Semantics. That’s the weapon Republic Services is wielding in the backlash over toxic trash that has been dumped in the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill. “There has not been a spill,” Republic’s public-relations consultant contends. Spill or leak, dangerous stuff seeped into Wayne County’s soil and put our good people and our environment at risk.
|"You can put a tutu on |
a pig, but you won’t make
it a ballerina. After all
the wordplay posturing,
you will still have pork
chops with four hooves
and a curly tail."
Many people like pork chops, bacon, sausage, barbecue, and, by all means, an Easter ham. I know of no one who would lick their lips to eat hog meat that, in its previous life, had wallowed in beryllium, mercury, lead or arsenic-tainted mud or slurped Penholloway Creek water that was downstream of a coal-ash dump.
Wayne County, I love you. From the moment Dr. Alvin Leaphart Sr. grabbed me by my heels and spanked my bottom in 1948, I have been grateful my first breath was taken on the corner of Macon and Cherry streets in downtown Jesup. And there’s nowhere in the world that I travel that I don’t let people know where my roots are planted. I could live in Hong Kong, and if someone asked me where I’m from, I’d say—proudly—“Jesup, Ga.”
I love my hometown, its people and its environment. When our business grew over multiple states, our family sat around the supper table—night after night—discussing and praying about our future. Alan, Emily and Eric were still at home, and I didn’t want to miss one moment of those years. Unanimously, we voted to relocate to Athens as our geographic center.
After I left Ninth Street, my parents joked, “We see more of you now than we did when you lived across the street.” That was true. And 26 years later, I spend as much time as possible in Wayne County. I’d rather be with family and friends in the Altamaha River Swamp than anywhere on the globe. I can walk you to my favorite spot, overlooking an elegant cypress tree that was growing long before Christopher Columbus discovered America. And some of the cypress trees could have been here when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
No one in our family is expecting a trust fund to be left for them. However, my dream has been to leave them a slice of Wayne County’s heaven, along the Altamaha, that is permanently protected through conservation easements. This way, 100 years from now, heirs can’t be tempted or seduced by oil wells, strip mines or landfills.
My people, like many of yours, came from hardscrabble upbringings during the Great Depression. My widow-farmer grandmother was as earthy and country as a bowl of collard greens. I adored her. And when I was about 7, we were standing at her Baker County barnyard gate. After streaming strawberry snuff over the fence, Nanny pointed to a bantam rooster defending his hens from a bigger rooster.
“That banty rooster reminds me of my daddy, your great-granddaddy,” she said. “He was little, but he was as tough as a pine knot. Nobody bullied him. If somebody tried to push him around, he’d pick up a lever (stick) and knock the hell out of ’em. Honey, don’t ever let anybody push you around.”
There’s no way semantics can twist these words: Wayne County, I love you. And as long as Republic, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, threatens to make our community a toxic-trash dump, I am going to be swinging my lever.