Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Seeing Double

Thirty-six years ago, this summer, I made a delightful and life-altering discovery.

Several youth groups from churches in the Panama Canal Zone had assembled for a day of water fun at a camp on Gatun Lake called Governor's Island. The central attraction was a large dock, high up above the waterline and well out into deep water. A giant rope swing was tied to an overhanging limb of a huge banyan tree, and letting go of it at the apex of its swing arc launched you sailing through the air in a heart-pounding-in- your-chest, wind-roaring-in-your-ears, arm-flailing tangle of teenage testosterone. To access the swing, you had to climb a tower on the dock and catch the rope as it swung back from the previous launch. There was a long line of boys at the swing tower, and those of us tired of waiting in line to show off our courage to the girls, were arrayed at the end of the dock while a line of girls presented themselves, like so many volcano god-pleasing virgins, to be thrown, screeching in mock terror, from the dock.

Becky stepped up. I pushed her off, rather than take the time to pick her up and throw her in--she wasn't the one I had my eye on. It was that skinny little Cannon girl. Seemed like I had seen her everywhere at the end of the school year. And everywhere I saw her, I liked what I saw. Now, there she was, standing at the head of volcano virgin line, smiling shyly.

The problem was my best buddy, Joe, had been seeing her everywhere, and liking what he saw, too. Before I could scoop the little Cannon girl up, Joe hip-checked me, grabbed her, spun toward the end of the dock, and launched her in a bikini-clad, screeching, moon-shot that concluded in a most impressive "kersploosh!"

Joe and I stood at the end of the dock admiring..., er, maintaining safety watch over the girls in the water, particularly that cute little Cannon girl. I turned to grab the next contestant and stopped dead in my tracks in shock. The cute little Cannon girl was standing there at the front of the line. Man, she was quick! I looked back down in the water and the cute little Cannon girl was still there in a water-treading gaggle at the dock ladder!

"Joe, there's two of 'em! Twins!"

"Well, 'Duh.' Now leave mine alone; you got your own!"

Five years later, almost to the day, I married my cute little Cannon twin. Joe was my best man, and Miss Brenda's twin sissy, Linda was maid of honor. That was thirty-one years ago, today. To this day, everywhere I look, I still see that cute little Cannon girl.

And everywhere I see her, I love what I see.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Preschool Pearl Diver

Amazing how memories of events from over 40 years ago can surface through the accumulated fog and clog of one's cluttered mind. Even more amazing are the sensory triggers that trip the synaptic switch and start the reel to reel memory movie clattering through the projector of your mind's eye.

The Colonel is taking advantage of the fact that his lake's water level is low due to continuing drought, to build a dock at current water's edge that will, with hoped-for return of rains and raised lake level, be positioned out over deep water. While THE GRANDSON was here a couple of weeks ago, his dad and the Colonel dug the post holes, cemented in the posts, and fixed the 2 x 6 stringers onto which the deck boards would be screwed. This morning, Miss Brenda and the Colonel completed the deck board phase of the project.

Well..., almost.

From long experience with projects like this, and the Colonel's well-documented inability to effectively plan said projects or correctly follow an effective plan if he were to effectively plan said projects, he bought deck boards that were two feet longer than needed for the frame of the dock.
The Colonel will have to cut off the 2 feet or so of overhang, but not to fear, he has other projects for which 2 feet of deck boards will come in handy.

As he completed driving the last of the screws, the Colonel stepped off to one side of the very recently completed dock deck to admire his handiwork. The Colonel had four sides to choose from, three of which had board ends securely fastened to the edge of the dock frame.

The Colonel chose the fourth. The one with two feet of diving-board springy ends sticking out over several feet of nothing.

Owing to a combination of his still cat-like reflexes and the fact that his guardian angel knew from past building project experience to keep a sharp eye and close hand on him, the Colonel did not depart the vertical. The Colonel managed to regain enough balance to step back onto firmer footing, and as he regained composure and fixed his gaze on the trouble spot, the sight of loose boards caused a synapse to fire up the reel to reel.

Dad had taken little brother, Bruce, and the Colonel fishing. The Colonel was not more than 8 or 9 and that would make little brother either 5 or 6. They were on a narrow, rickety, plank bridge spanning a small, slow-moving stream somewhere on a gravel road in rural central Arkansas. Dad was doing what all dads do when they take young sons fishing -- cycling between the two boys untangling lines, fretting over the inability to wet a hook personally, and admonishing each boy at least twice a minute to sit still and not stand up on the bridge.

At one point in the two-son, line-untangling cycle, Dad failed to admonish little brother to remain sitting, and with Dad's attention turned to the Colonel, Bruce took the remain-sitting admonishment omission as permission to stand.

Neither Dad nor the Colonel were eyewitnesses to what actually happened next.

The sound, "kersploosh," was the first indication that something was amiss with little brother.  The Colonel looked over to see what his little brother had thrown in and was startled to see that he had disappeared.

As the Colonel marvelled at Bruce's evidently new found ability to vanish into thin air, Dad nearly knocked the Colonel off the bridge as he jumped to the spot formally occupied by his #2 son.

One of the earliest and most vivid pictures ingrained in the Colonel's memory is of his father leaping from the bridge and a geyser of water erupting subsequent to an impressive "KERSPLOOOSH!"

As water rained down on the bridge, the Colonel scrambled to his feet (Dad had failed to admonish him to stay seated before leaping from the bridge) and stood looking at bubbles roiling the water into which Dad and Bruce had disappeared.

Up through the bubbles little brother's face appeared and broke the surface, followed by Dad's head as he pushed Bruce up out of the water in front of him. Dad's reappearance reminded the Colonel that he was supposed to be sitting down and he spun to go reattain his seat before Dad could yell at him.

Too late; he was already yelling.

But, instead of yelling at him, Dad was yelling to the Colonel,

"Grab him!"

Dad needed the Colonel's help. It was the first time Dad (mind you, John Wayne was a simpering wimp compared to Dad) had ever needed the Colonel's help.

The Colonel managed to get hold of little brother's wrists and pulled as Dad pushed him up and out of the water. Dad pulled himself up and the three stood dripping, trembling, and awestruck, respectively, on that rickety old bridge in the middle of nowhere.

It was quiet, but for deep breaths and water dripping at our feet.

Bruce's plaintive wail broke the spell, "Momma's gonna kill me!" Never mind that he could have drowned or been eaten by a gator, he had gotten his clothes wet and that constituted a paddling offense in Mrs. Gregory's household.

About that time an old pick-up, trailing a cloud of dust, rumbled onto the bridge and stopped next to us. The man in the truck (describing him as a "redneck" would be an insult to rednecks) squinted at the collection of wet man and boys on the bridge, spat a stream of tobacco juice on the planks below his truck window, and snickered,

"Got yerself a pearl divin' youngun' there, do ya? Har, har, har."

Took the Colonel a week to forgive Bruce for cutting the fishing trip short.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rebel Yell

Don't know why I get excited about it every year, the disappointment is nearly always an annual occurence.

Forty days from now, the college football season opens for my Rebels. They'll make a short trip up to Memphis to take on the Memphis State (Yes, I know, they are the University of Memphis, now--but there's only room for one U of M in the south.) Tigers. Between Missouri, Memphis, LSU, and Auburn, we play four tigers this year. Obviously there is a shortage of mascots, if so many teams have to share the same one. Which makes me wonder why in the Sam Hill, Ole Miss' AD and Chancellor want to get rid of ours. Just gonna have to share somebody else's. But, I digress.

Since I started seriously following Ole Miss football in the early seventies (coincident with my matriculation), the seasons worth bragging about have been recorded on the fingers of one hand. I'm not even sure, and I don't want to waste the time and precious brain cells to confirm, that we are over .500 for the 35 year, post-Archie Manning period.

This year, with my CP secreted in the hills above Oxford, and with season tickets for the first time, I will be able to experience the pain (and pleasure, but mostly pain) of Ole Miss football up close and personal for the first time since I left the kudzu-clad Jewel of Mississippi (no kidding, that's what Oxford calls itself) nearly 30 years ago.

And, because misery loves company, the handful of you who punish yourself regularly by reading this blog will get a Sunday morning Rebel Rehash, complete with insights on the latest in Frat Rat fashion... Okay, maybe I won't comment on fashion. But, I will report, with a perspective not found on any Sports Page, on the scene from the stands.

Now, if that won't reduce readership, nothing will.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Spotted Wildlife Spotting

Miss Brenda was overwhelmed by opportunity the other evening and quite unprepared to take advantage. She recovered nicely, but I haven't seen her that animated and moving that fast in a long time.

The grandchild, and his dad, #1 son, are visiting Eegeebegee this week, and Miss Brenda and I have revelled in seeing the country sights through the eyes of an adventurous 21 month old boy. Blackberry picking, in particular, has been a face-purpling joy for the little scamp. By my calculations, he has consumed the critical ingredients for three jars of jam and two blackberry cobblers, intercepting said critical ingredients early in the pick to pail to pie production process. We were down in one of the fields below the house the other evening hanging up a feeder for my turkeys and whitetails, and Miss Brenda diverted for a low pass of the brambles lining the field to check for ripe berries.

The grandchild, #1, and I finished securing the automatic feeder from a oak limb and sat on the tailgate of the truck admiring our accomplishment. We called over to Miss Brenda, "Any ripe berries, Nana?"

"Quite a few."

#1 left Caleb and me at the truck and walked through the tall grass over to where Miss Brenda was reaching into the brush, liberating berries. Shortly after Josh got over to her, Miss Brenda came running back across the field toward the truck. She was highstepping with elbows in the high port position, giving the distinct impression of being chased by something. Curiously, #1 was still standing still, where his mother had departed company with him. As Miss Brenda neared Caleb and me, she breathlessly exclaimed, "Are the keys in the truck!?!"

I responded in the affirmative and lifted Caleb off the tail gate as Miss Brenda clambered into the cab, "Gotta go get my camera!," and gunned the truck back up the hill toward the house.

I called over to #1, "What is it?" But he was standing stock still and wouldn't holler back.

I put Caleb on my shoulders and headed over to where Josh was standing. Before I could work my way through the tall grass, Miss Brenda came bouncing back down the hill in the truck, skidded to a halt, leapt out with camera in the over-crowd paparazzi position and high-stepped past me like a Marine on a mission. What she said as she blew past me made no sense whatsoever.

"There's a great big black snake in the garage!"

My pea-sized brain was working overtime to process that last bit of data and collate it with the rapid movements and lack of movement of Miss Brenda and her first born, respectively, as I moved up behind them and noticed what they were worked up, and stock still, respectively, about.

In the tall grass under the bushes lining the field was a days old fawn. I'm talking less than a week of days old. Still wobbly. Cuter than Caleb. More spots than not. It was so young that it seemed to mistake our presence for the presence of its mama and it was mewling quietly and stumbling around back and forth in a tight circle of beaten down grass.

I let Miss Brenda take pictures from no closer than six feet and then moved everyone off and away. I knew mama was close by and wanted her to be able to get back and collect her baby before it got dark and the coyotes started prowling. As we walked back to the truck, I asked, "What's this about a snake in the garage?"

"When I got to the house there was a big black snake in the garage in between me and the door. I tried to shoo him out and he coiled up and hissed at me! Look, I took a picture of him."

Sure enough, she had a close up of a big black snake with lots of tiny faint yellow spots. Indigo snake, I believe. A good snake. Fast. We used to call them "black racers" when I was a kid.

"Look at this picture of it's tongue hanging out of the corner of its mouth."

"Uh, dear. That's not its tongue. That's the tail of a rat."

Not sure if she was more upset about the snake or the rat.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Timing is Everything

I take pretty radical positions on many issues. The difference between me and most other commentators on the scene is that I posit from experience, or at least a firm understanding of the subject. Yeah, I'm bragging, but I have good reason to this morning.

When it comes to military strategy and the congruency (or lack thereof) of our nation's combat operations with our national strategic goals, I have some training and experience on which to base my comments.

Ditto leadership, history, political science, and hunting and fishing.

When it comes to the immigration debate, I have a first hand stake in the discussion. My daughter is an immigrant from Hong Kong, adopted into our family at the tender age of 4 1/2 years.

Oh, by the way, she was born on the 4th of July.

Actually, her birthdate is July 5th. Several years ago she and I were discussing her birthday and she lamented that she had not been born on the 4th instead of the 5th. "How cool would that have been, Daddy?"

I wasn't sharp enough at that instant, but later as I was thinking about her comment I remembered a quirk of geography (at least man's accounting of time with regard to geography). I called her back and said, "Jessica, you WERE born on the 4th of July."

"No, Daddy," she intoned, sounding as if I were already bedridden with no memory. "I was born on the 5th. I have my birth certificate to prove it."

"Sweetie, Hong Kong is a day ahead of the United States on the western side of the International Date line."

"Huh?" I could hear the fear (shared by her siblings) in her voice that she believed I was launching into one of my inescapable and lengthy history, political science, or geography lessons.

"It was the 5th of July in Hong Kong. But it was still the 4th of July in America. You were born on America's 4th of July."

"Cool, Daddy!"

Happy Birthday, Sugar Bear!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Fourth" Verse, Same as the First

You wouldn't believe it, but the biggest, baddest, meanest Marine can be stopped dead in his tracks by a song.

I was thinking this weekend about memorable Independence Day's in my life and I recalled the 4th of July I spent at Officers Candidate School thirty years ago. When the lights came on at 0430 (about the time most of my civilian college classmates were getting in from partying) that morning, and Gunnery Sergeant Sadist bellowed his cheery wake-up call to the tune of a large metal trash can bouncing down the squadbay, most of us didn't know or care that it was the 4th of July. The only thought in our groggy minds was getting out of the rack with enough alacrity to prevent being singled out by our tormentor as "too slow."

"Hurry up, Ladies! You got five minutes to sh**, shower, and shave. Uniform of the day is utilities with your PT shorts underneath. Bring your running shoes in your gym bag. Hurry up! I said, HURRY UP!"

Five minutes later (amazing, all that you can accomplish in five minutes with the right motivation) 49 other candidates and I were standing at attention in front of our barracks. To our right and left were two platoons each, indistinguishable from us but for the slightly different tones of voices of each platoon's assigned drill instructor. To the untrained hear, all five platoons' harriers' barking sounded nearly identical; but over the past couple of weeks we had become so well attuned to the sound of our own that in close proximity to the four others giving different commands to their platoons, we only responded to ours. Equally unintelligible to the untrained ear was the language of drill, with which we had become bilingual.

"Aauuf, HEESE!" (Left, face), "Auwerd, ARCH!" We stepped off smartly, a team of fifty moving as one man.

Five minutes later we arrived at the curb in front of the chow hall. "Plautooon, HALT! Candidates you got fifteen minutes to poke some groceries down your necks and be back in my platoon formation! Don't be lolly gaggin'! Column of files from the Ryee, ARCH!"

Once inside the doors of the chow hall, we grabbed metal trays and shuffled down the serving line to the tune of, "Keep the line moving, candidates! Hurry UP, ladies! We ain't got all day. You're burning daylight!"

'Burning daylight' made absolute sense at the time. But thinking back on it 30 years later, I realize the sun wouldn't even be up for another hour.

We shoveled watery scrambled eggs, stale toast, and grits (the Marine Corps is a strikingly Southern institution) into our pie holes in silence broken only by the insistence of our sergeants that we were taking entirely too much time away from their plans for inflicting bodily punishment without leaving marks. "You're done! Get up! Get out! Hurry up!"

Ten minutes later our platoons circled a platform on which one of our inquisitioners stood high enough to be seen and heard by all. We were in extended formation, the better to flail and flop in a seemingly unending series of lung stretching and limb wrenching calisthenics. "The next exercise will be the Marine Corps Push UP!" To which we all hollered, "Ooorah!"



"That's better, ladies! I'll count the cadence, you'll count the repetition. We'll do thirty."

Now before all you Ranger Ricks out there snicker about Marines just doing 30 push ups, I'll remind you that Marine Corps Push Ups are a four count exercise with two push ups counting as one repetition.

"Exercise position, MOVE!" We dropped like stones from the position of attention to what our cruel masters lovingly referred to as the "Front leaning rest position." "Too, slow! Get back!" We scrambled back to the position of attention. "Exercise position, MOVE!" Again we dropped like dead men and locked our bodies in the 'up' position of the push up exercise. "That's better."

"Re-ady, exercise! One! Two! Three! Four!"

"One!," we hollered.

"I, Love, the Marine, Corps!

"Oorah!" we responded to count the second repetition.

And so it went, as it did every morning, every day. Without rest, without pause. Constant movement from the moment we awoke to the last minute of the day when we we lay at attention in our racks and in unison reverently asked God to bless Chesty Puller.

But this morning as the sun began to sap the last bit of blessed coolness from the Northern Virginia summer dawn, our exercise leader made a tactical error.

"Happy Fourth of July, ladies."

It was like an invigorating bucket of cold water poured over collectively overheated brain housing groups. It WAS the Fourth of July!

With boldness born of the belief, "They can hurt us, but they aren't allowed to kill us" one candidate began to sing with a voice that still rings in my ears, "O-oh say, can - you - see?"

The rest of us stole furtive glances at our drill instructors to see which one would race to squash the errant trainee like a bug. To our amazement, all of those Marines stood transfixed, mouths open, unbelieving. And then to our further amazement, they all assumed the position of attention, feet locked at a forty-five degree angle, head and eyes to the front, thumbs along the out seams of their trousers.

We did the same, and by the time our soloist had belted out "What so proudly we hailed" 249 other voices had joined in. I've heard a lot of choirs over the years, good ones. But, to this day I've never heard one that matched in fervor and tenor the rendition of our National Anthem we future Marine second lieutenants managed that morning. Turns out, our initial soloist knew, as did enough of us to pull it off, the other verses of the Star Bangled Banner. Our tormentors had no choice but to remain at attention and allow us to sing.

At the conclusion of the anthem, our drill instructors all inhaled as one in the preparatory phase of a string of epithet-laden commands to break our stolen rest. But, before they could exhale past their raspy vocal chords, another officer candidate voice began, "From the halls - of - Mon-te-zu-uma..."

Once again, those battle-hardened Marines were frozen in disbelief at the brazenness of their worthless charges, and then solidified into rock-steady positions of attention as we joined in for all three verses of the Marines' Hymn.

We sang, resting at the position of attention; refreshing our souls as we stole rest for our bodies.

"...they will find the streets are gua-arded by United States Marines!" We all, battle-scarred Marine NCOs and wet-behind-the-ears would-be Marine officers, relished the crescendo of our sacred song and stood still momentarily as the last refrain echoed off the parade ground and lifted to the Marines now standing guard of "heaven's scenes."

"Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies...," another candidate voice began, hoping to extend our singing break from strenuous activity a few more precious minutes. But, alas, while Marines are required to stand at attention for our National Anthem and the Marines' Hymn, there is no such sanctity proscribed for any other song.

"No! No! No! Get your gear on and let's move! Hurry up, ladies! Too slow! Grandma was slow, but she was old! Hurry up! It may be the Fourth of July, but it ain't YOUR birthday!"

Wrong, again, Gunny. It IS my birthday. And yours, too.