The Problem With Last Names

19 Aug

I am bothered by the most mundane things. That is probably a problem with me, but this is my blog. That means that, in this space, the problem is with that thing. Some of them have long been bothersome. However, this one just cropped up as my life has become more social.

What is this “nails on the chalkboard” thing?

It is calling people by their last name, and it is something that needs to be explained.

Let us say, hypothetically, that a couple wants to invite another couple to dinner. Someone says, “We should have dinner with the Bradys.”

In my mind, using the last name is too formal. I think someone should say, “We should have dinner with Mike and Carol.”

See, it sounds more relaxed and friendly. The dinner is not going to be black tie. It is probably going to be something at the local Chinese place.

What about this?

“Did you hear about the Munsters? They live in that weird house down the street. Their pet dragon is terrorizing the neighborhood.”

They should be asking about Herman and Lily. Of course, there should not be any gossiping going on.   If there is, then it definitely does not need to sound formal. Gossiping is one of the most lowdown things that we can do. Unfortunately, we all do it. Perhaps, I should write about that sometime.

Walking in a Field of Stone

6 Aug

Last Saturday, the weather was beautiful. Humidity disappeared for a day, and that is a big deal in these parts. It was a day that was meant for being outside. For a lot of people, that means activities like golfing, boating, jogging or working in the yard. However, I feel the pull of something else. I went for a walk through our city cemetery.

Much can be learned in a cemetery. You can learn about the lives of individuals and families. You can learn about the history of an entire community. There are even times when you can learn about the history of our nation.

As I walked, I visited the graves of my great-grandparents, who made it through life the best way they could. I stopped at the grave of my aunt, the first woman regional solicitor for the Department of Labor. Then, I visited the grave of my uncle, who passed away a few years ago.

Along the way, I passed markers that date to the early 1800s. Some of them honored congressmen who are buried there. Across the field, there were small Confederate flags at the monument for those killed in the Civil War. I saw last names that were once prominent in our town. Names that we no longer hear. These were people who owned successful businesses and held public office. People who altered the direction of our community in many ways.

The markers had different designs. Some were tall obelisks, and some barely existed at all. The words were faded to a point to where they could not be read. More recent grave markers were engraved with the hobbies of the deceased, but one was just a metal nameplate. It belongs to a prominent Nashville lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate who was born in our city. Now, he has no stone.

As I walked through the cemetery, I realized something. All monuments fade. Even the new ones will become unreadable at some point. Names that were once known by everyone will be forgotten as the generations pass. We cannot count on being remembered by a marker in a field of stone. We can only count on the deeds of our daily lives. We can count on ourselves to make an impact on our world. That impact may be great or may be small. It may or may not be remembered. However, we can make sure that it is positive.

 

A Feeling in the Air

29 Jul

I am sitting on the back porch, and, for the first time this year, there is a special feeling in the air. There is a crispness that hits as soon as you walk out the door. The sky looks differently. The breeze feels differently. It is a special feeling that hits suddenly.

Yep, it feels like football.

Coincidentally, my favorite team, the University of Tennessee Volunteers, begin practice today. Last season, the team did not reach the heights that everyone expected. This year, the fans I know have dampened expectations. However, it is always exciting to know that the season is just a few weeks away.

I grew up going to Tennessee games with my dad and have been raised in the traditions of the program. I have cheered them through great triumphs and suffered through the doldrums of losing seasons. I guess that is what fans are supposed to do.

As a historian who is also a fan of sports, I have tried to connect the two and understand why football is important to us. In my opinion, it has passed baseball as America’s favorite pastime. I have this theory that the seeds of football’s popularity began when the nation felt that the westward frontier was conquered.

For generations, the nation captured land in the West. This movement led to the notion that young men could become men by taking part in that pursuit. You know, “Go West, Young Man” and all of that. Once the land was taken, how was a young man supposed to prove himself?

He could do it in a sport that was a smaller version of the same thing. Football is all about gaining land 10 yards at a time until it is finally conquered by getting to its end. The game is all about field position and moving forward while an opposing force is trying to prevent that.

Does that not sound like westward expansion?

It was also safer. Doing battle on a football field was better than being in a pitched battle against Native Americans. You could not get killed on the football field.

Except, you could get killed on the football field. It happened all of the time in the early days of college football. It happened to the extent that the sport almost came to an end. It took rule changes to increase safety to save it.

Now, we are learning that it is still not safe. People may not die on the field, but playing football greatly affects life after the game is over. That effect is no longer banged up knees, crooked fingers and stiff necks. It affects the brain to an extent that ruins life and often proves fatal.

This feeling in the air brings excitement for the next football season. I, like millions of others, will attend games and cheer for our players, but what are we really doing? We are watching men brutalize their bodies for glory and for the shot at fortune.

Football is a sport that I love, but it is also a sport that needs to change. In the early days, they changed the rules to save it, and that will need to happen again. I will continue to watch the games. However, if I had a son I would not let him play.

My iPod Has Issues – Stuck in the House

21 Jul

Because of a medical procedure, I am sort of stuck in the house. I went out this morning but found that being inside feels a lot better. Of course, that gives me time to watch television, and some big things have happened.

O.J. was paroled.

Red West, a member of Elvis’s Memphis Mafia, passed away. He was also in one of my favorite Magnum, P.I. episodes.

Hugh Freeze was fired as head football coach at Ole Miss, which makes this post more relevant.

Oh yeah, two of my favorite events are finishing up. The Tour de France is in its last stages, and the World Series of Poker Main Event is down to the last table.

However, one can only watch so much television. That is why I am cranking up the iPod to see what is going on in there.

“Hard Times” by Ray Charles

“That’s the Way I Wanna Rock n’ Roll” by AC/DC

“Walk on By” by Isaac Hayes

“Mississippi” by Bob Dylan

“Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook

“Session Blues” by Big Mama Thornton

“Mumblin’ Guitar” by Bo Diddley

“Boom Boom” by The Animals

“Cry Me a River” by Diana Krall

“Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley

“Long Hard Times to Come” by Gangstagrass

“Stereotomy” by The Alan Parsons Project

“Mother” by Danzig

“That’s What They Always Say” by Chris Rea

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles

“Kern River” by Merle Haggard

“The Chicken and the Hawk” by Big Joe Turner

“Crying in the Rain” by Whitesnake

“The Legend of Shenandoah” by James Stewart

“Tin Man” by America

 

 

 

 

 

From Huntingdon to Huntington

17 Jul

Last week, we made a short trip Pennsylvania. My wife has family in Huntingdon, a small town in the central part of the state, and they invited us to stay at their home for a few days. We used that time to explore and a great tour of a small college. Here are the highlights.

On the first day, we drove through five states – Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was a long drive through Appalachia, but we saw some beautiful landscapes. When we left the interstate around Altoona, we did not realize that we would not be on the interstate for a few more days. Instead, we would be taking back roads through farmland.

On the second day, we passed through some of that farmland on the way to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hersheypark was our destination. The girls rode a ton of rides while my wife and I rode a few. I must be getting old because the monorail was my favorite because it took us by part of the old Hershey factory.

One of these days, I am going to get back there and check out the history of chocolate.

Oh yeah, we had a slight surprise when we got back to Huntingdon. We went to a local restaurant for dinner, and my wife order a salad with grilled chicken. She received a salad topped with grilled chicken and french fries. She was, in a word, appalled. We later learned that french fries on salad is a central Pennsylvania thing. I guess it is like grits is a southern thing. Although, I can handle french fries on a salad better than I can handle grits.

On the third day, we got educational. Huntingdon is home to Juniata College, and the family we were visiting used to be the president and first lady of the liberal arts institution.

It is a beautiful campus with a great quad for student to gather. I think my stepdaughter liked it until she saw the dorm room. We had to explain that what she saw is pretty typical for dorm rooms.

After that, we drove a short distance to State College to the campus of Penn State. This was not an official visit. I simply wanted to see the football stadium. Of course, I had to wear the colors of my team behind enemy lines.

I was also told to go to the Creamery. It was a great suggestion. The ice cream was awesome.

On the fourth day, we headed west to two sites that my wife and I really wanted to visit. This was a day to show my stepdaughter and her friend something about our past. After a bit of a drive through the countryside, we arrived at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

On September 11, 2001, the flight was hijacked, and the passengers learned of the other hijackings through calls to their loved ones. At some point, the passengers decided to attack the terrorists. As they struggled, the plane crashed into a field.

It is a sobering place to visit. For those of us who remember, it brings back memories of that terrible day. For those of us who do not remember, it brings questions of what happened. For all of us, it provides a true example of heroism.

As I walked through the museum and over the grounds, I kept wondering what the passengers were thinking. Did they know they were going to crash somewhere and wanted to make sure it was not another building? Did they think they could take over and have a chance at landing the plane? All we know is that they prevented the plane from hitting something in Washington, D.C., which was only 20 minutes away. Investigators think the plane was heading for Capitol Hill.

After visiting the memorial, we drove through more countryside. This time we really hit some back roads and passed farm after farm. Finally, we made it to Fallingwater, the home famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My wife and I visited another of his designs earlier in the year, but this is the iconic one that I have always wanted to see.

He designed the home for the Kaufmann family, who wanted a view of the waterfall on their land. Instead, Wright built it on the waterfall.

Amazingly, the house was built during the midst of the Great Depression.

When we left Fallingwater, we headed toward home but could not make it all the way. We stopped in Huntington, West Virginia for the night. The girls stayed at the hotel and watched Netflix while we went to dinner. We found a great place near downtown called Savannah’s and took a table on their patio. Our waitress was a local student who was majoring in History and Anthropology. Now, she has the right idea.

 

The Movie That Launched a Thousand Television Careers

2 Jul

Last week, my family was traveling, and I spent a lot of time watching movies with my dad. I write that because I have been working on a post about those movies. However, another movie has interrupted the process.

This afternoon, I visited my parents, and my dad was watching a Western that I had never seen. There was a scene with a man and woman talking in a restaurant. The woman looked familiar, and I asked my dad to hit the Info button.

The movie was The Hangman, which was released in 1959, and the cast listing confirmed my suspicions. The woman was Tina Louise, who, in a few years, would gain fame as Ginger on Gilligan’s Island.

It is always cool to find familiar faces in old movies. It is almost like telling someone’s fortune. Do you know that you will soon become famous for being stranded on an island after a three-hour boat tour gone wrong?

Then, the waitress walked up, and she looked familiar. Yep, it was Betty Lynn, who, in a few years, would gain fame as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show.

At this point, soon to be famous television actors were popping up everywhere. Jack Lord was in jail. In a few years, he would gain fame as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O.

Fess Parker was the sheriff. At this time, he was once and future famous. In the 1950s, he helped start the coonskin cap craze as Davy Crockett. After this movie, he would attempt to relive the magic as Daniel Boone.

Then, there was Lorne Greene who played the marshal. The same year that The Hangman was released a new television show called Bonanza debuted. In a short time, he would be known throughout as Ben Cartwright, the patriarch who owned the Ponderosa.

As the title of the post says, The Hangman is the movie that launched a thousand television careers. Well, maybe not a thousand, but it came close.

Movie Wisdom – James Stewart Edition

25 Jun

My wife and stepdaughter are in Lowell, Massachusetts for a student conference. Therefore, I am holding down the fort. This includes keeping the dog fed and the house standing. It also gives me the opportunity to spend some time with my parents.

Tonight, my dad and I watched Bend of the River, a Western starring James Stewart and Rock Hudson in one of his early roles. It is a pretty good movie with a bunch of character actors from the 1950s. Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Frances Bavier and Royal Dano are just a few. It is also the first time I have ever seen Stepin Fetchit, a comedian who caused controversy by the racial stereotypes of his on-screen persona.

After watching the movie, I decided to look for movie wisdom in the films of James Stewart. After all, I do not have much else to do.

From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books.

Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light.

Don’t miss the wonders that surround you.

From It’s a Wonderful Life

No man is a failure who has friends.

Youth is wasted on the wrong people.

From Rope

We all do strange things in our childhood.

From The Stratton Story

A man has to know where he’s going.

From Broken Arrow

To talk of peace is not hard. To live it is very hard.

You should always wipe your hands on your arm after eating.

It is not easy to change, but sometimes it is required.

From Bend of the River

There’s a difference between men and apples.

Never mix marriage with gambling. Percentage is all against it.

From Rear Window

Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Sometimes it’s worse to stay than it is to run.

From The Man from Laramie

Everybody should have a place to remember and feel they belong to.

From Two Rode Together

Sometimes it takes a lot more courage to live than it does to die.

Well, there are some men you just can’t trust to stay where you put ’em.

I can tell when a man walks through that door whether he prefers blondes or brunettes, drinks whiskey or beer, plays blackjack or poker, is a cheapskate or a high roller.

From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Courage can be purchased at yon’ tavern.

From How the West Was Won

There ain’t much glory in trompin’ behind a plow.

It don’t pay to eat too much on an empty stomach.

There ain’t much glory in lookin’ at a man with his guts hanging out.

From Cheyenne Autumn

Now, as I understand it, a mademoiselle is a madam who ain’t quite made it yet – only younger and friskier.

From Shenandoah

When you love a woman without likin’ her, the night can be long and cold, and contempt comes up with the sun.

A man who eats with his hat on is going nowhere in a hurry.

From The Flight of the Phoenix

Insurance companies move in mysterious ways. Much like God… only far less generous.

From The Rare Breed

You cannot live with dreams.

A man in love is neither lord nor master of himself.

While beauty is skin deep, meanness runs all the way through.

From Bandolero!

There things a man ought never do – spit in church, scratch his self in front of his ma, and pick his nose.