Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye Old Friend

It deeply saddened me to learn the upcoming fate for our friends at Occidental Chemical. I spent a few years working there after graduating from Auburn and enjoyed meeting many new people. It was nice to be among friends at a place where you spend so much of your time. While working at Occidental I bought my first home and married my wife. Unfortunately an irresistible opening with Mobil Chemical’s Machine Development Group lured me away from Occidental and I have not had the opportunity to move home since that time nearly twenty years ago.

The folks at Occidental taught me some very valuable lessons. After joining the group I couldn’t perform my job until I had “worn the shoes” of all the other roles in the plant. It was an effort to help me see the job from other people’s perspectives. I never will forget being at the top of a supply elevator one night changing a motor with the electricians. The elevator was swaying in the wind and it was rather cold. There was just enough room for the three of us on the platform. One of the guys laughed and asked how I felt knowing the elevator was installed on “low bid.” In other words, the engineer who designed the system probably chose the lowest cost supplier, which may or may not have been the case. The important point for me was understanding the need to install quality equipment substantial enough to withstand an industrial environment.

Another lesson took place the first night I got to wear the shoes of the night supervisor. In that role I had to visit every part of the plant and interact with everyone. It was a night that grew my sense of humor. When I entered the first area of the plant I was shown a very special trick. Here is where you find out that I am somewhat gullible. The secret was to drop a quarter off my nose into a funnel lodged in my belt. They demonstrated to me that it was quite possible so I had to show them I could do it as well. While balancing the quarter on my nose they politely filled the funnel with water. Unfortunately it was my first stop of the night and each of my future stops now had verification I was truly initiated. It was fun. I guess I wasn’t supposed to tell the secret, but I’m sure they won’t mind too much.

It was my good friend, Danny, in the Maintenance Shop who predicted I would end up marrying my wife. He watched as I first met Cindy and began my courtship. And then Danny told me that it was too late, I had the bug. Not many months later I married Cindy. Several of my friends from the Occidental attended the wedding.

Each day I would drop by the electrician’s shop near break time where I could listen to Paul Harvey, learn about events in the plant, and enjoy a little down time with the guys. Today I never listen to Paul Harvey without thinking of those guys and the daily ritual. It sort of broke the monotony. It was very rare that Mr. Hester didn’t have a story to tell or a smile to share. It was those times that prepared us for the long nights during a thunderstorm when I worked with the very same group as we recovered the electrical gear from a lightning strike. The crew at Occidental taught me a lot and proved to be very professional, knowing exactly how to handle the high voltage equipment.

On my trips home I drive by the plant and have many wonderful memories that I share with my children about the people I met there. Now there will be an additional touch of melancholy for the memories of those I met who may be about to leave or have already left. I hated to move away and leave my friends, but unfortunately my career led me to many other exciting adventures around our great country. It is good that I left with so many pleasant memories and friendships. While life does present changes, those changes will work out. I pray my old friends from Oxy are also able to enjoy many memories of the moments we shared at that meeting place in life.

Friday, April 21, 2006


It is always frustrating when traveling some place new trying to find your way around. That was my experience when I recently traveled to California to attend technical training and visit one of my company’s facilities. I actually left the hotel an hour early on my first day so I could find the way. Each time I successfully found the correct turn I quickly located something around me for a landmark. The remainder of the week would be much easier if I had familiar sights to mark the turns. The confusion came when all the buildings started blending together which can easily happen in crowded places. Trust me, it was crowded.

Many of us growing up around the Shoals Area are familiar with landmarks that became embedded our lives. Some of the more common ones include the now missing railroad lift bridge near O’Neal Bridge. Or even more memorable was the neon Coca-Cola sign or the WOWL owl that welcomed you to Florence once you crossed the bridge. They became subtly missing unless, like me, you don’t make it home as often as you would like. Then you are dramatically thrown off course in thought rather than direction. Some dated landmarks eventually fade in memory.

Granddaddy Daily had a knack for landmarks and a good portion of those passed to my Dad. As for me, the landmarks faded for most of these points were old home sites long abandoned. Driving along the rural areas of Colbert County we would pass the old Hester place or Denton place. Granddaddy would know the name and could tell you most of the details. He never got lost. Planning a deer hunt usually involved several names relating to landmarks for the best hunting spots. And, in those days I probably knew most of them. Sadly many have faded.

One that has not faded in my mind is the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole was our famous fishing spot early on the route of Buzzard Roost Creek. Now if you don’t know Buzzard Roost Creek then you probably haven’t traveled much in the rural areas of western Colbert County. If you don’t know the Blue Hole you missed out on a very good fishing spot. I haven’t visited the Blue Hole in years and, for my knowledge, it may be a victim of erosion or just time.

A more memorable landmark would be Bald Knob, a bare hill located off a dirt road near Mountain Springs. As Granddaddy aged he often enjoyed traveling with me in our old Jeep or Dad’s truck. He always said to never worry because any road always came out somewhere. On a particular rainy day he asked that I take him to Bald Knob. It would be a muddy trip, but I had the Jeep and he was very adamant that we go. At first the mud wasn’t too bad so I hadn’t “locked in” the front hubs on our Jeep. As I made that final turn before ascending the hill I noticed what looked like the entire Tennessee River flowing down that hill. It was too late to stop. The wheel hubs would not be locked but our fate was locked. We sped up that hill jumping and spinning while Granddaddy held on tight bouncing in his seat. If he had any pain you couldn’t tell from the laughing. Luckily we made it to the top and I stopped to wipe the sweat. Granddaddy, still laughing, looked at me and announced it would be his last ride with me and it was a great trip. He left us not long after that trip. Now when I pass the turn for that dirt road I can’t help but laugh with him.

Dad sold the old Jeep and replaced it with a new one that I dare not take on such a trip. The years have passed but the memory of that trip lasts forever and the road to Bald Knob has become an indelible landmark for me. The trip even made the collection of poetry I have written. Perhaps one day I will be able to take my son or future grandson on a similar trip that will create such a joyful lasting landmark of my contribution in their life.

Friday, April 14, 2006

California Music [CCR]

While visiting California I had the opportunity to drop off at the Spectrum Centre in Irvine. Folks, this place is one more highfalutin outdoor shopping center, entertainment complex, and just about anything a person might want or not want, depending on your state of mind. Personally it’s role for me lay solely in finding a place for dinner since it was on the way back to the hotel from my remote workplace. I literally wore blisters on my feet trying to find my way around this thing.

During the trip I stopped by one shop I thought would be worth checking. So I dropped in. Just my luck. These folks were playing Lynard Skynard’s Sweet Home Alabama. Here I am reminiscing about home. I browsed through the music and found some “old” CDs on sale. I guess they were right about old. I mean, can you imagine my kids do not know a world without a CD? Well, as far as that goes, they wouldn’t know how to exist with just a toaster oven instead of microwave. And I was lucky to have that toaster oven in my college days.

But to the point, do these folks out here in California really know the significance of what they are listening to? My inquisition to the young bubblegum popping gal at the register just returned a blank stare when I asked what she knew about the lyrics. Now I already have assumed the unofficial ambassadorship to the state of Ohio to explain the significance of my Alabama home, but now I find myself in the same situation in California too. Time was passing and so was my opportunity to obtain the dinner that awaited me just around the corner, but sharing the merits of home must take precedence. So as I proceeded through the story of Muscle Shoals history you have heard me discuss before. I must assume that the “kewl” and the puzzled look I got meant some of the discussion did register. Well, at least I had performed my ambassador duties whether it registered or not. Just what do these history teachers tell these kids out here?

After leaving the music store wondering if I had accomplished something, I ventured into the restaurant. I glanced down the menu starting with the fish. I am on the coast so the fish should be a safe bet. Once I glanced at the prices I quickly understand how they got this mall in such fancy shape. In fact now I understood how they paid for the giant Ferris wheel right in the middle of the mall. Folks, the cheapest things on that menu for a single entrĂ©e was more expensive than a three course meal with dessert back home. The waitress dropped by and asked me what I’ll be drinking. Water was the only logical choice as I was going to need to revive myself. She sees me staring blankly and asked if I was ready to order. I figured there was no sense in asking if maybe they had sweet potatoes or maybe even black-eyed peas. So I told her I was confused and wondered whether the salmon or steak would be better. This question was an obvious cop-out on my part to shift responsibility of my guilt. She made her recommendation and I placed my order.

When my meal arrived I found myself once again craving a home meal. But, seeing as how my company was taking care of me, I decided to mannerly partake of the meal. But, dessert was definitely off the menu. After completing my meal I politely paid the ticket. I use the word ticket lightly because most Alabama traffic tickets would be more reasonable. On the way out I found the answer to my questions. A sign by the door stated this place had the largest keg beer cooler in California. In fact it said a single person would take 79 years to drink all the beer they had in that cooler. The sign also stated they had the largest bar with the most taps, which I didn’t even see. Problem is I don’t even drink beer so that means somebody else was taking in my portion. But, now I understood the prices in there even better. Somebody had to pay for that oversized refrigerator.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sunset on the Tennessee [CCR]

Tonight I am eating dinner at a restaurant on Laguna Beach watching the surf, sunset, and the kids playing volley ball. My company has me on the road again and most people think being here in California would be nice. And in a way it is, but for me it doesn’t match the sunsets and sunrises I’ve watched over Bear Creek or the Tennessee River. One of my favorite slides is a picture I took while at “The Point” near the Cherokee water filtration plant. My dad, uncle, cousin, and I had camped out on the banks overnight and had been fishing. I got up just before daylight and took pictures of the sunrise. The orange reflection on the soft ripples of the river accentuated the beauty of the lush woods around us.

I guess most of my memorable sunrises involved fishing trips. Of course growing up in the Shoals meant fishing was one of my more practiced sporting activities. On many summer Saturdays Dad woke me about four in the morning and we packed the boat with bait, drinks, and maybe even bologna sandwiches. We both knew the best fishing was over and done by ten so we had to get moving. Often we stopped at a fishing camp near the Riverton Rose Trail and bought a bucket of minnows to lure the crappie. At sunrise you would find us somewhere near the railroad trestle fishing. Nothing fancy. Our gear included a simple cane pole with a small minnow. Dad used a single boat paddle in one hand to glide us along the creek while holding his pole in the other hand. When the crappie began to bite we found little time to ponder the beauty around us, but it was there. I bet I could find some of these fine folks here in Laguna Beach to pay for that tour.

Sunsets were often spent in many other ways. Sometimes you may have found me back out on the water fishing but at other times I might have joined some friends and built a fire on the banks of the river. The ripple of the sunlight on the water was soon replaced by the firelight. The crackling of the fire as we roasted our marshmallows under the final glow of the day set the mood for a wonderful evening. We might be laughing and talking about the swimming and skiing that day or we might be in a small church group and strike up a few songs to close the evening.

The other light I often saw on the Tennessee River was the moonlight. During my teen years many fall evenings I would get a call just after sunset. Mr. Thompson would soon be dropping by to carry me on another coon hunt. Dad and I also often joined Mr. Maxwell and his son, J. D., on coon hunts. Some of those cool evenings would find us chasing the masked critters along the banks of the Tennessee. If the moonlight didn’t help us find the way a barge churning up the river might help by shining his light to see the commotion on the banks. Breathing in the cool crisp fall Alabama air brought refreshment because after the coon gave us a good run we recovered quickly after spying our prize hanging on a limb over the water. We might get home late, but we slept well and I made it just fine through school the next day.

As I wrap up my grilled salmon and the sun makes its final peak over the Pacific Ocean I can’t help but be a little homesick. If only these people really knew what they were missing they might soon book their trip. I guess I am a little hesitant on sharing our secrets here for fear of the crowds that would surely ensue. Take a trip down the Riverton Rose Trail this weekend and find a nice place along the banks near the mouth of Bear Creek. You won’t find any beachwear shops or ice cream stands. But if you watch the sun as it slowly slides below the horizon and provides its final glow along the water you will understand we don’t need the fancy shops or restaurants. You will then realize why I never really had to travel far from home to consider myself on vacation.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grandmother’s House

As a small child I often spent time with my Grandmother and Granddaddy Daily who lived in the southern reaches of Colbert County, a fair distance from the larger metropolises of Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, and Sheffield. Today it might be easy to find the old home place on Daily Loop, but then most of the roads were known only by landmarks. But Granddaddy had no fear and always enjoyed a long ride around the countryside. He always reminded me that every road must come out somewhere so we couldn’t get lost.

I’m not sure my children would easily relate to the way of life we had when visiting Grandmother’s house. Television really didn’t exist there except in years after my early childhood and then only in black and white with only two stations. We really didn’t have need for the television. I must admit I was lucky to have been born just across that famous line in a family’s history where, thanks to modern industry’s movement into the Shoals Area, children became a luxury rather than a necessity. But I was exposed to a way of life that my children will never be able to truly experience.

Many cold nights today we turn up the thermostat and wait for the heater to knock the chill off the room. But at Granddaddy’s house we stepped outside to get another log for the fire while Granddaddy took the iron poker to stir up the ashes for more heat. I would sit back while the fire popped and crackled until it settled into a slow steady burn. After stoking the fire Granddaddy might recede to his chair, pull out his shape note song books, and return to singing those comforting old gospel songs that stay with you for a lifetime. I would sit back and watch the fire dance while remembering the game of checkers Granddaddy had played with me earlier. Checkers was a definite favorite of his when work had ended and some time was available. His songs slowly lulled me to sleep until I wandered slowly into the back bedroom crawling under the stack of feather quilts and snuggling to the warmth they soon captured.

Now I am quite certain Grandmother had heard us pass away the late evening, but she had already gone to bed because her day always started early. I can only imagine it was a routine she developed long before I came into this world. For a working woodsman family breakfast was the meal meant to carry you through an entire day of hard work. Just before daylight Granddaddy might stoke the fire one more time or get a fresh log. Soon after Granddaddy had the fire going Grandmother would head to the kitchen where she prepared the main meal of the day.

Breakfast often consisted of bacon, fried eggs, and biscuits. However for me the eggs had to be scrambled. A little bacon grease always kept the iron skillet well seasoned. I never really took to fried eggs which is probably a missing part of my Southern upbringing. Rest assured I didn’t miss the biscuits, homemade all the way down to the sifted flour and the rolling pin. The smell couldn’t help but draw you out of those feather quilts no matter how cold the room. I quickly dressed and ventured into the kitchen where I joined Granddaddy at the table near Grandmother’s cooking. While I might drink a cold glass of milk, Granddaddy always had his concoction of coffee and sugar into which he would dip his biscuits. I always got the maple syrup. Jelly just wasn’t part of those breakfasts.

While many modern restaurants carry recipes that often mimic those breakfasts, none hold the true taste of home. That taste warmed my mornings and carried me through a day of adventure. That taste was honed through years of the necessity to carry many people through hard times and hard work. Those memories bring much comfort. Today we sit down to our microwaved precooked breakfast nuggets and watch the latest news or weather on our 140 channel cable or satellite connected color television. Hopefully we gain enough nutrition to make it through that traffic jam on the way to work.