Sunday, December 11, 2005

God Rest McCarthy and Campbell

Two American leaders died last week. One, Eugene McCarthy, led the anti-war political movement in 1968 that brought down the Johnson administration. The other, Carrol Campbell, brought dignity and wisdom to the South Carolina governor's mansion in the last decade. They were from different generations and different ends of the political spectrum, but they shared a passion for leading people in what they believed to be righteous causes. And, America is a better place because of them.
Unfortunately, the media has focussed on the life and death of a foul-mouthed, drug-abusing, stand-up comic as the week's headline instead of the lives and deaths of two genuine American giants. Well, this Marine knows the difference...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Birth of a Duck Hunter

Twenty-six years ago today my second son made his reluctant entrance into this world. Sixteen months earlier, his brother, Joshua, had emerged from his mother's womb without a fear in the world and had been (and has been) attacking the world's challenges fearlessly since. Jeremy's arrival was different. He did not want to be born, and he noisily protested his eviction with a gusto that took me by surprise. His careful and cautious (not to be confused with timid) approach to life perfectly complemented his brother's adventurous nature as they grew up as inseparable as if they were twins.

Jeremy, as our oft-told family story goes, was born on the opening day of duck season. We were stationed at Camp Lejeune and from the window of his mother's hospital room I could clearly see a duck blind on the New River. I had planned to be in that blind that morning, but Jeremy's arrival changed that plan. He is an avid duck hunter today, and I like to think that the timing and place of his birth has something to do with that.

As is our custom with all three of our kids, his mother and I called this morning and woke him up to wish him a happy birthday. He was grumpy, but he would have been grumpier if we had not called.

Twenty-six years ago--unbelievable!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Granddaddy's Revenge

My 2 month old grandson is spending the day with me today. The wife is out on errands and the little man and I have the house all to ourselves. As I write this he is propped up in the recliner in my study, taking his post-bottle nap and dreaming of... well, I would imagine he is dreaming about the next bottle. I envy his simple dreams.

Caleb Thomas is the spitting image of his daddy at that age. I recall, as if it were yesterday, coming home from a hard day and falling asleep with my baby boy cuddled in my lap. Looking into the face of this new member of the Gregory clan takes me back to those times and brings back the same feelings of excitement at the promise of a future of father-son activities. I have to believe that being a granddaddy is going to be even better. I have special "granddaddy plans" for this boy! Four years ago his daddy and I couldn't be in the same room for five minutes without wanting to throttle each other. Thankfully, we have both grown up and gotten over the madness induced by a son between the ages of 15 and 25. Now, I get to spoil his boy and watch him go through it!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Rebel Rumination

There was a time in my life when Fall weekends presented an opportunity for my family to witness my famous mood swings magnified out of all proportion. It is, thankfully, a time that has passed into memory along with several other of my more sterling attributes--my hair, my ability to run a sub-20 minute three miles, my memory. For three months each year, beginning with the first kick-off against Memphis State (they tried to change their name to something else, but they will always be Memphis State to me) and ending with the final whistle of the Mississippi State game (or the rare bowl game), my mood would soar with anticipation of an Ole Miss victory, often to be plunged into a morose funk by a Rebel collapse. Every year I warned myself, "The Rebels will break your heart..." And yet, forewarned, I still held out hope... and had it snatched from my hand and stomped flat like a losing fan's souvenir drink cup.

But this year, I have almost reveled in the horrible season my Rebels have provided for the Ole Miss faithful. I am in the reminisce intermission of my life at the moment, and this year's 3 and 8 season brought back memories of a 3 and 8 season 31 years ago when I first wandered the Grove. It was so bad that South Carolina beat us at our homecoming and they went 1 and 10 that year.

The worst part of this particular weekend is the loss to Mississippi State and the cowbell hell I will have to endure from my Bulldog brother. It is only on weekends like this that I am glad he doesn't live close. But I will maturely grant him public recognition of his bragging rights--Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 14.

Dang you Rebels, you break my heart.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Not Shopping!

Today is the most ridiculous day of the year in America. How did this start? If I were a conspiracy theorist (I'm not, but I'm a bit sleepy this morning because of the black helicopter that droned over the neighborhood all night--wait, maybe that was my snoring...), I would have good reason to believe that all of the retailers in the country got together every year right before Thanksgiving and started broadcasting subliminal, multi-media, thought-control messages that caused the masses to get up before daylight and stand shivering in lines at department stores in order to be there when the doors opened at 0600 (6 AM, for my civilian friends--wait, I don't have any civilian friends--never mind) so that they could race down the aisles and wrestle over a piece of merchandise produced in a slave labor camp in China, all of which would serve to increase the corporate bottom-line. It couldn't be that, though. That sounds too suspiciously like something out of an anarchist's manifesto. No, I'm just going to chalk the lunacy of this day up to mass hysteria induced by gullet-fermented turkey and dressing (there's an image for my civilian acquaintances--no civilian friends, remember...). Anyway, since I'm "no longer in uniform" ("retired" doesn't describe my current assignment) I am going to exercise my first civilian right--civil disobedience. I refuse to shop. I'm going fishing instead...

Monday, November 21, 2005


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, for a number of reasons. I like Thanksgiving because it is a truly American holiday. I like Thanksgiving because it has not been (yet) severely trampled under the stampede of commercialization--most likely due to its calendar location between Halloween and Christmas. I like Thanksgiving because it brings the family together without the pressure of gift-giving. I like Thanksgiving because it marks the beginning of my favorite time of the year--duck season. But most of all, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it provides an opportunity to review my life and thank God for His blessings.

I thank God for His unfathomable grace, in that while I was a sin-rotted, hell-bound corpse, God sent his son, Jesus, as a final sacrifice for... me.

I thank God that He loved me so much that, while I did not, and do not, deserve her, He sent Brenda to be my best friend and life-mate.

I thank God that he blessed me with parents who raised me right and children who grew up right despite my blunders.

I thank God for men and women who answer a calling to be hard, disciplined, and sacrificial in defense of a nation so that its citizens can be safely soft, undisciplined, and free.

Yep, Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Just Like Old Times

It is an 8 and 1/2 hour drive from my exile on the Florida gulf coast back to the place where my heart says I belong. Somewhere just north of Highway 82 my eyes told my heart we were home. North Mississippi is not exactly picture post card stuff--hilly, covered in loblolly pines, covered in kudzu--but of all the lands on this big blue marble on which my eyes have rested, it is the most compelling to me. I call it home and yet my ocassional returns are as a stranger with an inexplicable knowledge of the back roads. Out of my fifty years on the planet I only spent a little over a total of five in Mississippi. But in that five years, particularly the four spent in the most inappropriately named city in America--Oxford--I lived a lifetime, and have spent the rest of my life reliving it.

My oldest son and I drove up to visit his little brother, who lives in the second most inappropriately named city in America (Grenada), this weekend, and inaugurated the first annual Gregory Men Weekend. It was a "no girls allowed" event and proceeded more tamely than one would have guessed. Don't get me wrong, it had it's moments of high hilarity sparked by gross anatomically-based slap-stick, as is required by the code of men. But, it also had a majority of surprisingly quiet conversational time, in which we reflected and reconnected. My sons are grown men, with jobs and lives of their own, but for three days they were my boys again.

The weekend included attendance at an Ole Miss football game, preceded by the time-honored pre-game visit to the Grove, and capped by a gridiron collapse reminiscent of other post-Manning teams' efforts during my matriculation 3 decades ago. Yep, it was good to be home again.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

230 Years of Love

More years ago than I care to admit, and hardly believe, a Marine whose name I have shamefully forgotten, but whose war-wearied face and super-confident carriage I shall never, challenged me to do something meaningful with my adult life. To that point I had been immersed in the culture of the para-military organization in which my father was a career member, and whose name shall be withheld save it's initials: USAF. I was going to be a fighter pilot. My buddies and I lived and breathed light blue, and dreamed about dogfighting. When that hard-bitten Marine heard what I had my heart set on he scoffed, "Jets are for kids" adding unprintable emphatic language that rolled off his tongue in a practiced way I had never heard but to which I would later become all too accustomed. "Do you want to play for the rest of your life or do you want to make a difference?" His challenge (read: trap) was perfectly laid at the feet of an 18 year-old who was already naively convinced he had a destiny.

Had that Marine been an enlisted recruiter, I have no doubt that my high school graduation trip would have been to that sunny vacation isle hidden behind the tidal marshes of the South Carolina low country. Instead, a lackluster high school career was overlooked by a Vietnam-depleted Marine Corps who offered me a full-ride college scholarship in return for four year's service as an officer. It was a deal I couldn't refuse, and in the late summer of 1974 I packed the same trunk my father had 24 years earlier and headed off to Ole Miss. That's right, I really didn't go to college--I went to Ole Miss. Big difference. But I digress..., and will digress further...

My just retired NCO father seemed different in the days leading up to my departure from the nest. I finally asked him if he was unhappy that I was going into the Marine Corps. He responded, "No, it is just dawning on me that you are going to be a (add appropriate epithet here) officer."

At Ole Miss, I joined a disparate collection of scuzzy civilian boys becoming military men under the tutelage of a small cadre of Navy and Marine officers and men. It has taken thirty years to fully realize the remarkable and lasting transformation they wrought with their leadership. Our fraternity of Navy and Marine Corps officer candidates was drawn closer, and has remained so, than any other on campus. We were there first and foremost to get educations (or the close approximation Ole Miss offered) they told us. But we learned more from them than any professor on campus.

Graduating from college,and successful completion of a summer of pure physical and psychological fun (for our drill instructors, at least) on the banks of the Chopawamsic, granted me the President's pleasure and the congressional act of commissioning as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I thereby joined an extended family of uncles, brothers, and sisters whose first names were Corporal, Captain, and Colonel, but who all answered to the same title: Marine. They taught me how to lead, they taught me how to fight, and they taught me how to love each other so much that laying down my life for one of them would not have occasioned a mili-second of hesitation.

I have been a lot of things in my life...husband, father (and now, wonderfully, granddaddy!), teacher, student, alumnus, teammate...and I will likely accumulate a lot of other descriptions over the course of the rest of my time on earth. But the one thing I will always and foremost be is a Marine.

Reveille, Marines! Our birthday dawns! It has already dawned for Marines in the fight as I write this. Here's health to you and to our Corps. God bless the United States and success to the Marines!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Silver Linings

Hurricane clouds have silver linings.

Yesterday, we Florida Panhandle residents stayed glued to our television sets--or radios, when the power went out--as the second major storm in ten months made a beeline for Pensacola. Those of us to the east watched with a mixture of spared relief and guilty sadness as Dennis roared past and slammed into our friends. For the past week we made preparations. We made our evacuation plans. We stocked up on bottled water and batteries. We gassed up our vehicles and bought plywood to board up windows. Then we waited...and waited. After the storms last year, we knew the drill so well that we got ready well in advance, and that included running around helping others get ready. As we waited, we pulled together as groups of families and friends, ate, laughed, fretted a bit...and thanked God for each other. The phones rang off the hook all weekend, but it was a good thing. "Hey, y'all okay? Stayin' or leavin'? Need anything? Let us know. Be careful, stay safe."

It wasn't near as bad as we were expecting and prepared for. Almost disappointing. Almost. Maybe the next storm will give me the opportunity to put the uniform back on and shoot looters.