Walking in Dayton: Camping and Freezing with Troop 6

So here’s a big disclaimer. Feel free to e-mail, text, or call with your righteous indignations at the following statements. But believe me when I tell you I do not care already.

Here it is. I have never been a fan of the Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts. My older brother was one, still not a fan.  My son is one. Still not. I’ve never been woodsy and I am loathed to sell microwave popcorn for hours on end out front The Kroger.  The fact the crates say “Gourmet Popcorn” but smell like moldy grass only emboldens my stance.

And since modern day Cub/Boy Scouts is predicated on being woodsy and indenturing first graders into selling popcorn curbside at The Kroger, count me out.

Of course having said all that, Frank loved Cub Scouts and he now loves being a Boy Scout. So while I am an ass, I have put my assiness aside to support my oldest offspring. If you need proof of that statement, and I sure would if I were you, behold! That’s me at The Crossover. Supporting my kid just like I said.

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Loyal, Kind, and Respectful, he amazes me constantly.

The Crossover is when Cub Scouts move on to become Boy Scouts. Honestly I didn’t think he wanted to do it. He said as much. But at the last minute with some prodding from his mother he decided to attend the Crossover ceremony and listen to the sales pitch from the scout leader of what would be his new troop.  The millisecond he was told Troop 6 was the oldest troop in Knoxville and founded in 1915, the boy was sold.  He is on such a history bender right now it’s tough to describe.

In the pic we’re about to fist bump after he’s crossed the bridge and met his new Troop. He’s telling me his new Troop is over 100 years old. He was stoked. And I have to say, my disdain for the Scouts was overwhelmed by my son’s happiness. And not for nothing, the kids handled the Crossover very well.  They didn’t have to come, they just wanted to welcome Frank and the other two boys crossing over.

The young Scouts met Frank when he literally crossed over the bridge on stage as well as figuratively crossing over from Cub Scout to Boy Scout.  They had a Troop 6 patch for his shirt and new neckerchief in hand as they met him on the other side of the bridge.

It helped to amp up what was fast becoming an emotional scene. Of course add to that the beaming look on Frank’s face when the two older boys shook his hand and very professionally welcomed him to the Boy Scouts and the eyes got misty. Mine not his.

Afterwards it was dinner time. That’s when I got the sales pitch. I was prepared with a few diatribes, rants, and all around general musings of Scouting in America. But I laid all that down.  I had to. The kid was in. But the dude still pitched me anyway. It didn’t help. He gushed about the hiking and the camping and the hiking and the camping again, and more camping with some hiking. It was like he was daring me to go on a rant. And I don’t need much encouragement. 

In a word – I don’t camp.  The operative word there being don’t in case you’re not keeping up. And for those of you who know me, we didn’t camp in the Air Force either. I had turn down and pillow mints when I spent time in Central America. Air Force ain’t got no time for no camping. 

Of course I just lied to you. Because on the first camping trip Frank’s new Troop had, I went. So apparently I do camp, or did camp, and might possibly be camping again. Mr. Levy, my freshman year English teacher from high school, would be proud of my conjugation efforts there I think. Maybe not.

Anyway so yeah, I hiked and camped all in one trip. I got nature on me. Had to. I made a decision right there on that stage when my son came directly over to me after getting his new patch and neckerchief with a huge smile and look of pride, that I would support his scouting for as long as he wanted me to.  No matter how much I disliked it.

I folded, caved, gave in. I’m soft, I know it. And that was a problem for various reasons.

First of all, the Saturday morning of the hike to the camp site it was 30 warm hugging degrees when we gathered in the church parking lot to depart as a group. What was billed as one of the most active Troops in Tennessee was a little light on adult attendance I noticed. Below freezing temps will do that to a person. As will the knowledge that 30 degrees was the warmest it was going to get that day.

No matter, Frank was in so that meant I was too. And off we went. The drive to the Ranger Station and trail head was twice as long as the hike would take.  The drive took us through Dayton Tennessee and the hiking/camping area was not far from Dayton. Any of you history nerds care to hazard a guess as to the significance of that? Google the Scopes Monkey Trial and get back to me.

We had already checked all our gear, but we did another quick inventory when we yanked the packs from the trunk and we were good. I have to admit we got some cool stuff. Frank got his first real knife to call his own. I busted out some of the stuff that somehow never got turned in when I retired 11 years ago, carried my father’s small ditty bag from his days as an Army draftee in 1950, and a  zip lock bag loaded with chik-fil-a. Man we were set. I was actually feeling good about it. Temp still had not breeched 30 degrees.

The hike it self was uneventful. About a mile and half, maybe a tad longer, barely uphill until the final 200 or so yards to the camp site. We were warm from the hike though.  My pack weighed in at 47lbs, Frank’s at 22lbs. I was told by the scout leader 45 to 50lbs was about normal. That sounded heavy to me but what do I know.

Guess what, it was heavy. Frank’s was too but that kid could have carried mine he was so damn happy. He had his own tent because he wanted to be on his own like the high school kids in the troop. I get it, no problem. And because we practiced setting the up the night before we left, we had them up in short order.

Frank was a part of six new boy scouts to the troop, so while the older kids went on a five mile hike, Frank and the other newbies stayed in camp. That time was filled with lessons on the basics of camping, caring for the environment, scouting history, knife and fire safety and so forth. The guy did a great job and most of the six participated and did well. Of course Frank didn’t speak up until the history of the Scouts came up. Then he plowed through the questions. Another proud moment.

Then it started getting colder. Looked at my weather app and it said 26 degrees. I decided not to look at my weather app anymore. My mind was calculating how cold it could get when the sun actually goes down and what effect that may have on the sleeping part of the entertainment.

On the ground if you aren’t following, we were essentially sleeping on the ground. Yeah I had a sleeping bag rated to below zero, and by the way that became an issue. And yeah I had a “mat” under the bag, but lets not be aristocrats here. That mat was not making the frozen ground one wit more comfortable for a 225lb full grown man. But really the ground was not the issue.

It was the freaking cold! That was the issue. I was tucked in my bag fully dressed save my boots. I had a hat and gloves on and a face mask. A very cool looking face mask I might add. And since I have been trained by your tax dollars, I had the next days clothes I was gonna wear packed in the sleeping bag with me. I did put on clean clothes to sleep in. I had gone through various stages of sweating and not sweating in the clothes I wore all day. Figured it would feel better with clean clothes on and it did. Plus I hung them over the fire right before I changed into them.

A father actually asked me “Won’t they reek of smoke?” Yeah man they will, but I’m good with that. What I wanted to say was Bro, its south of 25 degrees and we ain’t done. There is not a cloud in the night sky which means any heat left in the sub atmosphere is rapidly escaping the earth. Meaning whatever real temp it gets down to, it will feel colder than that. Smoke filled clothes is the very least of our worries right now.

But he was a really nice guy and was probably worried more about his kid than anything and I was likely overreacting to the impending ice age, so I bit my lip. Frank seemed unaffected. I felt like I should worry more about him but he was so damn happy. He changed, bundled himself in his bag, and was out. Kids.

It was cold man. Laying on the ground letting the cold drain your life away is not a lot of fun. The area around my eyes was the only exposed part. Opening my eyes was not good either as I could feel my eyeballs immediately  get cold. Such a weird sensation. In the morning I had another issue. I had basically stood up all day. Even by the fire and during the big dinner and camp skits the boys put on, I was standing up.

That became a problem when I tried to get up and get out of the tent the next morning. My calves and thighs literally gave up.

Yeah screw you man, we have gone as far as we can carry you my friend. You got your last click out of us.

And down I went, into the leaves. On my face. Like a struggling turtle in the heat of the sun, except in the freezing damn cold and in reverse. I flipped over from my face onto my back. That’s when I saw it.

Why the hell is the top of my tent all white? And why does my face feel frozen but burning?  Well the tent, which I thought would be useless, acted as a barrier to the decent layer of frost that settled on the area. That frost would have been on me without the tent. So the tent did it’s job. Lesson learned.

My face burned because the small area under my eyes left uncovered, my cheek bones I guess, was also frosted over. These revelations aside, I still needed to pee. I was still on my back in the leaves. I needed my legs. It was gonna be a tough morning.

Finally got my legs under me, took care of all morning ablutions and got the fire going. I received a few kudos from the veteran parents who were there. I had the fire rolling by the time they all got up. They made breakfast for everyone and we broke camp. By the time we policed up the grounds and doused the remains of the fire it was 60 degrees.

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Proof of life shot. Alive and much warmer.

We were sweating like pigs when we made it to the car. For some reason we both laughed as we loaded everything in the trunk. Not sure why.

Also important to note, I may be soft but I’m not dumb. I left shorts and t-shirts in the car for us to drive home in. Man that felt so good. Like taking off your boots after skiing all day.

We talked about Dayton as we drove through town, knocking down fries and shakes from the local establishment. He was riveted about the history of Dayton, astonished it was only an hour from our house.  We talked about the events of what we just went through together, laughed hard about me laying in the leaves and a lot of other stuff. Even cussed a little.

Anyway then we had to call Mrs Frank’s Place to tell her we survived and that we had slept in 16 degree weather, the lowest temperature point during the night. I let a few four letter words slip, as is my Modis Operandi, and was scolded immediately.

Frank blurted out, We’re mountain men now mommy this is how we talk! I supported with an Amen Brother! Then hung up the phone. We went back to our fries and our walk through history.

We’re mountain men now, that’s what we do.

 

 

Family: Just a dinner table away.

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.

Americana in the South.

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.

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Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

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.

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Sorry Chief, still can’t call you Joe.

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.

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Chief Davidson on my right. Ramey on my left. Family.

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.

 

 

You’re throwing out my best work!

I knew it would catch up to me sometime. Honestly I thought it would be him to catch me and not her. She just seemed so indifferent about it all anyway. I really didn’t think she’d care. She never showed much interest at all as far as I could tell. So her reaction was a little surprising.

No matter. The deed was done and I was caught red handed. Not much to say at this point. Her reaction is really the least of the concerns. It’s a trust issue now. The sideways glances and the constant wondering will be my punishment.

Funny really, it’s been going on for some time, a few years at least. But it’s the same old story. I got complacent, got lazy, too comfortable. Let my guard down and I got busted plain and simple. Obviously the relationship will never be the same. My only hope is she’s not damaged from this.

I can tell you it will be a moment I will never forget. The sadness on her face, the slumped shoulders and that phrase that keeps replaying in my mind over and over and over again. “Daddy! You’re throwing out my best work!”

I’m not sure what was worse, the tears welling up in her eyes as if to say How could you do that? Or her feeble attempt to rescue some of her work from the trash, clutching it like a strung out former Disney artist trying to get past the gate guard with some sketches she did on a cocktail napkin, hoping for one last shot.

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This one is safe!

Yeah I’m not proud of throwing out her completed school work. And I owe an apology to her teacher Mrs Givens and her pre-school teachers. They put in the work to get AM to this point. But really, if I’m being honest, I’m more disappointed I got caught.

You know it’s really just a pragmatic thing. Where the hell are we supposed to store every macaroni art or penmanship paper with upper and lower case Ks written on them? Well? Where do you keep it all? You know you’re glad it was me and not you. You all are secretly agreeing with me as you publicly judge.

Look it’s not like she’s dropping the first act of Othello or something. She had to pick four words that started with the letter K and then draw each word. One of the words she picked was Kind. Kind! I asked her how in the world was she was going to draw Kind. Well, screw me cause she did it. And it was good. So yeah it was a great effort, and vitally important to her development. But lets not get crazy, they aren’t clearing room on the roof of the Sistine Chapel for it.

But for the next few days, after she came home from school, she glanced in the kitchen trash can before putting up her backpack. I know it’s not funny but it made me laugh for some reason. Yeah, I’m a chooch. That ain’t exactly breaking news.

So now I burn them in the fire pit.

Haha just kidding. No really, now we have storage boxes, unused, pure as the driven snow, kept as secure as any repository could be, to preserve her works of art and penmanship. I’m now reformed and a new mission has risen from the trash heap as it were.

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Treasures

When we move from this house or I go to the eternal dirt nap that comes for us all, very large trucks will deliver all the boxes that will have kept me from having my own man cave. In my dream, the trucks drive in formation while some weird old time show tune plays in the background.

They pull up to wherever Anne Marie is living, preferably a 3rd floor walk up in Manhattan. The drivers, festooned in the garb of their profession, will move quickly and quietly in perfect unison, much like the Marine Corp Silent Drill Team.

And if there is a God in heaven, the first boxes will break the plane of Anne Marie’s apartment threshold just as her five year old is blasting her for 86ing that newly created Rembrandt, crafted on finger paint day.

The first box will have a note on top that will simply read, “AM: This is why.” And in that moment, as box after box parades into her living space to the back hallway between the kitchen and the guest can, a revelation. A true moment of self reflection in which my little Anne Marie, all grown up with Anne Marie’s of her own, will say the same thing I say now about my old man: The older I get the smarter he gets.

Twas ever thus.

 

50 Years a Memory: Treasures from the Attic

As I may have mentioned, the house I grew up in, the house that was built for us 50 years ago this past July, is on the market. My mom is moving out after the death of my father in 2015 and it’s time to clean the place out. I may also have mentioned we are the only people to ever live in that house and we have accumulated 50 years worth of “stuff”. Well the work has begun and actually nearing its end. My little sister, aka The Warden, is running the show. Sometimes 660 miles is a good distance.

Not gonna lie, the thought of all that work makes me tired. I sheepishly have to admit I have the best of both worlds. I am doing none of the work but getting a lot of the stories and pictures of the stuff they find as la mia famiglia work through 50 years of stuff stuffed into two attics. Here is one of the treasures they found.

Yeah you can say it, I was adorable.

That’s me, your humble author, spring of 1972 I think. Had to be cowboy day in kindergarten or something. I know it’s not first grade. I was sentenced to eight years at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic school for grades 1-8. Hence I would have been in uniform or some type of prison togs or what have you.

That picture, as it turns out was the tip of the iceberg. I really never considered what documents or photos they might find. The bulk of the conversation always centered around the big orange tractor pictured two stories ago, the massive above ground pool filter that favored a small fission reactor, and a conspiracy laced theory that my parents had just tossed my brother’s, now worth a small fortune, collection of baseball cards from their youth in the small downstairs attic. Since their youth occurred in the 1960s there may be some good cards in the pile. Probably gonna be a Capone’s vault type of thing but it’s a fun story.

Micky Mantle’s rookie card aside there was some finds of more significance , at least in my mind. My brother has always had a nose for politics and we have great conversations every time he rolls through Knoxville. Now I know why that is.

A little highbrow but it gets the message across.

Behold, historical documents from his first campaign for public office. Not sure of the date on this but campaign budgets were clearly a little tight then. It’s also unclear from the historical documents recovered from what I believe is the upstairs attic dig, of exactly what the outcome was. There was no evidence of a reelection campaign so I think it’s safe to assume this particular bid at public service went begging.

Maybe one of my sisters or even The Man himself will clarify that and what exactly the Office of Chairman was. Keep in mind what we know about politics now was completely different back then. For all we know Chairman might be Class President. Or it could be chief chalk eraser clapper/cleaner. Hard to say.

There were some other good finds in those attics. At the risk of breaking my arm as I pat myself on the back, here is some evidence of where my love of reading comes from. My kids both howled at this when I explained the play on words. But it was a timely find as Frank is starting to learn the importance of reading well. Not just because it’s smart to do so, but because reading is the key to being good at math and science, two of his favorite subjects currently.

Some subtle irony there if you can see it.

If I remember correctly 1978 would have been 5th grade for me. I do remember my teacher, Mrs Fisher. Even at the rip old age of nine years old I thought she was cute as a button. She was the teacher who figured out I needed glasses. My grades predictably went up from that point. Mrs Fisher was a cool teacher and a large part of my roaring success with reading. Scanning the landscape of Frank’s, and now Anne Marie’s grade school, I take comfort in how many Mrs Fishers I see waiting for them as they progress. Lot of memories in that little card.

Some other cool finds were my dad’s duffle bag and nap sack from his time in the Army. My sister’s leg brace that she wore for a s long as I can remember when we were kids was unearthed. Of course there were more pictures and other things. Mostly more memories.

Here are a few of the pics recovered from the operation.:

That’s us. Must be 1980ish in our living room.

Three generations – one house.

That last one was not found in the attic. That’s just a shot of my Frank and his grandfather Frank, Poppy as they called him. Both with the official name of Francis. Summer of 2010 I think. So if you’re keeping score that’s three generations of Francis’s in our dinning room.

The other pic was clearly found in the attic. That’s the eight of us with our parents in 1981/82 maybe. Not sure the occasion but we are lined up for some reason in our living room at the time.

Final memory from the attic in the only house we ever knew.

Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

That shot is my childhood. All of us around the dinning room table. The warden was having a birthday. So it’s November 1975 maybe. That’s me sporting the white belt after labor Day. Always the risk taker.

Brace yourself, I’m going nostalgic. Birthdays for us happened around that table. Period. Granted with 8 of us we had a built in party, but the dining room table was our spot. All those trips back to Jersey since I’ve moved to Knoxville end up in that room, sitting around the table telling stories or making fun of someone. Well at least they did. Someone else will get to sit there now. Maybe for another 50 years.

Imagine the stories they’ll share.