September 22, 2021

Pogo has some advice for us

            A famous opossum and I have two things in common. No, I don’t hang by my tail from tree branches. But cartoonist Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” and I were both born in 1948. And we both have opinions.

            Who’s Pogo?

            If you don’t know, you are either too young or you didn’t read the “funny papers” between 1948 and 1973. I connected with the philosophical possum early because his fictional home was about 40 miles from mine in Jesup. Pogo sometimes hung by his tail in the forest of the Okefenokee Swamp, aka “Land of the Trembling Earth.”

            I’ll never forget the day when our yellow school bus pulled into the park near Waycross. Every moment of that elementary-school-class field trip was magical. The trees. The birds. The alligators. The excitement and anticipation of maybe seeing a bear. But most of all the mirror-like black water. 

            Pogo, the savvy and smart possum, has something to say, but hold on.

            Unless we learn from the mistakes of the past, history often repeats itself. The Okefenokee’s past proves that. Multiple times, the magical natural wonder has been attacked. One of the grandest illogical schemes was to drain the swamp and log its wonderment out of existence. 

            Hey, I own timberland. This newspaper is printed on paper from trees. I get that. I also get the need for responsible forest management, so why would you put a saw to something that took centuries to create? In the Okefenokee, there are countless trees that were growing when Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” 

The natural resources of the Okefenokee are a gift from God. Why would we want to risk its ultrasensitive ecosystem? With a few taps on a keyboard, we cannot order another Okefenokee Swamp from An item you can get from is Wayne Morgan and Don Berryhill’s magnificent coffee-table book, Okefenokee Swamp, Wild & Natural. I recommend it to all, especially our state’s decision-makers. 

            Some people don’t get that the Swamp is one-of-a-kind irreplaceable. The latest threat to the Okefenokee is a mining proposal on the nearby lip of the Swamp in Charlton County. Supporters say Twin Pines, an Alabama mining company, will create much-needed jobs and boost the lethargic economy of the community that hugs the Florida border.

            I get that. I am a business owner whose signature has been on thousands of paychecks over my 50-year career. Paychecks are vital, but all jobs aren’t worth the gamble. If the Okefenokee is harmed, so will be the tourism magnet that draws tremendous dollars into Southeast Georgia. I repeat, “There is only one Okefenokee.” There is far more downside than upside in the Twin Pines proposal.

            In two sentences, I can summarize how I feel about this latest threat. No manmade scheme should put the Okefenokee Swamp at risk. And I do not trust Twin Pines with our natural treasure.

            Now back to that witty and truth-telling possum. If our state officials allow Twin Pines or any other opportunists to put dollars ahead of common ecological sense, Pogo’s advice would be: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If The Echo is to survive, it’s up to all of us

            Walk back 32 years with me. During mealtime, our family sat around an oval oak table in our kitchen, talking and praying. We loved living on the corner of Ninth and Newcastle streets, across the street from my parents in Jesup. But we knew drastic change was imminent.

            Our newspaper company had grown. Its footprint was spread over Georgia, Florida and both Carolinas. For our family to remain connected at mealtimes, dance recitals, sporting events and other traditional activities, we needed to move to the geographic center of Community Newspapers Inc.

            Pam and I let our children participate in the decision. Alan, Emily and Eric voted for the Athens area. I suggested we live on a farm. Everyone liked that idea, so I called one of my 1966 UGA roommates. Bill Cabaniss was president of the Commercial Bank in Crawford.

            “Bill,” I said, “our family is moving to Northeast Georgia. We’d like to find some acreage in Oglethorpe County with an old farmhouse, pastures, pecan trees, a barn and a fishpond.” Bill went to work, but the search stalled. Nothing was available. We shifted to Plan B and bought a subdivision house a few miles outside of Athens. The rural itch didn’t go away until we found a small farm on Lake Hartwell.

            Fast-forward to 2012, when 225 acres with a house, two ponds and three historic barns in Smithonia were under bank foreclosure. One look and we knew we’d live in Oglethorpe County. Our children were grown and married. The number of grandchildren was quickly expanding. We now have eight grandchildren from the ages of 7 to 17. Historic Smithonia Farm is a magnet to pull them and their parents to us. We visit every possible moment.

            We aren’t from Oglethorpe County, but we like to say, “We got here as fast as we could.” And one of the first things we did was subscribe to The Oglethorpe Echo. I had known Ralph Maxwell and his family for most of my 50-year newspaper career.

            Last Tuesday, I went to see Ralph at his Lexington office. He was preparing to announce the closing of The Echo at the end of September and on its 148th anniversary. I understand and respect Ralph’s decision, but I asked my friend to give me some time to consider other options. He agreed to continue publishing through October. I am grateful, and I hope you are, too.

            Oglethorpe County is a very special place. Our community needs its newspaper. I don’t aspire to own The Echo, but I am determined to keep it coming into your homes and businesses. As I said to Ralph, “Where’s there’s a will, there is a way for The Echo to survive.” Word has drifted out, and people are telling me, “I want to help. Count me in.”

            Right now, there’s plenty of “will” to help find a “way.” There are more questions than answers, but I am encouraged by the people and their willpower stepping forward.

            An African proverb suggests, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.”

            If Oglethorpe County wants the legacy and service of The Echo to run farther into the future, we must run together.

            What do you say?

            Are you ready to run with us?

September 15, 2021

‘Ifs’ don’t distract quarterback Stetson Bennett IV

           One of the biggest words in our vocabulary is one of the smallest. The two-letter word can determine success or failure. I am talking about “if.” Consider these “ifs”:

§  If Alabama’s Coach Nick Saban hadn’t substituted freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the second half, Georgia might have beaten the Crimson Tide in the 2018 national championship game.

§  If Stetson Bennett IV were 6 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier, the pro scouts would have him in their NFL-draft crosshairs.

            As we all know, Georgia was sensational in the Rose Bowl, beating Baker Mayfield and his Oklahoma Sooners. But soon thereafter, Alabama got to wear that championship hunk of finger metal.

            And we know Stetson Fleming Bennett IV is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs a chiseled 190 pounds. Even the ESPN announcers noticed his beefed-up biceps.

            To no one’s surprise, Stetson is not on the 2021 Heisman Trophy watch list.

            But do you think the senior backup quarterback is worried about those snubs?

            Not in the least.

            If Stetson were playing for a Division II college football team, he’d likely be an All-American. Instead, he’s a third-generation quarterback with the mental and physical toughness that repels all notions that he can’t compete in Division I’s SEC.

            When quarterback Stetson was lighting up Pierce County High’s scoreboard, I had breakfast with him and his dad. Sitting in a Mayflower Restaurant booth in downtown Athens, I could see the hunger in his eyes. The eggs and grits couldn’t satisfy his appetite. Stetson’s hunger was to wear the Red and Black.

            Fast-forward to last Saturday. You could see Stetson’s I-want-to-be-a-Bulldog hunger on Dooley Field, “Between the Hedges.” As naysayers will do, I heard, “Yeah, but it was only UAB.” Maybe so, but his passes—10 of 12—were laser beams, producing a record-tying five touchdowns. If he had stayed in the game, he probably would own the record all by himself.

            There you go, that “if” factor again.

            Saturday night will be a tougher test. Regardless of their low ranking, the South Carolina Gamecocks always give us trouble. And if the Dawgs’ number-one quarterback JT Daniels returns and stays healthy, Stetson may have had his last start of his UGA career.  

            But back to the “it was only UAB” comments. Here’s what Coach Kirby Smart said of Stetson, “He’s always had great composure, great athletic ability and a great understanding of the game. He’s a winner.”

Write that down.

            That’s a Dawg-gone good way to reward a walk-on athlete who did not give up on his yearning to wear the Red and Black. Stetson’s scholarship came the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

            Yeah, five touchdown passes—in any game—is something to talk about in the Bennett family for generations to come. And that 20-yard scramble was a 1950s flashback of Stetson’s granddaddy Buddy Bennett’s gridiron elusiveness.

Stet, I am proud of you.

            And one more “if.”

            If the Bulldogs need him again, write this down, too.

Stetson will be ready.

            No ifs, ands or buts.

Hunt for the near-perfect September Saturday

      On a Jack Frost night—somewhere back in the 1950s—I was sitting on a log, around a hunting-camp fire. Uncles Joe and Billy had let me tag along. There I learned that the best part of the hunt came after the hunt. I didn’t know what camaraderie was. But I knew that as I listened, my sides were hurting—in a good way—from laughing.

     One of the men interrupted a rare pause in the banter with a pronouncement. He lasered a stream of Bull O’ the Woods chewing tobacco that made the amber coals hiss. Using the back of his hand to wipe the brown stain from his lips, he looked at me and said, “If you hunt with your boys when they are young, you won’t have to hunt for them when they get older.”

    His name has long since been a mystery, but not his logic. Years before I became a father, I knew our children would get introduced to the woods and waters at the earliest opportunities. And when grandchildren started arriving, we launched into making those kinds of memories, again.

     Alan, our older son, once said, “Dad, you never have any fun.” I countered, “Oh, but I do. I don’t have to pull a trigger or pull in a fish to have fun. Helping you, Emily and Eric have fun is an absolute thrill.” And they know I am going to take too many pictures, so that we can savor the memories over and over.

     Labor Day weekend was one of those occasions. Dove season opened. Long before the sun poked its head over the magnolias at the gate, I was lighting the blue flame under a 10-gallon pot of green Hardy Farm peanuts from Hawkinsville. With plenty of heat and a tad too much Morton salt, the peanuts would be ready when the dove hunters came from the field.

     And that’s when the fun kicked into overdrive. Boys of all ages—and some girls and ladies—start telling what did and what didn’t happen during the sunrise shoot. Facts should never ruin a good hunting or fishing story. The bigger the yarn, the better the laughter.

     I stood back, listened and smiled. Grandsons, brothers and a cousin jabbered, punctuating their stories with animated gestures. The only disappointment was that Emily and her husband, Tom, and their four boys, Wyatt, Hayes, Henry and Smith, could not be with us and take part in the camaraderie.

     For the late-afternoon return to the dove field, I joined 10-year-old Fenn at a round hay-bale blind. He was patient as I preached the same safety sermons that his dad, Alan, and Uncle Eric had heard. Rather than give shooting tips, I decided to wait and watch. Bang! Bang! Two doves dropped. No advice needed. How much more fun can a grandpa have than watching that?

     But if you care anything about college football—especially the Georgia Bulldogs—you knew the game in Charlotte could be the icing on Saturday’s cake. The Dawgs were aiming to declaw the Clemson Tigers. Indeed, the game turned out to be a nail-biter. But we chewed boiled peanuts instead.

     Standing in a hot shower, just before midnight, I thought about what the oldtimer had said so many years ago in Baker County’s backwoods. I am grateful that Alan, Eric and son-in-law Tom endorse the tobacco-spitter’s hunting philosophy, too.

     What a near-perfect September Saturday.

     Oh, yeah. 

     Georgia won, 10-3.

     Turning out the light, I was ready to hunt, again.

     This time for my pillow.

August 25, 2021

Some split-second decisions are easier than others

            How long is a split-second?

            Not long enough to dodge a bullet, unless you are Superman or Wonder Woman.

            How about a rock hurtling at your windshield? Is a split-second long enough warning to get out of the way?


 Not for normal humans driving 65 mph.

            That’s what happened to me. I was lagging back, at a safe distance and driving the speed limit, behind a dump truck on a four-lane municipal bypass. And then, I caught a glimpse of flying gravel. Because I was in the outside lane, I steered slightly to the right, without jerking. But not far enough.


            In the driver’s-side lower corner, a sunburst crack appeared. And then like spider veins, the damage spread. Overnight, the cracks had crept farther and farther toward the center.

            What to do then?

            Even though I had the name and telephone of the dump truck’s owner, I figured it be a waste of time to seek reimbursement for damages. I had run into that kind of dead end when a Georgia DOT gravel-spreading truck broke a side window on my truck. Our vehicles were crossing a bridge over I-20 at the same time. Trapped, my truck was got peppered with small rocks.

            When I called the DOT, I was shuffled off to a third-party claims handler. The voice on the other end of the line said, in a matter-of-fact way, “DOT can’t be held responsible. Do you know how many claims it would have?” After a little more insincere baloney, I heard the final answer.


            This time, I didn’t waste my breath. I called Safelite AutoGlass. Within minutes, a flurry of emails and text messages cascaded into my cell phone. An appointment was set up for Saturday. A mobile technician would come to the farm and replace my broken windshield. An estimated afternoon-arrival time between 1 and 6 p.m. was given.

            And then Saturday morning, I got another notification. The technician would be arriving at 11:35. I drove to the gate at 11:34, as Safelite’s van was turning in. How many times have you and I waited and waited on a scheduled repairman?

            Well, this wasn’t a repairman. It was a repairwoman. With a brief and cordial introduction, Missy Maloch went to work. She said I could watch if I wanted to do so. In between my chores, I stopped by the shade tree to see what she was doing. With surgical precision, Missy extracted the destroyed glass. She explained that the camera mounted on the windshield would need to be re-calibrated. A test run on the highway would be necessary.

            During our conversations, Missy said, “I’ve been around cars, with my daddy, since I was 5.” She tried working in Safelite’s warehouse once, but she wanted a job that was more hands-on. Today she’s the company’s only female installer in Georgia. And she’s not just good. Missy is very good.

            After 90 minutes of nonstop procedures, Missy handed me my keys. With a smile and a wave, she drove off to spend the rest of the day with her husband and two children. It was Saturday after all.

            So how long does it take to realize that you just received superior customer service?

            Oh, in the case of Missy, I’d say, “About a split-second.”

August 18, 2021

The difference between littering and pollution?

             Saturday’s farm chores evolved into a civic-responsibility lesson for our 9-year-old grandson. We were scampering around, checking things off the list. One regular unpleasant task is cleaning up other people’s messes.

            But rather than fume about it, I decided Bayard could benefit from helping pick up the trash outside our fence, along the highway right-of-way. He never balked or complained because he knew there’d be a reward—driving the Kawasaki Mule, once we were back inside the fence.

            I am never amazed at what people toss from their vehicles. Saturday’s winner for the most identical items were losing Georgia Lottery tickets. A half-dozen slips were wadded up and tossed in the ditch.

            Natural resources and the environment are big topics in our family. There’s nothing our eight grandchildren enjoy more than romping in the woods and waters. They know which snakes to leave alone, and most aren’t timid about catching the safe crawlers to show you what they found. I never knew how many different salamanders there are. And the grandkids know the value of taking care of nature.

            As Bayard and I were doing our roadside chore, we talked about littering and pollution. “Grandpa,” he asked, “what is the difference?” My best explanation was, “They are cousins. Both are the result of irresponsibility.”

            I asked the fourth-grader whether he knew about coal ash pollution. He nodded and said, “I’ve heard y’all talk about it.” Six years ago, there wasn’t much talk about toxic coal-ash. Today it is different. There’s plenty of conversation, but not nearly enough action to protect our health andour environment.

            A perfect case in point is Georgia Power’s plan to cap in ­place about half of its estimated 92 million tons of coal ash in Georgia. An example is Plant Hammond’s Ash Pond 3 near Rome. The prudent approach would be to remove the coal ash and put the toxic waste in lined pits, away from water.

            That’s not what the behemoth utility wants to do. Oh, no. Georgia Power is notorious for expecting lawmakers and regulators to kowtow to its requests. Why wouldn’t it? Look at the past. Remember when Burger King introduced the “Have it Your Way” slogan? That’s what Georgia Power wants, its way, while winking at its own slogan: “A citizen wherever we serve.”

Therefore, Georgia Power isn’t bashful about asking the state’s

Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to approve the draining of the coal-ash ponds and putting a lid on the waste. Bundle that with a we’ll-worry-about-leaks-later attitude. 

Georgia Power’s argument is that its strategy meets or exceeds state and federal guidelines. I don’t buy that. Why? The rules are tilted in favor of the polluters, thanks to countless millions spent lobbying state and federal agencies to make sure they can “have it ‘their’ way.”

During an EPD-sponsored virtual hearing on Aug. 10, regulators and Georgia Power got an earful from citizens. A growing number of Georgians have awakened to the dangers of leaving toxic coal ash sitting in groundwater, as in Rome’s Plant Hammond. If you missed the hearing, here’s your chance. Written comments can be submitted to The deadline is 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 10. 

OK, back to our grandson’s roadside-civic-responsibility class. As Bayard was picking up a Styrofoam box, I asked, “Why do you think people throw stuff out of their windows?” When he wrinkled his eyebrows, I said, “Because they think they can.”

And then we were back inside the fence, with Bayard at the wheel. As the gravel crunched beneath the green Mule, my mind drifted to Plant Hammond. Why would Georgia Power want to leave a ticking environmental time bomb in groundwater when it could be defused now?

Same answer. 

        Because they think they can.

August 11, 2021

Nothing like a friend coming to your rescue

            A routine orthodontist appointment turned sideways with one question: “Anything unusual?”

            “Well, Doc,” I said, “there is some sensitivity on the outside of my lower right gum.”

            “Hmmm,” he said, “let me see.” One look and he said, “You need to see your regular dentist. I think you are going to need a root canal.”

Root canal?


I had heard the horror stories, but now I was about to find out for myself. I headed straight to my dentist. He confirmed the suspicion and made an endodontist appointment.

            Friends flinched and wrinkled their noses when I told them of what was coming the next day. One friend said, “Root canals are right up there with IRS audits. I don’t ever want another of either.” “Hey,” I countered, “I’ve endured kidney stones three times. It can’t be that bad.”

            And it wasn’t. That is, if you don’t mind the shots to numb your jaw or the whirling sound of the drill or the doctor’s hands in your mouth for 45 minutes. I was giving myself an “atta boy” until the endodontist made his pronouncement.

            “This, Mr. NeSmith, will not solve your problem,” the doctor said. “Unfortunately, your tooth is cracked.” You will need to see an oral surgeon and have the tooth extracted. Are you in any pain?”

            Sensitivity, yes.

  Pain, no.

            A tooth-pulling appointment was made for the next week.

            And off we go to Jekyll Island for the annual Georgia Press Association convention. Everything was going fine until dinner at the Wharf on the Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s waterfront.

            The first Georgia wild shrimp was delightful. The second shrimp sent a lightning bolt through my jaw. Alan saw my distorted face and jumped into action by disappearing. He had heard mountain folks talk about home remedies for toothaches.

            Returning with some clear liquid in a plastic cup, he said, “The bar didn’t have any moonshine or grain alcohol, but this should do.” Following his instructions, I soaked a piece of gauze in the liquor and clamped it between my back teeth. The taste reminded me of the smell of kerosene.

I didn’t have to wait long.

            Ahhhhhhh, relief.

            And then came bedtime. The lightning bolts were back with every beat of my heart. Despite Advil and dabs of “moonshine,” I didn’t sleep much.

            Before breakfast, Alan was knocking on the hotel door.

            I didn’t have to explain what was going on.

            The president of the Georgia Press Association pulled out his cell phone and started dialing his friend in Jesup. He woke up Dr. Hugh Armstrong. Alan and the dentist have been buddies since their boyhood days. Dr. Armstrong said, “Give me a few minutes.”

            Hugh phoned his friend, an oral surgeon on St. Simons.


We were out the door. Pam was chauffeuring me across the Sidney Lanier Bridge and up the F.J. Torras Causeway for tooth number 31 to be yanked.

The last thing I remember was the surgeon’s assistant saying something about gas as she placed a mask over my nose. And then I was awake. One less tooth, and pain-free.

I have long since forgotten the horror stories told to me before my root canal. But I will never forget the irreplaceable value of friends. Dr. Hugh Armstrong, you proved again: “It’s not what you know but who you know.”

Thanks, my friend.