my status as a golfer, I am not all that great. I am just below the norm in handicaps for average golfers. But I do love the game. It requires following a code of conduct no longer a part of other competitive sports. It is out in nature, albeit nature scalloped and groomed to meet the requirements of a modern day course. Occasionally, I will hit a good shot. I have played lots of courses.

And I have hundreds of golf stories.

One of my favorite stories occurred here in the Southwest corner about 35 years ago. My friend Pete Toennies, his father-in-law, and I were going to play the Navy’s Admiral Baker Golf Course in Mission Valley. We were at the driving range, each hitting a bucket of balls, before our round.

Pete was on one end of the range and Ben and I were towards the middle. Pete was hitting away. This was long before Pete really got into the game and was not a very good golfer. But Pete was a big boy, an All-American swimmer at St. Johns, and an incredibly fit 6-6 Navy SEAL. So even though he wasn’t a good golfer, if he happened to hit one right it would take off.

As we were practicing our shots, the range cart with a protective cage was sweeping up balls from the range. The groundskeeper driving the cart noticed the 150 yard sign had fallen over. He got out of the cart and was straightening the sign when Pete caught one flush. It was a line drive that never got more than five feet off the ground before it hit the groundskeeper right in the stomach.

Pete looked quickly around and saw the others on the range were looking at the groundskeeper. Thinking if he just kept hitting, no one would know it was his shot that hit the fallen hero, he quickly teed up again, and swung mightily again.

The groundskeeper was just straightening up from the first blow when Pete’s second line drive hit him in the stomach again.

Unbelievably, the groundskeeper was not hurt although I am sure he had two beauties of bruises on his torso for several days afterward. Pete was contrite and apologized for both direct hits.

Pete and I lost contact when he was stationed in Korea and later on the East Coast. I told that story many times, but eventually decided my mind had played a trick on me, and was no longer sure the two-hit tale occurred.

Thirty years later, I received an invitation to Capt. Toennies retirement ceremony. At the reception, Pete and I were catching up when I asked him about the golf hits.

“Yep,” Pete mumbled embarrassed, “It happened, just like you said.”

I love golf.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: It’s a bit more than madness

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

SAN DIEGO – Talking heads love to call the NCAA basketball tournament “March Madness,” but I think that doesn’t adequately describe the spectacle.

San Diego State has made it to the “Sweet 16,” which I thought was a great age for girls. Southwest corner natives are going bonkers.

But watching Saturday’s game when the Aztecs put away one “Cinderella team,” North Dakota State, and Tennessee advanced by topping another upstart, Mercer, on Sunday, I got this idea for this column. I spent much of Sunday afternoon fruitlessly searching for a photograph of the Lebanon Junior High basketball team of 1957-58.

As with most lost things, the photo likely will reappear sometime in the next week.

But even without the photo, that team and basketball itself was quite a bit different from the wall-to-wall craziness of eight completely packed stadiums across the country this past weekend. The junior high version of the Blue Devils was coached by the legendary Miles McMillan, better known for his success with girls basketball.

It has been a while and the photo would help me remember all of the players. Clinton Matthews was the star. I was the other guard, and in junior high was tall enough to have some impact, usually with a steal and pass or to relay to Clinton, who would score on a fast break.

I’m pretty sure Henry Harding and John Walker were in the front court, but Jimmy Gamble and Mike Gannaway also played. Malcolm Metcalf was my favorite player in the eighth grade. There were others and without the photo, my memory fails.

I think we won all but two games during the season, if not fewer, and we made it to the finals of a season ending tournament where a Murfreesboro school took the championship.

As the troop split between LHS and Castle Heights, I watched everyone continue to grow while I stopped and was relegated to Heights’ JV ball and the many pickup games in numerous gyms around the city. Mostly, as described here before, were pickup games in the Heights gym.

On several occasions, Ann Lucas would join us in those pickup games. Not only was she a beautiful young lady, I don’t recall her team losing in those pickup games. This, of course, was while she was breaking records right and left for the Blue Devil’s girl’s team.

At that time, I was not aware the two records Ann was breaking, single game and season scoring records had been set by my mother a quarter century earlier. I knew my mother played basketball but was not aware of just how formidable she was (as a basketball player) until a number of years later.

The only basketball I associated with the previous generation then was a donkey basketball game at the high school gym. I don’t remember the year, but the high school was still on High Street, so I am guessing early 1950s. It was a charity thing where the players rode donkeys. I don’t think the game lasted very long.

Basketball, like life in these United States, whether in Lebanon, or the Southwest corner, has changed. Some of it is remarkable. Rules when the game began allowed for only one dribble. In fact, that was the case when my mother played in the 1930s. Then, the women’s game was divided into three sections and two players from each team played and stayed in their section. I keep feeling sorry for those four in the middle whose only job was to pass the ball (or keep it from being passed) to one of the other sections.

When I played, carrying or palming the ball was cause for a turnover. Shooting could was legal only if you limited your paces to one and a half. Both of those rules, still in effect on paper, I think, are forgotten, certainly never called. If they called the game as they did in my years, about three-quarters of each team would foul out before five minutes into the game.

But as Kenny Gibbs, a friend and a key bench player on Vanderbilt’s 1965 SEC champions once answered when queried about the difference in the game then and now: “Today’s players are faster, jump higher, are more athletic and shoot longer. It’s a different game.”

Things change.

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