Cruising Lessons

For those of you who read and offered to take my place on the cruise, I say thanks. However, I took your advice, stopped griping and went myself. It was a nice way to spend four days. Although the temperatures were below what was normal for Miami and Nassau, we still enjoyed shirt-sleeve weather over the brisk, wintry mix we left in Knoxville. I learned many things on this short trip that surprised me.

First, cruise lines have perfected the process of boarding and leaving ships. We stood in line for only a brief time. In fact, the lines at meal time might have moved slower than those that served the entire passenger lists. The federal and state government could take some pointers on handling crowds from the cruise lines. For people who have ever been to the Social Security offices or the Tennessee DMV, the suggestion will resonate. Even doctors might learn a thing or two about how to keep patients flowing through their offices.

Another thing I learned is that rudeness isn’t the exclusive characteristic of Americans. Folks on our ship rooted in lines like pigs. The bars were undermanned, a fact that led some to cut line. Some people left messes wherever they went. Yes, it’s a cruise and the crew is at everyone’s service, but that does not mean that people should leave trays lying around. One of our favorite spots to sit was on the aft deck. On one visit, it looked as if a food fight had taken place. Food and coke cans were strewn about.

I’m a huge talker, in case someone out there didn’t know. However, I pale in comparison to some on this cruise. One man who had drunk too much flapped his gums for more than thirty minutes. Amy developed a splitting headache, and we finally left. So many people occupying a ship make a lot of noise. Too many times Amy said something, but I couldn’t understand. My “hushing” got on her nerves, and I finally just shook my head when she spoke.

I also discovered that many of the crew members are from other countries. Fine. However, these individuals can’t understand good ol’ East Tennessee language. More than once I asked a question and was met with a frown, scrunched nose, and a “What” from those people. After a couple of more attempts, I turned on my heels in exasperation and made way toward the bar.

Other things I learned were more important. First, it became clear that I CAN sail the seas without becoming violently ill. Sometimes an uneasy feeling flooded over me, but I recovered quickly. Thank God for the generic form of Antivert. I also rediscovered that my best friend in the world is Amy. As Jimmy Buffet sings, “with you I’d walk anywhere.” For whatever reason, this woman puts up with me and actually loves me. Go figure. By the way, the only people who arise at 7:00 a.m. are old people, smokers, and parents with young children. Our best times on this cruise were when we sat together and read or catnapped. It’s a safe bet that Amy and I could be happy anywhere as long as we’re together.

As I write this, our ship is docked in Nassau. Amy and I took in the sites and then returned to the boat to sit by the pool. Soon we’ll have completed our first cruise. We might take another one some time, or we might decide to visit some beach where we can sit all day. As long as we are together, it won’t matter.

Feeding a Family

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, money was tight at our house. Daddy worked at Southern Extract, a paper mill, and Mother had begun her teaching career when my twin Jim and I began first grade in 1958. Still, the income was thinly stretched to meet monthly expenses incurred by our family. It was a time that demanded creative thinking in many areas. One concerned food for the family.

Like many families in the Ball Camp area, we had a vegetable garden. Half of our back yard was plowed, rows of corn, potatoes, and beans were planted. In side areas, Daddy put out onions and peppers. He also had a strawberry patch. Jim and I were sent to pull weeds from the garden. When produce came in, we shucked corn and broke beans. Potatoes were spread out on the ledges of our unfinished basement. Mother sweated over the stove as she prepared vegetables for canning and freezing. She also preserved blackberries, grapes, and strawberries, as well as making jellies from them.

Daddy decided to cut expenses by raising chickens. We got the eggs for breakfasts. On some Saturdays, he’d come out the back door, walk to the chicken coop at the edge of the yard, and grab one of the chickens. He’d wring its neck and take the carcass to Mother. She’d pluck it, cut it up, and, on Sunday, make some of the best fried chicken that ever floated in Crisco.

At some point, our parents made an investment in a chest freezer. It was so big that it occupied one whole corner of the bedroom Jim and I used. It hummed as it ran and put off enough heat to make sleeping in the summer sometimes impossible. Mother stocked part of the appliance with the vegetables and fruits she prepared in the summer.

We carried our lunch to work and school each day. A loaf of bread didn’t last long. Daddy saved money by visiting the bread store each payday. He’d load our ’54 Chevy with loaves of day-old bread and a variety of snacks such as fruit pies, jelly rolls, and raisin or banana cream-filled cakes. When he got home, Daddy loaded the freezer. Our sandwiches sometimes had a bit of freezer-burn taste, and on occasion, the cakes or pies were still frozen as hard as rocks when lunch time came around.

One year Daddy bought to calves and enclosed them with electric fence in one section of the yard. They became pets to us, and we were distraught one day when they no longer were there. Not long afterward, Daddy came back from Herron’s with the trunk of the car loaded with all sorts of beef wrapped in white paper and labeled. Jim and I were upset and asked him if he’d had the two calves slaughtered. He told us no. Instead, Daddy explained that he’d “traded” the calves for an equal amount of meat. We bought the story hook, line, and sinker and ate the meat at mealtime. It was only later that the truth—that we’d eaten the calves we'd named—was told to us.

Our family survived, and we boys ate well, as is apparent in photos of two rotund boys with buzzed haircuts. Our parents worked hard to earn a living, and they worked even harder to provide food for our table. I wish I could tell them both thanks.

Cruise Correction

Hey, I'm not against going on this cruise. I just know that sometimes I screw things up for others. My only real concern is the inner ear/vertigo. I sure don't want to be stricken and thereby ruin the trip for Amy. She deserves better than that. I've had several people offer to take my place on this cruise. I appreciate the offer, but, uh, NO WAY! If things work out, my plan is to make the next trip to Alaska.


After thirty-five years of married life, Amy and I have decided it’s time to take a cruise. This first one will be short. It would be a disaster to be on one of those ten day jaunts and discover half way through it that we hated the whole thing. I’m still nervous enough about going.

To begin with, the first trip we scheduled was canceled. Something was wrong with the ship on which we were to sail. Somehow that doesn’t inspire a great deal confidence in the cruise line. Thoughts of the Titanic and sinking ships in the Caribbean come to mind. Was the breakdown an portent of things to come should we decide to go? I’m not sure that we’ll enjoy our destination this time. Are the Bahamas better than Key West and Cozumel?

I don’t travel so well anyway. We will be in Miami for almost two days before boarding the ship. Too many television shows have me feeling uncomfortable about spending that much time in a strange city. Ask my family. For some inexplicable reason, I always manage to get us lost at least once in the seedier parts of cities. Whether it’s been in Charleston, SC, Tampa, FL, or Nashville, TN, I’ve managed to navigate the car to the most crime-infested areas of those places, and I do so at night. The good lord has watched over us to keep trouble from finding us as I zipped our car through dangerous neighborhoods in search of an Interstate ramp. With my luck, we’ll end up in some kind of predicament that would make a perfect screen play for “Miami Vice.”

Most of all, I’m concerned about getting seasick. I have a chronic ear problem that can instantly bring on terrible cases of vertigo. Hey, don’t laugh. I might be the only person in the history of Disney World to get sick on the paddle boat ride from the parking area to the park. I know that patches behind the ear are supposed to take care of most problems, but the thoughts of hopping on board, turning green, and needing to toss my cookies have me hedging just a bit. If I’m in the middle of the ocean on a boat and am sick as a dog, I might fall overboard as I hang my head to feed the fish. Either that or Amy might shove me over to keep from hearing my whining. Lying on the bed and praying to God that the world will stop spinning isn’t my idea of a fun vacation.

If all goes well, as Amy predicts, we’ll have a wonderful time and wish the trip had been longer. I’ll hold all evaluations until my feet once again hit solid ground. With a little luck, I’ll arrive back in Knoxville tanned and contented in the end of February. Is so, I might stock up on those patches so we can take one of those long cruises next. Wish me luck. Bon Voyage!

Readjusting to Adjusting

Dallas has been home for a couple of weeks now. He brought his dog Baxter as well. Life has been an adjustment for him, Amy. Snoop, and me. I wasn’t sure we could co-exist after seven years, but so far things have worked well.

He took over Lacey’s old room since I turned his into my office. He loaded it with clothes and some of the more essential things for living. We agreed to share my office. I need to time to write and he needs time to fill out applications and respond to job postings. Somehow, the boy and I have managed to maintain a cordial relationship and to share time on the computer.

Dallas also attached his X-box 360 to the television in the office. I’ve have never asked for a turn. Just watching him play a couple of times has convinced me that I don’t have the manual dexterity, stomach, or calmness to succeed on such a thing. My arthritic fingers couldn’t begin to push buttons or flip switches quickly enough to win any game. In one session, Dallas managed to defeat the entire Japanese army forces that were entrenched on an island. Blood flowed as he shot, stabbed, and blew up enemy soldiers. In all the games, opponents are either trying to do the same to him or squash him into the sod of an athletic field. Were I to engage in one of those games, my nerves would be frayed before I ever got half way through the most elementary stages of a video game. I learned years ago how poorly I could compete when Lacey, as a four year old, beat my brains out in a game of Mario Brothers.

My son isn’t comfortable here. His bed is still in Chattanooga, and he suffers through bouts of insomnia, and I feel for him. He sometimes slips off in the early evening for a power nap. That rests him enough so that sleep is difficult and then he’s up into the early morning hours. The noise he creates wakes me up since I’m such a light sleeper. Of course, now when Snoop wants to go outside in the middle of the night, Baxter insists upon going as well. Neither dog obeys worth a darn, so I spend several minutes whistling, yelling, and cursing to get them in.

What I’ve learned since Dallas came back to our house is that I like him. Dads love their sons, but not all like them. When the boy left home at eighteen, he and I didn’t always see eye to eye, meaning he didn’t do all that I demanded. That led to some tense moments. Now, Dallas is a college graduate, and I keep telling him that “it’s all good.” He’s completed the biggest dream I had for him. We spend much of our time teasing each other, but we also find moments to have serious discussions. I respect and admire the person my son has become.

Dallas moved home to begin a job with a company. He completed his training, but since then he hasn’t heard a word. He’s going back to Chattanooga to look for a position and also to find some part-time work. More than anything else, he’s going “HOME” where his life has been for the last seven years. I’d just gotten comfortable with his return. Amy and I are going to be just a bit lonely without him, but what’s most important is his happiness. We’ll just have to readjust our previous adjustments.