A half a century ago, my adventures launched me further from home, the majority of the youth of our country were on a different track completely, and the Southwest corner was my idea of Shangri-La, a home for panda bears.
The year was 1968. I had returned from my first deployment on the U.S.S. Hawkins. The old World War II vintage destroyer returned to homeport, Newport, R.I. from nine months in the Mediterranean. I joined her in Malaga, Spain for the last month.
Back in the states, military personnel were persona non grata in my age group, except for pockets of conservatism, mostly around military bases, and even then, an ensign like me stood out like a sore thumb in twenty-something party places with my regulation haircut in the midst of long-haired civilians.
Navy scuttlebutt portrayed San Diego as Fiddler’s Green with laid back sailors in bikini beach surfing heaven. I had no interest in investigating. I intended to meet my three-year obligation and get out, perhaps become a sports writer at the “Nashville Banner,” and live out my days in Middle Tennessee.
That obviously did not happen. My way has been a twisting path leading me to the Southwest corner with at least one more turn to go. I have lived in a dozen places and often marvel at the number of family and friends I have scattered all over the country – I like Facebook because I can communicate with many more of those friends now social media has arrived. However, it finally occurred to me what the differences between all of those friends and those back home in Lebanon.
The realization hit last Friday in, of all places, the San Diego Zoo. The reason was one Henry Harding.
Henry and Brenda came out to the Southwest corner to take the granddaughters Claire and Julia (along with son Jason Martin and his wife, Resa) to Disneyland and other West Coast kid places. After my usual Friday morning golf, Maureen and I met the six Middle Tennesseans at the panda bear exhibit. The Southwest corner has brought in another element of the real Shangri La.
We spent five hours walking the zoo. I never get tired of it. The animals are fascinating and my trips there are always a learning experience. The tourists and the local visitors are almost as interesting as the animals. The zoo’s locale inside the large Balboa Park complex with museums, the organ pavilion, and the Old Globe theater, a replica of Shakespeare’s home stage is beautiful and restful. But my enjoyment Friday was from spending time with Henry and his family.
We talked of long, long ago and shared stories with our wives. Henry even told Maureen of how we would often call each other at night to discuss what to wear to Lebanon Junior High, and how we were a duet on stage.
Henry and I began running together sometime just before beginning our academic adventures at McClain Elementary. Growing up, I spent about as much time at Henry’s home on South Tarver with Beetle (now better known as Jim Harding), George, and Virginia and her grandparents, the Arnolds. Henry and I went our different routes, documented here previously, but remained as close as we could be from such distances.
Friday’s time at the zoo was way too short. The Harding-Martin contingent returned to Anaheim for more vacation adventures while Maureen and I spent the rest of the weekend in what seemed like continuous activities with other friends.
My realization about friends occurred sometime in a break in the action on Sunday afternoon.
I have a world of admiration for Henry. It seems as if all of those formative years together have put us on some brain wavelength together. I can’t explain it. He is something special.
More so, as stated earlier, my Lebanon friends are different. I do not know if that is because we grew up together in the same place or there truly is a fundamental difference. Other friends whether met in the course of military duties or living in the dozen or so locations, require maintenance. I have to be careful about what I say, and there is a priority in relationships.
With my Lebanon friends, there are no priorities. We are friends, a fact that will not change.
So perhaps Shangri-La is truly back home in Lebanon.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.