A rare respite on a warm Saturday night. Seems so easy right now but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I don’t sit in the cul-de-sac and write more often. Girl is riding her scooter, Milo T Dog is at my feet, my long lost friend Diet Coke is losing it’s battle with the melting ice. We’re approaching some sort of Norman Rockwell worm hole.
Of course it’s not like the heyday of the Sac. Those were the lazy hazy nights, and some mornings, as we sat out in the darkness night-drinking, fixing American politics and Tennessee Football. That gang is gone now but we have to start anew at some point.
So today, at the precipice of the dog days of August, I decided was the day to take a seat and fire off something that’s been buzzing in my head since an old friend passed through town not too long ago.
I’m gonna ask your forgiveness for this obvious point, family is a great thing. A lot of you are aware I had a huge family growing up. And still do. Holidays were great. They still would be if not for the almost 700 miles separation between me and my family in Jersey. I love living in Knoxville but there are time’s I’d rather be in South Jersey. But it’s tough to complain. I’ve been spoiled my whole life. I grew up with seven brothers and sisters. My mom hasn’t skipped a beat and my father lived into his late 80s, sharp as a tack until the moment of truth.
I was born into another big family when we decided to settle in Knoxville and raise our kids there. Staying in the Sac has been one of the better decisions I’ve made. Lifelong friendships have been forged on those weekend nights in the street. But like all things, change is inevitable. Several Sac-ites have moved off, and now my forever Friday golf partner is moving to Arizona to run a church.
Honestly my first thought was how much I’d miss him. A millisecond later my next thought was how great the golfing in Arizona is and when am I slated to visit Amarillo for work again. Arizona is just a quick plane ride from the Panhandle. And I know John would be disappointed in me if I thought otherwise. And a big thanks to those of you who have reached out to check on me. I’m fine. And as John and I both agreed a long time ago, if one of us died on a Monday the other would still tee it up that Friday. And while I’m aware people will not believe this, it’s not the golf. The lunch at Soccer Taco after or the breakfast at Waffle House when we get rained out that makes the Friday meet up so enjoyable. Tough to quantify the last nine or so years breaking bread with the same dude every Friday.
And of course I lucked out again with my work family. New members are added almost daily it seems these days. And as the family “down the plant” gets bigger, and the lunch table more crowded, it keeps getting better. Like I said, spoiled rotten for as long as I can remember.
But the family roaming around my thoughts right now is my military family. Normally I’d say Air Force but now after 22 years in and almost nine retired, it occurred to me my military family not only spans different branches, it spans different countries. Hey Bernie, Go Les Habitants! I’ve been spoiled there too. Not just with great lifelong friendships but with great mentors.
I named four friends/mentors in the bio of this blog. Click on my name next to the link that says Home and you can read about them. A person could not dream up a better start to their military career than I had. That continued on during my time at the NCO Academy. I have no idea why I was granted such advantages, but I was and I’m a better person for it. I can’t imagine the giant ass I would have become without those family members in my life.
Well, yes I can.
Part of that family rolled through Knoxville a week or so ago and immediately extended an invite to dinner to catch up. I had not seen Chief Joseph E Thornell, or JET and his wife Kerry, in a long while. He was the commandant I served under the longest when I was an instructor at the NCO Academy. To this day I cannot call him Joe. Regardless of differences in opinion he will always be my commandant and will always be Chief to me. But more importantly he and Kerry will always be family.
In Jersey my whole family spent hours around the dinning room table. That’s where life happened. Witness the birthday of my youngest sister. You may know her by her given name Kathleen. But those special few know her by her real name, The Warden.
That’s me wearing a white belt on November 30th. I was a fashion risk taker even back then. I’m also sub-consciously flipping the bird. The verbalization of that gesture has become the foundation of my vocabulary.
Anyway the point is family’s just don’t eat. They break bread. They commune. The commiserate. The food is so secondary. What’s special about that space in the picture is no matter how old we got, no matter how far we moved away, when we came to visit we gathered there.
Last Friday I met Chief Thornell and Kerry and some other old friends from my Academy days and we sat ourselves down at the dinner table. Now that table was in Calhoun’s, a restaurant in Maryville TN, but dinner is where the food is. And family is where the dinner is.
It was like the years since we’d seen each other never happened. We told old war stories to be sure, but the bonds between all of us showed no signs of time or distance. It seemed to me as I drove home thinking about all of that and paying zero attention to the road, sorry lady at the Kroger intersection, real family is like that.
Time is different for family. Time doesn’t have the same impact, it doesn’t move in the same way. It’s not linear. Time in familial bonds happens all at the same time regardless of distance and frequency. And then time restarts when that family sits down to eat. In fact if it wasn’t for the gray, and or lack of, hair there would be no sign that time had passed between any of us.
The restaurant itself had changed over time. Chief was quick to point out we had all gone to a lunch in this joint way back when it was a Ruby Tuesdays. I remember it as the site where part of my family, who will remain anonymous, Hupp, Stoudt, and Kumes, bet I could not take down the deluxe ice cream cake sundae on the menu. It was the kind that came with four spoons. I said, “Remove the other three my good man as I will be doing desert alone this afternoon.” That was a situation where winning quickly became losing.
It must be the dinner table. Maybe it’s a time machine that turns back the clock when family members gather round. Honestly the conversation wasn’t even that profound. But the visit with Chief JET and Chief Davidson, my last commandant, and some of the gang from the academy, left me with a feeling of wonder on the ride home. I have been spoiled with some great families in my life time.
Ironically this little weepy screed is the product of time. Surely my age has left me to take stock of my life lived so far. I’m only 50 so I have no designs on the big dirt nap yet. But enough time has passed to take stock of what life has been so far. And so far, no matter where I’ve lived or served, it’s been dinner tables and family.
As far as life goes, that’s not too shabby.
Great message Fran. Great memories too, We will always be family. Stay strong.
Thanks Chief. Great seeing you and Kerry.