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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

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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Big Fella

In 2009, a BBC film crew went to Papua New Guinea (island nation north of Australia) to film a wildlife documentary in the unique ecosystem of Mount Basavi.

Basavi is the collapsed cone of an extinct volcano. It’s a circular crater 2-1/2 miles long with walls nearly half a mile high. Inside is a “lost world” of rainforest rarely visited by humans and loaded with critters living in isolation.

During the expedition, the BBC team identified over 40 new species of animals, including 16 frogs, three fish, assorted insects and spiders, a bat, and the pièce de résistance, a rat believed to be the largest in the world.

The first rat specimen they encountered was 32 inches long (that’s almost a yard, folks) and weighed 3.5 pounds. It was friendly and curious and showed no fear of people. The big fella will be known as the Basavi woolly rat until formally classified.

Rats and mice thrive in Papua New Guinea. The country is home to over 70 species of rodents.

Me and the FBC

I’ve been mad at the First Baptist Church of Jefferson since 2016, when I voluntarily took finish-line photos at FBC’s annual 5K race, and the church posted my pictures online with the comment “Photos courtesy of our Youth Pastor, Joe Blow.” I never got an explanation, much less an apology.

So, when I got called out by a church lady the other day for walking my dog on FBC property, I was, shall I say, pre-irritated.

The FBC is near downtown in one of Jefferson’s historic districts. I usually park in the church lot when Jake and I go walking in that part of town. He’s on a leash, of course. Recently, we were returning to the car when a woman on the church steps called out to me. I stopped and looked her way.

“Sir, kindergarten is in session now,” she said, smiling sweetly, “and the children walk between the building and the playground a lot. It would be better if you walked your dog somewhere else.” She maximized the smile and waited.

I ached — ached, I tell you — to reply with a rude remark and gesture. But my mother raised me to be nice. I didn’t even answer. I just turned away and continued to the car.

Drawing upon my fine command of language, I said nothing.

Robert Benchley

Battle Steeds

I used to think a Welsh Corgi was a Welsh Corgi, but I recently learned that the breed comes in two varieties: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. They’re related, yes, but they have physical differences and separate origins.

Pembrokes, which have a supposed connection to the Vikings going back about 1,000 years, are somewhat smaller and lighter in color than Cardigans. The standards of the Pembroke breed require the tail to be lopped off, usually just after birth. Another jerk move by the human race.

The Cardigan is the older breed of the two, having originated in Germany about 3,000 years ago. Cardigans tend to be stockier and have large, bushy tails, which the standards generously allow them to keep.

In Welsh, “cor gi” means dwarf dog. In Welsh mythology, Corgis were the battle steeds of fairies. Which is very cool.

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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), Twinkie.

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 Twinkie 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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