March 11-18: To Amsterdam, The Netherlands
July 31-Aug. 6: To Gulf Shores, AL
March 25: To Old Waverly GC, West Point, MS
Sept. 8: To Old Waverly
April 19: To Old Waverly
Sept. 13: To Old Waverly
May 6: To Old Waverly
Oct 8-10: To Hot Springs, AR
May 25-28: To Gulf Shores, Fairhope, AL
Oct. 13: To Old Waverly
June 10-17: To Gulf Shores
Nov. 23-27: To Tubac, AZ
June 23: To Old Waverly
Dec. 27-Jan. 2: To Gulf Shores & Jackson, MS
July 5-15: Drive Thru Dixie to Washington, DC
Continue With Accounts of Getaways-2006 (Account Updated Feb. 19, 2008)
Return To Nolan Travels Home Page (Collection of Travelogues and photos of 14 big trips)
Following is an excerpt from my six-part account of our trip to The Netherlands in March, 2005. The accounts about our week-long stay in Amsterdam to see it and area sights are posted at nolantravels3/amster1.html.
March 14, 2005, Monday – In Amsterdam, The Netherlands
After another excellent breakfast buffet at the Carlton Hotel (my usual bacon and ham on coarse bread with a Coke Light and for Betty fruit and pastry with coffee) we discovered that our contemplated daytrip to Brueggge, Belgium would require a train ride of about 3 hours, 35 minutes each way. The cities of the Low Countries are close together. But after checking a
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map and schedule taken off the Internet by an exceptionally bright and helpful desk clerk at the hotel (the young woman’s home was in Chechnya, a war-torn country that once was part of the Soviet Union), we saw that it is a roundabout ride by rail from Amsterdam to the medieval town of Bruegge to the south. Had it been a straight shot, the distance would have been cut in half.
We regretfully decided to scrub the excursion. It was a shame because we had heard Bruegge is very scenic and an important center for handmade lace, one of Betty’s favorite fabrics for home decoration.
We decided to regroup and consider a day trip by train to Delft, a thriving Dutch city perhaps best known for the centuries-old manufacture of its signature blue-and-white pottery. Our main event for today is a tour of the Anne Frank House, one of the most visited places in Amsterdam.
I learned that a nearby, hole-in-the-wall liquor store, which literally is dug into a Flower Market wall like a bomb shelter, is closed today. It was one of the few closed stores we saw even though the guidebooks warn that much of Amsterdam shuts down on Mondays, like in France. We made a quick visit to a huge Internet café a block or so away from the hotel and paid €1.5 for an hour’s connect time to the Internet. With a click of a mouse on the appropriate flag, customers can get their Internet service in American English, British English, German, French or Dutch. The café offers several hundred computer screens; it shares space with a sublease that sells music CDs and such.
Young people take universal Internet service for granted, which is probably a good thing. I still marvel at how rapidly such ease of communications is shrinking the planet. My grandfather was born at a time when a lot of domestic mail went by a fast horse; international mail went by a slow ship. It is a wonder how quickly and cheaply we can send and receive email to friends and family back home from just about anywhere in the world. A year ago during his MBA graduation trip to Peru, our son saw Internet cafes in remote Andean mountain villages.
We caught Tram No. 14 at a stop near our hotel and rode perhaps one mile to one of Amsterdam’s busiest areas, called “The Dam.” It is where the Dutch blocked the Amstel River with a “damme” and created a small village called “Amsteldamme.” Always referred to as “The Dam” but locally
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pronounced “dom” to rhyme with “tom,” the huge square is the historic center of the old city. It is ringed with notable monuments and buildings, including the Royal Palace, and is a very busy area. A huge ice rink was in the process of being dismantled on this day – probably because the daytime temperatures are warming well above freezing.
We briefly stepped inside a cathedral-sized, stone building known as Nieuwe Kerk, or “The New Church,” for directions. It is a onetime Roman Catholic cathedral that was gutted and vandalized in a riot during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. Now 600 years old, the church is where the monarchs of The Netherlands are crowned, wed and buried. (The monarch lives in Hague, which is really the capital of the country and where most government is based.)
The historic church has a tower that is 290 feet high, which served as the first sighting of home for returning sailors. It is not to be confused with the “old church,” which is nearby in the Red Light District and was built a century earlier. We walked about 300 yards to an American Express office, where we cashed some checks and changed most of our dollars into Euros at about $1.35 per €1. I think the precipitous drop in the value of the dollar against European currencies (mainly to finance an unnecessary war in Iraq and to reduce the taxes of the super rich) is a disgrace.
We reboarded Tram No. 14, paid our €1.60 fares (a basic ticket is good for one hour on as many trams as you care to ride) and rode a mile or two to the stop near the Anne Frank House, one of the most visited locations in Amsterdam. It is there that Anne and her sister, Margot, and their parents plus four others hid from the Nazis for two years. They were ultimately betrayed and all but Anne’s father died in concentration camps.
The “Diary of Anne Frank” is one of the most read books ever published. It has been printed in 64 languages. The story of Anne Frank is one of the most important stories of the 20th Century. Joseph Stalin, the evil and murdering dictator of the Soviet Union, once callously said that a single death can be a tragedy but a million is only a statistic. I don’t think the human mind can comprehend the totality of the cruelty visited upon European Jews and others during the 1930s and 1940s by the Nazis. There were 6 million Jews killed. There were 20 million Russian deaths. There were hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors, Marines and untold numbers of innocent civilians killed and maimed during World War II.
The gripping story of Anne Frank is a story the mind can grasp. It is a somber reminder of the almost limitless nobility - and cruelty - the human spirit is capable of reaching.
The guidebooks say the wait to tour the house can be a long one during the peak tourist season in summer. But this being mid-March, there wasn’t much of a line. We had plenty of room to move around inside the cramped rooms of the house.
Anne’s family had lived in Frankfort, Germany, where she was born in 1929. Her father, Otto, owned a successful, international business that dealt in pectin and spice mixtures used in the preservation and canning of fruit. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Frank family decided to move to Amsterdam, which was a safe haven for Jews until Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940. Anti-Jewish decrees grew ever more harsh.
With the help of several of his Dutch employees, Otto built secret living quarters in a connected annex above his warehouse and office at 265 Prinsengracht, a four-story building alongside a canal. From the street, it looks like just another multi-story townhouse, one of thousands in Amsterdam. In July 1942, the Frank family (Otto, wife Edith and daughters Anne and Margot) decided to go into hiding inside the annex rather than turn Margot over for a “work force project” in Germany.
Otto had already registered one of his non-Jewish employees as a director of his company, preventing the Germans from routinely seizing the business. He handed over the keys to his Aryan colleagues, sent a final postcard to relatives, gave the family cat to a neighbor, spread rumors the Franks were fleeing to Switzerland and prepared his family to “dive under” (onderduik as it was called) into hiding. On July 6, 1942, the Frank family put on extra clothes to avoid carrying suspicious suitcases and disappeared into the Spartan suite in the upper back part of their building. Colleague Victor Kruger concealed the annex entrance with a swinging bookcase full of business files.
A week later, Herman and August van Pels and their son, Peter, joined them. Three months later Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and family friend, moved in. He shared Anne’s small bedroom that she decorated with movie-star pictures clipped from magazines.
The bedrooms and sitting areas of the seven-room, secret annex were sparsely furnished. There was a single bathroom serving eight people. The Delft-style commode was not flushed during the day for fear of alerting the warehouse workers beneath that people were living upstairs. The Nazis, aided by Dutch auxiliary police and informers, regularly swept through suspected hiding places to round up and deport Jews. Tens of thousands of Jews were captured and sent off to camps in Germany and other Nazi-conquered lands. A book on display carefully lists each name of the 103,000 deportees, 90 percent of whom were gassed, tortured or starved to death in the camps. The mind can’t comprehend the terrible suffering of those people; they were less than 2 percent of the total who perished at the hands of the Nazis.
With the non-Jewish office staff secretly supplying those in hiding with canned foods, vegetables and other supplies, the Franks and their friends managed to live a cloistered but somewhat normal life behind drawn curtains. They never went outside. When the weather was right, they would open a hidden roof vent after dark to breath fresh air. At night, they would sometimes go downstairs into the office area and listen to a shortwave radio. Otto kept a map showing the German retreat movements after D-Day.
Days were spent quietly reading. The children studied their schoolbooks and did their lessons. Anne wrote her diary, noting in one May, 1944 entry that “my greatest wish is to be a journalist and later on, a famous writer. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annex. . .”
Following are some poignant excerpts from Anne’s diary,
which are taken from an excellent brochure that comes with the €7.50 admission.
“We have to whisper and tread lightly during the day, otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us. . .We’re very afraid the neighbors might hear or see us.” – July 11, 1942.
“Last night the four of us went down to the private office and listened to England on the radio, I was so scared.” – July 11, 1942.
“Margot and I have declared the front office to be our bathing grounds. Since the curtains are drawn on Saturday afternoon, we scrub ourselves in the dark, while the one who isn’t in the bath looks out the window through a chink in the curtains.” – Sept. 29, 1942.
“Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and gray military vehicles cruise the streets. It’s impossible to escape their clutches until you go into hiding.” – Nov. 19, 1942.
“Our own helpers have managed to pull us through so far. Never have they uttered a single word about the burden we must be.” – January 28, 1944.
“As of tomorrow, we won’t have a scrap of fat, butter or margarine. Lunch today consists of mashed potatoes and picked kale. You wouldn’t believe how much kale can stink when it’s a few years old!” – March 14, 1944.
“But, still, the brightest part of all is that at least I can write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate.” – March 16, 1944.
“One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever. We will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be.” – April 9, 1944.
The hiding place was betrayed on Aug. 4, 1944. The Frank family and their friends were arrested in their refuge of 25 months and soon deported. Two of Otto’s employees who had helped keep them alive were also arrested.
Museum signage and brochures state the identity of the informant is not known. I have a tough time buying that assertion. But I think I can understand why it was made. If this former newspaperman’s suspicions are correct, there must have been a very good reason why a police record has not been found about the rat or why somebody has not come forward. There are hints within Anne’s diary that speak for themselves.
Glass cabinets throughout the annex display various Nazi documents that were later retrieved about the Frank family, their deportation and identity papers. The Germans are among the most meticulous record keepers in the world. The Jewish survivors of the concentration camps – and their descendants and relatives – have combed through German records with a vengeance for more than a half-century. With all the native intelligence, education and resources at their disposal, Jews have tracked down and brought to justice Nazi criminals in all parts of the world. It is hard for me to believe that the record could not be found that would identify the Gestapo informant that betrayed the Frank family. Maybe somebody has decided it is better than the world not know.
The family spent a brief time at a holding facility at Westerbrook, a town near Amsterdam. They were put aboard a train for the dehumanizing ride to Auschwitz, where the family was forcibly separated and the horrors worsened. Records also disclosed that there were 1,019 on the last train to leave Westerbrook (498 men, 442 women and 79 children). There were 549 helpless, human beings immediately gassed to death upon arrival. Anne and Margot were evidently young and healthy enough to be transferred to a work camp at Bergen-Belsen. Margot died first, in March 1945. A few days later, Anne died of typhus and deprivation – just two months before the camp was liberated. One of her former neighbors talked to her through a camp fence near the end and reported that the teenager “didn’t have any more tears.”
Researchers have found Nazi records that reveal that all but one of the original eight who hid for over two years were gassed or died in the camps.
Only Otto Frank survived. He spent months traveling from camp to camp and to repositories of German records in a vain attempt to find his family. He returned to Amsterdam June 3, 1945 in desolation. A letter soon reached him that was written by a nurse at Bergen-Belsen, who said she had witnessed the death of his two daughters.
Anne’s diaries – which were written in German in three lined notebooks that have been preserved and are on display – were left behind in the Secret Annex when her family and their friends were hauled away. Two of Otto’s employees – secretary Miep Gies and office worker Bep Voskuijl – gathered up the notebooks plus 300 loose pages. Miep saved them and gave them to Otto once he got the confirming letter about the deaths of Anne and Margot.
He organized Anne’s writings and turned them into what became one of the most important books of the 20th Century. In 1979, he wrote, “I can no longer talk about how I felt when my family arrived on the train platform in Auschwitz and we were forcibly separated from each other.”
The Anne Frank House has obtained much film taken by the Germans. Monitors in several of the rooms run non-stop reels showing Nazi round-ups of the Jews, transportation in the pitiful railroad box cars, camp life and camp death. Some of the footage is beyond gruesome. There are also various possessions and memorabilia of the Frank family that have been preserved, including a yellow Star of David that had to be pinned to clothing. It is a powerful but deeply troubling series of exhibits that doubtlessly leaves a great many viewers with precisely the feelings of anguish that the designers intended.
Primo Levi, a writer and survivor of Auschwitz, wrote a searing comment in 1985 about the importance of “Diary of Anne Frank.” He said, “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.” I was pleased to purchase a copy of the latest edition of the book at the Anne Frank House bookstore plus pick up several self-guiding brochures for friends back home.
After reflecting over several weeks on what we’d seen and learned in the Anne Frank House, I arrived at a deeper understanding of Jewish people and why many are so profoundly influenced by what Hollywood calls “the back story.” I also have a fuller appreciation of our too-brief friendship with an older Jewish couple.
Betty and I were befriended by this couple, Sol and Erna Stern, when we moved to Memphis in the summer of 1970. They had hid out during the Holocaust and World War II in a small farming village in France because of the bravery and kindness of a French couple and their neighbors. We were neighbors of the Sterns in an apartment building at 1220 Overton Park and were privileged to hear their story.
We were a young couple then, relatively naïve about the cruelty of the world and largely ignorant of the horrors the Jews faced during the war years in Europe. I now wish we had listened closer and asked more questions of the gentle, soft-spoken Sterns.
They didn’t talk much about those terrible years and we didn’t want to pry. They did tell us they had worked as housekeepers and cooks for the family that took them in. I don’t remember from whence or how they came to that particular village or even its name. Nor do I know how they made their way to Memphis. (There is probably a record of it somewhere in the local Jewish archives.) The Sterns told us that neighbors of the couple who hid them as well as other villagers knew about the secret arrangement and alerted them to hide when German troops were in the area.
I recall Erna confiding in us that she and Sol held each other in bed and cried every night over not having children. They were the only ones in their family to survive the war. Their brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, nieces and nephews perished at the hands of the Germans. Their concealment from the Germans came during Erna’s prime fertility years. They didn’t want to risk having children – or to expose the family that sheltered them to any increased danger. Betty stayed in touch with Erna until Erna’s death. She was told that Erna and Sol had received a Germans reparations payment of about $70,000 in the late 1970s.
Betty and I also got to know two brothers who survived the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Abe and Mike Kalmo. Their original last name was Kalmowitz, which was shortened when they came to the United States and started a business in Memphis.
Abe and Mike were outstanding tailors. Their skills saved their lives. When the Nazis learned of their expertise with a needle and thread, the teenage boys were put to work making uniforms for the camp commandant and other German officers. When not sewing, they told me, they hauled bodies of gassed Jews to the ovens. I learned about their ordeal during my occasional visits to their clothing store, Imperial Clothiers, on Union Avenue in the 1970s and 1980s.
Back in those days, I bought most of my suits and sports
coats at Imperial. I didn’t know it at the time, but one of their most
important customers was Abe Plough, a great man and founder of the giant
pharmaceutical and consumer product company where I later worked,
Ironically, the company that Mr. Plough agreed to merge Memphis-based Plough, Inc. with in 1972 was New Jersey-based Schering Corp. Schering had been an American subsidiary of the German chemical giant Schering AG until World War II. The U.S. unit was seized by the American government and later was sold to the public in a stock offering.
One day I was in the Kalmo brothers' store and mentioned that I had read in the paper that an expert on the Nazi concentration camps was about to speak at a local event or perhaps on television. Abe Kalmo, the older of the two brothers, angrily shoved up a sleeve of his shirt to reveal a telltale number tattoo on his forearm. He exclaimed that he didn’t have to listen to anybody about it because he and Mike were survivors of Dachau. Once he calmed down, he gave me a quick version of how they had survived.
The store closed in the mid-1990s and the brothers moved from Memphis, to Florida I think. Their children had all done well.
I think the horror and shame that flowed out of the camps into the world at large repressed a lot of public discussion about the plight of the Jews when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. There was a vague awareness among us non-Jewish kids of the concentration camps. But the national focus during my teen years in the 1950s (when schools in Sacramento, Calif. had regular bomb raid drills) was on the dangers posed by the Russians, the ChiComs and the ComSymps. Even a decade after World War II, many veterans wouldn’t talk about what they had seen.
I’ve read that many Jews suppressed memories and public discussions of the Nazi exterminations because of a strange feeling that their people had not fought the Nazis hard enough. That reticence changed over the years as the Jewish nation of Israel took form, the Arab world focused hatred on the new state and more and more information about the German atrocities became public. I don’t want to over-simplify a very complex dynamic about the great awakening in the West about what had really happened to the European Jews; I hope that people everywhere will look into the extensive writings and scholarship dealing with this topic.
I toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, not long after it opened in the early 1990s. I, too, experienced the emotional sledgehammer and felt a second-hand but nonetheless unfathomable grief when I learned about the unspeakably cruel murders of millions of innocent people. I believe the Nazi’s cold-blooded dehumanization and genocidal extermination of the Jews was the greatest crime perpetuated in the history of mankind. To this day I have haunting memories of two exhibits in the Holocaust Museum.
One is a multi-story gallery of photos taken by a single photography firm that worked in an obscure village in Poland that was wiped out by Nazi troops in reprisal for an act of resistance. Every man, woman and child was killed. Negatives taken by the family photography business of virtually all the 200 or so residents somehow survived. The Museum obtained the negatives and made prints of photos taken during birthdays, weddings and other family portrait occasions. They are framed in the style of the times and are mounted on the walls of a living room sized gallery that is perhaps three stories high. Staring down at Museum visitors are photos of dozens of innocent faces enjoying family togetherness during happy times of their lives. I wept.
Another exhibit that still bothers me is a modest plaque perhaps 5 feet wide by 4 feet tall. On it are inscribed the names of perhaps 4,000 non-Jews. That was the total number of gentiles in Europe that researchers determined had taken significant actions at some personal risk in order to shelter, protect or help Jews to escape the clutches of the Nazis.
I presume the names of several of Otto Frank’s employees are on the list. I was amazed and am still troubled by the widely believed myth that a great many Germans, French, Dutch and other Europeans risked their lives to hide or otherwise rescue the Jews.
The reality is that with only a tiny number of exceptions, the Jews were abandoned and left all alone. It is well documented that even the Catholic Pope and the American President (FDR) failed to intervene when they could have made a difference. The French Vichy government’s cooperation with the Nazis and tolerance of the forced removal of Jews from France was a shameful abdication of responsibility that is conveniently ignored today.
Despite the nascent nastiness of the neo-Nazi movement, the German government and public have been far more proactive in accepting Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust than have other governments. Recently, a new memorial to the Holocaust opened in Berlin and a much-expanded one opened in Israel, the Yad Veshem museum. Prime Minister Sharon used the opening as a forum to rightfully shake his finger and scold the rest of the world for ignoring the plight of the Jews in their darkest hours of need.
In an earlier travelogue, I chronicled our journey of discovery along Ireland’s famine trail. The abandonment by their English masters of the Irish to death by starvation in the 19th Century has many parallels with what has happened to the Jews over the centuries. I do not believe the Irish will ever completely forget nor forgive the English for that genocidal inaction. Likewise, I do not believe Jews will ever forget nor forgive what happened to them when the world idly stood by while the Germans made them suffer and die so horribly. I’ll never forget.
I was 61 at the time of our visit to the Anne Frank House. I was a toddler during the time when her family hid in the house, were discovered and all but one died. The family’s story - as told in Anne’s book and subsequent movies and other presentations - should help keep the memory alive. I hope so.
It bothers me that the collective memory of history's dark sides often fades when the generations that lived through them die. When we visited the American cemetery overlooking Normandy’s Omaha Beach on a previous trip to Europe, we were told that not nearly as many Americans come there anymore now that the World War II generation is all but gone. The East Tennessee Park and restored home of Sgt. Alvin York, probably the greatest American hero of World War I, gets little traffic. The name Robert E. Lee has been dropped from a lot of American history books used in public schools, even in my native Southland.
Feeling somewhat shaken by what we had seen in the Anne Frank house, Betty and I rode the tram back to our hotel, where we had a takeout lunch of “broogies,” Dutch for sandwiches, and Coke Light (the European name for Diet Coke). I wanted something stronger to drink. So we walked around the Rembrandt Square area of canals, shops and office buildings and found an open liquor store. I paid €13 for a bottle of medium-priced, Dutch gin. The brand was Ketell, recommended by the store proprietor.
A Dutch professor of medicine, Franciscus Sylvius, has been credited with inventing gin in the 17th Century. He distilled juniper berries with grain-based spirits to make an inexpensive medicine having the diuretic properties of juniper oil. It was called “genever,” from the French word for juniper berry, “genievre.” But the English improved it, to my mind, after their soldiers were exposed to the low-cost alcohol in the Low Countries, brought it home and called it gin.
Netherlands gin is made from a mash containing barley malt – augmented by juniper berries - that produces an alcohol content of about 35 percent. English and American gin is further purified to produce an alcohol content of 90 per cent or more. This is reduced by distilled water, augmented with more flavor and then distilled again to produce a dry product with an alcohol content of 40 percent (80 proof) or more. Each distiller adds a secret combination of botanical ingredients that includes juniper berries and possibly orris, angelica and licorice roots, lemon and orange peels, cassia bark, caraway, coriander, cardamom, anise and fennel.
The Commercial Appeal, the Scripps-Howard newspaper in Memphis where I worked as a reporter and editor 1969-84, put together a blind tasting panel to test gins a few years ago. Surprisingly, one of the lower priced gins – Ashby’s London Dry Gin, a product of Kentucky – out-pointed most of the expensive imports from England. It was named the best value by a wide margin. It’s what I buy when I’m in Memphis and often carry with me when I travel.
With our legs tired from all the walking the last two days, we decided to forego walking to a restaurant. We had a satisfying, takeout dinner from McDonald’s across the street from the Carlton Hotel. The chicken Caesar salad was much better than those served at home. It cost more but the portions were larger.
- Written May 5, 2005, ironically a Holocaust Remembrance Day
Slow Day at Old Waverly Golf Course in Mississippi
March 25, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club at West Point, Miss.
I rode with my best golfing buddy, Curtis Downs, in his car for the 150-mile drive from Memphis to West Point, Miss., to play golf at the fabulous Old Waverly Golf Club, which is rated one of the top 100 courses in the U.S. and is a regionally celebrated, private club where both of us have been members for a decade or more. Unfortunately, my stomach was upset and we had to make several bathroom stops during the drive and while on the course.
Despite taking eight Pepto-Bismol tablets and a couple of shots of gin, I was miserable the whole day. Worse, the course was soggy and slow from heavy rainfall earlier. Even though we were among the few golfers out, the round lasted 4.5 hours – about 1 ½ hours longer than normal. I hit a few decent drives. My irons were erratic. My putting was okay, but I missed several shots by a half inch or so, in part due to the wetness of the greens making for some slightly bumpy conditions. Through the front 9, my score stood at an awful 51.
Curtis was playing pretty well, shooting a 47 on the front 9 and a 43 on the back side. Despite the lack of ball roll due to the wetness of the fairways, he was driving very well and hit quite a few very long shots. Due to my stomach distress and poor shooting, I gave it up after the 17th hole, in a rare abandonment of a round.
I skipped our customary dinner in the clubhouse after the round and I took in some more gin and a tablet or two of Vicodin pain reliever, which somewhat eased my stomach distress. A lesson learned on this long and unsatisfying day was that in the future, when faced with stomach distress I should move the golfing venue to Galloway Golf Course near my home rather than “tough it out” with the long drive to Old Waverly.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the conversations with Curtis during the long drive. It was the first time the two of us had played since last Thanksgiving when we both took our wives for a long weekend getaway in Tubac, Ariz.
Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity reunion in Lodi, CA
March 31, 2005 - To Sacramento and Lodi, CA
I got out of bed in my Memphis home at 3 a.m. to give me plenty of time to eat some breakfast and make it to the Memphis International Airport for the 5:30 a.m. Delta flight to Sacramento, Calif., my boyhood home. I wanted to visit my two younger brothers, Patrick Thomas Nolan and William Ray Nolan, see a few old friends and attend a reunion of my college fraternity. My first of several colleges and universities I attended was Sacramento State College (since renamed California State University at Sacramento).
While at Sac State I was an enthusiastic and rowdy member of the campus “jock house” fraternity, the Gamma Nu Chapter of Alpha Sigma Phi. The chapter is now defunct, having been booted off campus for engaging in a food fight in the college lunchroom in the late 1960s – long after I was gone. I was one of several members of the college’s swimming team who were members in the early 1960s but we were a small minority compared to the several dozen football players, track team members and other athletes. I later transferred to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss, where I was a social affiliate of Phi Kappa Psi), then to East Central Junior College in Decatur, Miss., and finally to Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., while my Alpha Sig fraternity brothers soldiered on at Sac State.
In preparation for the fraternity reunion after many years of absence, I had been working with other onetime brothers for months. A website I developed based on much information supplied by guys now in their late 50s and early 60s (update3030/siggyraider.html) contained a lot of updates on the brothers and information about the reunion.
After breakfast, my wife Betty drove me to the airport in the pre-dawn hours. Our pet greyhound, Dickens, rode on the back of the station wagon. We arrived about 4:30 a.m. and quickly learned that my Delta flight had been cancelled due to bad weather in Atlanta. This was a helluva way to start a trip. I had really been looking forward to the trip since I had not seen my fraternity brothers in decades; I was excited about the prospects of sharing my successes with them and hearing about theirs. Making it worse was the fact that I was planning on flying for free due to frequent flyer miles accumulated at Delta’s code share partner, Northwest Airlines.
Delta tried to oblige and booked me on a better schedule than partner Northwest had available, which connected to an American flight through Dallas. So Betty left me at the airport so she could go on to her school, Northwest High School where she teaches Culinary Arts. I waited for three hours for my flights to Dallas and Sacramento, but at least I had an aisle seats on exit rows and the extra legroom such affords.
I picked up an Avis rental car at the Sacramento airport and drove to a Larkspur Hotel suite by 1 p.m. It was a nice place at 555 Howe just off Fair Oaks Blvd. (an extension of the capitol city’s “J” Street thoroughfare, a mile or two from Sac State by the American River. I stopped at a grocery store and bought a dozen red roses to place on the graves of my mother, Garnett Elizabeth Nolan, my brother Bill’s late wife, Anna, and at the crypt of my dear friend and fraternity brother Peter Lenhart Siller, who was killed in Vietnam while serving the U.S. Marine Corps. All are interred at East Lawn Cemetery, which is about two blocks from my late mother’s home at 1517 41st Street where I did most of my growing up.
It had been seven years since my last visit to the cemetery, when I attended the funeral of Anna Nolan. I noted while visiting Pete’s crypt that his mother (who died in 2001) and his father (who died in 2004) had been interred adjacent to the fallen Marine. The proximity to the cemetery of so many people and memories dear to me made for a very sad moment. Somberness engulfed me as I drove around the old Nolan family neighborhood. I stopped to take some pictures at 1517 41st Street, at the rebuilt David Lubin Elementary and Kit Carson Junior High (now called Middle) Schools, at the Sac State campus, Sutter Lawn Tennis Club, the old Crockett Dance Studio (the now closed place where I took dancing lessons), McKinley Park, McKinley Library, the site of the old Sacramento County Hospital (where my late father served as Pathologist and I used to hang out) and the onetime homes of classmates Pete Siller and Bob Zanders.
I suppose the wistful feelings of what was and perhaps what might have been that washed over me during my revisit to the bittersweet days of my youth are fairly common among people like me whose fortunes have taken them far from the home grounds of their youth. I think I got out when the getting was good for me and am grateful for my great marriage to a truly wonderful woman, Betty, and the extraordinary prospects of our terrific son, Casey. The successes I’ve enjoyed in life give me much satisfaction and I have no regrets. But returning to my old haunts at least gave me the opportunity for self-assessment and some useful introspection.
It pleased me to see that the old Nolan family home on 41st Street has a new shake roof. It also has a new sidewalk in the front yard, poured around a huge American Plains tree that I used to climb. The door on the big garage at the rear of the property has been replaced and some bricks have been put down on a patio that face the street. The tudor-style timbers embedded in the stucco are now painted tan rather than black. All in all, the exterior of the once-neglected home where I lived from the early 1950s until I went away to college looks very nice.
A young woman who lives in the home with her parents said the going price for a house such as it in the neighborhood is $700,000 and up. My brothers and I sold the two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath house we jointly inherited from our mother for $150,000 in 1984, shortly after our mother died.
That evening, I enjoyed a very good Mahi-Mahi dinner in Sacramento with my brother Pat at the Monterey Bay Canners, a restaurant near the hotel. The restaurant was possibly a sister to the place of the same name where I once ate with Betty and my old friend Bob Reid when in Sacramento some years ago.
On Friday, April 1, I had a light workout in the hotel’s fitness center, which was surprisingly well equipped for a hotel that seemed to cater to traveling salesmen and college students at nearby Sac State. I walked for one mile on a treadmill, cycled for five miles on an exercise cycle and did a little work with weights before driving around some old haunts. Late morning, I checked out of the hotel then drove about 45 miles south to Lodi, Calif., home of several of my onetime college fraternity brothers and heart of the biggest wine producing area in the U.S. It’s not well known for its wine, but it produces more wine than the combined production of celebrated Napa and Sonoma Counties of Northern California.
I checked into Lodi’s Comfort Inn and had a comfortable room upstairs that overlooked a small swimming pool. I was glad to learn that there were three onetime Alpha Sigs staying at the motel – Steve Sipes, Bill Kasler and Sam Miller. We had been fraternity brothers in the same era.
After a short nap in my motel room with the air conditioner running, I drove to Lodi’s K-Mart to buy some Coppertone sunscreen. Then I drove through some of the lush vineyards in this part of central California. I was on the way to the Vino Piazzo, home of a dozen, small wineries that share production facilities in large, metal buildings around a European-style square. It’s a neat place that reminded me of small towns in the south of France. It has three wine tasting rooms, which were open for our fraternity reunion dinner party that evening.
Expected for the wine tasting and dinner were 67 of my onetime fraternity brothers, many of them accompanied by their wives or girlfriends. All but a few had ended up working and making their homes in California. Most were in their late 50s or early 60s and either retired or nearing retirement. Quite a few had spent their lives working in public education, as coaches, teachers and school principals.
Details about the reunion dinner and the follow-up lunch the next day, including comments from many of the brothers and a few historic and recent photos, are posted at update3030/siggyraider.html. A companion website is at update3030/siggyraider2.html. A fraternity roster from one of Gamma Nu’s go-go years, in 1981 but evidently missing some earlier members, is posted at update3030/roster.html.
The mother fraternity organization has a national website at http://www.alphasigmaphi.org. At one point there were more than 400 photos taken at Gamma Nu’s 2005 Sig Bust that were posted on a yahoo website that has since gone defunct. Any brothers with current knowledge of where those great pictures are now posted (of the good-timing Alpha Sigs who now sport gray or missing hair and ample beer bellies) are asked to contact Buzz at firstname.lastname@example.org. (901-327-8845)
For the 2005 reunion, party planners had arranged for a special, Thai-restaurant-catered, buffet meal of chicken served on Romaine lettuce with ranch dressing, with an option of white rice on the side. Since the reunion location was miles from the Lodi motel, I couldn’t chance an upset stomach and ate sparingly of the spicy food but enjoyed the free-flowing wine.
It was great seeing my fraternity brothers. Among them were Jack Jenkins (former president of the chapter); Dennis Sartini (a retired coach, teacher, principal and school superintendent); Tim Fitzer (a onetime world champion hell-raiser who now drives a 1960s muscle car and has his own ice business); Steve Sipes (a great swimmer who made a career out of flying helicopters for the U.S. Marines in Vietnam and then the Coast Guard in Alaska and after retirement worked as a stock brother in Northern California); Gary Warddrip and his wife, Caron (they were an inseparable couple at fraternity functions years ago); and many other guys with whom I had been fairly close during my fun days (and nights) at Sac State.
Among those present were several brothers who, like me, worked in the security industry during my brief time with Guardsmark, Inc. in Memphis 1995-96. Included were Dick Zarzana, now retired but who worked in the White House as a Secret Service agent). In one of those connections we all seem stumble across from time to time, he happened to know my Guardsmark co-workers Bob Jensen and Jim Antonelli, both former Secret Service agents.
Guys I caught up with included:
Facing the drive back to the Lodi motel on a country road, I departed the reunion dinner a little early.
The next morning, I enjoyed a free breakfast of toast with cream cheese and read the Sacramento Bee, a classy newspaper I had delivered as a teenager and which so far has resisted the industry movement followed by my former employer in Memphis (The Commercial Appeal) of running a lot of non-news to somehow halt declining circulation. Joining me at breakfast in the motel lobby were Steve Sipes, Bill Kasler and Sam Miller.
After eating, I drove to nearby Clements (pop. 242) and the rancho home of fraternity founder and former president Joe Mehrten and his wife, Ann. It is on rolling hills and farmland that have been owned by the family for three generations. During my time at Alpha Sig in the early 1960s, Joe had already graduated from Sac State but still presided over the fraternity’s annual Sig Bust picnic at his family’s cattle ranch.
Present at the afternoon Sig Bust reunion were three ladies – who looked to be fit and about my age – wearing cycling gear and looking like beautiful Easter eggs. They were eating carefully but heartily in preparation for a ladies race/riding cruise through the beautiful wine country around Joe’s ranch. It turned out they were staying at the Comfort Inn and had met Sam.
Signs along the country road that directed motorists to Joe’s rancho had been prepared by my fraternity Big Brother, art teacher Jack Schafer. For me it was a second helping of great feelings about the pleasure of seeing my fraternity brothers (and their wives) from long ago. Among other with whom I connected were Rimas VisGirda, a celebrated artist of the Chicago area, and Dick Hotchkiss, a great college athlete who turned out to be an excellent potter and maker of ceramics.
Amazingly to me, the consumption of alcohol at the Sig Bust picnic was light. Two of the fraternity brothers who had been loaded much of the time back in the 60s – Art Derby and Tim Fitzer - had transformed themselves into teetotalers for health reasons. Most of the others with whom I shared a lot of drinking 40 years ago had a only beer or two and that was it. Many were wearing Hawaiian shirts and all were surprisingly laid back, as though the rough edges we seemed to celebrate back then had worn off.
Joe’s rancho includes a B&B (guests can arrange horseback rides on the property), a bunkhouse for larger groups, a dining room, hot tub, small swimming pool, horses and a museum containing artifacts about early California ranching.
I carried with me a white golf shirt for Rimas to silkscreen on a design he had drawn that celebrated the fraternity reunion.
Once most had finished our tasty lunch, we took individual turns at a microphone, retelling some of the old stories and updating the brotherhood on our lives. Tim got a laugh when he told how he had pushed fraternity brother Jeff Roberts (not at the reunion, I was sorry to see) in a wheelchair around the midway at the California State Fair. Sam Miller recalled backfiring autos. Milt Briggs played his harmonica and teamed up with Skip Brown to show off their dueling duck calls.
I left at 3:30 p.m. with the party still going strong. I had plenty of barbeque “tri-tip” roast beef to eat along with baked beans, salad, bread and a dessert called “Sex in The Open.” It was a great day at the end of a great reunion. When I got home, I uploaded four rolls of film to a photo website hosted at the time by Yahoo. Both Jack Schafer and Truman Holzclaw posted on the website several hundred excellent pictures they had taken, Unfortunately, the Yahoo photo hosting service has since gone defunct.
I drove my rental care back to a Marriott Courtyard hotel near 39th Street and Stockton Blvd., the site of the old County Hospital near my old family home in Sacramento. The grounds now hold the University of California Medical Complex.
As is usually the case I’ve found, this Marriott was a nice hotel. Amenities included a fitness center I used plus a free Internet connection room equipped with a computer. That evening, I enjoyed a cup of clam chowder and a good shrimp salad for dinner.
On Sunday, April 3, I rode five miles on a stationery bike in the fitness center and then walked on a treadmill and did some stretching exercises before meeting my brother Pat for lunch. I must say that I had the best meal of the trip at the Hof Brau Plaza on Howe Avenue. The restaurant is an offspring of the old Sam’s Hof Brau House on J Street near downtown, where I spent a lot of evenings long ago. I thoroughly enjoyed re-living some good times and once again eating such wonderful, hot turkey sandwiches and a handful of the best half-pickles I’ve ever had. Decorating the walls in the bar area were dozens of decorative, German beer steins that may well have been moved from the mother restaurant.
My brother Pat (who is 4 ½ years my junior) and I drove around some of our haunts and took a lot of pictures at David Lubin, Kit Carson and Sacramento High schools. It was great spending the afternoon with Pat and learning that he had converted to be a Roman Catholic. We had grown up in an East Sacramento neighborhood church affiliated with the Disciples of Christ (I became a Presbyterian upon joining a church a few blocks from our Midtown Memphis home.)
I was disappointed that our younger brother, widower Bill (7 years my junior) and his daughter, Kate, had ducked out of town during my weekend back home so she could visit her prospective college campus to the north at Chico, Calif. My perception was that Pat was equally offended by Bill’s last-minute decision.
Thankfully, Pat had brought with him some roses and calla lilies from his backyard plants. We placed them on the graves of our mother, Garnett Elizabeth Nolan, and Bill’s late wife, Anna Nolan, at East Lawn Cemetery about two blocks from the old Nolan family home. I took several photos, but Pat didn’t want to be pictured due to his feelings about privacy.
Later that day, I dropped by Bob Reid’s home. He is a longtime, dear friend who works for California state government. He rents the upstairs of a modest home that is just a few blocks from the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club where we both worked as lifeguards in the early 1960s. The location is near the home of his late parents on Folsum Blvd., between 38th and 39th Streets. We didn’t have nearly as much time as I would have liked, but it was great seeing Bob. It was especially nice to see him now that his personal finances have largely recovered from the tough times he went through a few years ago.
Bob is a senior legislative assistant in the California General Assembly. Predictably, his home is as neat as a pin. A recent photo of my son Casey decorates his refrigerator door.
We quickly repaired to nearby Sutter Lawn Tennis Club and found there was only one remaining swimming trophy on display from the days Bob and I coached the club’s AAU Age Group team. It was the Swimmer of the Year trophy awarded to the most terrific of an overall terrific group of kids aged 5-17. Among the winners during our era were the late Billy Stillwell (who later became a swimming coach himself before premature death) and Nancy Mee, a much celebrated West Coast artist.
The other trophies that Bob and I acquired and awarded to notable swimmers 40 years ago were not to be found. I hope the missing trophies were retired and now rest in the dens or attics of some once-great kids. I had tried to call Hubert and Sally Mee (Nancy Mee’s ultra-supportive parents), but their phone was not answered. I drove by their house on nearby 45th Street but there was no sign of life.
Coming to Sutter Lawn to say hello to me and Bob were two of our favorite swimmers who are grown up now and doing very well in life. They are Peter Anderson (holder of breast stroke records in the old Sacramento Swimming and Diving League where the all-time Olympic great Mark Spitz competed in our day) and Beth Leonard (one of nine children of a wonderfully gentle and team-supportive orthopedic surgeon).
Beth, whose had kept her natural beauty and quick wit over the years, had been a gutsy free-styler who anchored our 11-and-12-years-old Girls Relay teams and later our 13-and-14 Girls Relay teams I coached. I learned that Peter had gone on to swim for the University of California at Davis team and later became a successful legislative staffer in Sacramento. Beth – always one of the really bright kids on our team - had gone to UC-Berkeley, where she earned an MBA degree. She was working as a vice president for the Bank of America, which now ranks as No. One in the U.S. for size of deposits.
Both Beth and Peter were among my favorites during my years as the Sutter Lawn swimming coach. I was very pleased to learn that Peter (happily married with two children) had a stellar reputation in government circles and was about to make a career change to become a banking industry lobbyist and that Beth, now 52, was about to again marry (which she did and relocated across the river to a brand-new home in West Sacramento).
The four of us repaired from Sutter Lawn just off 39th Street to the 33rd Street Bistro on Folsum Blvd., where my brother Pat joined us. We had a fine dinner of burgers, fries and drinks. I was surprised to see that Bob, who now wears a pacemaker to keep his heart beating normally, no longer drinks alcohol. Neither does Pat. But Beth, Peter and I enjoyed drinking to their good health. What a mellow evening. Few evenings ever bring so much joy as do those when one is with old friends from days gone by who have done so well in life.
For me and for all of us, it was an extraordinarily pleasant evening. There was a laugh a minute and the re-telling of great stories about our glory days in and around the pool when we were all so young and intense at Sutter Lawn.
Back at the hotel, my efforts on the lobby computer to print boarding passes for the flights home the next day failed. Evidently a minor change in the airline itinerary the day before put the kebosh on the airline ticket schedule.
On Monday, April 4, the Delta flight out of Sacreamento wasn’t scheduled to leave until noon. So I had plenty of time to enjoy a free breakfast of bacon, toast and strawberries plus carry out a piece of bread and a little bacon for a mid-morning snack. I walked a mile on the Fitness Center treadmill, read the Sacramento Bee, Wall Street Journal and USA Today newspapers provided by the hotel. I checked out at 11 a.m., gassed the rental car and drove through Midtown and Downtown Sacramento and to the outlying airport despite some faulty directions. But I arrived in plenty of time to re-check my storage of a Swiss Army Knife in my luggage, have a ham-and-cheese sandwich (for $6.78) and board my Delta flight to Atlanta, which connected to a Delta flight to Memphis. I made it home by 11 p.m., a little tired but greatly satisfied after a chance to reconnect with some great fraternity brothers.
April 19, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove by myself from our Memphis home to West Point, Miss.. in Betty’s “Mustang Sally” convertible on a beautiful, Spring morning. Winds were mostly light and the sky was blue and sunny. The high for the day was forecast at 80 degrees, roughly normal for this time of year. It was an easy drive of 150 miles on divided roads from Memphis, with only one stop at a McDonalds on the outskirts of West Point for an early lunch.
As luck would have it, traffic on the course was surprisingly light and I got on early and hit my first drive of the day at 11:15 a.m. Old Waverly recently returned to the prestigious “Top 100 Courses” list of Golf Digest magazine, in what I and other members think is a richly deserved honor. The course was in great shape after a fairly tame winter. I played a solo 18 holes in 3 hours and 15 minutes, good time for a course of Old Waverly’s quality. That was especially fast since the electric carts were confined to the paved cart paths and the adjacent rough on this day.
I didn’t hit the ball particularly well this day, but managed to score a 99, shooting a 47 on the front 9, a 52 on the back 9 and taking 37 putts. It was an overall good day and I had a great time.
I again drove Betty’s “Mustang Sally” to West Point, MS by myself so I could play golf at one of the great clubs in America, Old Waverly. Fortunately, I had another beautiful Spring day for the drive, with a high temp expected of 79 degrees. I luckily arrived at a good time in the late morning, between the early golfers and the lunch golfers and had the great course pretty much to myself. The course was in great condition, as usual for this time of year. But my game was not.
My game was terrible, with nothing working well. Most days any particular weakness I might have – with drives, iron shots, chips or putts – is usually offset by an uncustomary strength in another aspect of the game. Nothing worked this day. I shot a 53 on the front side and 52 on the back for a total of 105 for the round. Included were 9 three-putts and 1 four-putt. Recalling a line of poetry from “The Ancient Mariner,” there seemed to be “water everywhere” as I lost several balls in water hazards.
I attributed my lousy game to a serious lack of vigorous exercise and golf practice at home. It showed. I am struggling with a sore right shoulder hampering whatever good intentions I have to practice.
Betty and I drove from our Memphis home to Fairhope, AL in her Ford Focus station wagon, named “Fiona.” We pulled out of our home at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday, her first day out of her school for Spring Break. Due to the previous summer’s extensive damage to beach properties from Hurricane Ivan the previous year, we had to stay in nearby Fairhope. We booked our room in a nice Key West Inn for a $75 a night rate obtained through the Internet service of Priceline.
While we were more than an hour’s drive from our damaged condo on West Beach in Gulf Shores, at least we were close enough to accomplish some necessary owner work. The condos on the beach that survived the hurricanes were fully booked by seasonal workers and other owners checking on their property.
First on our agenda was a meeting with our rental agent, Kaiser Realty, and subsequent meetings with contractors they recommended who could handle needed repairs to the interior of our condo. The Gulf Village Association, the owners’ group, was handling the replacement of the roof of our building and other exterior repairs.
At least we had good weather for our drive down Interstate 55 to Jackson, Miss., to Hattiesburg, Miss., on U.S. 45 then on to Mobile on U.S. 98 where we picked up eastbound Interstate 10 to the turnoff on Highway 59 south to Gulf Shores. Parts of I-55 were being resurfaced, slowing down our customary 7 ½-to-8-hour drive to Gulf Shores from Memphis.
We arrived in Fairhope (on the east side of Mobile Bay) about 3 p.m. Happily, we found it to be a pretty nice place, with modern furnishings in our upstairs room. We unpacked then drove to American Carpet, a store near Gulf Shores where we met with Shannon Williams, who was the son of the store’s owner.. With his help, Betty and I selected the replacement carpet and the replacement floor tiles we wanted installed in the condo’s bathroom, kitchen area and entry area at the front door.
Betty and I then drove a few miles to the huge Tanger Outlet Mall on the outskirts of Foley, Ala., to buy a wedding gift for our rental manager with Kaiser Realty, Christi James, plus some replacement bedding and other condo bath and bedroom essentials. The roof directly over our top-floor unit had failed and a large quantity of water poured down through a newly opened seam in the ceiling’s adjoining concrete beams over the living area and bedroom. Most of our unit’s furnishings and all the carpet and wallpaper were ruined. It took some time, but the rental property insurance covered the cost of most of the repairs and replacements.
However, the unit was essentially off the rental market for most of two seasons and our losses of rental income were fairly substantial. I’m just glad we didn’t have that blow during our first few years of ownership, when we depended on the rental income to help us make the monthly loan payments. Now that the oceanfront Gulf Village condo is paid for, we were able to carry the property without significant discomfort even though we were denied its use.
That evening we had a so-so dinner at the Shrimp Boat restaurant in Gulf Shores. We then returned to the Key West Inn in Fairhope and confirmed the next morning’s appointment in our condo with painter Randy Wheeler.
On Thursday, May 26, we got up early but didn’t feel rested after the long drive the day before plus the stress accompanying the need to get our condo repairs going. We pushed on down to Gulf Shores and the Home Depot there to check on PVC baseboard. We also stopped at Kaiser Realty to meet with rental agent Christi.
Painter Randy Wheeler arrived at our unit on time. The unit was a wreck because of hurricane damage. The unit’s furniture was piled up in the interior. Grit left from the pulled up carpet covered the floor. The front swimming pool looked like a World War II bomb site. Nearby, power cranes and bulldozers were out in force to demolish, rebuild and repair badly damaged condo properties on West Beach.
In short, the one-two punches by back-to-back hurricanes Ivan and Katrina had done the worst damage since Hurricane Camille ripped the Gulf Coast more than 20 years earlier. Ironically, Betty and I honeymooned on the coast the following year and surveyed much of the damage.
Also ironically, under construction across the West Beach Blvd. from our property (on the site of the now demolished Port ‘O Call motel) is a gigantic high-rise containing condos that sell for $500,000 each. A glass-enclosed, pedestrian bridge over the roadway provides beach access to residents.
Those prices and similar ones of other new condo developments under construction near us makes me glad that we were fortunate to buy our condo for a fraction of the current cost when prices were low after Hurricane Camille 20 years ago. We’re thankful that it wasn’t until two years ago that our property had sustained really major damage although acceptance of the risk of occasional storm damage is part of the Gulf Coast lifestyle.
During our pleasant and productive meeting with painter Randy, we reached agreement on the extent of his work and a fair price for him to remove what was left of the wallpaper, repair the surface of the walls and paint the entire interior.
We then repaired to Henry’s Furniture store on Canal Road and met with owner Cindy Henry and Betty of her sales staff to select and purchase a new queen-size bed, to be delivered and installed in two-to-three weeks once the replacement carpet is installed. Betty and I returned to American Carpet and completed an agreement with salesman Danny Humphrey to arrange the installation by a Mexican crew of an eight-pound carpet pad on the floor, topped by a sand-colored, tight weave, commercial grade of carpet throughout the condo’s living area, dining area and bedroom. Their crew will also install a white-colored, floor tile in the kitchen, bathroom and entry areas.
Again back at the condo, Betty cleaned grime and mildew off the headboard of our bed while I checked out the operation of the television set and other equipment. We carried a damaged bedroom table in the back of the Ford Focus to take home in the hopes of repair. We enjoyed the usual good lunch at the Gulf State Park lunchroom and had a nice visit with longtime employees Cha-Cha, Sunshine and Kim of Korea and their boss, Deborah, and fellow worker Joan. I was delighted to see that Joan had lost more than 100 pounds and was in excellent health and spirits after undergoing gastric bypass surgery.
That evening, we had an excellent dinner at Wolf Bay Lodge, a locally celebrated spot where the freshest of Gulf fish, oysters and shrimp are served six days a week to a heavily local customer base.
Exhausted by the strain of the day, I went to bed at 7:30 p.m. while Betty finished a photo album containing pictures taken at a rose garden bearing her name at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis.
We took advantage of the complimentary breakfast offered by the Key West Inn the next morning and enjoyed some sausage biscuits, grits and bagels. We briefly visited the nearby Fairhope Municipal Pier and Rose Garden after checking out. Half of the pier was closed for repairs caused by the hurricanes. An area where boats once floated is now a sandbar.
Fortunately, we had an uneventful drive home to Memphis. We stopped for gas, food and bathroom visits five times but still made the trip in good time of 8 hours. Still tired from all the rushing around during our stay on the Gulf Coast, we had an easy dinner at home of carryout Shrimp Gumbo bought at the Wolf Bay Lodge earlier. We hope to be able to return to Gulf Shores in three weeks to complete our purchases of condo furnishings and decorations needed so we can put it back on the rental market.
I drove with Betty in her Ford Focus, “Fiona,” all day Friday and ran into a lot of eastbound traffic backed up on Interstate 10 from the tunnel under the edge of Mobile Bay late in the day. We had to deal with heavy congestion all the way to the Loxley, AL turnoff. I should have expected as much given the combination of our late afternoon arrival timing with the beginning of so many people’s beach vacations. Making traffic even worse was the threat of Tropical Storm Arlene turning into a hurricane tonight, resulting in many vacationers and beach area residents heading inland.
Once in Gulf Shores, we stopped at Kaiser Realty to see our rental agent, Christi, and to check on the repair to our condo’s leaky toilet made necessary by a crew’s installation of ceramic tile in the bathroom. We picked up a combination TV and DVD player Kaiser had purchased for us and arranged for the repair guys to fix the toilet and turn on the water to the icemaker. We stopped at Winn-Dixie to buy some groceries for the week and later had a very good dinner at the DeSoto Restaurant near the beach.
The next day, Saturday, we drove to American Carpets on the outskirts of Foley and complained to Danny (the salesman who handled our purchase of carpet and tile work) about the complete lack of any leftover carpet or tile scraps. He had earlier agreed to arrange for such to be left in the unit in case of any need for additional repairs.
Meanwhile, there was a lot of rainfall from Tropical Storm-Hurricane Arlene. We decided to ride it out as we had other minor storms in recent years. We did move our car to a nearby condo parking lot that had been elevated above the ground level. By 2 p.m., there was up to 10 inches of water on the low spots of our Gulf Village parking areas. There was 2-to-4 inches of water under our building and a lot of seaweed that had drifted up. TV news reported the existence of waves up to 20 feet high on the Gulf Coast. But thankfully none anywhere near that size were in our area of the beach.
Nonetheless, the waves on our development’s beach were the biggest I’d ever seen in our 20 years of visits – maybe as much as 8 feet high. Again thankfully, the predicted 6-to-8-foot surge of storm surf – which would have washed across our property – never happened. While some water crept up to cover the parking lot beneath our building, it wasn’t enough to cross the road.
Fortunately, we never lost electric power. So I worked on my laptop computer, writing multi-part travelogues about our Spring trip to Amsterdam. I also did a few fix-it projects in the condo and Kaiser’s Dan repaired the wobble in the bedroom ceiling fan. So despite the bad weather, it was a productive day. That night, Betty boiled some fresh shrimp and we had an excellent dinner.
It was sunny the next day, Sunday, and I shot a 97 on the wet Gulf State Park golf course, which has long been one of my most favorite courses and often the only one I nearly always play when down here. The friendly and skilled painter arranged by Kaiser kindly showed me how to use the “AV” setting on our cable TV so we could use the DVD player to watch rental movies. I did some more writing on the Amsterdam trip segments and that evening, Betty and I went to the Original Oyster House for an excellent dinner.
The next day, Sunday, I discussed my dissatisfaction with the leaks coming through the front door and around the threshold with Russ Long, who works for the management firm hired by the owners’ association. He told me to send the bills for the repair work to the association. I also reported the persistent incidences of the front stairwell light being out. That afternoon we made a series of visits to the public library (where I used their Internet signal to access email), Wal-Mart, Media Com (to pick up a sheet of cable TV listings) and Kaiser Realty, where I learned from property manager Leslie Johnson (a very nice lady) that rental agent Christi had resigned. We also re-visited American Carpet and got Gulf Telephone to re-install our condo phone which had been turned off after the hurricane.
I counted 16 shrimp boats working the shallow water off the beach in front of our Gulf Village development.
On Tuesday, June 14, we checked on our discounted, package telephone rate provided Gulf Village by an area phone company and were pleased that it was unchanged. Kaiser Realty arranged at our request for repairs to the leaky door and threshold. Valerie of Budget Blinds came to measure so her firm could custom make Venetian blinds for windows of our unit. The Emerald Coast service cleaned the storm’s aftermath from our sofa bed and easy chairs in the living area.
Also, we had found considerable rust on the mechanism of the sofa bed. We had asked painter Randy Wheeler to remove the rust and repaint the bed’s metal parts and to correct a few faulty spots in the trim painting. We also called American Carpet and visited both the Public Library and nearby Wal-Mart store. That evening we cooked an Emeril recipe for flounder and it was excellent.
On Wednesday, I took a break from all the fix-it projects and shot an even 100 at the Gulf State Park. Randy Wheeler came to our condo early to paint more interior surfaces and Southern Services replaced the faulty threshold (they didn’t show up the next day as expected to replace the door sweep). Later, Betty and I visited the Public Library, the Mall and Home Depot Store at Foley and the Gulf Shores Winn-Dixie before getting back to the beach and condo, where we had some very good shrimp jumbalaya for dinner.
Another big day for errands took up most of the next day, Thursday June 16. Our outings included visits to American Carpet, the Mall in Foley and Wolf Bay Lodge, Kaiser Realty, Al’s sundry store and SeaScape Furniture, where we purchased a replacement mattress for the living area sofa.
The next day, a Friday, we got an early start and drove back to Memphis. The best thing I can say about this trip was that it took a lot of running around, but at least our condo is again “rent ready.”
More ho-hum golf at Old Waverly
June 23, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club at West Point, Miss.
I drove to Old Waverly Golf Club with Curtis Downs in his comfortable Lexus. Unusually, I ran a bit late for our meeting at a Conoco gas station south of Memphis at U.S. 78 and Hacks Cross Roads due to my bumbling around. I had inexplicably missed a turn and had to drive farther down 78 to make a pit stop and turn around. But at least it was shaping up to be a nice day, mostly sunny with a high expected in the low 90s.
I hit a few good drives during the round and made some putts. But my irons were lousy. I did chip in for a birdie on No. 10 and had what I think was the longest drive ever on No. 1, with the ball stopping in the middle of the fairway near the throat that is fairly close to the green. However, I muffed my 9 iron approach shot, which landed in the sand trap that lies on the front right side of the green. Untypically, I rolled the ball out of the trap to avoid getting covered with sand so early in the round and took a penalty stroke. I repeated the dismal but honest performance on No. 3, giving me two extra strokes for the front side for a 50.
I played somewhat better golf on the back nine holes, shooting a 48 despite taking triple bogies on Holes Nos. 17 and 18, giving me a grand total of 98 for the round. That was a significant increase in a ho-hum score over the days when I first joined Old Waverly a decade ago. Back then, with a much younger and more limber body, I often shot in the low 90s. Persistent soreness in my right shoulder – part of the aging process I fear – has unfortunately kept me from much-need practice.
Today delivered nearly perfect weather for golf. Curtis shot an 89, including three birdies and – with the help of a tailwind - hit a monster drive on Hole No. 1.
Back at the clubhouse after the round, Curtis and I enjoyed a couple of beers and dinner. Club executive Wilkes Bryan (son of club founder George Bryan) joined us for a while. I complained about the hole setup on No. 15, where branches of a very large, overhanging oak tree blocks approach shots to the center of the green from almost any angle; the close-cut, short rough to the left side of the green speeds balls that land there to roll down the hill and into an adjacent water hazard. I don’t expect him to have the tree cut down, but am hopefully that enough complaints will be made that he either has it trimmed or allows the slippery rough to grow a little taller.
Georgia’s Sweet Savannah in Heart of Dixie
The complete, eight-part series about Lewis and Betty Nolan’s eleven-day driving trip July 5-15, 2005 through much of the Old South - from Memphis to Washington, DC and back – begins with their drive from Memphis to Atlanta. That travelogue is posted and begins at nolantravels3/dixie1.html. The following excerpt is from Part 8, about their stay at a great B&B and seeing the sights during a memorable stay in Savannah, Georgia:
It was an easy, 2 ½-hour drive through the low country from Charleston, S.C., to Savannah, Georgia. We enjoyed the lazy pace once we got off the Interstate and onto U.S. 71. There were many views of marshy expanses of water and live oak trees hung with curtains of Spanish moss.
We had long wanted to visit Savannah, one of the crown
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jewels of the Deep South, even before we saw the movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, sparked a landslide in tourism and a boom in business to support it. The movie is a dramatized version of a true story based on the best-selling book by the same name. The book by John Berendt was published in 1994. I read the book and liked it. But I think the movie is more entertaining.
Much of the action and drama in both the book and movie occurs in a grand home called Mercer House. The home was built in 1860 by the great-grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer. The movie about a wealthy art dealer’s mysterious killing of his homosexual companion has in recent years made Mercer House one of the most visited places in the city’s Historic District.
Fodor’s guidebook says Savannah is four hours southeast of Atlanta, but is in a world away that is “wrapped in a mantle of Old World grace. Established in 1733, the city preserves its heritage in a 2 ½-square-mile Historic District, the nation’s largest urban landmark. Here 1,000 structures have been restored, and families still live in the 19th Century mansions and town houses.”
The historic district is laid out on a grid pattern. Victorian-era homes surround most of Savannah’s 24 “squares,” each a park-like area 75 yards or more in both length and width. Massive oak trees shade the squares. The squares also contain hundreds of azaleas and other shrubs, walkways and inviting park benches. In the center of each is either a fountain or a historic monument. We were reminded of our walks through residential sections of Paris.
The squares make wonderful venues for relaxing, people watching and chatting with neighbors. However, they make it all but impossible to drive in a straight line through the Historic District. Many of the streets are one way so traffic has to wind around the squares in British roundabout fashion.
The squares make Savannah’s Historic District a visual delight and offer a civilized lifestyle reminiscent of European cities even if the traffic flow is quite slow and inefficient. It is obvious that residents are happy with the tradeoff. Demand for housing in the district has sent real estate prices and rents into the stratosphere.
We stayed for two nights at the 1895 Inn, an establishment rated by Trip Advisor as Savannah’s most popular B&B. We agree with the Internet service’s accolade. Betty and I thought it the nicest B&B that we had ever visited.
The proprietors are Ed Bryant and Bob Ray, who like to entertain and who wanted a place to display their collections of antiques and art. They live on the ground floor of the Queen Ann style, Victorian home they
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purchased several years ago. The first floor contains an elegant dining room, a comfortable living room and a modern kitchen. The two floors above have a total of four spacious and lavishly furnished guest rooms (each with a huge bathroom that includes a shower/tub big enough for an NBA player). Also upstairs is a guest lounge/study equipped with leather couches, a library of books and DVDs, large screen TV and a refrigerator stocked with complimentary soft drinks.
The 1895 Inn is at 126 East Oglethorpe Avenue, one of the main streets through the Historic District. A wide median strip holds towering Live Oaks and azalea beds and separates the traffic lanes. The inn is a short walk from downtown shopping, dining, tour locations and entertainment. Among our fellow guests were two women who had flown in from Texas and did not think it necessary to rent a car for their weeklong stay.
We arrived about 4 p.m. and were immediately checked into the “Sovereign Room” by our charming host, Ed. His partner, Bob, was out of town. Our third-floor room has a queen-size, four-poster bed with an oh-so-comfortable mattress 12 inches thick. The room is equipped with a TV and DVD player, which we took advantage of to re-watch one of the library’s two copies of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Complimentary wine and cheese is served to guests from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the living room. We took advantage of the hospitality hour on both nights of our stay. Getting to know Ed and our fellow guests and hearing about one another’s adventures of the day was most enjoyable.
We followed Ed’s suggestion and walked two or three blocks to the Six Pence Pub near Chippewa Square (which commemorates the bravery of American troops in a War of 1812 battle). We had a light supper of sandwiches and salad at the English-themed restaurant, which served one of my favorite beverages - Harp beer on tap from Ireland.
Later, Betty enjoyed some of the complimentary tray of freshly baked desserts that Bob sets out nightly in the lounge/study.
Ed took over partner Bob’s customary cooking responsibilities and prepared and served a gourmet breakfast at 9 a.m. It was served on English bone china, fine crystal and one of several sets of sterling silverware they own. The meal included an apple/blueberry dish; blueberry French toast (looks like bread pudding and was so good that Betty got the recipe); fruit cups; juices and a big plate of bacon.
Forewarned that the 1895 Inn does not serve bread with the meal, I had purchased a bagel the previous night at the nearby Parker’s Gourmet Quick Stop and 24-hour BP station. That name is for real. It’s a locally celebrated hotspot that sells a full range of delicacies from the deli staffed around the clock. It also offers fancy packaged foods at fancy prices plus The New York Times and other things targeted to the Historic District’s upscale residents and tourists.
Betty loved the fruits and sweet dishes that Ed served for breakfast. Trying not to stray too far from my low-carb eating regime since
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going on the Atkins diet two years ago, I stuck to the bacon and my carry-in Bagel. Afterwards, Betty poked around the beautiful neighborhood that includes the nearby Colonial Park Cemetery, which dates to 1750 and is the final resting place of one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence.
I stayed back to contact the property and rental managers for our condo in Gulf Shores, Ala. Happily, I learned that our place had received only a glancing blow from Hurricane Dennis, which slammed the beach town of Santa Rosa, Fla., near Pensacola. I was told our condo development had a small storm surge that left about 11 inches of sand in the parking areas under the buildings plus the front swimming pool. Compared to the near total ruin of our condo’s interior that we sustained due to a hurricane Sept. 16, 2004, that’s just a nick.
We are relieved that our plans to spend the first week of August in Gulf Shores have not been interrupted – yet. We were there for a week in June, working like beavers to get the place refurbished and back in top condition following the devastation of Hurricane Ivan last year. We want the upcoming visit to be one of relaxation, not work. But never far from our thoughts is the expensively learned awareness that Hurricane season on the Gulf of Mexico is just getting started.
We drove Mustang Sally a few blocks to Forsythe Park, the 20-acre, southern anchor of the Historic District. It is noted for a century-old, magnificent fountain carved of white marble. Its powerful water jets shoot sprays and columns in every direction. Another feature of the park is a fragrant garden. Unfortunately, the city had to enclose a nearby, special planting area with decorative, wrought iron bars to keep vagrants from turning it into a campsite. Similar treatment was given to the park’s restroom facilities. Evidently the homeless are attracted to Savannah because of its favorable climate and the hordes of tourists that sometimes are easy touches for a handout.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that Forsythe Park is a popular location for wedding photography, for painters and for people of all descriptions who enjoy sitting on a park bench to read and contemplate the lush beauty of Savannah. The park is also the site of a soaring monument to the Confederacy and two of its heroes, Generals Lafayette McLaws and Francis Bartow.
Savannah was spared torching by Union General Sherman because the Southern city gracefully and wisely surrendered in the face of overwhelming force.
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The Green-Meldrim House - about five blocks from Forsythe Park - served as Sherman’s headquarters during his “March To The Sea.” Sherman’s troops burned, plundered, robbed and raped their way through Georgia in probably the most barbaric assault ever conducted on American soil. It is bitterly remembered in Georgia and other southern states. Today, the Green-Meldrim house serves as rectory to the adjacent St. John’s Episcopal Church. It faces Madison Square, named for President James Madison.
A short distance from Forsythe Park is Monterey Square (named for the capture of the city by General Zachary Taylor during the war with Mexico) and the famous/infamous Mercer House that faces it. Much of the “Midnight. . .” movie was shot in and around this location. We demurred on paying $12 to enter the house just to see the parlor, movie or not. We did enter the gift shop located in the Mercer House’s carriage house immediately to the rear. We were surprised at the paucity of merchandise, given the numbers of people attracted to Savannah by the movie. A clerk professed not to know what the offered price of the house was before it was recently withdrawn from the market.
A half-size, fiberglass replica of the bronze “Bird Girl Statue” is priced at $399. Similar replicas of differing sizes – presumably sold under license from the statue’s creator – are available at several tourist shops around town. Betty and I have not one, but two fairly crude, concrete “knockoffs” of Bird Girl at home. One is in the back yard and is used to feed breadcrumbs to the birds and squirrels. The other is in a flowerbed in our front driveway where a white oak once stood until Hurricane Elvis brought it crashing down in August 2003.
We drove Mustang Sally to the northern anchor of the Historic District, the touristy River Walk along the Savannah River. We parked in a high-rise garage and walked to busy Commercial Street, which seems to be the main drag of downtown. It is lined on both sides by offices, banks and retail stores. One of the neat, old buildings on the street once housed the Cotton Exchange, which set worldwide prices in the 19th Century until the Memphis Cotton Exchange ascended with more trading and pricing for the spot market. Also on Commercial is a set of cannons of incalculable value that were used by General Washington during the Revolutionary War.
Just a few steps off Commercial Street is an elevator that takes visitors from the busy sidewalk on the river bluff down a steep grade to the brick walkway below. However, the elevator was out of service on this day so we
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had to gingerly descend perhaps three stories of uneven, stone stairs. The walkway is broad and nicely landscaped. Shops, restaurants and bars are on the town side. Several hundred yards of wharf are on the riverside. Tied up are various tour boats, yachts and working boats. It is quite picturesque.
Our host at the 1895 Inn had recommended that we have seafood at River House. He also suggested we be on the lookout for a sidewalk shill and take advantage of the offered two-for-one coupons for lunch specials. We did and the very large portions were excellent. I had crab cakes and Betty had a shrimp and oyster combo. Being in the air-conditioned restaurant for a leisurely meal was a welcome escape from the oppressive heat and humidity of Savannah in July.
Despite the beauty and charm of the Historic District, walking around during the sweltering daytime was no fun. We decided we’d had enough heat. We reclaimed Sally, cranked up the AC and drove a few blocks to the Telfair Museum of Art, an unheralded gem.
Savannah’s famous hospitality was on display by the Telfair entrance. A polite security guard was watching over a half-dozen or so free, reserved parking spaces in a shady area just a few steps from the door. Admission was $12 each. The tightness of our schedule precluded purchase - for an additional $4 – of admission tickets to the Owens-Thomas House Museum, which came highly recommended by our host at the 1895 Inn.
The Telfair claims it is the oldest art museum open to the public in the U.S. The mansion that houses it was built in 1818-19 for Alexander Telfair, son of Georgia Gov. Edward Telfair. It was a family home until 1875, when the last Telfair bequeathed it to the Georgia Historical Society. It has been an art museum since 1886.
Even before the hotness of the day made a visit to the coolness of an art museum so attractive, we had wanted to visit the Telfair. It has been entrusted with the display of the “Bird Girl” statue, a cemetery artwork made famous by the “Midnight . . .” movie. Officials at Bonaventure Cemetery feared the sculpture would be stolen. The original, bronze depiction of a slender young woman holding two shallow dishes is about four feet tall. It had decorated a tomb for more than 60 years, largely unnoticed until the movie made it famous. Now, the coveted statue is under the watchful eye of a museum guard, who enforces the “no photography” rule.
“Bird Girl” now appears on copies of paintings, official photos, book covers, movie memorabilia, refrigerator magnets and other
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merchandise sold at Savannah’s tourist shops. I was reminded of the Elvis souvenirs sold in Memphis.
The Telfair offers visitors much, much more than “Bird Girl.” It has an impressive collection of second tier paintings by first tier, American artists of the 19th Century including George Bellows and a smattering of celebrated European painters of the 18th and 19th Centuries. The art is handsomely displayed in ornate rooms with highly polished wooden floors. The Telfair is well worth a visit of an hour or two, a welcome alternative to the huge museums that can turn a visit into an endurance contest.
Oddly, the Telfair has no snack facilities, cold drink machines or even drinking fountains. But a gracious lady at the reception desk made us feel most welcome. She pointed out a floor AC vent that blew out a delightfully cool stream of air and gave directions to a shop across the street that sells bottled water. She proved to be a great source of local history and urged us to come back to Savannah in April to see the city blazing with azalea blooms.
During our visit, there was a glorious, temporary exhibition of Depression era art by American painters. I found it to be one of the most powerful traveling shows I have ever seen – evocative of the societal divide between the “have-a-lots” and the “have-nothings.” I fear our country has rapidly moved back toward that grand division in recent years, as taxes have been cut for the ultra rich even as government services have been cut for the most needy. Aggravating that dysfunction of fair play have been stratospheric increases in executive pay at major corporations even as workers have fallen farther and farther behind in inflation-adjusted income.
Several dozen paintings from the Schoen Collection in Miami were loaned to the Telfair for this exhibition. They superbly capture the pain, the hopelessness and the bottomless agony of poverty, deprivation and abuse suffered by millions of Americans in the 1930s. I don’t recall seeing any signage naming any Fortune 500 companies as sponsors of the traveling show.
It was near closing time so we repaired to the 1895 Inn to enjoy some Chardonnay and cheese with Ed and several guests. After the huge lunch we had at the River Place Restaurant, we were content to wait out a horrific thunderstorm in our room during dinnertime. The street below our window was covered by four-to-six inches of flowing rainwater.
About 7:30 p.m., the rain let up so we walked back to the Six Pence Pub. I had a bowl of good clam chowder with half a tuna sandwich.
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Betty went for onion soup with half a corned beef sandwich. We stopped at Parker’s Gourmet Quick Stop and BP Station on the way back to the I895 Inn, where I bought some sliced ham and a small loaf of delicious, seven-grain bread for the next day’s lunch on the road.
We had no sooner gotten back than another deluge accompanied by thunder and lighting re-flooded the streets. Two of our fellow guests had gotten drenched while taking a “ghosts of Savannah” tour in a hearse with an open roof. At least they got their money back.
With his partner Bob still out of town, Ed cooked another gourmet breakfast. Using a Dutch oven, he fried red potatoes that had been cubed, using olive oil. He seasoned the potatoes with salt and pepper only. They were delish. Also served were several sweet dishes that Betty enjoyed, lots of fruit and a big plate of bacon
We filled our drink coolers with ice from the inn’s big refrigerator and hit the road at 10 a.m. We at first thought we would stop for the night somewhere in Middle Tennessee. But driving conditions were excellent and we pushed it all the way to Memphis in 10 ½ hours. By ignoring the most direct route on secondary roads, we added a great many miles to our trip but were able to travel at speeds over 70 mph almost all the way. We stuck completely to the Interstate highway route through Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville and finally Memphis.
(Postscript: We were relieved that our condo at Gulf Shores Ala., was spared from the damaging winds and storm surges of Hurricane Dennis plus a tropical storm that had us nervous the whole trip. Two weeks after our return home, we loaded up one of our station wagons and our pet greyhound, Dickens, and drove to Gulf Shores. We spent a week there in early August 2005 putting the final touches on the near complete renovation and refurnishing of the unit. The restoration was required following the near ruin of the interior on Sept. 16, 2004 when Hurricane Ivan peeled off the roof and the place was flooded by rainwater.
(Well, déjà vu came around again on Aug. 29, 2005 when Ivan’s murderous cousin, Hurricane Katrina, peeled our roof again and opened the interior to widespread water damage. We are thankful that our losses can be re-repaired, unlike the tens of thousands of residents of New Orleans and coastal areas in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana who lost everything and in many cases their lives.)
More Condo repairs during rainy week in Gulf Shores
July 31 – August 6, 2005 – To Gulf Shores, AL
We pulled out of our Memphis home in Betty’s Ford Focus station wagon, “Fiona,” at 9 a.m. with our pet greyhound riding in the back. We took the dog with us at this prime vacation time on the beach because of the recurring flea infestations he had picked up during the last several stays at the West Memphis boarding kennel of Southland Park race track. We had a special affinity for the kennel, where we adopted Dickens, but were disgusted with the new management’s inability to control their flea problem.
Poor Dickens was not used to the all-day rides and got car sick once we were in Foley, Ala., which is only 15 or so miles north of Gulf Shores.
But we were pleased to see that our oceanfront condo on West Beach looks pretty good. Everything we had ordered had been at last repaired or installed including new mini-blinds over the windows. On our last trip down we had not been satisfied with the repair work on the front door and threshold, which we were glad to see now had mostly been fixed. A box of missing, spare floor tiles had been delivered to Kaiser Realty and we picked it up in case of need to repair breaks or leaks.
There was a three-foot diameter pipe in the middle of our beach in front of the Gulf Village building, pumping up sand from a dredge offshore. The beach width now must be 100-to-150 feet wide at low tide. The front pool between the building and waterline is still a mess, looking like a World War II bomb crater. The hurricane surge had washed over the pool and loosened the pool tiles and walls. The repairs to the development’s high-rise building to the immediate west of our two-story, “middle building” had been again delayed by the last storm.
Gulf Village development landscaping is basically non-existent. Repairs to replace shrubs, grass and ornamental plantings have yet to get underway. Piles of washed up sand mixed with torn-up asphalt and other debris are here and there. The big, skeletal tower of a new high rise across the street (where two-bedroom condos will sell for $500,000) is now three stories high. Several dozen steelworkers and others labored in the rain.
Unfortunately, it rained about every day. I got in only two, abbreviated rounds of golf – 9 holes each. The State Park course was soaked and all I could manage were rounds of 46 and 50, partly due to sore ankles and persistent soreness in my right shoulder (several months later diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon after x-rays as a torn rotator cuff).
Due to a break in the weather, Betty and I got in two, one-hour sessions of sunning on the beach in front of our condo building.
We enjoyed an excellent take-out dinner from the Original Oyster House (mahi-mahi for me and crab claws for Betty). Our takeout another evening from the Shrimp Basket was overcooked and not nearly so good. A third takeout - of oyster po-boys from Bahama Bob’s on West Beach - turned out to be pretty good. Joining us for the po-boys lunch was our old college friend Harry McLemore, like Betty a native of Philadelphia, Miss. Harry is a homebuilder who now lives in Fairmont, Ala., and sells fireworks out of a portable stand in season.
We never could trust Dickens, our beloved pet, to be left alone in the condo. He is a spirited, retired racer who likes to chew on things when bored. Consequently, our dining was limited to takeout or cooking in.
We spent a lot of our time dealing with our condo development manager, Meyer Realty, and the Gulf Village (owners) Association on various repair issues. I did some writing on a laptop computer about our driving trip through Dixie the previous month. I also met with insurance adjuster Dave Farfield. I asked our condo association’s property manager, Russ Long, to look into a persistent odor of sewer gas that I suspect is emanating from a broken line. Fellow owner and association director Joe Somers will process my contents damage claim with the association’s insurance company. He needs more information.
Betty and I drove home to Memphis on Saturday, August 6 and had the misfortune to hit a terrible rainstorm roughly half-way back, north of Vaiden, Miss. We think this week has been the rainiest week we’ve seen in 20 years of traveling four or more times a year to Gulf Shores. But we did get a lot of work done and accomplished some progress on insurance issues.
Record high score at Old Waverly Golf Club
Sept. 8, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, Miss.
I drove to Old Waverly in Betty’s “Mustang Sally” convertible with an old pal and co-worker, Bobby Hall. He had been an outstanding sports writer at The Commercial Appeal who retired and worked part-time for the big PGA golf tournament in Memphis, the Federal Express-St. Jude.
The weather was great. But shoulder pain in my right arm – and my lack of play and practice – didn’t help my score. Despite the very good company, I managed only one par. I had lots of triple bogeys and seven three-putts and five pick-ups for a 108. Bobby shot a 94. My usual golf partner at Old Waverly, fellow member Curtis Downs also of Memphis, joined us on the back side of the course. He shot an 84 for the day, a good round for him.
Bobby and I had a nice visit with another club member, Bill Sorrels, our former boss at The Commercial Appeal during his years there as managing editor. We all enjoyed seeing one another and retelling some great old CA stories from the 1970s and 80s.
Better round at Old Waverly Golf Club
Sept. 13, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, Miss.
I drove to Old Waverly with Curtis Downs in Betty’s “Mustang Sally” on a sunny day with low humidity and a high temperature in the low 90s. We had the course almost to ourselves and I played the best round of year to date. My scores were 47 for the front 9 and 44 for the back 9 for a total of 91. (Roughly 10 strokes higher than my best rounds a decade ago). Curtis shot an 85 and hit several monster drives.
He was so long that his shots almost made the far-away water on Nos. 1 and 7. I was pleased to have three pars, five one-putts, only four three-putts and NO TRIPLE putts. It was a great day, seducing for the time being my worries about the recurring problems with soreness in my right shoulder.
To Hot Springs for hot baths, visit to Clinton Library
Oct. 8-10, 2005 – To Hot Springs, Ark.
Betty and I drove in her Ford Focus “Fiona” to Hot Springs, Ark., Oct. 8, 2005. We stayed in the Travelodge Motel at Central and Grand Avenues, a good location just outside the edge of Bathhouse Row. Our room, No. 129, was freshly decorated. We got a decent rate of $55 a night plus tax through Priceline.
Due to the lateness of the morning, we just barely got into the Buckstaff Baths bathhouse at 11:43 a.m. before they broke for lunch. Employee James Taylor grumbled a bit about our lateness cutting into his lunch hour but gave good service anyway. The warm soak helped my aching right shoulder. Betty also took a relaxing bath. Afterwards, we walked around Bathhouse Row and downtown Hot Springs and had a fair lunch at a coffee shop on the main drag.
We re-visited the locally famous Arlington Hotel and saw that its lobby area had been renovated, an improvement that we thought had been needed for several years.
Picking up a brochure, we drove maybe 10 miles out of town past the horse racing track to Garvan Woodland Gardens, which turned out to be a fabulous place. Even better, it recognized our membership in the Memphis Botanical Gardens and we got in for free. It was a very, very nice outdoors layout for a small market like Hot Springs. It was obvious that much attention had been given to landscaping by the sponsoring University of Arkansas.
Luckily, we had great weather for our outing, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 60s.
After our walking tour of two or three miles on carefully built trails through the woods, we stopped at the “The Winery” (in business at the edge of Hot Springs for four months) and were given complimentary tastes of locally brewed wines. We later had a fine dinner (sauerbraten for me) at our favorite restaurant in Hot Springs, named “Bohemia.” We saw a huge rainbow arching over the town about 6 p.m., followed by a light sprinkle of rain and then sunshine to the southwest. The top of the rainbow disappeared into the clouds. The two sections we could see had unusual color intensity and were part of perhaps the biggest rainbow we’ve ever seen, including some big ones in Hawaii.
That evening, we watched the University of Tennessee’s football team get pounded by the University of Georgia on TV.
The next morning, a Sunday, I tried to do some writing on my laptop but one of the keys, that for the letter “i,” wouldn’t type. So we decided to venture out again. The day was beautiful, with a high temp near 70 degrees and blue skies.
Betty and I returned to the Buckstaff Bathhouse and enjoyed warm baths in huge tubs made even better by optional whirlpool contraptions. Later, we enjoyed a very good lunch in the Hester’s Family Restaurant at the Travelodge. I had fried catfish and Betty went for a vegetable plate.
We then drove out past the Oak Lawn horse track and visited the seasonal Hot Springs Arts & Crafts Fair at the fairgrounds. Despite the dust stirred up by several thousand visitors, the fair was a tented showcase of area arts and crafts plus many stalls peddling fair food. Betty was so impressed with several of the offerings that she purchased:
· A nice, wooden stand showing Thanksgiving Pilgrims, sold by a not-for-profit program benefiting development students. She intended to use it as a yard decoration.
· Two hand-crafted birdhouses, sold for $5 each.
· A pottery soap dispenser made by a woman who lives near Memphis at the Hickory Wythe community.
· A clown for friend Clair Curran.
· A big bag of roasted pistachio nuts.
We returned to the motel about 3:30 p.m. so I could rest my legs from two days’ worth of walking. I found that convenience stores in Hot Springs don’t sell beer on Sundays, a shame for a town that caters to tourists. Betty had an upset stomach, so that ruled out a dinner at Coltons’ Steak House near the track, reputedly one of the best restaurants in town. We settled for a take-out pizza from Rocky’s across from the horse track. We gave a complimentary “free one” that came with purchase of one pizza to the evening clerk at the motel. We took a long nap – 1 ½ hours – before eating in our motel room. While it wasn’t great, the pizza was pretty good.
On Monday morning, we decided to pass on Bath No. Three. We left the motel at mid-morning. On our way out of Hot Springs, we stopped to poke around the National Park Service’s Gulpha Gorge Park, where a babbling brook runs through the campground and picnicker food scraps attract a variety of birds.
We happened to visit with a “refugee” couple from Gulfport, Miss., who were staying in a Hot Springs timeshare pending repairs to their Hurricane Katrina-damaged home. They had checked out their two dogs from an area boarding kennel, giving us all some things to talk about.
On the drive back to Memphis, we stopped in Little Rock to tour the recently built Clinton Library, which we found to be a most impressive display of the accomplishments and at least some of the controversy of Bill Clinton’s presidency. After our many visits to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, we felt some of the Clinton Library’s exhibits had so much detail that the big picture of his administration’s success was somewhat blurred. I purchased a souvenir lapel pin I wear on my favorite sport coat, a blue blazer.
I must add that I feel fortunate that during Clinton’s presidency I some of my work was accomplished on the fringe of his administration. That was due to my corporate position as the vice president in charge of government relations for Schering-Plough HealthCare Products. I enjoyed a good relationship with Vice President Al Gore and served as captain of his Memphis in May barbeque team when he was in the U.S. Senate. I also had working relationships with two of Clinton’s special assistants, attorney Charles Burson with the Department of Agriculture, and Roy Neel with the office of the Chief of Staff.
I worked hard during at the time and felt at the time that much public good was accomplished during the Clinton years. I still feel that way, probably more so, after a long series of bad moves made by President Bush. I believe that a man of Clinton’s rare ability and likeability only comes along every century or so. It was a shame that he was crippled by some boneheaded actions in his personal life and the unrelenting and unfair sabotage efforts to undercut him made by his Republican foes.
After touring the Clinton Library, we visited its souvenir center a few blocks away and had an excellent lunch at the nearby Flying Fish Restaurant.
Sore shoulder sends golf game south at Old Waverly
Oct. 13, 2005 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, Miss.
I drove to Old Waverly Golf Club with Curtis in his Lexus on a beautiful, fall day. It was sunny, with light wind and an expected high temperature near 85.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take the usual warm-up swings in the practice area due to my chronic, sore right shoulder. I’ve about decided to seek some medical attention for the condition that just won’t heal and is seriously interfering with my beloved golf game.
In the absence of any practice swings, I hit four balls off the first tee. Luckily, I chipped in a flop shot for a birdie on No. 3 – my only good break of the day. Stupidly, I swung hard and I hit what could have been a great shot on No. 6 that hurt my already sore shoulder. During my drive on No. 7, I felt like something tore or snapped inside my shoulder midway through the swing with a seven-wood.
I was hurting big time. For the remainder of the round, I passed on most of the drives and pretty much limited manfully my golf to short chips around the green and putts. I did hit drives off four shorter holes and putted three of the greens. Upon my return to Memphis, I’m determined to make an appointment with my longtime family physician, Dr. Bryant. I fear that I’ve developed a fairly common ailment in older golfers, a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. Head Old Waverly Pro Chris Jester warned me that repairing that condition usually requires surgery.
Despite shoulder, good times in warm Tubac, AZ
Nov. 23 – 27, 2005 – To Tucson and Tubac, AZ.
Betty and I got up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday in order to catch an American Airlines flight to Dallas that connected with another flight to Tucson. We had wanted to re-visit one of our favorite spots to spend Thanksgiving vacation in the Sonoran Desert to the south at Tubac, AZ. Tubac is about 15 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border town of Nogales, making possible a great shopping opportunity for Betty while allowing me a chance to play a great golf course at the resort and arts community.
We arrived at Tucson on time, just before noon. But we learned that our son Casey had switched his flight schedule from America West to U.S. Air/Continental because of a schedule screw-up. He arrived at 2:15 p.m., meaning we wouldn’t have enough time to drive our rental Taurus car ($165 from Budget for five days) to Tubac soon enough to play golf that afternoon as Casey and I had planned.
Our room, Posada No. 128, was equipped with two queen beds. We had it for two nights then paid a little more to move to the much larger Casita No. 106 (identical to Casada No. 104 we had last year), which had a separate bedroom, fireplace, small kitchen, patio and porch.
We had a great dinner at the resort, with me having maybe the best salmon I’ve ever had. Casey had lamb chops and Betty had pork chops.
The next day, Thanksgiving Thursday, Casey played a good round of golf (45 on the front 9 and 41 on the back 9 for an 86) while I drove the cart and putted and chipped a bit around the greens. My injured right shoulder had been aggravated October 13 while playing at Old Waverly. A big swing had evidently snapped a damaged, top tendon in my shoulder and complicated a tear in the rotator cuff. Although it happened over a month ago, I was still sore and was unable to lift a golf club above my waist without pain.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed being with Casey and seeing him hit the ball so well. He was with his new, $1,200 Titlelist irons and Ping driver. While the two of us were on the course, Betty enjoyed sunning around the pool that was conveniently located just outside our Casita door. The temperature was about 74 degrees.
The three of us enjoyed a good buffet dinner at the Cow Palace restaurant a few miles up the road at Amado, with servings of ham, turkey and roast beef.
On Friday morning, Betty and Casey poked around the shops of the Village of Tubac while I read and rested. The temperature climbed to 75 degrees and it was sunny, making for a beautiful desert day. We drove to Nogales, Mexico and spent over an hour in the heavy crowds shopping there. I purchased two bottles of the French liquor, Cointreau, for $10 each, plus a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold Label Tequilla for $15 – roughly half the price charged back home.
Betty purchased a dozen or so silver bracelets. I bought an Elvis painting print for $10 to possibly use later as a gag gift back home. Casey was appalled by the grime and reports of crime in and around Nogales, which he said seems to be worse than what he saw in Peru during his Harvard grad school graduation trip there. He didn’t purchase anything, but obliged us by being our “mule” to carry back across the boarder some liquor and a half-dozen bottles of clear vanilla Betty had purchased for $3.25 each.
We figured that we saved about $100 by making our assorted purchases in Mexico. On the drive back to Tubac, we stopped at the Santa Cruz Spice Co. store that is attached to its small plant. Betty purchased three small bottles of their Prickly Pear BBQ Sauce, which is made in Tucson.
That evening, we had another excellent dinner at the resort’s Saddles Restaurant, which seems to have a new and more talented chef than they had during our visit last year. I again had their delicious salmon. Betty went for chicken picata and Casey had a filet mignon served with a wonderful sauce.
Back in the casita, we enjoyed a wood fire plus the extra space and bedroom the casita provided. Logs are delivered to the porch at no charge and fire starters are part of the deal.
Earlier, I took advantage of the resort’s hot tub just a few steps away from our casita to soak my sore shoulder and paddled around the heated swimming pool. I was thinking this is a great getaway for our tiny family at this time of year.
On Saturday, Betty sunned, read around the pool and revisited some of the nearby Tubac shops. I again drove the golf cart while Casey again played all 18 holes. The great course was a little slow on the front nine holes due to a tournament. Casey shot a very respectable 91 for the round. We were paired with two guys in their mid-30s. Both were graduates of Colorado University and were nearly as good at golf as is Casey. Eric Priester was joined by his guest, Rick, who works for Boise Cascade in Portland. We learned that Eric lives at the Tubac resort for three months out of the year. His local telephone number is 303-570-9400. When not here, he is a partner in a home furnishings store in Denver called “The Barn.”
The three young men played catch with a football when we had to wait for the tournament play ahead to clear the fairways.
After golf and an early dinner, Betty and I drove Casey to the Tucson airport, arriving by 6 p.m. He flew a red eye flight back to Washington, DC and was fortunate to get upgraded to a first class seat. He arrived home mid-morning Sunday. Betty and I stopped for a quick burger at the Cow Palace Restaurant on our way back to Tubac from the airport.
On Sunday morning, Betty and I walked around the Tubac resort for a mile or two to admire many of its fancy vacation and retirement homes either there or under construction. Prices start at $500,000. We happened to see Eric and Rick and were invited into Eric’s two-bedroom, two-bath casita duplex by No. 3 tee. It has about 700 square feet and is owned by his family. He said it rents for about $100 a night and invited us to call him if we wanted to rent it or nearby property owned by people he knows.
We checked out of the Tubac resort about 11 a.m. (total charges for the room, meals and golf were nearly $1,000). We stopped at Mission San Javier on the outskirts of Tucson during our drive back to the airport. The tourist attraction was jammed with people there to celebrate mass and to see the Indian Crafts Festival.
We got the rental Taurus back to the rental agency by 1 p.m. so we had no extra charges for a change. Our 2:20 p.m. flight from Tucson to Dallas was full but on time. We were told there were high winds in Dallas that closed four to six runways so the flight had to circle and park on the runway for a long time before we could get to the terminal. We had enough time in the terminal to have dinner at McDonald’s while we waited for our Northwest flight to Memphis. We learned the high winds resulted in it being diverted to Austin and having to circle over Dallas.
We finally got out three hours late and sat on the runway for an additional hour. We made it home at 2:30 p.m. Monday – exhausted by the airline and weather delays.
More condo repairs, purchases at Gulf Shores, Ala.
Dec. 27, 2005 – Jan. 2, 2006 – To Gulf Shores, Ala.
Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores, Ala., in her Ford Focus “Fiona,” with our pet greyhound Dickens riding in the back. We pulled out of our Memphis home at 8:30 a.m. and had a sunny day with the temperature in the mid-60s for the drive. The traffic was about average for this time of year and we made it to our hurricane-hit condo on West Beach in 8 hours.
Water damage from the leaky roof wasn’t as bad as we feared it would be. But we were greeted by the depressing sight of dirty concrete floors missing the wall-to-wall carpeting and seeing exposed nail-pad boards at the wall-floor line. Buildings and roads in the beach area around our condo were still a mess. Hurricane Katrina had savaged the coastal area two months before – on last August 29 - with the strongest force recorded, a Category 5 storm that caused the loss of 1,500 lives and a great many millions of dollars worth of destroyed buildings and other infrastructure in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Ironically, most of the damage from Hurricane Ivan – another Category 5 storm which struck Gulf Shores 11 months previously - Sept. 16, 2004 – had been repaired shortly before Hurricane Katrina tore up the rebuilding Gulf Coast again. We had gone without a major storm since buying our condo two decades earlier before being slammed with a double whammy.
We were surprised at the extent of the rust stains to our bed frame and the bedroom table lamps from water that got inside our condo during Katrina. We were also surprised by the lousy condition of the night stands that were swollen with water damage and mildew from the leaky roof. The damage evidently worsened as mildew set in a few days after the initial damage estimate and report by an insurance adjuster soon after the hurricane. We were also surprised to see that the TV in the living area still worked. The VCR condition was a mystery.
But since we had electric power, at least our place was habitable even if it no longer offered the comfort level that we were accustomed to having after 20 years of ownership. Once we got an idea of what had to be done to bring the condo back to pre-hurricane livability, we repaired to the Gulf Shores Wal-Mart to buy two small rugs then to a nearby restaurant for a good takeout shrimp dinner.
We found that though small, the newly purchased rugs made the place more livable. We determined that other than having to replace some light bulbs, everything in our condo seemed to work with reasonable satisfaction.
The next day, December 28, we inventoried our “needs list” and started work. Our first day tasks included making telephone calls to Kaiser Realty, Joe Somers of the Gulf Village Association board of directors and painter Randy Wheeler. We visited Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie to purchase supplies. Betty went to the sprawling Tanger Outlet Mall in nearby Foley, Ala. to buy more supplies. I had strained my back and took a muscle relaxant so I could nap for a couple of hours.
We found time to walk Dickens two miles on the road and on the beach, much of which had been washed away by the hurricane. I was surprised to learn of the extent of the damage that had not been reported in publications I had monitored. A strip shopping center to the east is completely gone, as are several houses and condo buildings near our unit. The exterior of the Crystal Tower is still under construction across the street from our building and is looming huge.
On the way back from the mall, Betty picked up some fresh shrimp at the gas station fish market on the highway and we had an excellent dinner. We went to bed early in our now-sad-looking condo.
The next day, October 29, we started work early again with telephone calls to Kaiser Realty, Joe Somers and others. Kaiser finally located our missing bedding (which they had removed from the unit in the face of the approaching hurricane). We went to pick it up and while there visited with Roger Kaiser (the agent who sold us the property 20 years ago) and rental managers Lorrie and Susie.
Roger seems to be okay with my plan to proceed with repairs to the unit’s interior even though the roof is still “temped” pending final repairs by the roofing contractor. I had earlier been told that the new roof would be ready by Christmas. (It wasn’t.)
Betty bought two table lamps and parts at Wal-Mart. We had a quick lunch at Gulf Shores State Park’s golf course, where we saw the snack shop’s Joan still looking slim, her co-worker Sunshine and her beautiful daughter, age 14. Betty and I purchased two replacement night stands at Henry’s in Gulf Shores. We learned that a nearby hardware store doesn’t cut plexiglass and postponed our visit to a Loew’s megastore in Foley and the American Carpet store near there.
Dinner that evening was a smoked salmon brought from home in Memphis, served with tomato soup and scrambled eggs. It was excellent and a decent end to a long but productive day.
Friday, December 30 was another productive day. The high temperature was a balmy 70 degrees. The nightstands purchased the previous day were delivered. The installers suggested that we replace the rusted sofa bed mechanism so we paid Henry’s to make that repair and installation that afternoon.
Meanwhile, grade work continued on the beach in front of our building. With the help of federal storm grants, local government is having a berm built on the beach that is to be 13 feet above the high tide mark to reduce the threat of storm surges.
We returned to Lowe’s and purchased plexiglass to cover the tops of the new nightstands on which the new bedroom lamps will be placed. We purchased $932 in carpet and supplies at American Carpet. We next met with Leslie Johnson of Kaiser Realty about our risk of going ahead with the refitting of the condo interior before the building’s permanent roof was installed. I decided to accept the risk and proceed with the refitting projects out of my hopes of jump-starting the resumption of the rental program for the unit.
We agreed to pay $575 to Randy Wheeler to install new floor tile around the front door entry, touch up the interior wall and trim painting, build and install an elevated TV stand in the bedroom and a few other projects.
The weather is great, mostly sunny and fairly warm. I just wish that I could play golf, but my injured shoulder keeps me off the course. We had a very good dinner of shrimp gumbo and leftover smoked salmon. I watched on television several SEC football teams play in bowls that evening.
The next day, Saturday December 31, Betty drove to the Gulf Shores Wal-Mart to measure, and later buy, a TV that would fit the elevated shelf over the closet in the bedroom that Randy is building. She purchased a dark green, plastic table that will go on our condo’s porch once I drill holes in the bottom of the legs so it can be screwed into the wooden porch decking. While she shopped, I continued to transfer telephone numbers and addresses into my new address book, an interminable task.
Outside temperature is in the low 70s. There was heavy fog in the morning. Once it cleared and a beautiful sunny afternoon emerged, we walked Dickens two or so miles. We then purchased for dinner takeout mahi-mahi and a plate full of crab claws from the Original Oyster House. They were quite good.
There was again heavy fog on Sunday morning, Jan. 1, 2006. But we didn’t let it get in the way of a long walk of about 2.5 miles. We drove to the Gulf Shores Walgreens store to purchase batteries for the TV remote then rigged and tested the new TV on the bedroom shelf built over the closet. I finished work on my new address book and framed a new TV/cable channel guide for the ease of renters then went to the State Park golf course to practice putting and chipping. I can’t manage practice drives and long irons due to my sore shoulder. We had one of Betty’s great pork chop dishes for dinner.
Fortunately, we had a pleasant, uneventful drive home to Memphis the next day, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, in possibly record time of 7 hours and 23 minutes. Once we cleared the coastal fog and were heading north from Mobile, driving conditions were nearly ideal with temps in the mid 70s, sunny skies and none of the church traffic we see when driving home on Sundays. Due to having made some sandwiches with leftovers, we didn’t have to stop for food. We did stop for gas twice and once at a rest stop bathroom.
We got home to see that our trees were finally barren of leaves, a perfect picture of winter in stark contrast to the pleasant fall days we had enjoyed in Gulf Shores.