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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

Thoughts du Jour

Memorial

Part of my daily routine is a morning walk with my dog Jake. I need the exercise, and I know Jake approves because he dances in circles when I take his harness off the hook.

On weekends, our habit is to walk at one of the local schools; the campuses are spacious and well-maintained, no one is there, and Jake can go off-leash. Perfect.

When we walk at Jefferson Middle School, I like to visit a memorial to a former teacher that is tucked away in a grassy area behind the school.

This bench is the memorial:

And this is the plaque next to the bench:

Candace Simmons had a master’s degree in Education and spent 15 years teaching at Jefferson Middle School. She received numerous awards for being a crackerjack teacher.

Candace died of a brain aneurysm at age 40. She left behind a husband, a son, lots of relatives around North Georgia, and this memorial that I visit regularly because I find it quite moving.

Deploying the Pinky

In some circles, holding one’s little finger aloft while drinking from a glass or cup is looked upon as a polite gesture. In other circles, it’s considered snooty. Putting on airs.

Nobody knows when, where, or why the practice originated. Miss Manners said it might go back to people reacting to holding a hot tea cup.

Personally, I use my little finger in an entirely different way when holding a glass: I curve my pinky under the bottom of the glass to provide extra support. It’s a habit I acquired quickly and dramatically in college.

At lunch in the dining hall one day, I picked up a glass of iced tea and turned to place it on my tray. The glass was large, heavy, and wet, and it slipped from my grasp. It hit the tile floor and exploded in a spectacular fashion, for which the other diners gave me a hearty round of applause.

Since that day, I’ve been in the habit of placing my pinky underneath every smooth-sided, handle-less drink container I pick up. Not water bottles. Not soft drink bottles. Not beer cans. Just containers that I suspect might, just might, slip and fall.

A traumatic experience will do that to you.

Master Mule Skinner

I’ve gone on five mule trips at Grand Canyon — ridden the famous “long-eared taxis” five times. My first ride was in 1996. It was just a half-day trip to Plateau Point, not an overnighter. My mule’s name that day was Arluff.

My next four mule rides were down to Phantom Ranch, on the floor of the Canyon, where I stayed for a couple of nights. Specifically, my second ride (1997) was aboard Wags; the third (1999), Blackjack; the fourth (2005), Larry; and the fifth (2016), Twinky.

Those last four trips all took place in November and December, because in the winter months, you’re allowed to book more than one night at Phantom. In the busier months, the mule riders arrive at Phantom in the afternoon and depart at dawn the next morning. Booking in winter gives you an extra day for hiking and exploring.

FYI, being in the saddle for four or five hours is taxing. Not as strenuous as being on foot, but still not easy.

That’s because, on the downhill ride into the Canyon, you’re trying not to tumble forward over the mule’s handlebars, as it were. On the trip back uphill to the rim, you’re trying to remain in the saddle and not slide off the back of the mule. In both cases, your leg muscles get a good workout.

When a mule ride at Grand Canyon ends, the riders are presented with a certificate to mark the occasion. This certificate is from my second mule ride in 1997:

Arluff, Wags, Blackjack, Larry, and Twinky were all calm, good-tempered animals. They also were obedient, except for stopping to munch on trail-side vegetation now and then.

I’m sure the mules are not allowed to carry tourists until they can be trusted. The mules, not the tourists.

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Not long ago, the Georgia DOT rebuilt a bridge across a creek on Georgia Highway 11 south of Jefferson, my fair city. Traffic was rerouted onto side roads for a few months, which was a pain, but the project finally was completed.

Soon after, a story appeared in the local newspaper about some unpleasantness between the DOT and a man who raises cattle on property near the bridge. The incident, I’m pleased to say, concluded in a most satisfying manner.

This is what went down…

To wrap up the project, DOT graded both banks of the creek, seeded the area, and planted several rows of saplings. The owner of the cattle immediately informed DOT that the trees they planted are poisonous to livestock, and his cattle had to be blocked from grazing — on his own property. He demanded that the trees be removed immediately.

DOT officials at the county level ignored the man, probably on grounds that no stupid farmer could tell them what to do. Whereupon, the man dug up the saplings himself and hired a lawyer.

The lawyer got an injunction that prevented DOT from replanting any trees known to be poisonous to animals, and he took DOT to court.

The court ruled that the man was lawfully protecting his animals, and DOT was blocked from filing any retaliatory charges. The court further ordered DOT to allow certified experts to choose the replacement trees to be planted in the area.

By then, state-level DOT officials had stepped in, and they complied fully. Life along Georgia Highway 11 has returned to normal.

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The Confluence

It’s June 1994, and I’m on my first-ever raft trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. On the morning of the second day of the trip, we arrive at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. In contrast to the green water of the Colorado, the water of the Little C is a beautiful deep aquamarine, due to dissolved limestone and travertine.

The trip leaders take the passengers upstream along the north bank of the Little C to a point above a shallow set of rapids. Curiously, we are told to put on our life jackets upside down — to wear them like pants so the padding protects our butts. Just do it, the guides say.

We enter the river and form a chain, single file, 15 people long, each of us holding the legs of the person behind us. The guides steer the chain into the current, and we embark on an exhilarating 60-second ride back downstream to the confluence.

Over the next hour, we reform the chain and ride the Little C a dozen times, whooping and hollering like children. The experience is magical.

And I think to myself, this is the life.

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Headwaters

It’s a sunny Saturday in July in the Northeast Georgia mountains, sometime in the late 1980s. I am day-hiking the Jack’s Knob Trail, heading up the southern slope of Brasstown Bald.

Moments earlier, I reached Chattahoochee Gap, the junction with the Appalachian Trail. The Gap also is the source of several seeps and springs that constitute the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.

I fill my water bottle from one of the crystal-clear pools, drink deeply, spread out my lunch on a shaded boulder, and think to myself, this is the life.

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Thoughts du Jour

Legacy

Savannah, Georgia, is a fairyland in the spring. The neighborhoods come alive with amazing flowering trees and shrubs — camellias, oleander, lantana, and most especially, azaleas. Countless azaleas in dozens of varieties and colors.

For nearly a century, the Smith family home was 201 Kinzie Avenue in Savannah’s Gordonston neighborhood. My dad and his siblings grew up there. My aunt lived there until she died a few years ago and the old place finally was sold.

When I think of that house, I think first of the beautiful, head-high azalea plants that encircle it. Those azaleas were so healthy and lush that every few years, they have to be pruned back to waist high.

But not until I was an adult did I learn their origin story. To the older generations, the details were well known and didn’t need repeating. When my aunt finally realized that we kids didn’t know the story, she explained.

My grandfather was a fairly well-known Savannah businessman, and when he died in the early 1950s, friends and neighbors remembered him by presenting potted azaleas to the Smith family. When planted, they completely encircled the house.

Within a few years, they had grown thick and massive, creating a multi-colored display each spring that was the envy of Gordonston.

The Smiths have moved on, but the old house is still ringed with those magnificent azaleas. A fitting legacy.

Guns and Religion

Back in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama got in trouble for saying in a campaign speech that many white working-class Americans “cling to guns and religion” because they are bitter about the poor economy and the loss of jobs. He caught a lot of heat and eventually had to apologize, sort of, for the wording.

Actually, however, Obama was 100 percent correct, and he made an important point. Consider what he said in full:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow, these communities are going to regenerate. And they have not.

So it’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.


Obama blamed the situation, not the victims, but people are responsible for their own actions. Few among us are saints. People who are frightened and desperate will react badly and lash out. They can become petty and cruel and, of course, easily manipulated by people in the manipulation business.

Obama probably didn’t realize he was warning us of what was to come: the rise of Trump and the off-the-rails, nutjob Republicans of today.

The Squash Police

About a year ago, Jake and I were walking along a quiet side street near downtown Jefferson when the door of a real estate office opened, and a portly woman angrily confronted me.

“How about if I took my dogs to your house and let them pee in YOUR yard? Would you like that?” She turned and stormed back into her office.

I didn’t understand why walking a dog along a public street was so offensive or called for such histrionics, so I went into the office to inquire further.

She said her grandkids often visit the office, and they play in the yard, where Jake has been seen relieving himself.

No problem. I told her I would keep Jake away from her lawn in the future. Further, being a shrewd judge of character, I pegged her as a whiny jerk, always poised to perceive a slight.

One morning recently, Jake and I again passed the woman’s office. We were on the opposite side of the street, where someone is growing a small patch of yellow squash. As Jake snuffled around the undergrowth, a voice behind me said, “Does the dog like squash?” I turned to see the portly woman watching us from her front porch.

“The dog is walking in that man’s squash patch,” she said. “Does the dog want some squash?”

“Jake is walking near the squash patch, but not in it,” I said. “I’d say he’s about a yard away.”

I wanted to ask if she worked for the Squash Police, but I knew she has a beefy, sour-looking male co-worker, so I refrained.

Besides, I’m a nice guy. Not a whiny jerk, always poised to perceive a slight.

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Me and the Shorebirds

It is August 2002, a few minutes after sunrise. I am at the tidal pool at the mouth of St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach, Florida. No one is there except me and the shorebirds.

I am 50 yards from shore, chest deep in the water, on my tiptoes, approaching the jetties. In my left hand is an older Nikon DSLR that I told myself was expendable, but which I am terrified of dropping. The camera survived.

The water is impossibly clear, impossibly aquamarine. Ten feet in front of me, pelicans line up along the jetty rocks. I shoot photos by the dozens, and I think to myself, this is the life.

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Along the Delaware Shore

It’s a sunny spring day in 2010, and I’m on a road trip to New England in my Toyota MR2 Spyder convertible, a recent retirement gift to myself. I’ve just stopped somewhere along the Delaware shore where a man has erected a canopy and is cooking shrimp in a large black kettle.

Having made my purchase and staked out a spot on a nearby dock, I watch as the seagulls play overhead and the shrimp boats go about their business on Delaware Bay. Beside me are a cold bottle of beer, a pint of freshly-steamed shrimp, and a cup of tartar sauce.

I take a sip of my beer, select a shrimp to peel, and think to myself, this is the life.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Mementos

Over time, I have developed two noticeable habits: I have allowed assorted collections of things to accumulate and proliferate, and I have taken to placing esteemed items on display around my house.

Re the former, I have assembled a number of disparate collections, as detailed in the 25 Random Things post elsewhere on this blog. Re the latter, I display individual treasures on every available flat surface because the items please me and evoke nice memories.

Walk around my house, and you will see family photos, enlargements of scenic shots from my travels, works by folk artists, favorite pottery pieces and sculptures, and assorted knick-knacks that I enjoy having around.

The truth is, my house looks like an antique shop or a thrift store. Every table, wall and counter is adorned with… stuff. Lots of eclectic stuff.

I do this because I can. I’m divorced and living alone, so no one is here to dissuade me. It’s a bit quirky, I admit, but harmless.

However, one aspect of all this, I have come to realize, is a bit sad. Let me explain.

Most of my mementos are self-explanatory. Their value is unambiguous — more or less obvious at a glance.

For example, I bought this foot-tall figurine at an art show in the 1990s. It’s a replica of a pre-columbian statue, possibly Mayan.

The figurine is simply an interesting $50 reproduction, and I enjoy it as such. As would anyone.

Likewise, I bought this sculpture several years ago at an art gallery in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a raven by Oregon artist Steve Eichenberger. His crows and ravens are handsome and wonderfully expressive. Look him up.

You get the point: the value of most of my treasures is in their beauty or uniqueness and usually is self-evident.

On the other hand, many items in my possession have significance for other reasons — reasons often known only to me.

Take, for example, this three-inch tall carving that you would conclude, correctly, to be an Eskimo. When my dad was stationed at Thule AFB in Greenland in the 1950s, he purchased it from an Inuit man who carved it from walrus tusk.

You would have no way of knowing that.

Nor would you know that these glasses belonged to my grandfather, Walter Anthony Smith, Sr.

Nor would you know that this railroad spike is a souvenir from my first dayhike — literally my first hike ever — in the summer of 1979.

Nor would you know that this cheeky ring holder was a gift from a friend during my Air Force years.

A fellow lieutenant brought it back from the Philippines and gave it to me as a joke. It has been on my bedroom dresser for half a century and counting.

Another memento with special meaning is this paring knife, which belonged to my Savannah grandmother, Stella Smith.

I watched her use it countless times when we visited Savannah, starting when I was a little kid and continuing until I was an adult. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her hands as she peeled potatoes and sliced carrots in the kitchen sink. She would slice, rinse the knife, and slice some more, often humming to herself.

Long after my grandmother died, my aunt continued using the knife. A few years ago, when the house was finally sold, I claimed the knife. I use it almost daily.

I’m fully aware that the subject of my special treasures is trivial. Everyone has had experiences similar to mine, and we all have equally treasured possessions.

But it’s an unfortunate fact that when we’re gone, all of those small, intimate memories are lost, as well.

Like tears in rain.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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