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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

Thoughts du Jour

Mummies

Humans have a habit of believing preposterous nonsense — embracing ideas that defy evidence and common sense. I could point to the behavior of today’s conservatives, but instead, consider the ancient Egyptians. They decided that the soul could not live on in the afterlife unless the body of the deceased was preserved. Seriously. Hence, their obsession with mummies.

The Egyptians traditionally buried the dead in the desert sand, which conveniently mummified the bodies. It was fine just to drop common folk in a hole, but it was inappropriate if you were important. So, for the rich and powerful, the Egyptians began building monument-style tombs.

The first such tomb was a mastaba, which in ancient Egyptian means “eternal house.” Mastabas were rectangular structures with inward-sloping sides and flat roofs, constructed of bricks made from mud. They protected the body from animals and grave robbers, but the absence of sand meant no mummification and — drat — no soul living on in the afterlife.

So they developed artificial mummification. For bigshots, of course. In time, the bigshots also concluded that mastabas weren’t elaborate enough, and pyramids became a thing.

In summary, the concept arose that your soul is doomed if your dead body decomposes as nature intended. Egyptian society seized on that idea and focused on it for several thousand years. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Island

For four years in the 1950s, my dad was stationed at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and we Smiths lived in nearby Panama City. In 1956, Dad got a one-year assignment as base commander at Thule AFB, Greenland. No dependents live at Thule, so Mom and us kids remained in Panama City.

Dad called, wrote, and sent photos regularly, which kept us up to date about life at Thule. One fact about the place that got a snicker from my 14-year-old self was the story of a small island within sight of the base named, in the Inuit language, Iganaq.

Due to its appearance in profile, people at Thule called the island the Witch’s Tit. Dad got a snicker, too, from telling us that.

In 1958, Greenland changed the name of the island from Iganaq to Dalrymple Rock. This was to honor Dr. Paul Dalrymple, a geographer and meteorologist who spent a good part of his career in Greenland.

Despite the name change, I’m sure the island remained Iganaq to the Inuit. And to the people stationed at Thule, it’s probably still the Witch’s Tit.

Unexpected Journey

When I stopped for lunch in Commerce recently, I had no way of knowing I was about to drive a mom and two preschoolers to the next county.

As I arrived at the Wendy’s parking lot, a female voice called out, “Sir! Sir! My car broke down, and my boys are with me, and my phone is dead! Can I borrow your phone to call my Nanna?”

The mom was in her late 20s and understandably stressed. I handed her my phone. She called Nanna, who didn’t answer, probably because it was from an unknown caller. So the mom sent a text. Still no reply. Nanna was MIA.

The mom thanked me and told me to proceed with my lunch. She said Nanna probably would respond soon. So I proceeded with lunch.

After lunch, I checked, and still no word from Nanna. I couldn’t just leave them stranded, so I told the mom I would drive them to Nanna’s house, which was about five minutes away. The mom protested feebly while transferring the boys and their car seats to my car.

She spent the drive trying to set me up with Nanna, who was described as healthy, active, attractive, and a widow. I was politely noncommittal.

Nanna was home, working in the garden. The mom wanted me to give Nanna my phone number, but Nanna (indeed a handsome woman) steered the mom away while waving a thank-you over her shoulder. I drove back to Commerce, where I bought some dog treats at Marshall’s.

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The day I graduated from college in June 1964, having gone through the ROTC program, I also was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Eventually, I would be called to active duty for a four-year commitment.

In my case, eventually was 30 days later at Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico.

At the time, I was driving a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. It was my first car, a gift from my parents a year earlier.

The Bel Air looked great, but, unfortunately, wasn’t so good mechanically. Driving from Georgia to Clovis took its toll. So did taking weekend trips around New Mexico. The first time I drove home to Georgia on leave, the Bel Air seriously struggled.

It was time for new wheels — the first car purchased with my own money.

Being a debonaire young lieutenant-about-town, I needed a vehicle suitable for my station. So, in March 1965, after much deliberation, I signed a deal with the Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dealer in Clovis to buy a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible — brand new, custom-ordered from the factory.

In Spanish, in case you didn’t know, caliente means hot. Mostly, the word is used in the sense of spirited.

My Caliente was carnival red with a white top, white leatherette interior, bucket seats, dual mufflers, automatic transmission, and a 289 cubic inch V8 engine.

Between the small frame and the big engine, that puppy could leave rubber anywhere, anytime, even without a clutch to pop.

This is a 1965 Comet Caliente, carnival red with white top and interior:

She indeed was caliente.

What, you ask, did I pay for that fine car in 1965? Well, the sticker price was $3,335.60.

To prove it, here’s the sticker.

As for the purchase price, I must have been on my game that day. The dealer and I settled on $2,550.00 cash.

To prove it, here’s the check.

In case you were wondering, $2,550 in 1965 was the equivalent of about $23,000 in today’s dollars.

The Caliente proved to be a terrific vehicle. She and I had some good times together, and I remember her fondly. She was beautiful, fun, and reliable. Not to mention built like a tank.

I mean that in the kindest sense. That car was constructed of premium-grade steel that a sledgehammer probably couldn’t dent. Not that I ever put a scratch on her.

The auto industry stopped using heavy steel to build cars decades ago. Pity.

Today, I drive a Subaru Crosstrek, and I love it. It’s super reliable and has amazing electronic safety and convenience features. The Caliente, like all cars from olden times, pales in comparison to modern vehicles like the Crosstrek.

Except in terms of sheer caliente.

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When I was a kid, during times when my family was not living overseas, we went to Savannah several times a year to see relatives.

I had no problem with that and always looked forward to those visits. Most of my relatives were, and are, good people. And Savannah is a fun place.

One memorable character from those Savannah trips was George, a black man who delivered the mail in the Gordonston neighborhood. George was old from my perspective, but could have been anywhere from his 40s to his 60s.

He was graying and a bit heavy, and the exertion often got to him. But he was a kindly, cheerful man who knew the neighborhood kids by name, including visiting Smiths.

George looked a lot like Uncle Ben, whose benevolent image adorned packages of Uncle Ben’s Rice for decades.

That benign image, by the way, was based on Frank Brown, the maître d’ at a Chicago restaurant frequented in the 1940s by the founder of Uncle Ben’s Rice. The founder believed — correctly, it seems — that Mr. Brown had a certain je ne sais quoi that would help sales.

The personae of both Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima were retired from the advertising business in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. Uncle Ben’s Rice became Ben’s Original Rice, minus that familiar face. The Aunt Jemima brand was renamed Pearl Milling Co., the company’s original name from 1889, and the visage of a smiling Jemima is history.

George the mailman had a regular routine in Gordonston. Scattered around the neighborhood were streetside mailboxes where trucks dropped off the day’s mail. George transferred the mail to a large leather pouch slung over his shoulder, made the deliveries (either into front porch mailboxes or through mail slots in the door), and repeated the process until the job was done for the day.

Later, George and his peers were given rolling carts in place of the pouches. And at some point, he retired. By the time I was a teen, most door-to-door delivery had been replaced by mailboxes at the street and mail trucks.

I can still hear George’s gravelly voice and Geechee accent when he greeted me. “Hey there, Rocky! Y’all back in town for a visit! How’s Lee and your mama and daddy?”

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Last month, I wrote a post entitled “Going Places” that underscored the atypical nature of my childhood. I’d like to elaborate on that.

One of the main reasons I turned out the way I did — which, in my opinion, is pretty okay — was growing up as a military brat. In my case, an Air Force brat.

A brat in this sense is a child raised by a parent or parents serving in the armed forces. It’s a term of endearment, not a pejorative.

Because military service involves frequent reassignments, brats rarely live in one place for very long. Thus, sociologists describe them as a “modern nomadic subculture.”

Today, according to the Department of Defense, about 15 million Americans — out of a population of 330 million — are current or former military brats. They range in age from infancy to the 90s.

Brat life bears little resemblance to civilian life, and it is rarely seen by the civilian world. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain.

Naturally, the overriding factor in the brat world is the military connection. The military mission is of paramount importance. Military rituals dominate. Military slang permeates the language.

Further, every military installation has areas that are off limits and protected for security reasons, such as flight lines and weapons armories. Armed guards and surveillance are part of life.

I’ve already mentioned the constant mobility. When a military parent is transferred to a new assignment — usually every few years, sometimes more often — the family packs up and moves. All around you, on a regular basis, friends and neighbors are departing and being replaced.

Like many brats, I was born in a military hospital. When I was new to the world, my family moved so often that I literally have no hometown.

Another big factor in brat life is housing. Depending on circumstances, a military family will be either assigned to on-base housing or given a stipend to live in a nearby town. Either way, family life is closely tied to the base because of the services provided. Virtually all military installations have their own facilities for shopping, dining, recreation, and, when you live overseas, schools.

The odds are high that you will live outside the US. One study found that over 90 percent of brats have lived in one foreign country, over 60 percent have lived in two, and over 30 percent have lived in three. Me, I spent a total of five years in Japan, France, and Germany.

The overseas experience, psychologists say, leaves the average brat more adaptable, more accepting of other people and other lifestyles, and with a more realistic worldview. I’ll buy that.

Further, brats have been shown to have lower delinquency rates, higher scores on standardized tests, and higher IQs than their civilian counterparts. Whereas 24 percent of civilians have college degrees, 60 percent of brats do.

The brat life does have negative aspects. Brats regularly leave friends behind, knowing they may never see them again. This is the reality, and a brat learns to let go of the past and embrace the present and the future.

Another negative I always found troubling is the military system of strict segregation by rank. According to military theory, this is necessary to maintain unit discipline. But the system seems unnecessarily draconian.

Classism manifests throughout the military world. In the military, you are required to be deferential to anyone of higher rank. The system is so strict that for an officer to “fraternize” with an enlisted person is illegal under military law.

For years, it was common on military installations for the families of officers and enlisted people to have separate seating in base chapels and movie theaters. That practice mercifully was ended. Likewise, the system of separate and unequal officers clubs and enlisted clubs is fading out.

But the inequality in housing remains. Housing for officers is always superior to that of enlisted personnel. And housing for generals and admirals is always the most lavish of all.

Overseas, the US military maintains school systems for American dependents, but the children of officers and enlisted personnel attend the same schools.

From my experience, it was rare for brats to judge their peers by the rank of their parents. To our credit, we usually formed our social groups for positive reasons, not based on the military caste system.

Even so, I can remember a few classmates, mostly the children of higher-ranking officers, who were too full of themselves. Jerks are everywhere, and these were immature, teenage jerks. Like bullies, most were not tolerated well socially.

So, growing up as a military brat was a unique adventure and a life-changing experience.

The brat life made me who I am. And, hey — I like who I am.

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Several decades ago, I met a man in Buford, Georgia, born and raised there, who had never been to Atlanta. Atlanta is a mere 35 miles from Buford via Interstate 85.

In fairness, he avoided Atlanta because he considered it an evil place full of crime and villainy.

But in addition, he had never set foot out of Georgia. He was in his 40s, an auto mechanic, married with kids. He was content and saw nothing unusual about his situation.

I, on the other hand, found it mind-boggling. Having been to, and lived in, so many different places in my life, I simply was astounded.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. Very often. Growing up, I lived in Macon, Jacksonville, Savannah, Japan, Virginia, Florida, France, and Germany, in that order.

During our two years in Japan, we traveled the islands regularly. During our three years in Europe, we visited Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When we returned to the US in 1960, I spent the next four years at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was the longest I’d lived in one place in my life.

On the About Mr. Write page on this blog, I describe myself as a frequent road-tripper. I mean that literally.

Since 1992, when I finally began documenting my travels, I have taken 134 multiple-day trips somewhere around the country. That’s about four trips annually. In other words, for the last 30 years, I’ve hit the road every three months.

I have visited every state in the US except Alaska. Especially after my divorce, I made it a point to seek out new places, just to see, explore, and experience.

As you may know, I have a special affinity for the Southwest, and Grand Canyon is my go-to vacation spot. As I am quick to note, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 28 times in the last 28 years.

I’ve probably driven every paved road in Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern halves of Utah and Colorado.

At some point, I began taking trips to fill in the blanks, going to New England, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf coast, the Appalachians, Montana, and so on.

Lately, COVID has cramped my style a bit. Age and arthritis have slowed me down, too. I don’t think my traveling days are over quite yet, but when they are, I’ll be content because of the memories.

Stored in my head are decades of superlative memories, many of them documented by the thousands of transparencies, prints, and digital images I’ve amassed — and which, I assure you, are carefully preserved and organized.

Like all of us, I am a walking memory vault of my unique experiences.

I am blessed to be a son, brother, nephew, cousin, father, and grandfather. Family memories will mean the most, always. But the memories of my travels and adventures on the road are in a special category.

I thank God I’m not the Buford mechanic.

Recently, on a travel website, I read an article entitled, “The 16 Most Beautiful Places in the US.”

Listed were Acadia, Antelope Canyon, Badlands, Everglades, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Cave, Monument Valley, Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion.

A fine selection. But they should have made it 17 and included Yosemite. For the record, I’ve visited all 17.

Okay, that said, I am compelled to include some photos…


The trail to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, follows that ridge.

A black bear and her cub, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
In the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, few dogs are house pets. Most live free-range and are cared for informally by the community.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.

A boy swimming nose to nose with a manatee in the city of Crystal River, Florida. Up to 1,000 manatees winter there because the water in the bay is warmer than the Gulf.

A nice Monet in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
A row of seastacks on the Pacific coast.

Native Americans sell their art daily at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hermit Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. When the sediment levels from upstream tributaries are low, the water is emerald green.

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Thoughts du Jour

Nope

Recently, just for something different, I bought a copy of Mother Earth News, a how-to magazine about sustainable farming, natural gardening, simple living, etc. Among the articles was a story by a woman who raises Guinea Hogs, a breed of small black pigs.

The author described the animals as intelligent, friendly, and gentle. She said one of her females, Louise, enjoys belly rubs, ear scratches, and going to the park on Saturday to listen to banjo music. Guinea Hogs are “full of personality,” she wrote. “They’re easy to love and easy to handle.”

She then added, “They also provide delicious pork and lard.”

People, I am as carnivorous as the next guy, but killing and eating animals that literally live as pets — that’s just wrong. Don’t lovingly raise animals you plan to murder and consume. Don’t name your pig Louise and take her to the park and then execute her for bacon. Jeez Louise.

The Miracle

In 1954, I was a 12-year-old 7th-grader living in Panama City, Florida. On one memorable spring Saturday, Mom and Dad took us kids to the Bay County Fair, which, incidentally, dates back to 1945 and still operates today.

In those days, children rarely were supervised. If you were old enough to take care of yourself, you were chased from the house and told to “go play” and stay out of trouble until suppertime. Thus, when we got to the fair, I was given a dollar and set loose to have fun, stay out of trouble, and return at a specified time.

Rides at the fair cost about 25 cents, drinks and snacks about 10 cents. I was delighted to have that dollar, but I knew it wouldn’t go far. I would need to spend it wisely.

Then, a miracle happened.

Something on the ground a few steps ahead caught my eye. I approached. To my utter astonishment, it was — gasp — a federal reserve note — the beautiful, unmistakable green of cash money. I picked it up, heart pounding.

Holy mother of God, it was a five-dollar bill!

Five dollars! I was rich! In my sheer ecstasy, I nearly fainted.

How I spent my riches at the fair that day, I don’t recall. But I spent every glorious penny of it.

For the record, I did not tell Mom and Dad about my good fortune. They would have made me save some of it or share it with my brothers.

As if.

Hoarding

We common folk justifiably get steamed at how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And usually, most of the ire is aimed at billionaires — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — because it gives you a face you despise and want to punch.

But there are institutional targets that deserve the vitriol even more. Take, for example, the obscenely wealthy churches of the world. Organized religion is, after all, simply a type of business enterprise — exempt from taxation, mind you — designed to make a profit.

The Mormon Church is worth a whopping $100 billion, which is amazing for its relatively small size. The Catholic Church no doubt has a net worth of many times that, but its wealth is off the scale to such a degree — vast gold deposits, extensive physical assets, webs of investments, priceless works of art — that the Holy See itself likely doesn’t know its own value.

Speaking of value, you may not be aware that the British royal family is worth $88 billion. And that the Kuwaiti royal family is worth $360 billion. And that the Saudi royal family is worth $1.4 trillion.

All that wealth, hoarded to no real purpose, when a small percentage of it would lift all eight billion souls on this planet out of poverty.

As if.

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My late Uncle Allan was mellow about most things, so I don’t think he would mind me sharing this bit of information about him.

Allan was an amiable, soft-spoken, non-judgmental person. He never married, and when I was a kid, the possibility that he was gay occurred to me. The evidence suggests, however, that he was quite a ladies’ man — for certain in his later years and, for all I know, his entire life.

Allan lived in Jacksonville for decades and moved back to Savannah after he retired. Rather than living in the Smith family home with Aunt Betty, he moved into a retirement home on the marsh east of Savannah.

On one of my visits to the home, a young male employee told me Allan was very popular — very popular — with the ladies.

Women residents of the home outnumbered the men five to one. Allan not only was single, but also was a fit, good-looking guy. The employee said Allan was in constant demand and was seen with a variety of ladies.

Over the years, Allan lived in three Savannah retirement homes. Apparently, he was the resident ladies’ man in all three. His mission, it appears, was to make all those lonely ladies happy. Performing a public service, you might say.

After Allan died and we were dealing with his belongings, I discovered a stash of condoms in a cigar box in the back of a dresser drawer. These were new, unexpired condoms, mind you, and plenty of them. I made the stash disappear before Aunt Betty could find them.

It pleased and amused me greatly to know that Allan was a Don Juan. But, discreet fellow that I am, I never mentioned it to anyone. Until now. The man deserves recognition.

It’s always the quiet ones.


James Allan Smith (1918-2008)

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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I always figured I inherited my abilities as a writer, and my enjoyment of writing, from my black sheep maternal grandfather, Bill Horne.

I say black sheep because Bill walked out on his family when my mom was a toddler, and worse, never again tried to contact her. Based on the evidence, he was a jerk.

With that information on the table, I will move on.

Bill worked as a railroad dispatcher, but he was a writer at heart. For years, he wrote, and occasionally sold, fiction and non-fiction in various markets. Mom had carbon copies of several of his unpublished works, all of which I later inherited. Some were science fiction stories, some were essays about the great outdoors.

One of his most memorable efforts was a science fiction novella entitled “The Germ-Beast of Insanity.”

In it, an Indiana Jones type hero goes to a museum where a hair from the head of Confucius is on display. The hero shrinks himself down to microscopic size, and, atop the hair, battles the germ-beast of insanity. I am not making this up.

I don’t recall much more about the story, except that the hero prevails and returns to normal size. I don’t remember how he discovered the germ-beast, how he shrunk himself, or if other germ-beasts existed.

Bill Horne with a slingshot, place and date unknown.

I haven’t read Bill’s stories in years. The carbon copies, I’m sad to say, are missing. Years ago, I searched for them without success. I assume they’re in the attic in a box my kids will find one day.

But I do remember Bill’s writing style. His prose stood out as overly elaborate. A bit on the purple side. The man wrote with passion and panache, as if it felt good, and, in his heart, he saw himself as a virtuoso.

I should point out, however, that enjoying something and being good at it are not the same. I love music, but I can’t sing or play a single instrument. And then there’s the case of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Sometimes, my own prose can adopt a fancier flourish and may lean toward the purple. But that’s on purpose, when I’m trying to be funny or dramatic. Most of the time, my output is relatively standard and straightforward. Journeyman level, I’d say.

In all honesty, I think I turned out to be a better writer than my grandfather.

No question, really.

None at all.

I need to find those carbon copies.

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Problem, Solution

On our daily walks around Jefferson, Jake and I observe all sorts of things.

For example, at the corner of two residential streets north of downtown is a house with a nicely-manicured yard. The lawn and shrubbery are immaculate. These people take pride in their home’s appearance.

Not long ago, I was surprised to see deep tire ruts in the grass at the edge of the yard, caused by a vehicle cutting the corner during a hasty left turn.

The homeowners responded by posting a “Keep Off the Grass” sign beside the ruts. But the next time Jake and I passed the spot, the sign itself had been run over, and fresh ruts were visible in the grass.

Game on.

The homeowners countered by placing three massive boulders at the corner — giant, immovable things that can foil any vehicle. And actually, the boulders add a nice decorative touch.

Game over.

Feet and Chair Legs

In 1498, Leonardo da Vinci completed his painting The Last Supper on the wall of a convent in Milan, Italy. 150 years later, inexplicably, residents of the convent found it necessary to punch a door in the wall, which eliminated a chunk of the bottom center of the painting. Gone were the feet of Jesus and some chair legs.

But the missing swath wasn’t exactly lost to history. Around 1515, two of Leonardo’s former students had painted (on canvas, not a stone wall) a reasonably close reproduction of The Last Supper. It shows the lost feet and chair legs basically as Leonardo painted them.

In 2020, the Royal Academy of Arts in London hired Google to digitize the reproduction in super-high resolution and made it available online.

This is Leonardo’s original, door and all.

And this is the reproduction.

I’d really like to know why that door was necessary.

Entitlement

Apparently, Steelers quarterback Ben Rapistberger is nearing retirement. So long, Ben. I wish you all the worst.

You remember Ben Rapistberger, who in 2009 was credibly accused of raping a casino hostess in Nevada. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

You remember Rapistberger, who in 2010 was credibly accused of raping a college student in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub while his bodyguards, two off-duty state troopers, watched the door. But then, the man is a rich and famous athlete, and the charges were dropped.

Why those incidents got under my skin so much, I can’t say. But I was indignant enough after the Georgia incident that I vowed never to watch the Steelers again as long as Rapistberger was on the team. A silly and useless gesture, I admit, but I kept the vow, and I’m not sorry.

Funny thing, though. Out of all the current fawning on the sports channels about Rapistberger and his illustrious career, I haven’t heard one mention of the casino hostess or the college student.

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