Chester Martin Remembers Some Old Wives' (And Husbands') Tales

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - by Chester Martin

One of the tales that circulated here locally around 1960 regarded Cameron Hill - and all you locals who were present at that time know where this story is going. Cameron Hill - that jewel of a geological wonder, that once graced the entire west side of downtown Chattanooga - was about to be mutilated by cutting its height down by about one half. Many old pictures in John Wilson's several books show it in all its original height and glory - and to me it always resembled a tiny replica of Lookout Mountain, as it was probably formed through the ages by the same basic forces of Nature.

Anyway, we ordinary citizens were fed the story line that just a few feet of dirt were going to be removed from its top to provide "fill dirt" for the developing Interstate Highway system then going through our area. It seemed reasonable, the way it was phrased, but when people began to see the entire top of that hill being cut down by heavy machinery, they came to the slow realization that we had all been duped! As an ancient Chattanoogan, I can fully attest to the beauty of that hill, as, for example, how 6th Street connected the east side with the west, by gracefully sloping uphill toward the west. There was a cool and woodsy forest of deciduous trees that grew on the west side around the Pine Street area which was lined with charming old homes. And, my old high school, Kirkman Vocational H.S., stood right at its foot. The "fill dirt" for all the new road construction, the new Golden Gateway, etc., DID find good uses, but it left a shameful blight on our city's entire west side - a remaining source of irritation among us locals, and only a Haliburton Corporation could ever restore Cameron Hill back to its former glory. So, end of that tale.

Next, (and on a totally different subject), while serving in the U.S. Air Force, and well before 1960, I was pointedly told by a bona-fide seafood broker - an expert in his field - that the seas were already being seriously depleted of such delicious shellfish delicacies as scallops, and that what we found in grocery stores, or were served in restaurants AS scallops, were really small cut-outs from some variety of fish. The gentleman was driving me from Chattanooga to my base south of Nashville, so he had over 100 miles and two hours to expound on that topic. World news of the day seemed to corroborate his theories, so that when I got out of his car I admit that I was a believer, but the next time I ate scallops, I could not sense any difference from the delicious flavor I had always enjoyed! And even now - 60 years later - I remember that incident, and try to decide whether my taste-buds OR that gentleman tricked me the most! His story WAS convincing, and I have tried repeatedly to see if he may have been right. But then my tongue and taste-buds experience the same identical special flavor and texture as always, and there are tons of them available in every seafood restaurant in the world!

And while we are on the subject of seafood, I want to add how for over half my life we have heard ominous tales about the depletion of all manner of sea creatures, with shrimp high up on the "extinction" list! Shrimp boat owners from Biloxi and Gulfport give long-faced reports on TV about how their catches are dwindling dangerously, and other reports tell how Japanese and Chinese fishing trawlers are busy scooping up alarming quantities of fish and other edibles from the deep oceans, destined for Asian markets. But then I observe the loaded steam tables of seafood in all the buffet-style restaurants everywhere I go! There are oceans of shrimp in Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco - and maybe even in the Chinese restaurant down the road from YOU - with many people piling their plates inches high! Prices remain reasonable, so who is not telling the truth?

Another big lie was told to me and my classmates at the local university in about 1961 or '62. It seems there was a visiting professor, and one whom we admired and respected for his Doctorate from the Sorbonne (University of Paris). His credentials were impeccable, and all this took place in the days before our universities were known to be so "liberal" as today. Dr. N.B. was a Christian from Lebanon, in the Middle East, and he advised us on the first day of class that he was going to lecture on social issues of the day: Castro, the Cuban Revolution, etc., although he assured us that all our exams would follow the textbook. He expounded on the beauties of the new Cuban Revolution - the uniformed and bearded "true" Revolutionaries who had only recently wrested Freedom away from the crushing Batista dictatorship. The entire class confronted him on this matter, however, as it was widely suspected throughout the U.S. that Castro was a Communist, convincingly disguised as a Revolutionary. Dr. N.B. had an entire set rigmarole to "prove" to us that Castro COULD not be a Communist: "How could he be a Communist if he was allied with Che Guevara, a virtual Nazi?!" Nazis and Communists hated one another was his theory, so Castro had been mistakenly labeled as the latter. (This is "about" right, and Dr. N.B. did have other explanations; so many years have passed that I have forgotten all his exact theories). Anyway, the Doctor continued, if our generation (of the 1960's) was going to save the world we only had five years at the most to do it!

That was almost 60 years ago and yet our world is still chugging along! There is NO DOUBT that things are no better (or much worse) today, but back then we lived in a real "cold war"atmosphere with daily fear of nuclear attack. Many people had bomb shelters, or at least several weeks' supply of water and canned food. Gas may have been only 32 cents a gallon, but we were scared out of our wits all the while. Dr. N.B. cheerfully stuck to his guns about Castro for the entire school year, never once suggesting just exactly what we should do to "save the world". It was all just "Ivory Tower" talk, of no substance. (By the way, I made the easiest "A" ever in his class!)

On a much lesser scale of importance, but a feature I have come to recognize as an un-truth is the result of a TV commercial I see almost every night. Be assured that there is nothing wrong with the commercial's message, which is for an insurance company where the Statue of Liberty always appears in the background. My eye is attracted to that narrow strip of Liberty Island upon which the statue sits, and the background tall buildings of Manhattan are usually Photo-Shopped out of the picture. There may be other manipulations as well, but my observation is that Liberty Island ALWAYS appears to be about the same number of feet above sea level - whether the photo was made in 1917 or 2017. We know that all of Manhattan is surrounded by estuaries - either of the East River, or the Hudson, and that the entire area is tidal. I keep hearing about Manhattan sinking into the Atlantic, just as I keep hearing of Florida following Manhattan's example. I have, in an earlier writing, pointed out the example of the 85-year-old stone clock tower at Daytona Beach, which sits ON THE SAND of that beach, and it seems to have sunk not one inch in all those years. Meantime, a very large (and heavy) hotel has also been erected nearby without a single noticeable change to the surrounding landscape. Highway A1A appears to be in exactly the same place beside the beach as back in the 1930's. Or is everything going to sink after another 50 or 100 years - just like Dr. N.B.'s world was going to change drastically by 1965? I just keep wondering who wants us to believe all these various ideas - and why?

And I also wonder who is really right about the oceans? Are they clean or are they dirty? I can definitely visualize how the main shipping lanes might be seriously polluted - and I have even heard of an entire island of pollution the size of TEXAS that is floating offshore somewhere. From ocean voyages back in the early 1950's I remember how seagulls followed the ship, grabbing every bit of discarded food possible for much of the voyages to and from Europe. But then I turn on my Netflix to watch a documentary about the oceans and I find the most pristine of clear waters. I am certain, however, that those water sites are carefully chosen for their beautiful and pure quality. As for icebergs and glaciers, we hear that they are melting at an alarming rate. But then I remember how back in the 1950's I used to attend the Kiwanis Club travelogues here at Memorial Auditorium. That is where I first saw footage of thousand-foot-thick shards of glaciers collapsing into the ocean! It was an annual event for some people to go see those immense walls of ice break free. People went to witness those phenomena just as people go to watch the whales today. Those glaciers are still breaking up today as they have done for thousands of years!

So, folks, I just toss out these long-remembered thoughts while wondering who is trying to make us believe certain downright falsehoods, or half-truths? They label us as ignoramuses for not accepting"scientific" explanations, or ignoring facts that are staring us in the face. But what IF my generation had put on Revolutionary uniforms and actually FOLLOWED the thinking of Dr. N.B., above - wouldn't it all have come to nought, in a totally LOST CAUSE!? But I assure you that Dr. N.B. lived and died an "Ivory Tower" professor in a comfy Midwestern university. He probably never once got dirt under his fingernails, much less carried a gun!

AND: Don't get me on the subject of Social Security! Because for half my life I have heard claims that, "it won't be there for US, when WE reach 62 or 65". And I ask myself WHICH politician would sacrifice his (or her) political life to vote it out, while so many Billions of dollars go to totally unworthy overseas dictatorships and "causes"?!

THEN, there is the WEATHER, and my belief that we have all been spoiled by air conditioning! People of my parents' generation all lived without it, and simply accepted the fact that summers are HOT! Kids of today's generation sleep in air-conditioned comfort and are blasted by hot air when they open the door to go out; in my parents' day they left their hot and stuffy house to actually cool off a degree or two of a morning!

But don't worry about me, folks. My blood pressure is actually okay. Just needed to ask a few questions about some old tales I've remembered...and hope my thoughts are not too disturbing!


Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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