February 15, 2024

General Assembly’s silence is deafening


            Can you hear it?


            Two things in Atlanta.

            Clink, clink, clink and tick, tick, tick.

Cocktail glasses of Georgia Power, Twin Pines Minerals LLC and their lobbyists are clinking so loudly that you don’t have to be in Atlanta to hear the unmistakable sounds. The reasons for celebrating are different, but they are really the same. Hold that thought. I’ll explain.

Well, what about that ticking?

Feb. 29 (Leap Day) is Crossover Day in the General Assembly. That means proposed legislation in the House of Representatives must be approved and recommended to “cross over” to the Senate by Feb. 29. Otherwise, the measure dies for 2024. Ditto for Senate-approved legislation that needs a vote in the House.

The Crossover Day clock is ticking—loudly—for two significant environmental issues that are likely to be lost this session in both chambers under the Gold Dome.

§  Georgia Power appears to be escaping, again, without any interference from lawmakers who could force the behemoth utility to be more responsible with its storage of millions of tons of dangerous industrial waste—coal ash—that is leaching into ground water.

§  Twin Pines, the Alabama mining outfit that wants to dig for minerals on the “eastern hydrological boundary” of the Okefenokee Swamp, has—like Georgia Power—spent enough lobbying dollars to convince General Assembly powerbrokers that money is more important than factual science and environmental risks.

            As you can see, the two issues are very different. But the silence on both issues is the same. The General Assembly found time to vote for cornbread as the “official bread” of Georgia, but it can’t seem to find room on the agenda to deal with the threat of Georgia Power’s coal ash poisoning our state’s drinking water.

            Oh, I’m a fan of hot-buttered cornbread, too. Same goes for just-out-of-the-oven cathead biscuits. But I’d like to have clean water in my tea or coffee to wash down the official state bread. Wouldn’t you?

            For years, I’ve been talking about Georgia Power’s bottom-line-driven strategy that prioritizes profits over common sense when it comes to safe handling/storage of coal ash. The heavy metals in coal ash are proven to make you sick and/or kill you. Yet legislative attempts to force Georgia Power to do what’s right are squashed, year after year.

Can you hear the cocktail glasses clinking?

            My questions are:

§  Don’t the families of Democrats, Republicans and Independents all deserve clean, safe water to drink?

§  If so, what’s the problem?

            The silence is deafening.

            Now, about the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge—which is under threat from a seems-likely-to-happen mining operation of Twin Pines Minerals LLC.

The Alabama miners say, “Trust us. We know what we are doing.”

Others, who know more than I do, counter, “We can’t trust Twin Pines. Its plan will do irreparable harm to an irreplaceable ecosystem.”

This I do know. There’s only one Okefenokee Swamp in the world, and most of it is in Georgia. Why wouldn’t we want to safeguard this environmental treasure?

One clue is that a piece of protective legislation—with overwhelming bipartisan support—won’t even be brought up for discussion in the House’s committee on environment and natural resources. That nonaction appears to have given Twin Pines what it wanted: a draft permit for mining, courtesy of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

Josh Marks, president of Georgians for the Okefenokee, believes, “The EPD may have signed the death warrant for the Okefenokee Swamp, our state’s greatest natural treasure.”

Can you hear the cocktail glasses clinking?

But wait.

The EPD has declared a 30-day public comment period, even though it earlier promised 60 days. If you have concerns about the proposed titanium dioxide mining, submit your statements to twinpines.comment@dnr.ga.gov. There’ll be a virtual public hearing on March 5 at 6 p.m. Don’t let your silence send the wrong signal.

The disturbing common denominator in both of these environmental issues—coal ash and the Okefenokee—is the deafening silence of Georgia’s General Assembly.

But it might not be too late.

Talk to your representative or senator.

Just remember that Crossover Day is Feb. 29.

Tick, tick, tick.



February 8, 2024

The Possum’s song asks the right question


            Looking for one thing, I found something else.

            And as I leafed through the pages of that “something else,” I could hear someone singing. In his classic country voice, the late George Jones, aka the Possum, was wailing, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

            The something else that I was reading was the historical booklet of Wayne County’s Sesquicentennial (1805-1955) celebration. Thumbing through the 44 pages and seeing the names, I could hear the Possum.

            He was talking about Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon, Jerry Lee and other departed Grand Ole Opry legends. I am talking about local legends who have died and taken with them so much historical knowledge about this special place that we call home.

            I was just 7, but I remember Big Dink and his friends who grew beards and moustaches. Seems like you could pay a fee for being clean-shaven. If you didn’t buy and wear a “Brothers of the Brush” button or have facial hair, you’d get fined and locked up in a fake jail. All in fun, of course.

Our family went to the pageant at Westberry’s horse race track behind the WBGR-AM (WIFO today) on the Waycross Highway. Cameron Bennett was general chairman of the 150th anniversary celebration. Fifty-four people were on the committee. I recognized every name, and I recall many of their personalities.

Here is a sampling of the roster:

            Ernest Knight, Joe Thomas, Genell Odum, Sara North, Ralph Grantham, Ronald Adams, Randall Walker, Hubert Howard, Bill Zorn, Stetson Bennett, Hazel Dean Overstreet, June McDaniel, Martha Lee Gibbs, Warner Gibbs, Betty Leaphart, Sarah Few, H.C. Daniel, Vonice Sullivan, Aaron Holland, Lucille Slover, W.P. Riggins and R.T. Littlefield.

            R.T. Littlefield.

            I will never forget the time that Tindall Littlefield took the Jesup Rotary Club on a walking tour of Jesup, circa 1925. The program was in the late 1970s. When Tindall died in 1983, so did an encyclopedia of Wayne County history. His vivid descriptions put us right there, “walking” with him.

            Who’s gonna fill his shoes?

            Think about the members of the Greatest Generation who have left us in recent times. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t think, “I need to call Doc and ask him something.” Then I remember that I can’t. Dr. Lanier Harrell, 96, died on the day after my 75th birthday. Doc’s Google-like recall—in depth and breadth—was phenomenal.

            Who’s gonna fill his shoes?

            How about James R. Bland? My connection to Jim spanned my entire life. When I was just crawling, my parents lived on South East Broad Street in a two-story Victorian house (where Jesup Furniture Outlet was). It had been chopped up into post-war apartments. Jim, a bachelor, lived across the hall. He volunteered to be my first babysitter. Our friendship endured until he died in 2022. I still think of questions that I’d like to ask Jim.

            Who’s gonna fill his shoes?

            I miss the Surrency sisters—Lauree, Carobeth and Nanelle. Each lived into their 90s. I was honored to be asked to eulogize Nanelle Bacon and Lauree Hires. And my family ate at least two washtubs of Carobeth Highsmith’s heavenly divinity. A library shelf couldn’t hold the stories, especially about their World War II Rosie-the-Riveter days. As the saying goes, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”

            Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

            Sixty-nine years later, the yellowed pages of the sesquicentennial booklet are a reminder that generations are slipping away. And they are taking nuggets of need-to-know history with them.

George Jones asked the right question: Who’s gonna fill their shoes?








February 1, 2024

Have you heard Hazlehurst’s ‘flying bull’ story?

          “Hey, diddle, diddle,

            The cat and the fiddle,

            The cow jumped over the moon ….”

            How many times have you heard those Mother Goose lines?

            Plenty, I bet.

            But did you hear about the Hazlehurst bull that “flew” over the fence?

            Did what?

            I hadn’t known of the report until my bleary eyes—before January 30’s sunrise—read the story. Right there on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front page was the headline: “Airborne bovine legend: Is it just a bunch of bull?”

            Here’s the gist.

            Farmer Charles Marchant had his bulls separated from his cows. The barrier to prevent overbreeding was a taut 5-foot-high barbed-wire fence. And then Mother Nature huffed and puffed and blew a terrific storm through Jeff Davis County. Somehow, a 1,500-pound bull switched pastures.

But how?

            The winds reached 100 mph in what a meteorologist said could have been a “gustnado.” And there are folks who believe the bull was lifted by the “gustnado” and put on the other side of the fence. Otherwise, how could the bull have gotten there?

My grandmother had a cow that was a jumper. The fix was simple. Jinx, her farmhand, fashioned a yoke out of a V-shaped hickory limb and attached it to old Bessie’s neck. When the cow tried to jump the hog-wire fence, the yoke’s hook yanked Bessie back down.

            Charles Marchant, an 81-year-old Vietnam veteran, would have known if his cantankerous bull was a jumper. There was no open gate or sagging wire. And if the bull had leaped over the fence, Marchant would have probably found patches of black hair snagged in the barbs. I’ve found plenty of deer-hair evidence in our fences.

            We have a male llama that can jump a barbed-wire fence. And if 300-pound George decides that he wants to court Georgette, over he goes, leaving traces of white fiber in the barbs. I didn’t make a yoke. I just moved Georgette to a distant pasture. George’s courting days are over. We have enough llamas.

            But back to that “flying” bull.

            Charles Marchant told the AJC that he had lived too long to start lying about “flying bulls.” It was Charles’ son, Zach, who first noticed the phenomenon. Reporter Joe Kovac Jr. related, in his article, that the younger Marchant looked out the window after the storm and said to his wife, “I know I don’t see as good as I used to, but that looks like there’s a damn bull in there with them horses.”

            I don’t know either Charles or Zach, but I do know strange things happen.  

            And I do know Tommy Purser, publisher of the Jeff Davis Ledger. Our friendship spans more than a half-century. I called Tommy to get his take on this. My friend chuckled and said, “Yeah, that story is going around.”

            Tommy had visited the Marchant farm and confirmed that the horrific wind had caused substantial damage. But he couldn’t add any information to the bull story.

            Lots of folks smarter than me have weighed in on the topic, including a Georgia Tech professor of “vertical lift aerodynamics.” There are doubters and believers of what really happened.

            I can’t say “diddle” about how the Marchant bull got from one side of the fence to the other. But I can say this:

            With all the other crazy things in the news these days, we need to pause and laugh about the legend of an airborne Black Angus.

            Even if it’s a whole lot of bull. 






January 25, 2024

Country music sings to your soul


     When imaginary quarters tumble down the slot, I can hear that familiar metal-hitting-the-bottom clunk of my youth. The jukebox inside my head is forever spinning a tune.

The playlist is packed with beach music — the Four Tops, The Tams, the Drifters, The Temptations and the like.

     But there is plenty of country music, too. In 1968, I bought an eight-track tape player. And the first tape to get shoved inside that under-the-dash mount was Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." When he launched into "Ring of Fire" and "Orange Blossom Special," I was hooked.

     As Barbara Mandrell sang, "I was country when country wasn't cool."

     One of my "cool" memories was seeing the Man in Black on the Grand Ole Opry's stage. Elvis had "it" and Johnny had "it," too.

     He was stronger than new rope or three acres of onions.

     Every now and then, I imagine that I’m back at the Ryman, listening to Johnny and June wail, "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout." And I smile.

Years later, I was flying with Gov. Zell Miller to visit industrial prospects. We were sitting toe-to-toe, his cowboy boots touching my tassel loafers.

     I leaned in and asked, "Governor, who's your favorite country artist?"

     Without hesitation, he fired back, over the roar of the twin props, "George Jones!"

     I’m a Possum fan, too.

     Perhaps my favorite Jones song is "He Stopped Loving Her Today." If you listen carefully, the words will pierce your heart. If you're up for a three-minute sermon on life, listen to "Choices" — nothing but the truth.

     I dare you to not laugh if you put the jukebox needle down on "Hotter Than a Two-Dollar Pistol."

     I’m with the late Zell Miller. Give me more Possum.

     But my taste doesn't stop there.

     After reading Paul Hemphill's “Lovesick Blues,” I bought a box set of everything Hank          Williams ever recorded.

     He may have drowned in whisky at age 29, but his genius lives on. Wipe off the decades of dust and see the stars who sang his lyrics — including Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.

     When I hear Ray moan, “Take these chains from my heart and set me free" or "I'm so lonesome I could cry," I know the origin of those words. Hank was hurting and probably drunk, baring his raw soul.

     Who made country music "cool?"

     I suspect artists such as George Strait, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Reba McEntire, Travis Tritt, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn and dozens more in Nashville got America's toes to tapping, country-style.

     I can’t forget “Elvira” and The Oak Ridge Boys, who jumped from the gospel-choir loft into cowboy boots and Stetson hats.

     Randy Travis has that old-school twang.

     I absorb every word of "He Walked on Water." I didn't have a grandfather or great-grandfather like his. That’s why Randy inspires me to etch memories for our grandchildren.

     Daughter Emily cries when Alan Jackson sings "Daddy (For Daddy Gene)."

     She remembers her pigtails bouncing as I let her drive an old Jeep on our dirt roads. The country artist from Newnan is a storyteller supreme. Listen to "Little Man," and I'll bet you, too, will say, "Amen!"

     As my friend Larry Walker says, "AJ puts it down where the goats can get it."     

     A song that gets me is Reba's "The Greatest Man I Never Knew."

Daddies, if you don't know the gist of this classic, add it to your must-listen-to list. And push the repeat button often.

     I started out to name my top 10 country artists and songs, but I can't.

What I can do is drop another quarter into the slot.


     Ray is singing my No. 1, "Georgia on My Mind,” my No. 1 favorite.

     Tanya Tucker tells us what to do, “Turn the jukebox up and throw some sawdust down.”









January 18, 2024

Jesup’s vibrancy impresses our guests


            What I’m about to do is get myself in trouble.

            You do that when you toss out accolades, and you leave deserving recipients off the list. So, from the start, please forgive me.

            My hometown puts its best foot forward. All you have to do is look around and smile. Oh, sure, we have some scruffy spots. But for a small town, Jesup’s vibrancy is right up there with the best.

            That was the sentiment of our recent guests, too. As we walked the sidewalks and rode around, you could tell that they were impressed. Too many rural communities greet their visitors with plywood on storefront windows. Not Jesup.

            Commerce is bustling. The more they looked, the more our visitors said, “Wow!” Over and over. They didn’t see an empty building. They bragged on the streetscape and the curb appeal of downtown.

            The James Bland Park caught their eyes, and they loved hearing about the restoration of the train depot. “Tell me about that arch,” our friends asked. Of course, I started from the beginning, when the original arch was in front of the Norris and Yeomans homes. As a kid, I walked by and under the Cherry Street arch dozens of times on the way to Ashley’s Store, where New China Restaurant is now.

            There wasn’t time to visit all the shops, but my guests awarded David’s a gold star for quality and selection. I remember 50 years ago when David Bowen opened his store. Today the second- and third-generation Bowens earn the accolades. The Bowens were our around-the-Persimmon-Street curve neighbors. David and my dad co-farmed an ambitious garden.

            A downtown gem is the Strand Theater and its three screens. Naturally, I had to toss in, “And Jesup Drive-In, twin cinemas, is Georgia’s oldest drive-in theater.” During the walking tour, we ducked into the Strand Bistro & Chophouse next to the theater. Again, our guests marveled at the atmosphere, the menu and the non-hurried, helpful wait staff.

            Wayne County loves to eat. The Atlantans really liked the culinary choices. There wasn’t time to taste-test them all, but I suspect they’ll make Jones Kitchen a regular stop on the way to the Golden Isles. Besides the as-close-as-you-can-get-to-home-cooking, the couple were struck by the friendliness and down-home atmosphere. People weren’t just asking, “How are you?” They stopped to listen for your answers.

            “How long has Jones Kitchen been around?” I was asked.

            “The best way is to show you,” I said. In a few minutes we were looking at the now-dilapidated two-story house on West Plum Street, where Mrs. Susie Jones started her business. I’m guessing it was more than 70 years ago, because my parents took me there—after church—when I was just toddling along.

Several years after Mrs. Jones sold her Cherry Street all-you-could-eat restaurant to Mrs. Minnie Brown, she opened Susie’s Home Cooking on South Second Street, behind her home. Today heirs of Mrs. Brown keep the tasty tradition of Jones Kitchen humming.

            Downtown Jesup is a blue chip among small towns. But it’s not all about the core-business district. You know that, and I know that. Just as impressive is the medical district. Many rural hospitals are comatose or dead. Not in Wayne County. Our medical community is alive and thriving.

            Our schedule was compressed, so we didn’t get to see all of Wayne County’s points of pride.

            As a teenager—working at S&R Men’s Shop—Jimmy Sullivan asked me to help decorate the showcase windows. He advised, “Don’t try to put everything that the store has in the windows. Put just enough to make them want to come in.”

            That’s what I did with my tour.

I gave my friends just a glimpse, hoping they’d come back.

So, please forgive me.

In the meantime, I think you can tell that I love my hometown.