Friday, June 28, 2013

Catherine believed strongly in the "Secret Ballot"

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Only occasionally did I challenge my mother's viewpoint on important matters, but I well remember that one of those opportunities came around at least every four years.  After every major election I would hound Catherine LeDuke in an attempt to get her to tell me who she had just voted for.  And always she would insist that it was none of my business.

"That's why the voting booth has a curtain around it," she would say.  "To keep nosy people like you in the dark."  I got to hear on a regular basis about the importance of the secret ballot; a "more-than-I-really-wanted" history lesson about the need for people to feel secure and confident that when they pulled the election lever their vote was known only to them.

Now I never really fought against the concept of the secret ballot. But what I tried to explain to her was that in my opinion her one vote, known only to her, was not as meaningful to the election as that vote cast by someone else who made his choice known to all around him; mainly, of course, before he entered the voting booth.

When I asked mother who she was going to vote for, and then got the usual lecture, I would start my spiel.  If you really care about that candidate (whomever it "secretly" is), you should let everyone know that he is going to get your vote.  If you can influence just 5 people, and get them to agree with your choice, then you have just made your vote 5 times greater.

I never really understood why she wouldn't accept my argument.  I do know that my daddy never had any hesitation about expressing his opinion, but I must admit that he had figured out early on in their relationship that when it came to politics Catherine LeDuke would make up her own mind; and keep it secret from everyone.
The following is a short letter written on October 26, 1944 by James Neville to Catherine while he was in X-Ray Tech training in Springfield, Mo.  It is not a particularly important letter; but a typical one of several hundred written by him during this WWII time period.  

                                                             September 26th
Dearest One,  I love you.
     As some of the old folks on the mail route used to sing as I brought the mail "The mail man comes, but he don't bring me no mail!"  That's my story.  No letters today.  Your letters (for no fault of yours) arrive none one day, two the next, none the next, etc.
     I mailed a pkge to Miss Cathie LeDuke and Master James Neville LeDuke Jr (together) today.  Some chocolate bars and couple of pkges of gum.  I was tempted last nite to eat a piece (PX was closed yesterday for inventory) but I managed to put down the temptation.
     I am at the Service Club now starting to study for tomorrow's exam, but I had to write you a note first.
This letter was written just days after
 FDR's famous "Fala Speech"

 I voted Tuesday.  It was with a great deal of hesitancy and doubt that I voted for Roosevelt and Truman.  Had I remained at home I would not have, but this campaign on Deweys part (somehow, I don't know why) made up my mind for me to vote for R & T.  Truman I can hardly stomach, but I don't like Dewey that much.  I hope I have decided rightly.
      I love you, sweetheart, with all my heart.  Wish we could be together.
     You can send me the $20.00 sometime.  I can make no comment - I'm too surprised and pleased.  But don't send it if you need it on the note or something.  If you do need it, use it.  If you don't I'll buy a cap with 2.00 of it.  I'm surprised that you collected so soon.  It's a nice surprise.
                                            I love you, sweetheart.

I doubt that 'Duke influenced Catherine as she entered the voting booth on the following Tuesday; but we'll never know.  It's a secret.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Valedictorian speech from a 13-year-old Catherine

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Catherine Frazier Patty
The following is a speech given by Catherine Patty at her 8th grade graduation.  It is hard to imagine that this is written by a 13-year-old unless you were lucky enough to have been a student of Catherine LeDuke at some time in your life.  

Her speech needs no commentary from me.  I encouraged you to read it through to the end and visualize her being on a stage enunciating each word and phrase.


This posting still needs no additional words from me except to say once again what an amazing woman Catherine was even at 13.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Every garden needs a truck load of chicken...

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By now everyone's vegetable garden should be in full swing; tomato plants are all staked up, carrot tops are sprouting, rows of beans are ready to be thinned, and cucumbers are already beginning to bloom.  And of course all of this is taking place in ground that you thoroughly fertilized with lots of chicken s*#%.

Gardening buddies in the 1950's
What!!!  You don't know about working chicken s%*# into your soil?  You obviously didn't have the Gardening Training that my wife Marty received from her father, Harvey Ball.  According to her she had vivid memories of her daddy adding lots of chicken manure to the family garden plot each year before April first.

You can blame today's "lesson plan" and "photo tour" on that stupid basement cleaning project I am in the middle of.  I keep coming across pictures of past events that seem to compel me to share some of the "more colorful" memories of my past.  Pinch your nose closed and join me as I recount our first gardening adventure almost 20 years ago.

James Neville and Jimmy as backyard farmers
Not long after we moved into our first home in Ellenwood,  Marty decided she wanted to relive a bit of her past and plant a garden just like her daddy used to do every year.  I was a willing participate because my daddy also had several vegetable gardens when we were growing up in Tiptonville, Tennessee.

Ruth Ball - A can-can mother in her day
Marty's mother, Ruth, used to do a lot of canning every year once the harvest came in.  Marty was anxious to get our garden off to a good start so she could fill our root cellar with quarts and quarts of all kinds of vegetables.  I tried to explain to Marty that we did not have a root cellar but she was not listening.

The South Forty at Ellenwood
We were fortunate to have a sizable "homestead" and quickly selected the area to be tilled.  Tilling implies the ownership of a tiller.  Not a problem.  We will be saving a fortune by growing our own vegetables so off to the "tiller-store" I went and soon was hard at work with my brand new, rear tine Rototiller.
Now I have to confess that I got a little carried away.  Marty had staked off two medium sized plots each about 12' X 18'.  But I figured I could pay for the Rototiller faster if I dug up four larger plots 15' by 25' each.  The more vegetables I ate, the more money I would save.....  It made sense at the time. 

About the time I finished with the "plowing" Marty remember about Harvey's special ingredient for a truly successful garden: chicken s#%*.  This was the first I had heard about this requirement but I was determined to make my bride happy so I found in the "farming" section of the classified newspapers a chicken farm only 45 minutes away.  And believe it or not, they were willing to sell me a truck load of the stuff for only $75!

That next Saturday Marty and I got in my truck and started out for chicken-country in Fayette County, Georgia.  We followed Farmer Little's directions to the letter, paid him the agreed cash, and were led to a spot near the first 50-yard long chicken house.  

A curious smile was noticed on the farmer's face as he watched us spread a large sheet of plastic over my entire truck.  Marty and I slipped under the plastic and back into the cab just about the time the sky started falling.  Only it was not sky that was falling.

We were parked under a large auger.  You know, like you have seen next to a corn harvester shooting corn into a waiting truck.  But this was not dry corn being "shot" into my truck.  It was not "dry" anything.  WET chicken s&#* was raining down, NO, splatting down into the bed of my truck and splashing all over the plastic covering the cab part of my truck.  

Since Marty and I could not see clearly through the plastic we could not tell if we had a full load or not so we waited patiently.  Farmer Little finally took mercy on us and came over to tell us we had gotten our $75 dollars worth and with a still smiling face wished us a good day. 

I drove forward enough to get out and tuck all the plastic over the bed.  Marty did not assist me with this task.  Neither of us spoke much during the unpleasant trip back to our "vegetable-to-be-farm," although I'm sure Marty was muttering something about her childhood gardening memories.

One can't be too careful when unloading "Stuff"
When we finally got home and unfolded the plastic to inspect our load one of us "chickened" out and told me to call her once I had unloaded and distributed the "nutrient"-rich goods.  I didn't protest, but I really had envisioned when this whole subject came up a few days ago that I would be dealing with something more akin to sand or sawdust as opposed to wet concrete.

I changed into my manure-removal clothing, constructed a homemade manure-removal tool, pulled out all the available garden hoses, donned my methane prevention face mask, and stepped in it.

This job requires special skills and equipment

About two hours later my four garden plots were sufficiently covered in piles of Harvey's magic elixir; another hour and a half to mix the dirt and "stuff" thoroughly (all done by hand and rake since I was not about to use my brand new tiller), one more hour to scrub my truck, and "voila!" we were ready for seeds.  But wait...

Does anyone out there know what happens when "raw", wet, undiluted manure is worked into the soil?  Within about three days enough heat was being generated by our garden area to be felt from 20 feet away.  I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the fire department after seeing all the smoke rising from our plots.  It was three weeks before we were able to plant even one of the four patches.  And to my best recollection no canning took place that first gardening year.  Thank goodness I had not dug out a "root cellar".

Joe Ashley wanted some fresh beans
My friends wondered where the 
garden was.  All they could see
that first years was very healthy
Bill Jenkins admired our bumper crop

But the NEXT YEAR we could have used a "root basement."
The second year's Garden got the full effect of the Chicken-additive

Garden elves Bethany and Emily

Even the Peach Tree looked better after the "Chicken-Treatment"

The moral to this story is: "If you want to put chicken s*#! on your garden, get your plastic manure suit ready, hold your nose, and make sure you give it at least a year to "cure."


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How I Spent My Father's Day

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

WOW!!!  What a terrific Father's Day posting last Friday by Amanda.  Thank you for sharing that terrific letter written in 2011.  It was special then and special all over again this year.

So while most Dad's were out with their children or sitting in their easy chair being waited on, I spent my Father's Day Weekend buried in our basement here in Cumming, Georgia.  Marty and I are tackling a long overdue project; putting order to the chaos we created almost 10 years ago when we moved here from the south side of Atlanta.  We moved from a larger house into a much smaller house but forgot to stop along the way at the local dump.  So our basement has been a storage facility ever since.

About two years ago we developed some "ground water" issues and before we can call a contractor to come fix our basement "pond" (different, by the way, from our other pond), we have to find the walls and the floor.  This means that we are being forced to either rent a storage trailer, build a barn on the back 40, or better yet become "minimalists."  We have chosen the latter.

Do you realize how hard it is for two old "yard sailors," auction-going hounds, and part-time hoarders to start throwing out items acquired at some of the finest yard sales in Atlanta?  Well let me tell you "it ain't easy."

First you have to have a plan.  You have to have a "Goodwill Thrift Store pile," a trash pile, a Marty-keep pile and a Jimmy-keep pile; and most important of all: you have to keep Marty out of the Jimmy-keep pile and Jimmy out of the Marty-keep pile and both of them out of the Thrift Store pile.

We only got about half way through on this first attempt, but we are actually doing really well.  Goodwill is getting a very large assortment of pots, pans, dishes, assorted pillows, unread books, and bric-a-brac from all over the city.  The garbage man is getting a dumpster full of old magazines, obsolete work files, unusable Christmas decorations, broken-never-to-be-repaired furniture, and an assortment of video tapes of old television shows and movies all of which are now available for free on "Rabbit TV."

And you folks get a Tuesday Posting consisting of a rather mixed bunch of old photographs that I found and tossed in the "Jimmy-Keep" pile.  Are you lucky or what?!


Ben Neville LeDuke's most prized photograph with sons James Neville and Charles Franklin taken in 1946

Daddy with his girls
more Daddy with his girls

Doctor Jennifer at work

Jenny with early Beau

Cheerleader Jenn

Granddaddy Ben taught Richard all he knew about fishing

Procrastinator Amanda was writing her Valedictorian address as she walked on the field

Jimmy's first set of wheels


Jenny's beautiful smile at 7th Graduation

Catcher Jennifer

Jennifer - The Multi-Sportswoman

And she could twirl

Teenager James Neville LeDuke

Teenager Martha LeDuke Carter

Charles Franklin LeDuke in 1946

Ben Neville LeDuke, Wife Maude, James Neville, Martha, and baby Charles Franklin

Professor LeDuke and wife Marty


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

To my father’s father, on Father’s Day

Amanda here.  In honor of Father's Day Sunday, Dad is turning over the blog to me, to post a letter I wrote to my grandfather on Father's Day two years ago, around the time we were working diligently on the book of the War Letters between Catherine and James Neville.  It was odd and amazing to me how much I was getting to know this man I never thought I'd know, through his deepest thoughts of love and life.  

I wrote this letter the week that Peter Cammarata died, so surely death and sadness and family were on my mind.  Peter Cammarata was one of Duke's old war buddies who, through a story that deserves a blog post all its own, we tracked down after 60+ years.  We found a few of his other fellow soldiers who were mentioned in letters to Catherine as his friends, and whom he'd exchanged letters with even after they parted ways during their time in the service.  Some were alive, and some were not.  Some wanted to hear from us, to receive the package we offered of the return of their letters, and at least one responded kindly, but firmly that he'd put that part of his life behind him.  But Peter was the most special.  Their friendship had seemed the strongest, and his letters had been the longest.  And in finding him we found his daughter Jean, a lovely woman eager to hear stories of her father and as grateful for the letters we were able to return to her as you can imagine.  We learned that Peter was ill, and we were lucky to get to communicate with Jean, and Peter, and his wife Ann for a few months before he died, allowing him to know that a good friend from long ago kept his letters safe.  There's more to the Peter Cammarata story, and hopefully this will be motivation to tell it soon. 

But back to THIS letter... Dad was a little hesitant to let me put this out there; he can actually be humble and shy and was afraid this letter was too much about him.  But I insisted, and like any good father, he let his daughter have her way.  Enjoy, and Happy Father's Day. 


June 19, 2011

Dear Duke,

My Dad with his Dad in 1944
I know I should call you Papa, as we were taught to do growing up, but you died before I could speak, so I never really got to call you anything at all.  James Neville seems a bit formal, a bit distant.  So I’m going to call you Duke, which is how I really know you, as that is how you’ve signed off the hundreds of letters of yours I’ve read. 

When my Dad (that’s Jimmy to you) and I began our first project with your letters, the ones from Burritt College in Spencer, I knew you and I would really get along if you were still here.  There is so much of you in my Dad, and some in me too.  You were funny and smart and neurotic and loving and kind.  You were lost and so desperate to be found.  Recently, reading your letters from World War II, I find myself wishing so much that you were here to be a part of this, to laugh along with the stories from the Army, to cry at the depth of your love for your wife, to re-live the feelings of loneliness and helplessness and despair, or the feelings of joy and exhilaration when you got to reunite with your family for a week or two.

Speaking of Dad, you’d be so proud of Jimmy.  This sounds like such a cliché, but he is truly the most wonderful dad in the world, giving his children more love than he seems to gives himself credit for, a self-doubt that must be inherited from you. He has shown me how to use a jigsaw, how to use logic, how to operate a forklift, how to blow my nose, and how to fish, all things that seem small or silly, but have created a wealth of good memories so deep I can draw upon them forever. He taught me to play Crazy 8’s when I was five, how to win big at 21 when I was 30, and together we solved “5 Minute Mysteries” when I was 10.  He makes self-deprecating remarks about not being around when I was young, but he has no idea how much he was truly there for me growing up and now, well, when I’m still growing up.  His famous “numbered lectures” are as useful as a father’s advice to his children can ever be, which is to say, a lot. His ability to write me just the right letter when I needed it is evidenced by the file of notes and cards I have from him dating back many years. His gift for making me laugh is well-proven. He sometimes doesn’t have more than a few nickels to his name, but he’ll give you his last one if you need it.  I think he got your sweet tooth too.  And I know you loved my mother Katherine, but you’d love his now-wife Marty just as much.  She is smart and kind and loving and she balances him out in a way that I think you and Catherine balanced each other so well. 

And your beloved Catherine, she is truly amazing.  After your death, she surely grieved, but just as she told you in one of her most powerful letters, she did not let your absence control her life.  She took up photography and travel.  She continued to teach and was one of the first inductees into the Tennessee Teacher’s Hall of Fame. She embraced the role of matriarch of the family with aplomb, hosting Thanksgiving meals, ruling over games of dominoes, Scrabble, and Michigan Rummy, and doling out gifts and love to all of her grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren, equally.  She became one of the most respected members of her adopted community of Tiptonville, where she still attends the Presbyterian Church, and for years remained active in too many civic causes to name.  You remained her one true love, but she filled her home with things that made her happy. She’s not doing so well now, but you’d still find so much to love about her.  I wish you could see her recite poetry just like she was back at school in Memphis.  

There’s so much to tell you, about me, about Dad and Cathie and Richard, about Catherine and Tiptonville.  About the world, where a U.S. first-class stamp is now 44 cents, where you can make a phone call from an open field, where there’s an invention called “email” that would totally blow your mind.  And where wars are fought with much less moral purpose than you’d ever imagine.  By the way, Germany is one country again and Japan is one of our strongest allies. 

Oh, and if you ever wondered about the importance of your life and your contributions to the world, let me put your mind at ease.  In addition to bringing your lovely bride back to your hometown to raise your three lovely children, where they are all respected and loved, you’ve inspired countless people through your teaching and remain the favorite of many who darkened the hallways of Tiptonville and Lake County High Schools.  You were well-remembered by at least two of your army buddies, and most surely more, had we gotten to them earlier, as a good friend during a trying time.  It is times like these that I want to believe in Heaven so that I could think of you and Peter Cammarata reuniting this week.  You have shown me, and no doubt anyone else who read the first collection of your love letters, what true and deep and abiding love should look like, and while most of us won’t achieve what you two had, it’s something to strive for.  And this, by the way, is all gleaned from letters written over only two years and a few months, in only two different times of your life, plus a few anecdotes I’ve heard over the years (the one about the time you caught your pants on fire is a favorite).  Just imagine all the things I’d know about, and all the things I’d have to laud, if I had letters that peered into your mind for the other sixty years of your life.

Anyway, I could go on and on.  But it’s Father’s Day and I’m writing this letter to you as a gift to my father, so I should sign off soon to get it in the mail on time. You remember what that’s like. I just wanted to thank you for giving me my father. For teaching him to be the man that he is today.  For loving your family the way you did.  And for something I bet you never imagined, for giving us these letters to know you by, to learn so much from, and to bring my Dad and I even closer together.  I never knew you, and yet now I know you, and all the while I miss you so much.

All my love,


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Computers. Can't live with them, can't live without them anymore.

*Look for a new Posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Okay, maybe it wasn't this long ago.
When I was attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, one of the more interesting side-shows was going on down where the University's computer lived on Cumberland Avenue.  That would be "the" University computer in its very own building; one computer in one large ground floor room with hundreds of cabinets displaying huge reels turning in start and stop motion.  The workers inside all wore white overalls and dust masks to protect the data being stored.  Back then I guess they thought "viruses" came from people's bodies  not they minds.

More like this.
The "information" storage capacity of the entire building was less than that of a hand-held Apple iPhone today.  Is that mind-blowing or what?  Actually it is, only to those of us "Baby Boomers" who can still barely figure out where the "on" button is on our laptops.  Children of today can't even fathom what these two pictures above are.  Last summer, one of my grandchildren (she will go unnamed) pointed to something and asked,"What is THAT?!"  It was a rotary telephone

Catherine LeDuke gave birth to three of those Baby Boomers but that did not stop her from becoming fairly computer literate in the 1990's after she had retired from a career as one of Lake County's most revered High School teachers.  She had taken on the task of compiling and typing the stories being submitted to the Lake County Historical Society by the families for the book being published about WWII Veterans.  After spending hours on her computer she had to figure out how to put all these stories in some sort of order so that the book could be turned over to the publisher for printing. She became quite adept at emailing, word processing, and scanning photos.

I bring up the subject of computers because I just spent a good part of Monday trying to get my desk-top freed from the assorted "viruses" that were somehow running amok inside my fairly new computer.  I have no clue what I did to acquire the varmints that were causing me such headaches, but the problem had me locked out of my blog-site; and Monday night is when I usually put the finishing touches on the "Tuesday Posting."  All three of my readers would have been devastated if they had to go through an entire Tuesday without their fix.

They've come a long way...
To help me with this problem I called on a computer tech outfit that I have termed "the boys in the garage."  I call them that because the first time I needed real help to fix a problem they succeeded and talked me into a years contract to keep my CPU clean (that's "computer talk" for the tower-thingy that sits on the floor under my desk that I am told is more powerful that 100 of those computer buildings on my 1964 UT campus).

When I first had dealings with the "garage boys" about 6 months ago I had the impression that they were from North Carolina or Virginia.  They all sounded young and very helpful, but I couldn't get the image out of my mind that I was talking to some 14 year-old sitting in the corner of his dad's garage.  What did I care who these guys were as long as they made it possible for me to get my e-mail, access my blog to keep my fans happy, and get me re-connected to YouTube so I could watch "funny car accidents in Russia."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Barbers I Have Known and Not Known

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I could almost count on one hand the barbers who have cut my hair during my entire life.  And yet, I would be hard pressed to tell you the names of more than two or three of them right now.  I'm sure that speaks volumes about my anti-social behavior.  With a blank legal pad or a keyboard before me I have no problem babbling on about the most mundane of things. (This is the point that my blog-editor daughter might be tempted to add links to previous blog posts to prove that point, but perhaps she'll spare me.)  I'm actually quite personable, charming, and witty when I'm not around people. So, suffice it to say that if you put me in a barber chair I simply have no interest in talking or being talked to.

And yet there has never been anyone in my life that I have been more loyal to than my barber.

This is as flat as it got
My first barber was J.W. Thorpe.  He was the first and only man that ever cut my hair until after I graduated from UT in Knoxville.  If J.W. was not working at his East End Shop, I would politely excuse myself and return the next day.  He was the only one I felt knew where all the "bumps" were in my scalp, and I was concerned in those days that my "flat-top" should be flat; to match my head.

They left me a little hair on top

The next two years were "lean" years, coiffure-wise; those were my army days during which anyone with a pair of shears could simply pass them over my head and say "Next."  I don't even include these years in my résumé of barbers. 

Following the army I lived in Philadelphia for four years and quickly found a barber just outside the underground train station in the middle of the city; third chair from the left end of a barber shop that had 12 chairs in it.  If my guy, Name Unknown, was not there, I would come back another day.  This shop looked like it was used as a 1930's gangster movie set.

They got their beautiful hair from me

I lost my ears in the 70's
When I moved to Atlanta in 1972, I have only sat in four different barber chairs.  The first was that of Mike who cut hair in the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel across from the Stouffer's Restaurant I managed for six years.  When I left Stouffer's and went to work at Herren's Restaurant on Lucky Street I was still only a few blocks from Mike's chair, so our relationship continued uninterrupted for at least another eight years.

Note the gold chain, open shirt, and pocket protector 
Even after a career change, an address change, and a life change, I continued to go downtown once a month to let Mike work his magic on my head.  And yet, during this entire 20+ year period I would bet that I had not spoken more than a handful of phrases to Mike.  Then the unthinkable happened; the Hyatt decided that they no longer needed a barber service in their hotel.  When I approached the shop door with my shaggy head and found the sign "Shop Closed," I was devastated.  Mike, one of the few constants in my life for over 20 years, was abruptly gone from my life.  (I actually found out quite by accident some years later that Mike had only barbered a few more years at a shop near his home in Tucker before he dropped dead of a heart attack; he had a pair of scissors in his hand when he fell.)

My bearded period was a once-in-a-life time thing.
I must have gone at least two months without a haircut when out of desperation I wandered into an old barber shop, complete with barber pole at the door, in Forest Park near Ellenwood where Marty and I bought our first house. Glenn was middle-aged, slow, bald, and, worst of all "talky."  But I'd walked into his shop and  he was now my chosen barber, so for the next 10 or more years I listened; and occasionally talked.  And then Glenn died and I was barber-less once again.  I was starting to get concerned about the health and well-being of anyone I chose to trust with this task.