Veterans Days with my Dad

THANK YOU VETERANS

My Dad was always the consummate “veteran” After serving in the Navy from 1945-52 he developed a lot of “Navy” habits. I can remember many times of waking up in my very early grade school years to “Hit the deck, hit the deck” What is the deck, and why…do I want to hit it, I thought? It seemed rather strange back then, but now as I look back through nostalgic eyes, it was rather natural. Having only been out of the service for a few years back in those days, Dad still had the “Navy” in his blood. He just wanted me and my brother to experience some of the rigors of “boot camp” which he had gone through, so he was simply running his own “mini” version with us.

There were also those many, many “Navy” stories. The knockdown drag out fights with fellow ship mates over some trivial slight magnified by being in close quarters out on the Ocean for so long. Then there were the memories of the horrors of death and starvation in a post War Korea, and in China, with human beings literally freezing to death in the streets. The many slick trades of cigarettes for goods…like the set of painted porcelain dragon china which hung in Mom and Dad’s kitchen for so long. The earlier memories of the last days of World War II, first being a gunner’s mate on the ship’s huge guns, then moving on to the 115 degree boiler room and advancing in rank. I was regaled by all these tales more than once, and in retrospect I was enthralled by the listening. There were so many more of them, and they filled my childhood with wonder and awe at the things which went on in the big World.

Dad never lost his allegiance to his flag and country by one iota as he got old. Though he hated War, and told me that many times, he always respected the people who were serving their country. One of my favorite photos of him is of him standing there holding an American flag and looking wistfully out at the camera…perhaps thinking about those days that he fought for his country, watched some of his friends and ship mates die for their country, and came back home a changed man.

I want to thank all of you Veterans today for YOUR service. I too have always been against War, but never have I ever had anything but respect for the human beings who have to stare death and hardship directly in the eye in service to our country. Thank you, and Bless you.

High School Memories

To my Favorite Teacher.

I lay here and wonder how it has come about that I find myself quickly approaching the mid sixties. Sixty four just HAS to be the “new” forty. But, its unfortunately not.

I think back a half a century ago. Yes, dang it…that’s fifty years. Back to the Beatle’s first album. Back to early Vietnam. “Looking for more in 64′” by Jim Nesbitt. Landslide win for LBJ. Arnie wins the Masters and Nicklaus the British Open. I had started playing golf that summer and loved it, and lived it.

Gilligans Island and Mary Tyler Moore premiered on TV, and LBJ premiered the “Great Society” Mickey Mantle tore up the cowhide that Summer.

The Fall of 64 rolled around and thoughts of going back to school surfaced. I had not enjoyed my 8th grade year and wasn’t looking forward to my Freshman year. I had signed up for Journalism for that year. Mrs Wingfield was the teacher, and advisor for the “Bulldog Barker” She had been my 8th grade English teacher, and it was my best class that year. I had developed a rapport with her because I liked to write poetry, which was sort of kiss of death for a teenage boy back then, but I had received some encouragement from Mrs. Wingfield, and I had penned a lot of poems that Summer.

Mrs. Wingfield would read them, and offer advice and praise…which was a badly needed commodity for me at that time of my life. Somehow, the idea was hatched to start a literary publication that year for students interested in writing and art. The Sampler was born.

As it turned out, there was a LOT of interest and a lot of contributions. Wayne Greene, who was talented at everything, had a lot of illustrations in the Sampler, and had offered up one of his paintings as the prize for best poem in the Sampler. Mrs. Wingfield and Mrs. Royals would be the judges.

I knew I didn’t have a chance, but I turned in a lot of poems that year. I was working hard on an article for the “Barker” in May of that year, and Mrs. Wingfield brought in a copy of the “Sampler” hot of the presses and handed to me. I opened the front page to find that one of my poems had won first place! I got my picture in the Barker that week holding Wayne Greene’s abstract surrealist painting I had won. I kept that painting up until just this past year when it got water damaged.

Most of all, I have kept the memory of that moment. I read over all the poems in that very first Sampler many times, and there were some good ones in there. I am not sure how my simple four paragraph poem was the best, but the fact that Mrs. Jesse Wingfield had thought it was, bolstered my confidence in my abilities to a point which has stayed with me all my life….all my life. How many people could say they had been that crucial in the life of another person? But that was the effect that the gracious and dignified lady had in people.

Even for many years after, when I would visit the school and see her, Mrs Wingfield always had a smile and a “Hello Larry” which was just for me, her “favorite” student…one among hundreds of other favorites. She knew how much she meant to me, because I told her so in no uncertain terms. I’m glad I did.

Hearing the Trains

I used to lay in bed when we lived on eighth street in Trion and listen for the freight trains to roll into the rail yard at the mill. We lived just up that steep hill from Riegel textile. Back then, I had a rocket arm and I could stand in my front yard and throw a rock almost to that railroad track.

I listened for the train because the movement of it as it came in and out with loads of cotton and coal, was comforting. Strange isn’t it, what we become used to? I could tell when the cars were being coupled and uncoupled, and whether the engineer was new or experienced by how loud the “clang” was when the cars hit together or pulled apart. A lot of times I would fall asleep dreaming of riding one of those trains out of town and right across America.

I dreamed of the things I would do: cross the Mississippi River, or maybe jump off at Memphis and get a job on a boat heading towards New Orleans. I’d take my guitar with me, and make some money singing in clubs. But then, maybe I’d ride those trains all the way to California, and go into acting….become a star. I loved music so maybe I should go to New York City and try out for Broadway. I knew all the old Broadway songs because I was able to afford those types of .33 rpm records at Redford’s five and dime. They were the cheapest ones. The new popular records were usually 3.99, while “My Fair Lady” and “Broadways Greatest Hits” were .99 cents. More music for the money, and besides, I could hear the hit songs on the radio.

I dreamed and schemed the world of a twelve year old boy, laying in my bed underneath that wide rollout window. The one I could crane my head back, and look up out of at the night sky and get a glimpse of the moon, and some stars, and the occasional plane flying overhead.

Those years on eighth street went by quickly. Looking back now, way too fast. From age twelve to seventeen I lay there and listened and dreamed.

I am reminded many mornings lately of those days because as I walk around the neighborhood in the early morning, the sound of the CSX going down the tracks parallel to highway 41, drifts up from downtown Ringgold. I can easily discern it off in the distance, and having walked the paths right next to where it runs, and having taken pictures of it, I know it’s the same type of train that I remember from my childhood.

My hope is, that somewhere downtown close to the tracks, there’s a twelve year old boy laying in his bed and listening as the train passes by, and dreaming of where it could take him. He may not get there. He may follow a totally different path from what he dreams, and be as happy as I am with where he ends up. But the dreaming will do him good, and give him some happy memories. And sometimes memories are worth more than gold.