November 30, 2022

Picking oranges plucks story from Great Depression


            Circa 1935.

  Soup kitchens.

            Bread lines.

            Unemployment almost 25 percent.

            The Great Depression had America’s stomach gnawing on its backbone. Jobs were hard to come by, but the two youthful brothers always found work. Even as boys, they realized the need to shoulder their share of responsibility to keep food on the table.

Their mother had died in 1933. Their father had a job—a pretty good railroad job—but he provided marginal support. The oldest child, a daughter, left home as soon as she could. The younger daughter, a high school graduate, had a job. Her telephone-company paycheck was critical, but her determination to hold the motherless family, including a 6-year-old boy, together was more important.

The brothers shared a job at a dairy. They took turns on the home-delivery route. Legend was that the one making deliveries got to wear the also-shared pair of high-top tennis shoes. The pay was meager, but a fringe benefit—a daily quart of milk—was huge.

One day, a peddler came by Shedd’s Dairy, selling navel oranges. The younger brother had never seen such large and luscious-looking oranges. He asked, “Mister, do you think I could have one of those big oranges?”

“I won’t give you just one,” the stranger said. “But I will give you a dozen if you’ll eat them all right now.”

“Mister, can I suck them?”

“No. You have to eat them.”

The boy wasn’t that hungry, but he couldn’t pass up the chance to taste those navel oranges. One by one, he peeled and ate all 12. Years later, when my dad had a family of his own, he loved to tell us about the time that he ate a dozen oranges. The remembrance usually came when he was peeling navel oranges for our traditional Christmas ambrosia. Always, he punctuated the story with a laugh.

Several years ago—on an experimental whim—we planted three Satsuma orange trees on the edge of a pine plantation. The strategy was to protect the “Florida fruit” from colder South Georgia weather. Satsumas are in the Mandarin orange family and easy to peel, much like a tangerine.

Within two years, the trees were producing. And then the production exploded. This fall the limbs were groaning to hold the bounty. Some limbs snapped. I must do my homework before next season.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I decided to finish the harvesting of our mini grove of oranges. I guesstimate that I had picked almost 1,000 Satsumas over the past month. I also had learned that you can’t pluck the oranges. You must snip each stem or risk pulling off a patch of the peel.

Several times, I didn’t follow my own advice, and I pulled off a patch of the thick peeling. Rather than put the damaged orange into a 5-gallon bucket with the good ones, I took a break and enjoyed the “fruit of my labor.” And every time that I ate an orange, my thoughts drifted back to the navel-orange story that I had heard so many times.

Since we are still in the season of thanksgiving, I am grateful that my Aunt Sue kept her younger siblings together under one roof. Even as a teenager, she was a remarkable woman. Uncle James and his younger brother, my dad, were two of my heroes. Their hard work during the Great Depression did not depress them. Instead, they developed a remarkable sense of humor.

I can hear them laughing now.

Believe I’ll stop and go eat an orange.

But just one.

November 23, 2022

Celebrating a life of gratefulness and thanksgiving


                     As family and friends gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, I share my gratitude for this sample of blessings:

§  For Big Dink and Margie, our parents from the Greatest Generation, who were daily lessons in love, compassion, giving, and the values of hard work and a good name. My dad professed, “We may not be the smartest or the richest, but we can be ladies and gentlemen.” Mother was forever a beacon of hope. Sisters Sandy and Sheila would agree that our family’s motto could have been “We will work.”

§  For my wife, Pam. There’s no grander “Myma” on earth. Just ask Wyatt, Hayes, William, Henry, Fenn, Bayard, Smith and Stella. Pam and I must have eloped during junior-high recess to have been married 53 years. Not really. Thanks to fraternity brother Spunky Good, who suggested the UGA blind date in 1968.

§  For our “Disco Babies,” Alan, Emily and Eric, born in the 1970s. They, too, are UGA grads, as are their spouses—Heather, Tom and Connell. All six are productive citizens, community leaders and successful in their careers. But in my opinion, their highest achievements have been in parenthood.

§  For the good fortune of growing up in small-town Georgia. Starting in my Jack-and-Jill-Kindergarten-sandbox days, I began making lifelong friends. Add to that list of special people classmates and teachers at First Baptist Church and in Jesup public schools. I believe it was Harry Truman who said that we must save America’s small towns because that’s where we get our presidents.

§  For Mrs. Ruth Oglesby, who introduced me to the University of Georgia. When our eight grandchildren were born, I paid for each of them, too, a lifetime membership in UGA’s Alumni Association. That means when our family dines together, there are 32 Red-and-Black-loyal feet under the table. Imagine a Sanford Stadium-size swath of Velcro. If you tried to snatch from us our devotion to UGA, here’s what it would sound like … rrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiip!

§  For my uncles Joe and Billy Vines, who immersed me early into the outdoors. Neither had sons, so they loved me as their own. They taught me how to bait a hook, paddle a boat, handle a gun, trail a bird dog, pick out a single

covey-rise quail and drive a Jeep. They were honorable outdoorsmen who inspired me to treasure God’s gifts of nature. I have done my best to instill that same passion in our children and grandchildren.

§  For my grandmother, Essie Vines, who was a blue-ribbon snuff dipper. Ditto for her nighttime, front-porch storytelling. Her rocking chair squeaked as loud as her laugh. And how could I forget the taste of Nanny’s blackberry cobbler? She educated me in her salt-of-the-earth ways, while making sure I understood my family’s roots were in the soil, generations deep.

§  For football coaches Clint Madray and Ben Park, who helped me discover that I had a backbone below my sweaty shoulder pads. Clint barked, “Even a dead man has one more step!” Ben was “Give-Me-No-Excuses” Park. If a teammate said, “But, coach,” he’d sing, “Alibis, alibis!” Army boot camp was a breeze, thanks to those two builders of boys into men.

§  For Elliott Brack and Dr. Lanier Harrell, I am grateful that they accepted me—a newspaper greenhorn—as their partner at the Wayne County Press. I had dreamed of being a lawyer. But when ink got into my veins, well, the rest is a 52-year history.

I could extend this list far beyond your attention span. Instead, I’ll part with this: I am grateful for your support of this newspaper and reading these words. You help make this and every day one of thanksgiving.



November 17, 2022

‘Let there be peace in the valley’


           If “misery loves company,” the residents of a growing number of North and South Georgia counties aren’t alone. That was obvious at last week’s meeting of the Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Water Council meeting in Elberton. Five attendees presented updates and opinions on the current status of the controversial soil-amendment situation.

County-commission chairmen—Lee Vaughn of Elbert, Sam Moore of Wilkes and Jay Paul of Oglethorpe—along with Tonya Bonitatibus, Savannah Riverkeeper, and Kathleen Bowen, Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG,) led the presentation and discussion.

            Opinions were united on multiple fronts:

§  The putrid smell is detrimental to the quality of life.

§  Local government should have more control of what goes on in their counties.

§  As evidenced in the Wilkes County Little River fish kill, there are environmental risks.

§  Self-reporting by the applicators does not satisfy the need to know what is actually being put on or in the soil.

§  “Bad actors” are a major factor in the concern in the stinky controversy.

§  Something needs to be done, without causing a war between farmers and their neighbors.

            There was also the opinion that the material—commonly known as sludge—is industrial waste primarily from poultry, pet-food and bakery processing. Therefore, regulation consideration should be given to the state’s Environment Protection Division (EPD) rather than the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The belief is that the EPD

would have more manpower and knowledge to govern/police the soil amendments.

Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), Georgia’s incoming ag commissioner, was one of the sponsors of the current legislation that provides structure to the soil-amendment law. That means complaints are unlikely to make much headway in his department. Nonetheless, we must strive to find suitable common ground.  

We are proud agriculture is Georgia’s No. 1 industry. Why wouldn’t we be?  

§  Eggs and bacon for breakfast or on a chilly winter’s night

§  Plates loaded with a variety of vegetables

§  Hamburgers and juicy steaks

§  Apples, pecan pies, peach and blueberry cobblers

§  Watermelons, boiled and roasted peanuts

§  Glasses of cold milk, cream in our coffee and ice cream

§  Fried and grilled chicken

§  Vidalia onions

§  Honey and syrup on buttered biscuits, waffles and pancakes

§  Turkey, pork chops, ham, barbecue and brisket

§  Make your own list.


Makes me hungry and even more grateful for farmers.

And don’t forget the tens of thousands of jobs. We are grateful that Georgia is more than just the Peach State. Agriculture is big, big business, but we don’t need neighbors warring with neighbors.

We live on a farm, surrounded by farms. We love and respect our neighbors. And with those families, we have adopted the motto: “Let there be peace in the valley.”

Let’s leave the Hatfield-and-McCoy-type feuds to the pages of Kentucky history. Somewhere—somehow—we need to find peace in this controversy.




November 10, 2022

Pete Wheeler was a legend among Georgia veterans


            Curiosity killed the cat, said my grandmother.

            Curiosity made me drive to Atlanta in 2011.  All these years later, I am still shaking my head—in amazement—about the legacy of Crawford’s native son, the late Pete Wheeler.

And today, when I drive down Bunker Hill Road and spot the weathered red barn of his grandfather, I smile.  As a boy, Pete worked on that farm, which is now being developed into Crawford Village.

Friday is Veterans Day. Pete Wheeler was a legend among Georgia veterans.  He died in 2015, after serving 66 years as the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service. Appointed to office by his UGA college roommate Gov. Herman Talmadge, Pete served 12 governors.  A plaza in front of the Sloppy Floyd Building—across from the state capitol—honors Gen. Pete Wheeler.

Eleven years ago, Pete had invited me, along with a few friends, to visit him on that September day. He promised a surprise.  And Pete’s vow made us curious enough to fight Atlanta’s maddening traffic and scavenge for parking.

Earlier in the morning, I was with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn.  When he heard that I was on the way to see the commissioner, he said, “I love Pete Wheeler.  Please tell him that’s he’s the best.  Give him my regards.”

Love and respect: two powerful words from one of our nation’s most powerful and revered leaders.  And it didn’t take more than a few minutes, after stepping into Pete’s world, to understand how and why the senator felt that way.

Inside the Department of Veterans Service is a wall-to-wall tribute to the men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.  History oozed from every inch. Pete told us that Georgia has the nation’s largest number of military retirees and the fourth-largest active-duty population. His duties spanned across the state.

Once, I addressed him as “commissioner.”  Another time, I called him “general.”  The 89-year-old waved his cane and said, “Just call me Pete.” He was born in 1922, the same year as my father.

The visit with Pete was a stroll through history. I wanted to record everything he said.  Pete told of witnessing Richard B. Russell sworn in—in 1930—as Georgia’s youngest governor.  As he talked, behind him was a flag that Georgians had carried in the Spanish-American War. With a tap of his cane, he pointed to one relic after another.

And then he stopped, flashed a devilish smile and asked, “Are you ready?”

Curiosity was “killing our cats,” so we answered in a chorus, “Yes!”

Single file we marched, wending through a labyrinth of veteran records and memorabilia.  “Here we are,” Pete said. “We’re in the Hall of Dishonor.”  Again—with his cane—the general tapped on the door of a nondescript metal storage cabinet. And there it was on the bottom shelf—Adolf Hitler’s 150-pound bronze head, draped with a Rich’s shopping bag.



Pete explained that when Allied troops captured Berlin in World War II, American soldiers toppled the Nazi leader’s giant statue.  A Georgia GI hacksawed off the murderous dictator’s bronze head.  Somehow, the macabre souvenir got through customs and into the hands of Georgia’s secretary of state.  Ben Fortson then handed it off to the commissioner of veteran services.

Because it was an eerie reminder of Hitler’s hateful reign, Pete decided to stuff the heavy head into a dusty “chamber of dishonor.”  And there it had been for all those decades.

Pete Wheeler had piqued our curiosity.  And he did not disappoint with his stories and the grand-finale surprise.  No wonder veterans loved and treasured him.

Today a new curiosity is “killing my cat.”

Where’s Hitler’s head now?





November 3, 2022

Remembering my friend, Coach Vince Dooley

             In sports lingo, it’d be a highlights reel. For me, it’s more of a mental scrapbook. I remember that Oct. 8, 1966, Saturday afternoon. As a 17-year-old UGA freshman, I was sitting on a baking-my-bottom aluminum bleacher on the sunny side of Sanford Stadium and cheering for my first-ever Bulldog team.

            There he was—Vince Dooley. The 34-year-old animated coach looked as if he could shuck his coat and tie and put on a helmet and run into the Ole Miss game. In time, I’d get to know many of the Bulldogs on that roster—Billy Payne, Kent Lawrence, Kirby Moore and others. But I had no idea—on that hot fall day—that I’d become friends with the winningest coach in Georgia football history.

            Our friendship wasn’t unique. Legions of people can attest to Vince Dooley’s engaging personality. I knew the 90-year-old legend’s health was failing, but his death was a surprise. The sad news came while I was driving. Mile after mile, I scrolled through my mental scrapbook. Here’re some sample pages:

§  About 10 years after victory over Ole Miss, Vince and I shook hands on Jekyll Island. Loran Smith, then secretary of the Bulldog Club, and Dr. Hurley Jones persuaded me to take the gavel as president of the Southeast Georgia Bulldog Club. That’s how I got to know Vince, Barbara and their children—Deanna, Daniel, Denise and Derek.

§  Not long thereafter, Coach Dooley; his top recruiter, Mike Cavan (quarterback of the 1968 SEC champions); and I were huddled in Jaycee Stadium’s press box. They had come to watch the Wayne County Yellow Jackets host the Valdosta Wildcats. Make no mistake, they had their eyes on Valdosta’s hotshot quarterback, Buck Belue. But what they saw was Jesup’s Billy Lott fake a punt and pass to Donnie Palmer, who streaked—untouched—for about 75 yards. Vince, Mike and I almost jumped out of the press box. Oh, yeah, Jesup won, 15-14.

§  One day, Dr. Hurley Jones called. He said that Vince wanted me to go with him and Jesup coach John Donaldson to visit Lindsay Scott. (Both Doc and John had played for another Bulldog legend—Wally Butts. John was on Vince’s first Georgia coaching staff.) I sat in the backseat of Hurley’s Cadillac, giving directions to the Scott home on State Street. When we got there, Lindsay—wearing a No. 24 Tennessee-orange jersey—was shooting hoops in the driveway. When he saw us, he bolted, almost as fast as he did in Jacksonville, when Larry Munson begged, “Run, Lindsay, run!”

§  Recruiting rules were different back then. All we did was to convince Lindsay that more of his family and hometown fans would see him play in Athens versus Knoxville. Especially in Jacksonville. And how could any of us forget Vince sprinting down the sideline—with Lindsay—to the Gators’ endzone?

§  Shortly after the Dawgs won the 1980 national championship, Dr. Fred Davison, then UGA president, appointed me to the athletic board. I got to know Vince even better. In real scrapbooks, I have photos of him catching Altamaha River Swamp bluegills and warmouths. I was honored to paddle the boat. And there was the quail-hunting trip to Shirahland, Pam’s family’s hunting preserve. Vince and I shared a love of the outdoors.

§  The 1996 Olympics alone is a scrapbook. I remember an athletic board meeting at the King & Prince on St. Simons. Somehow, I wound up on a balcony with Vince and Billy Payne. I can still hear Vince—with his signature raspy voice—teasing, “Billy, old boy, I thought all those licks to the head that you took playing football had gotten to you.” Of course, Vince was with Billy, in Tokyo, when the world heard, “It’s Atlanta.”

§  Vince reminded Billy, “Don’t forget Athens and the University of Georgia.” As chairman of Athens 96, I worked with Vince for four years. One day, he called, saying, “Hey, we’re taking out the hedges for soccer. I thought you might like to have some of them.” A few years later, I reported, “Coach, you ought to see my hedge. It’s really doing good.” Vince quipped, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you can’t kill privet hedge.”

            The celebrated coach, administrator, historian, author and gardener was right. I know this to be true, too. I was one of the fortunate thousands who were befriended by Vincent Joseph Dooley.

And just as those hallowed privet hedges—surrounding Sanford Stadium’s Dooley Field—can’t be killed, you will never destroy my treasured “scrapbook” memories of my friend, “Coach.”