July 7, 2020

Reflecting on past helps us to improve our future

            From the comfort of my screen-porch glider, I watched the backyard flutter of red, white and blue.  Our flag andour history have endured tattered times.  Yet with all the ugliness and uncertainties swirling, I still hummed “God Bless America.”
            Our nation is far from perfect, but we shouldn’t give up.  Since 1776, America has been a work-in-progress republic.  Citizens peacefully exercising their rights through protests underscore the freedoms that we cherish.  During this pandemic, I’ve had time to reflect and pray that we will never stop trying to make our country better.
As we look back—with today’s perspective and through a 2020 lens—our flaws are glaring and shameful.  Consider these three horrific examples that are impossible to justify on July 4, 2020:

Trail of Tears
If I were in charge of educating America’s children, I would mandate that students watch Unto These Hills, in person or on video.  What happened to the Cherokee Nation is just one historical snapshot of the travesties forced upon multiple tribes of Native Americans.  Even as a grade schooler, I was embarrassed to learn how Dutch traders swapped a handful of glittery trinkets for the island of Manhattan.
Traveling west, the story turns more tragic.  It’s a fact that many tribes were brutal in their attacks on settlers. But we must remember that we—the newcomers—were the invading aggressor, trampling Native American cultures and slaughtering their food supplies.  Imagine how you would react under similar circumstances.  

            The Nazi death sentence of 6 million Jews did not happen on U.S. soil, but millions of Jewish Americans grieved as their loved ones perished in Auschwitz, Dachau and other hellish concentration camps.  About 10 million people live in Georgia.  Imagine 60 percent of our population starved or murdered and then tossed into a ditch. 
As a Baptist boy—growing up in a 1950s small-town bubble—I knew less than one dozen people of Jewish faith.  I had no idea what had happened in Europe, several years before I was born. My father, uncles and aunt were among the brave Americans who helped save Old Glory, crushing the Nazi regime and thwarting a Japanese invasion.
I have visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans several times.  Students should be required to take virtual tours of that incredible collection, including the Holocaust exhibit.  In the Nazi genocide initiative, an estimated 11 million “undesirables”—by Hitler’s standards—were killed. 

            Biblical and historical accounts tell us human bondage had existed thousands of years before America’s birth. Nonetheless, we added our share of regrettable chapters.  Some say Christopher Columbus brought enslaved Africans to the Americas in the 1490s.  Slaves did arrive in Jamestown in 1619.  And for almost 250 years, until 1865, enslavement continued. 
 We should insist that, as in these three examples—Native Americans, Holocaust and slavery—history and America’s textbooks do not gloss over the real stories.
            Again, using a 2020 lens for hindsight, there is no way to rationalize the inhuman practice by which one person has ownership of another.  I have Black friends who can trace their roots to ancestors who were chained and hauled out of Africa.  

No one living had anything to do with the buying or selling of Black men, women and children.  But today, we know that slavery was wrong, horribly wrong.  History is what it is.  We cannot change and should not sanitize what happened.  
            In 2020, the question for the United States is: “Can we find a solution-minded dialogue that will lead to reconciliation and forgiveness?”  The other option is to continue the destructive path of hate-filled polarization to make “united” in our nation’s name a cruel joke.
I think that we should use an understanding of past wrongdoings to fortify our resolve to make sure tomorrow’s history reflects that we learned and improved from our mistakes.   
For our nation, that is my hope for now and forever.
God bless America.


June 30, 2020

These products earn my rating of a ‘10’

           We shouldn’t judge people. But millions of moviegoers—mostly men—thought Bo Derek’s 1979 beach-comedy movie was aptly titled 10. No doubt the model, with her hair in cornrows and sporting a swimsuit, caused a rush to the box office.
            I repeat. We shouldn’t judge people, but I am comfortable rating these products on a scale of 1 to 10. Unlike Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, who was once paid to wear and promote panty hose, I’m doing this for free.
            Harris Mouse Trap
            When a tiny mouse scurries beneath your feet, do you screech? How many of you have “caught” your finger trying to bait and place a traditional spring-loaded mousetrap, the one on a small wooden board?
            Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, is credited with saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” He’d be proud to know about these two plastic reusable mousetraps. You bait with peanut butter or cheese through on opening on the bottom. No more catching yourself. One is by Harris and another by Tom Cat. We had a long-tail intruder. On the first night—within 10 minutes of turning out the laundry room light—snap!
            White Brite
            A dozen of my white T-shirts were almost tossed in the cotton-rag box. Filters were losing a battle with iron in our well water. My shirts were clean, but they were dingy. Bleach wasn’t getting the job done, either.
            A Little League parent told me about laundry additive White Brite. How many of you have been frustrated by trying to get mud, grass and clay stains out of white baseball pants? Get ready to win that game.
            You know that damp, musty smell. Under sinks, in closets and in basements, excess moisture invites mold and mildew. For many of us, that means nasty allergic reactions.
            If you’ve never tried this product, trust me. It works. Cashiers often ask, “Sir, did you get enough DampRid?” I usually reply, “No, but I bought all you had.”
            Fusion razor blades
            Yes, I know. Facial hair is big these days, but I like to shave. For 30 years, I used Gillette Sensor blades. I thought they were the best ever. And then there were none on the drug-store shelf.
            Reluctantly, I tried Fusion by Gillette. Perfecto. No more bloody nicks. I have retired my styptic pencils. The Fusion blades were an accidental discovery, but now I wonder what took me so long to switch.
            Simply Saline
            Year after year, I had bouts with nasal issues. If the Olympics had a coughing event, I could have won a gold medal. Laryngitis, bronchitis and the ilk plagued me.
            And then my pulmonologist introduced me to saline mist. He said, “Every time you brush your teeth, flush out your nose. So many bad things start there. Just like washing your hands, keep your nose clean.”
            There are other steps in the daily regime. But for two years, Arm & Hammer’s Simply Saline has helped me stay away from antibiotics for that other stuff. 
            Last week, my doctor smiled when he listened to my lungs and peered into my nose and throat. And then—with a very serious look—he said, “I have another recommendation. Are you listening?”
            “Don’t slow down,” he said, “but stay off ladders!”
            No, I didn’t see the Bo Derek’s movie. But as for these products and doc’s advice, I give them a “10,” too.


June 26, 2020

We must watch what’s going on in Brantley County

            When you hear proposed-landfill noise coming from Brantley County, your first reaction might be: “We don’t have a dog in that fight.”
            The fact is that we do.
            But first, I don’t have any idea of who promised what.  However, a fleet of lawyers are squaring off over the neighboring controversy.  Disagreement among lawyers is how our courts work.  Sometimes, judges decide the winner.  Most times, juries do.  And then if you don’t like the verdict and have the money, you can argue your case all the way to the Supreme Court.
            So, what’s our “dog” in this legal debate?
            Our “dog” is no four-legged mutt. It’s a river, near the boundary between Wayne and Brantley counties.  The mirror-like Satilla River snakes 260 miles through Southeast Georgia on its way to lick the salt in St. Andrew Sound.

            If you’ve never paddled beneath the canopy of trees over this dazzling stream, you have missed one of our state’s scenic adventures. The sugar-white sands glisten and suggest: “Take off your shoes and feel the magic between your bare toes.”  Ancient cypress trees have stood watch over this black-water gem for centuries.
            If you care anything about nature, you can easily be smitten by the Satilla River.  My friend Wayne Morgan has taken more photographs of the river and its wildlife than anyone I know.  His first book, Satilla Solitude, is filled with eye-popping images.  It’s a visual treasure on thousands of coffee tables.
            Almost a dozen years ago, Wayne showed me a handful of not-so-beautiful Satilla photographs.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I shuttered, “How could anyone do that?”  Old tires, toilets and tons of trash were clogging spots along the Satilla. 
“I want to do a book and help save the Satilla,” he said.
            And I said, “Send me 150 pictures, and I’ll write it.”
            Wayne’s first grandchild is named Kase.  On his introductory trip to the Satilla, then-3-year-old Kase—seeing the waterlogged trash—was shocked to tears.  Wayne titled the book Kase for the Environment.  A third edition is now being sold.
            Meeting Wayne and visiting his oasis—Zirkle on the Little Satilla River—were important preludes to an environmental fight that has consumed almost five years. In January 2016, Wayne County got a crash course in toxic coal ash and what harm it could do to our natural resources and our health.
            The community was enraged that Republic Services Inc., owner of Broadhurst Environmental Landfill, was planning to haul in as much as 10,000 tons of toxic coal ash per day. Wayne County could have become the largest coal-ash dump in America.
            Because Broadhurst sits atop the Floridan Aquifer and because it is situated in porous terrain—not far from the Little Satilla River, which empties into the big Satilla—we had to stand up and say, “No way!”  For months, it was a slugfest. Both sides lawyered up.
            And then in a regional leadership change, Republic sent Drew Isenhour to town.  He listened and offered to work with the community. Corporate attitudes shifted and tension eased.   
Drew knows many of us think the landfill’s location was a poor ecological decision by the Environmental Protection Division (EPD).  The wetlands of Broadhurst are too fragile to risk leaking poison into our water source and draining pollution to the Atlantic coast, via nearby streams:  the Penholloway Creek, the Little Satilla River, the Satilla River and the Altamaha River.
            However, the Broadhurst landfill is here to stay.  That’s why it is imperative that we work with Republic to make sure every precaution is taken to protect our environment and our health. 
            Now there’s this across-the-river legal brouhaha.  Will soggy Coastal Georgia get another landfill?  The courts may eventually say, “Yes,” but the court of public opinion—on both sides of the Satilla—is already shouting, “No!”
            Wayne County, we should pay attention to this fight.


June 16, 2020

Feathered reminders that love is antidote to ugliness

             She made gift buying easy. All you had to do was to give her something with a red bird on it. Put a bow on napkins, a handkerchief, a coffee mug, a figurine or a framed picture and she’d smile.
Mother loved cardinals.
And when I see a male cardinal—in all his red glory—I smile.
The other day, I did more than smile. I pulled out my phone to take a photo. I had left my driver’s-side window down, and a red bird was parading on the dash.
On the other side of the truck, my friend said, “I’ll open this door.”
“Wait!” I said.
Stetson Bennett started snapping pictures, too.
Before we let Mr. Cardinal out, he put on a show. 
Sometimes at breakfast, a red bird taps on the kitchen window. I imagine Mother’s spirit is saying, “Good morning.”
According to government estimates, as many as 60 million Americans are birdwatchers. I’m not in that official count, but I do enjoy noticing them. Living on a farm, I get to see hawks, hummingbirds, robins, wrens, bluebirds and more.
            That reminds me. I need to mount those bluebird boxes gathering dust on the workbench. And when I go to the mule barn, sparrows seem to follow me, hoping I’ll spill a little sweet feed.
            Other favorite winged visitors are purple martins. We have two martin condos on tall poles. A sentinel usually sits on the roof, while his buddies perform aerial antics. I love to see martins migrate in. I’m sad to see them move on.

            Right up there with purple martins are noisy killdeers. “Killdees” are skilled flyers, too, but their on-the-ground skits are a hoot. Ground-nesting killdeers don’t want you close to their eggs or little ones. With a broken-wing act, they lure you away. Kids are fascinated. This big kid likes it, too. And if I spot a nest, I mow around it.
            How many times have you lifted a child so they could peek into a bird nest? And you whisper, “Shhhhhh … look, but don’t touch.” What’s not to love about that?
            These days, doves and quail are pairing up. I don’t see many quail. But in the late afternoon, I can hear the bobwhite whistles back and forth. Doves don’t hide. They’ll let you get close before they wing off from their barbed-wire perches.
            Wiley turkeys do hide. I don’t care how many turkeys I’ve ever seen, I look forward to spotting the next one. I feel as though I’ve won a prize if I see a flock scratching and pecking around the edge of the woods.
            And then there’s Mother Nature’s alarm clock. I’m guessing it’s a mockingbird. No later than 6 a.m., the backyard chatter erupts. The best thing to do is get up. But I don’t fuss. Mockingbirds make me smile, too, especially when I see one chasing a bully crow.
Right now, there’s entertainment with pairs of mockingbirds doing what I guess is their courting dance on the lawn. The feathered choreography is a reminder that love is a beautiful antidote for all the ugliness swirling in the world.
Down at the pond, wood ducks and occasional mallards stop by. But I can count on a great blue heron—as it flaps away—to squawk a suppertime greeting.
Just before sunset, a V-formation of Canada geese swish over, honking as if to remind me, “You’d better hurry and feed the catfish, or you’ll be walking home in the dark.”
            Well, maybe there’s one more to add to America’s 60 million birdwatchers.


June 9, 2020

It’ll take more than bulldozers and dump trucks

            Before I-95 sliced through Southeast Georgia, Jesup was a haven for overnight tourists. More than a dozen mom-and-pop motels stretched on along U.S. 301. But in the early 1960s, the blockbuster news was Holiday Inn’s announcement.
            I first heard it from Bobby and Tony Armstrong. Holiday Inn was buying part of their Younce Street backyard to build the new motel. About the same time, my classmates and I were getting our driver’s licenses.
            That meant our Friday and Saturday night cruising route expanded from the Dairy Queen—corner of Macon and Pine streets—to making a lap around the new motel on 301 South. A popular contest was to choose a model of car—as in Cadillacs, Lincolns, Buicks and such—to see who could count the most to win. Pretty lame compared to today’s whiz-bang games. But remember that was 1964, when people just ate apples and didn’t click on Steve Jobs’ Apples.
            The Holiday Inn’s glory days faded years ago, but think about how many Kiwanians and Rotarians streamed through its buffet lines. While bulldozers have been busy clearing clutter left by the defunct motel, I narrowed my favorite memories to three. Besides the luxury-car-counting contest, here are two more:
            Secretary of State Max Cleland was in town to speak, circa 1987. I called my friend to see whether he’d visit with our older son. Each of our children had read the Vietnam veteran’s Strong in the Broken Places. Alan was writing a book report, and I thought he’d benefit from interviewing the triple-amputee. Max said, “Sure.”
            We agreed to meet for breakfast. When we got to the motel, I called Max on the front-desk phone. “Y’all come on over to my room,” he said. A knock on the door brought a cheerful reply: “Come on in.” When I opened the door, Alan stepped back and looked at me with eyes as big as hubcaps on one of those Bronx Cadillacs parked in the Holiday Inn lot.

            There was Max—no legs and one arm—naked and toweling himself after a shower. Laughing, he quelled our apprehension by saying, “It’s all right.” And it was. Alan regained his composure and asked questions while Max dressed and fashioned a knot on his necktie.
            I don’t remember what grade Alan got on his assignment, but I am confident none of his classmates had an author’s buck-naked footnote to add.
            Bars were nothing new in Jesup, but the Holiday Inn brought a little-more-uptown drinking establishment—a lounge. If the recently knocked-down walls could speak, they’d tell stories of how many romantic relationships started and stopped in that dimly lit corner of the Holiday Inn.
            Circa 1974, Sen. Roscoe Emory Dean Jr. was at the Wayne County Press, overseeing a campaign print job. The senator and our production foreman, Jim Buie, had a special relationship. Jim loved punching Roscoe’s buttons to see how the colorful senator might react.
            Along about that time, Roscoe had been accused (but never convicted) of drinking and driving. Jim seized on the latest reported escapade and said, “Senator, I hear you’d been at the Holiday Inn and drinking.”
            With drama fit for the big stage, Roscoe pulled the cigar from his mouth and declared, “Jim Buie, my man, liquor has never touched my lips!”
            Jim laughed and fired back: “Senator, that must be because you were drinking it through a straw!”
            A fleet of bulldozers have knocked down the old Holiday Inn, but all the dump trucks in 

Wayne County can’t haul off those kinds of memories.