One hundred

My father was born 100 years ago today, August 2, 2017.

This is one of the earliest photographs of me, my brother and my father. I’m on the right.

I’m not sure I actually have any memories of those days. I must have been only about two years old, so that was around 65 years ago. Is that a lens cap I’m holding?

My father spent a few of his years as a young adult in Europe, where he met a few of the natives. That’s him on the left.

Although the houses might be from a lot of different places in Europe or even Britain, this is almost certainly Belgium, since my father’s division was the first to travel directly from the US to the mainland of Europe. Some Belgians still remember his division, 104th Infantry Division (the Timberwolf Division), with affection and respect for their role in liberating them from the Nazis.

He did some preparation for his trip to Europe in the American West.

This could be Arizona or possibly Colorado. It might also be somewhere in Oregon, although I haven’t seen enough of Oregon to be sure there is anywhere there that looks like this.

He was not a desert rat, but he looked like one.

It’s the goggles. He’s still wearing the crossed cannons of the artillery rather than the muskets of the infantry.

It might not be immediately obvious, but even typewriters played a part in winning the war.

When my father returned from Europe after World War II, he and my mother lived in Akron, Ohio, for a few years. That was where my brother was born. They moved back to Rome, Ga., in time for me to be born in 1950, and they spent the rest of their lives there.

By the late 1960’s they had sold my old home place on Redmond Road to a medical clinic and had built a house on the other side of town. That’s where this photo was taken.

This is me, my mother, her mother, and my father. You can get an idea of the date from the pants I was wearing: purple, button-fly bellbottoms. My lack of facial hair dates it to around 1973 or 1974, when I was working for the Augusta (Ga) Chronicle. I had a beard when I interviewed in 1973, but the managing editor wanted me to shave. So I did, until he died a year or so later. Then I grew it back.

My parents retired but kept busy. This must have been when they were about to leave to attend some sort of fairly formal event, possibly when they were singing in the community chorus in Rome.

This, like the previous image, is a scan of a Polaroid print.

Time passes while you’re busy doing things, which is a good recipe for missing a lot of other things. I was lucky enough to have quit my full-time job and gone back to work as a part-time consultant in the late 1990’s, which allowed me the freedom to accompany my parents on a few of their long RV trips.

This is a picture of my father at Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho.

He has a kokopelli on his hat and he’s wearing a sweat shirt with a timber wolf on the front. His Nikon F2AS is hanging around his neck. This photo was taken probably around 1997, twenty years after he bought the camera. I remember because he ordered it but had to leave with my mother on one of their months-long RV trips before it arrived. My father arranged to have his brother mail it to me at Lake Tahoe where I was living at the time. My parents stopped there for a couple of weeks. They left from there for Yosemite. I rode my motorcycle down from Lake Tahoe to see Yosemite with them.

They say that the sense of smell is directly wired into the brain in a more visceral way than the other senses. That may be true. To this day I can still recall the smell of their Airstream trailer, a distinctive smell I associate with traveling, the West and my parents.

This Craters of the Moon photo was taken before my father started showing obvious symptoms of the pulmonary fibrosis that would eventually cause his death. That death came in 2000, seventeen and a half years ago, when my father was 82 and I was approaching 50.

So 100 years. A century. One tenth of a millennium. In other words, a long time ago. There is almost no one alive today who was alive when my father was born. There is almost no one alive today who has first-hand knowledge of the world my father grew up in. I’m fortunate that my father told us a lot about his life when he was growing up. In fact, I think he did a lot to make the experiences of my brother and me like his own. We grew up a mile from where he grew up and spent a lot of time walking along the same railroad tracks and throwing rocks into the river at the same places he did. In some ways I think he relived his own boyhood with my brother and me.

I wish he had told us more. I wish he had been able to stay around a little longer.

Preparing to watch the grass grow

Leah and I both want a nice yard with lots of pretty shrubbery. Although we don’t particularly want a large lawn, our front yard is also our septic system leach field, so we don’t have many options for ground cover. It looks like it’s going to be grass.

The first decision was what type of grass to grow. The county agricultural extension agent immediately suggested Bermuda grass, because it’s fast growing, it spreads, and it’s drought resistant. Fast growing means it has to be mowed often, and I really, really don’t want to mow a lawn every week, or even twice a week. The other option was zoysia grass. Zoysia is slow growing and drought resistant. Slow growing is great for less mowing, or, depending on how you want your yard to look, no mowing at all. But slow growing also means it takes a while to establish, unless you buy sod. Sod would require regular, deep watering, while seed would require regular, shallow watering (at least at first). In the end we decided to try to seed the lawn with zoysia..

I picked a very hot, dry day to start raking the middle 3000 square feet in front of the house to clear the wheat straw and rocks. Then I dug into a pile of dirt the grading contractor left in the front yard to fill the low spots and gullies. I shoveled the dirt into the bed of our Mule, a side-by-side four-wheeler, and hauled it to where it was needed. The pile probably had about five cubic yards of dirt, all of which I moved with a shovel.

Next I had about nine cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered. It also had to be shoveled into the Mule’s little bed so I could spread it about an inch deep everywhere we plan to seed. Once that’s done, I’ll rent a big tiller and try to incorporate it into the soil.

Here’s the mule resting, while I supervise from the porch. The compost is piled to the right of the Mule.

Filling in the low spots and spreading the compost took most of three days, all of which were sunny and near 90 F.

Most of the topsoil was removed from the front yard during construction, leaving us with sandy clay with lots of rock but absolutely no organic material. I’ll till the compost into the soil, but it will still need to be augmented with some decent topsoil, so I had 18 cubic yards delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

We were having a little problem getting the last of the soil to slide out of the dumptruck, and I joked that at least it was easier than shoveling it all out. Then it occurred to me that I actually am going to have to move all those 18 cubic yards with a shovel.

At this point, Thursday night, I still have a little compost left to spread. Although nine cubic yards will cover almost 3000 square feet at one inch depth, I think I’m going to end up covering around 2500 square feet.

This is the yard with most of the compost spread.

The shadow of the house makes it look like we have rich, black soil, but that’s an illusion. The red clay above the darker compost slopes down so it doesn’t look like as large an area as it actually is.

The next steps are tilling the compost into the ground, spreading two inches of topsoil, and then sowing the zoysia seed.

As of Thursday, I don’t have the topsoil spread, or the seed sown. The zoysia seed must be kept moist for about three weeks. Regular gentle showers would be nice once the seed is sown, but I don’t want rain right now. So Thursday afternoon a large line of thunderstorms formed and was moving towards us from Alabama. Fortunately, I had put plastic over the topsoil and the remaining compost, just in case.

This is what it looked like as the rain moved across Alabama. The red push pin is our house.It looked like we were in for some heavy rain.

A little while after this radar image was made, the sky darkened and the wind picked up and began to roar through Fouche Gap. Rain began to fall. The plastic over the compost and topsoil started flapping and I had to put more rocks along the sides. I retreated back inside and waited for the rain. A little while after that, this is what the radar looked like.

It looks like we’re in some fairly heavy rain, but we weren’t. The sea of red had parted and passed on either side of us.

And then, after the line of thunderstorms had passed, this is what it looked like.

We had 0.06 inches of rain.

Here’s the front yard after the rain passed. Instead of water, it mostly deposited leaves torn from the trees.

On the plus side, the temperature dropped from near 90 F to 68 F in about fifteen minutes.

Old boots

Back when I was much younger, I sometimes went for weekend hikes on the Appalachian Trail. I started hiking with some clodhoppers that must have weighed 10 pounds each. Then I found a pair of nice Vasque boots that were much lighter, but, as it turns out, very durable. That was sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. I still have them.

I wear them when I work around the yard. On Saturday I wore them while cutting up a tree for firewood.

They used to be a very nice reddish color, which you can kind of see in the upper ankle area and the tongue. Those are the original laces. Believe it or not, I was able to find a photo of “Vasque boots from the 1970’s.”

What a lovely pair of boots. These are for sale for $82. I might consider them, but they’re a size 7, and my old boots are size 11. They don’t make boots like these any more. And also, based on some reading, what they sell is made in China. Mine were made in Italy.

I decided the old boots needed some TLC, so I am polishing them. The most appropriate shoe polish I could find in the basement is cordovan.

It’s a little dark, but they are going to look much better with a coat of shoe polish. They’ll probably feel better, too. So, they have lasted 35 or 40 years, and based on their appearance now, I expect them to last another 35 or 40 years. Or, in other words, for the rest of my life.

The Four-H Club and Billy Crystal

Back in the early 1970’s when I went to Georgia State in Atlanta, I lived on 12th Street in an area called Midtown, about a half a block from the Piedmont Street entrance to Piedmont Park. I shared an apartment with a friend in a dumpy building where my brother also lived. We were about a block and a half from Peachtree Street, where we often walked to the little grocery store on the corner.

The entire area from around 10th Street to 14th Street was a haven for the counter culture. The stores were old, single-story buildings. The closest thing to a high-rise was Colony Square on 14th Street.

We spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment. His neighbors were pretty characteristic of the area. The girl who lived across the hall went to work every morning with her hair up and in a nice, respectable dress. When she came home she took off her disguise and became a hippie. Every time I think of her, I think of the hippie girl on the Muppets. Once when someone told her that an acquaintance had had a baby, she said, “Cool, was it a chick or a dude?”

A couple of working girls lived upstairs. There was also a flamboyantly gay guy either upstairs or sharing the apartment with the hippie girl. It was all kind of like one big, happy family. One day when I was alone at my brother’s apartment, a young man in a suit knocked on the door and asked about the girls. I kind of glanced out into the parking lot to see what he was driving. In those days, there was an urban legend that all the undercover police cars had the same three-letter prefix – GFN – because the city got all the tags at one time. I didn’t see that tag. He didn’t look like a cop or a customer, but all the same, sorry, I don’t know anything about any girls. He game me a kind of small, odd smile and left.

One night there was some commotion down the street at the Piedmont Park entrance. We all walked out to see several police cars parked down there with their flashing lights, and lots of people standing around. A kid came walking up the sidewalk from the park towards us, with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. He kept looking over his shoulder back down to the police cars. When he reached us, he asked if we knew where he could get some skag. It was the first time I had heard that term, but I figured out pretty quickly what it was.

The police were always around the neighborhood, driving and flying their helicopter. In our apartment building, we had to make sure we closed the blinds so that you could look down through them, not up, because most nights the police flew their helicopter around shining their spotlight down into the street and parking lots. If you left the blinds in the wrong position, your bedroom was flooded with light when they flew over.

Back in those days, that’s what Midtown was: hippies, hookers, heroin and helicopters.

I hadn’t been back to Midtown since those days, although I spent several years in the ‘80s’ living across the downtown connector (where I-75 and I-85 make their way through town) while I went to graduate school at Georgia Tech. Leah hadn’t been back there since the 80’s, when we were both in Atlanta but never could seem to get together.

Billy Crystal changed all that a couple of weeks ago. We had made reservations to see his “Spend the Night with Billy Crystal” show at the Fox Theatre. The Fox is on Peachtree about a mile from where I lived on 12th Street. The show started around 8 pm on a Thursday. We didn’t know what kind of traffic to expect, so we ended up arriving early. To kill a little time, we exited at the Howell Mill Road exit to look at the little house where I stayed while at Tech.

Nothing was the same. There was a large shopping center a few blocks from where I had lived, and a multi-unit apartment or condo where the little house had been. Only the street name was the same, Tallullah Street. We drove down Northside Drive (Highway 41, rolling down which I was not born in the back seat of a Grayhound bus) to 17th Street, then cut over towards Peachtree.

Leah was afraid of going to that area. Neither of us knew what to expect, There we found high rises all around, with runners, dog-walkers, guitar players, and all sorts of young, urban hip folks. We didn’t go visit my old 12th Street apartment, but I looked on Google streetview. High rises. No hippies. No obvious hookers. No obvious drug use. I’m pretty sure the police don’t shine their spotlights into these high rises, either.

Well I guess that’s the way it is, you leave a place for 30 or 40 years and people change everything all around.

Everything except the Fox, that is. The Fox Theatre is the last of the old movie palaces surviving in Atlanta. This is an image from Wikipedia of the side entrance.

Here’s the front from our visit.

The Fox was originally intended as a Shriner office building, but ended up being too expensive. It was bought and turned into a movie theater, which opened on Christmas Day in 1929. It went through ups and downs for years and was almost demolished in the early ‘70’s, to be replaced by a parking lot for Bell South. A group was formed to save it, and it has done pretty well ever since.

I had been inside only once, for a performance of the Nutcracker in around 1984. It seemed smaller than I remembered, but still very impressive. This edifice is right above one of the forward exits.

The exterior and much of the interior has an Moorish style. The auditorium is supposed to look like an open courtyard with a starry sky overhead.

You can’t see the stars in the above image, but you can just make out a few here.

Here are a couple of other stars.

We had pretty good seats. I estimate we were about 40 feet from Billy Crystal his own self. We could easily have thrown a tomato from our seats. You can see one of the two chairs he and his co-hot, Bonnie Hunt, used.

We were impressed by the Fox. We also liked Billy Crystal’s show. It was a casual recounting of his show business career, with an emphasis on a few particular aspects, including his relationship with Mohammed Ali. It all seemed spontaneous, but obviously, since he has done the same show many times in many places, some material gets recycled. But we hadn’t seen it, so we enjoyed it.

We especially enjoyed the part where he pretended to be Howard Cosell commentating on the Trump presidency. We thought it was pretty funny, and pretty much spot-on, but remember, this was an almost entirely white, older audience in Atlanta, Georgia. One fellow across the aisle looked unhappy, although his wife was laughing. One bit about Hillary Clinton drew about equal amounts of applause and boos. I’m sure Crystal knew what to expect out of this crowd, and I had to respect him for giving it anyway.

The show was two and a half hours, but didn’t seem nearly that long. Leah thought we should have moved up towards the front as people were leaving the show, until someone came to kick us out. Maybe we could have bargained for an autograph.

Time, Time mag, mag*

Back when I used to go over to my mother’s house in the 1990’s, I would sometimes sit in her living room and read a magazine while she watched the Braves or NCIS reruns. There were a few of the classics, like National Geographic, or a good consumer magazine, like Consumer Reports. I would also find the occasional issue of Money magazine. I never could figure out why she subscribed to that magazine. I couldn’t find anything interesting in it, and I doubt she could either. Maybe that’s why we weren’t rich.

Anyway, so time passed, my mother went to live in Virginia for a year with my brother while he finished seminary school, and then moved into an assisted living facility for a few months, and then went back home to die.

And still the Money magazines kept coming. They ended up being mailed to my brother’s house in Chattanooga. I don’t think he thought much about it. He just assumed my mother had a subscription that would soon run out, and he wouldn’t renew it, because he never found much to read in the magazine either, so he’s also not rich.

But still they kept coming. And, as is so often the case, the whole matter just sort of drifted along just below his conscious mind. Eventually, however, as the months became years –almost four years, in fact – it occurred to him to look at the subscription information on the mailing label. My mother’s subscription to Money magazine was good through 2047.

I can imagine very well what happened. Someone called my mother and urged her to subscribe at a good rate, a tremendous rate, a truly Trumpian rate, and she agreed, despite the fact that she had been retired for 30 or 40 years and did not have any money to speak of. And then they kept calling her back, because she wouldn’t want to let a subscription to such a wonderful magazine as Money expire. And of course my mother agreed that that would truly be a tragedy, so she re-upped. And they called, and they called, and they called, and my mother renewed and renewed and renewed. All the way out to 2047, when she would be 124 years old.

I’m sure it never occurred to the truly wonderful, tremendous magazine subscription salespeople that no one alive in, let’s say 1997, would want to read Money magazine for the next 50 years, no matter how interesting and useful the articles might be. I’m sure they didn’t even consider the fact that it is as near a certainty as one is likely to encounter that Money magazine will not even exist in 2047.

So my brother called the Money magazine subscription department and described the situation. To their credit, when the staggering absurdity of the situation was explained to them in a manner befitting an ordained Presbyterian minister, they agreed that there might need to be some adjustment in the subscription particulars. They agreed to refund payment for some of the excess subscription. Quelle surprise.

Just last week my brother sent me a check for half of the refund. It was nearly $300. So, imagine that, if you will. The people behind convincing little old ladies to renew useless magazine subscriptions out decades beyond their likely death squeezed almost $600 out of my mother.

*Thanks Joan Baez. Yes, it’s Money magazine, not Time. But Time Inc. owns Money, so I think the title of this post is appropriate.