Raid on Palau

Having known R. W. Hulme (Bob) forty years, I can, without reservation, attest that I believe every single word of his stories. It is a wonder that he came to write his stories and that we should hear and like them so much.

I like the excitement and cool detachment; the brevity, clarity, and detail; his determination to get it done; the humility and the humor. But most of all I like the unmistakable humanity – the “one” and the “we” working it out on the fly.

Bob was drafted into the Army on his twenty-second birthday in September, 1941. That fact is completely consistent with the tone of his stories. He was no daring-do cowboy. He moved by force of persistence, against significant odds, into flying. Once there, he took charge without bravado.

Essentially, over time, Bob did not alter, except where a house full of lovely, intelligent, honorable women helps a man adjust admirably. It is noteworthy that his telling of this story comes in 1992. After Ross Perot, Bob privately struggled, for 19 more years, to negotiate the new world order. He adapted in increments like the self-taught, well-read, hard-working, experienced gentleman that he was.

Despite what they claim in fiction and history, great things happen in increments. Bob’s stories – and life – show us that great feats happen in short steps. The context of those steps is often out of control – as are the guiding instruments – but it is how one handles the stick that substantially determines when, where, how, and if one lands.

The new world order was more ambiguous and less trustworthy for a man such as Bob. He respected learning, loyalty, common sense, and work, but he clearly objected to the way things were headed.

After seeing the television series “The Pacific,” I am heartily grateful that Bob was in the air. His is the war that we know through his stories. He and they allow us to suspend judgment about the time, and all that preceded and followed it, in the suspense of how our loved one managed to survive intact. Not just survive, but thrive as the same man we read about now and knew around the kitchen table.

As he makes abundantly clear, Bob was one of many, a leader who wanted to get the hell out and get his comrades out, too, while doing his assigned task in a way that, though not exactly by the book, gets it done and wins peace in which a new world could emerge. Big men yield. But when they succumb to age and change, they leave gaping holes.

Click here to read this story.

Stories in TennesseeSoul by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
(ordered by date of war event)

Black Sunday
Raid on Palau
The Big One
Clark Field
The One

He So Loves the World

Click here to read this story.

Concepts describe and augment reality. They become part of reality.

Thinking so, I come to a key proposition: Believing makes it so. This proposition is the vague plasma that connects loose components of a life, a culture, a civilization.

One of the best passages in Catch 22, a dialogue that takes the concept of the Catch-22 to its next level, has Yossarian discussing the God not believed in. In the conversation, it is clear that not believing requires a concept, too. When not believing becomes a integral part of a personal system, it becomes a belief.

Belief (and theories more meticulously built on empirical evidence and rational proof) guides perceptions and behavior. In a constant and consistent expression, they feed virtuous or vicious cycles.

I believe in trust. I believe that trust creates trust, that low trust generates inefficient interactions that impede productivity and growth. But on the other hand, I believe in questioning: trusting relationships concede the requirement to clarify and reconcile ends and means among members.

Recently I heard on NPR (what could be named Radio Trust) that the Huggington Post – formerly and officially called The Huffington Post – plans to focus only on stories about things that work. (There may be many fewer stories about Congress and radical political parties and their partisans.) The theory here is that less news about evil and failure, and more about cooperation, construction and success, will breed more success and diminish evil action and failure.

We can belabor this argument with A is B and B is C and so on to Z. We know that lengthy and time-consuming contests such as that, repeated over and over again, don’t convince or change radical views. With trust, we are able to jump straight from A to Z more efficiently.

Jumping from A to Z, we venture to the story of which this rumination is a prologue – a prologue of which the attached story is a proof. Thus we tie together these fragments of thought in an actual life, a life tied to many lives, a life of cooperation, construction, and delight. This is the small beginning of a story about the contagion of love.

Click here to read this story.

Little Shops of Honor

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In former days, these hands of mine did more than blindly stagger around a computer keyboard. They were nimble – as comfortable with a straight-razor blade or a thin paint brush as with an electric drill or a table saw. Duties done, they will be free to come alive again in that heavenly retreat of retirement, making things not to have fine things but for the exhilaration and finality of touch and fabrication.

When I retire to my little shop of honor, I will not miss the formal, well-paid, self-important work. The troubleshooting, the problem-solving, the deal-brokering, the puzzle-working, the dot-connecting, the creating something from nothing, the adapting old into something new – all will still be with me. It was with me before I started my belated career of twenty-two years; it will continue to be there in the company of my family and neighbors and singing birds.

When I retire to my little shop of honor, I want to invent, or share in the invention of, one more creation, one more thing to be proud of. I am confident that there is one more way out there to reinvent myself and to make my modest shop a source of simple, ephemeral pleasure.

Millions of little shops of honor can achieve similar goals by simply pursuing the activities that they most enjoy with practiced skill – risking loss, and letting others marvel at their dedication and product.

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From Plains to Polestar

For Roberta Jane on her Ninetieth Birthday
(July 5, 2014)

When she was young, a way out West,
her family owned the dairy best;
her aunties smoked and drank and cussed,
then laughed out loud and lightly fussed.

On Okie sod she staked her claim,
then danced into a pilot’s brain.
Gettin’ hitched and movin’ East,
she planted firm where change is least.

Popping babies one and two,
a couple more, tired through and through,
Bobbie Jane, she kept ’em thrivin’,
too many schools for daily drivin’.

‘Twas Bobbie this and Bobbie that,
fetch the hoe and get my hat,
please bake those tasty heads of cat,
feed the dogs and trim the fat.

She took to travelin’ east to west,
but always thought the beach was blessed.
She spoiled the babes and kissed their toes;
she sneaked them sweets and wiped their nose.

Then finally when she hit the chair,
an open book, a stance so fair,
her Bob and clan close arm in arm,
she gazed beyond her rich green farm.

Though far from home of younger years,
she found a hope to calm her fears,
she waited on a life held dear,
she whispered joy that’s ever near.

Memphis Movie Palaces

Click here to read this story by Beverly Cruthirds.

This week’s feature is a story by Beverly Cruthirds about Memphis movie houses in the 1950s and 1960s. It was immediately evocative of three things in particular when I read it: riding the bus; the dark, ornate, labyrinthine interiors of those oft-visited movie theaters; and Mr. Peanut. The tap-tap-tapping on glass by that over-sized mechanical peanut, outfitted in top hat and monocle behind a shop window on Main Street near the Lowe’s State, quickly came to mind. The roasted aroma that enveloped the sidewalk outside the tiny shop is probably why the memory lingers so strongly and connects so readily to thoughts of nights and days out at a movie downtown.

Beverly’s clear and honest descriptions are rich for another reasons as well. A glimpse of the personal experience of another, especially a long-time friend, through his or her own eyes, stirs one’s own memories of doing similar things, adding layers and colors – textures, sounds, and smells – to the storytelling. It magnifies the individual experience knowing that others were thinking and doing the same things at the same time with the same sense of intrigue and relish.

Taking a ride on a city bus would not seem a very exciting venture to a young person today. But for an early teen around the 1960s, it was not only stimulating, it was loaded with import. A bus ticket was no less than inexpensive access to a vast urban environment full of interests and new experiences – a passage to freedom.

There is something deeply satisfying about immersing oneself again and again in the Memphis of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s – especially if one was young, healthy, white, and near middle class in that place and time. In the 1960s, when I was ten to twenty years old, Memphis was essentially beginning its leaderless period – in other words, a young person, particularly a white male, was fairly free to fly if he kept his activities within, or under the radar of, the law. Well into the 1970s, I recall thinking Memphis was the perfect size in terms of territory and population and level of adult supervision. It had the intimacy and connectiveness of a town, but with some of the amenities and anonymity of a city. Memphis of that day was mostly comfortable and relatively safe. Kids spent a lot of time out of doors and ventured far afield from home on their own and with buddies.

Beyond history or nostalgia, what I feel and most like about Beverly’s story is this clear composite of the living Memphis of my youth. The story captures a sense of liberation. For the most part, it was not a time of smash hits and fireworks – of great things in the general scheme of mankind. In reality, for most of us, Elvis and other local notables were just other Memphians availing themselves of the easy pickings like everyone else. It was a time of average activities and arrangements that might have been sustainable, were it not for the rush of developments, the righting of unseen wrongs that let us wildly imagine that we could continue in such a way despite hidden realities. As I said, leaders were virtually invisible in Memphis: leading families abandoned the field of practical urbanism. Good families were utterly disinclined and unable to heal the great city in time. Nevertheless, Memphis was once a paradise of sorts in which to come of age.

Click here to read this story by Beverly Cruthirds.

Fathers and Guns

Patricia Waters launched a blog this summer called Green Roots TN. It was originally aimed at a particular environmental concern: fracking on property managed by the University of Tennessee. Very soon she branched out to address a multitude of her interests in the full panoply of her persuasive powers. At the end of her first month as a blogger, she posted a copy of a letter she sent to her local newspaper editor regarding a Tea Party member’s “full editorial page rant against” a friend’s letter to the editor about gun violence. Her letter is well worth the read. Here is a link to her letter. Below the link, I have posted a response to her essay.

http://greenrootstn.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/the-western-and-gun-violence/

Continuity and conservation versus “hell no” and gunpowder – only one side seems interested in asking fundamental questions. Patricia’s letter on guns in our culture is a terrific read. The passions rooted in Tennessee, American history and popular culture, and ancient antecedents drive home the insidiousness and pathetic pettiness of Tea Party misdirection and flippancy.

But Patricia, in her erudite, lucid, principled, and personal argument, does not tell the full story as it relates to true conservatism – what relates to our heritage, our fathers, and our real lives. I know that her story has a deep connection to her father and his love of Western fiction – and his intense patriotism as a World War II B-29 flight engineer (20th Air Force, 313 Bomb Wing, 505 Bomb Group) who served in the Pacific Theater (North Field, Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands). Though he had two hunting rifles and a shotgun, he did not possess a functioning handgun until late in life when he was living on his own after his wife passed away.

My father-in-law was a bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II and had a full rack of rifles and shotguns for his entire adult life. He was a Ross Perot Republican, yet he did not possess a handgun after the war. He would have been appalled at the liberality of gun laws in Tennessee and across the country today. He thought movies were a complete waste of time. For him a real man read and worked to support his family and settled his differences with his arms and hands (not a gun) only if all reasonable alternatives had failed.

My father was a hunter in his youth and a Tennessee lawmaker who thought government very useful in building highways and schools. He never renounced guns, but they were never a visible or important part of family life. He instilled in me a love of the old movies that we shared together and the values they imparted. He modeled respect for learning and guided my initiation into retail politics and civil activism.

The ways of the Tea Party are not just an affront to our fathers and their legacy, they are an affront to conservatism. They reject the civil behavior represented by our fathers and for which they honorably struggled. Tea Party ways are intended to be a rejection of our primary legacy in a cynical ploy to gain political power for a wealthy few.

Tea Party intransigence, though considered a convenient tactic by its exponents and controllers, is not merely ignorant and clownish: it is profoundly immoral. Calculated immorality at an empowered level is intended to shatter reason and order so as to subject others – not to law but to the will of the powerful. Certainly there are large numbers of Tea Party followers who are genuine – and genuinely manipulated by bankrollers who care not a fig for their general welfare. (These same bankrollers are sponsoring advertisements urging young people not to buy health insurance.) Some undoubtedly think they are being funny, just getting a rising out of mainstream people (and many in mainstream too quickly take the bait, pursuing gab instead of effective concerted action). At worst they are the most pernicious kind of evil: the evil that seems normal but perpetrates the kind of scorched-earth policies that Patricia cited as evident in latter-day classic movies. This is perhaps an evil with global dimensions and permanent consequences for life on earth.

There is much tongue-wagging and screaming about the threat of our national government. But like Oliver Goldsmith, if there will be tyrants, I prefer my tyrants to be far away, not in my local and state government. National government has to accommodate a multitude of powers and interests under great scrutiny with significant checks and balances. Local governments are not so naturally constrained.

Do-nothings or evildoers in politics get away with it because liberals and centrists and real conservatives can’t be bothered with stopping nonsense at the polls, at the courthouse, at the legislature, at the TV set, at the checkout counter. Our elusive hope is that some hero will step forward and fix it for us, like in the Westerns, or that in time the jokers will overplay their hands and bring on their own demise. So, it’s high noon and the town’s folk have scattered for cover. But the Gary Cooper and John Wayne types are no where in sight, except for Patricia, who is packing two holsters chock full of legacy and literacy and the skill and guts to use them against lunacy masquerading as law in the clear light of day.

Out There with John Ealey

I really don’t have anything pithy to add as a lead to this story. It is quite surprising to me how much fun it was to research and put together. It’s good to be reminded of why we labor to do the things we cannot resist doing. I only wish I could capture the magic ingredients that made this piece so rewarding socially as well. Most every member of my Memphis family was drawn into the endeavor, and I think it was almost as pleasurable for them as it was for me.

I found someone who was lost. Actually, what else need be said?

Read it here.

Just a Girl

The current feature in TennesseeSoul is about someone who has been a great comfort to me throughout my life – someone who has devoted much to my happiness and well-being. I can hardly do justice by her in so few words, any more than I have done for others about whom I have written. But it was well worth the effort to try, because in trying to describe the essentials about someone I love dearly, I learn more about the beloved and I learn a bit more about myself and the others around me day in and day out. I am shocked every story by the expanding experience of expressing gratitude and the delight it brings to my life. End of story.

Read it here.