In The Company of Heroes

Hero. It is a word that once meant something special. Today, it is often overused and misused to describe things that are not really that heroic at all. We tend to think of professional athletes, movie stars or pop singers as our heroes. In point of fact, those folks are actually ‘celebrities’. While most of us couldn’t do it, it doesn’t take much real courage to face down a 90 mph fast ball or maintain a brutal concert schedule, especially when you are getting paid really well to do it. Admirable, entertaining.. but not really heroic.

If you look up ‘hero’ in the dictionary, it looks something like this; hero (heer-oh) noun: a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Today, it was my privilege to meet and talk with not one hero, but literally a plane load of them.

My wife Jo Ann and I are in Washington, D.C. on a little vacation trip. Actually, we we are on our way to West Virginia for a birthday party and family visit, but we flew into Washington and decided to spend a day or so doing the tourist thing. The weather has been fabulous, cool and breezy without a hint of a cloud. We have enjoyed the beauty and history of our nation’s capitol. In many ways, this is a town of heroes. They seems to be a monument or memorial to someone or something on every block. Many, if not all of the people honored are, by any definition, heroes. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and many more. Some of the monuments honor folks most of us have never even heard of.

Yesterday afternoon we took the time to tour Arlington National Cemetery. It is a beautiful place with acres of rolling hills and trees just across the Potomac River on a rise that has a breathtaking view of the city. It also has rows and rows of white headstones in neat, military style rows, marking the graves of those who have served our country since the Civil War. We found graves from the Civil War to those of veterans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. True heroes for sure.

During our tour, we made our way to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, where we watched the changing of the guard. It is an amazing thing to see. The crowd falls silent as the approach the tomb, even young children sensing that this is a sacred place. The tomb guards walk their post 24 hours a day, 365 day a year, regardless of weather. To watch the current guards, members of the Army’s 3rd Infantry, you sense that what they do is not as much about ceremony and military precision as it is keeping the faith. By being the physical reminder that the sacrifice of the Unknowns has not been forgotten, they are ensuring the the sacrifice of those who come after will likewise not be forgotten. If you have never experienced it, it is something you need to see at least once in your life.

This morning we made our way to the Mall, with intentions to see the monuments there. We started with the Lincoln Memorial. Then we went next door to the Korean War Memorial. Korea is often referred to as the forgotten war. It even says so on the Memorial.   It may be that in America, but not so in Korea. As we made our way to and around the memorial, I began to notice that there were a lot of oriental looking folks around us. Then I noticed three fresh wreaths that had been laid at the memorial, each of then from Korean students or civic groups. Between that and the conversations around me, I put two and two together. While Korea may be the ‘forgotten war’ in America, there are some 50 million people in South Korea who are acutely aware that today they live in a free constitutional republic with a vibrant economy, rather than a closed, totalitarian dictatorship, due to the sacrifices made by American servicemen over 60 years ago.

After that, we moved over the Vietnam Memorial. Black marble panels with the names of over 52,000 Americans who died in Southeast Asia between 1959 and 1975. 52,000 names on a wall, and each of them was someone’s son, brother, husband, father. They came from all over the country. At least one of them was a graduate of Live Oak High School and came from Watson, Louisiana. Douglas Impson was a U.S. Marine and died in Vietnam in 1968.  Why does it seem we only honor people after they are gone?

After that we made our way down The Mall to the World War II Memorial. This was a special place for me. This was the memorial that that honored the sacrifice of my Daddy’s generation. Those like my father, who left home, not knowing if they were ever coming back, and went into combat in places around the world. Or like my Daddy’s older brother, Uncle Louis, who did not come back. When the fate of the world literally hung in the balance, they and others like them shouldered a rifle of flew bombers into enemy territory, not to conquer, but to give freedom and end oppression of people they had never met.

Pfc. Robert H. Harrison, 14th Armored Infantry, 1st Armored Division

 

As we made our way around the memorial, I found the inscriptions for the campaigns Daddy and Uncle Louis were in. My Dad was wounded in the Po Valley in Italy and Uncle Louis was killed during the invasion of Sicily.

Then, I began to notice something different. Not far from where I was standing, I began to notice some old men in wheelchairs. I recognized that they were World War II veterans touring the memorial. It gave me a good feeling knowing they were there.

It is not every day that you get to see genuine heroes anymore.
Then I realized that there were more than just a few of them here. There were dozens. It was a part of the Honor Flight , a program that arranges to fly these veterans to Washington to see their memorial. And it is a great idea. Today’s group was from Chicago.

World War II veterans are becoming an endangered species. When I was a child, one of the last of the baby boomers, it seemed like everybody of my Daddy’s generation was a World War II veteran. Not only my Dad, but 6 of my 10 uncles, and just about everybody else I could think of. 16 million Americans served during World War II. Today, even the youngest of those veterans are 88 or 89 years old. Most are in their 90’s. And they are dying at the rate of over 600 per day. Sadly, it won’t be too many more years until they are all gone.

Maybe that is what made today so special. Here was a group of true heroes, the last of their generation, all in one place. It put pride in my chest and a lump in my throat to be so close to them. It may be the last large group of them I will ever see. Today they are old, bent with age, slow of foot, old men in the twilight of life who don’t all see or hear so well anymore. . But, 70 odd years ago, they fought and bled at places like Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They climbed into bombers and flew missions over Dresden, Berlin, Ploesti and Tokyo. They flew fighters and swept German and Japanese planes from the sky. They went down in submarines and manned the guns of the battleships and cruisers. And most of them were not quite 21 years old when they did.

The veterans I met today, and those like them, have been described as “The Greatest Generation” A quote from Tom Brokaw’s book of the same name probably best describes why:
They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front … As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest … In a deep sense they didn’t think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it too.

It appeared that there was going to be a ceremony or recognition of some sort, so we stood back to watch. There was a color guard to present the colors.

As we watched, they arranged the veterans in rows, most of them in wheelchairs. It was a sight to see.

The ceremony began and they saluted when the colors passed. Some of them sang when they played the Star Spangled Banner. They bowed their heads for the moment of silence. But, the amazing thing was when the bugler played “Taps”. Not only did they salute smartly and reverently, those that could stood up out of those wheelchairs and came to attention, in honor of their comrades who did not come home.

I was so proud to be among so many bona fide heroes. I have heard it said that a veteran is someone who, at some point in their life, has written a blank check to the United States of America for any amount, up to and including their lives. I was thinking about that today. And about what an honor it was to see them and share this one moment with these extraordinary men. I don’t know what they would have said if they had known what I was thinking, but I could probably guess. They would have said they were not really heroes. Those that didn’t come home were the real heroes. Those that had medals for valor would have said they didn’t do anything special; that everyone had done something extraordinary. That the difference between getting a medal or not was whether an officer was looking when you did. I know that is what they would have said, because I heard my Daddy say the same things many times.

As the ceremony ended, the guides were telling them it was time to get back on the buses. They were getting ready to leave, probably to never return. I knew this was an opportunity I would never have again and could not afford to miss. Before they could all be rolled away, I moved to the group closest to me. I went down the line, shaking each one’s hand, thanking them for their service and letting them know what an honor it was to meet them. I had to. After all, each of them was a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. In a word, each one of them was a hero.

Being Underwood

Earlier this week I attended a funeral at Live Oak Church for Mrs. Iris Harris. “Aunt Iris”,as we knew her when we are growing up, was a beautiful lady, inside and out. She was always neatly dressed, wearing a smile and had that naturally sweet personality that always made you feel blessed to be around her. Her children, Craig, Wiley and Ginger, were roughly the same age as my sisters and me. She was a friend of my mother, so we saw a lot of her when we were growing up. But the most important relationship seemed to be that she was one of our Underwood cousins. Actually she was my Daddy’s first cousin, but how and what degree we were related didn’t really matter. She was an Underwood and if you grew up in Watson in the old days, that was all that really mattered.

Being an Underwood is more than just a happenstance of genealogy. It’s really a state of mind; something that defines who you are. Way back when Watson was a little community up the road from Denham Springs, everything revolved around family. There were several ‘old’ families in the Watson area. Even when I was growing up, a common first question that was typically posed to someone you weren’t sure of was “Who’s your Momma and Daddy”. The answer to that question told everyone more than just who your parents were. It generally told them everything about you, because they were really asking “who are your people”. And the answer usually revealed what clan you belonged to; Ott, Jones, Allen, Thames, Easterly, Garrison, Chandler, Graves or some other family. But by far the biggest bunch were the Underwoods.

The Underwood clan in Watson traces its roots back to my great-great grandfather, John Zachary Underwood, who we all know as “Grandpa John”. His father, William Underwood, emigrated from England and eventually settled in St. Helena Parish, by way of Georgia and St. Tammany Parish. Grandpa John was born in 1835. He eventually became a school teacher, served in the Confederate Army and after the war, married one of his former pupils, Rebecca Hill. Eventually, around 1892, John and Rebecca settled on Chandler’s Bluff near Watson and John founded the first Live Oak School. John and Rebecca were well thought of in the community. Not only was John the local school teacher, they were devout Methodists and were faithful members of Live Oak Church.

And, being good Methodists, they apparently took literally the Biblical admonition to “be fruitful and multiply.” John and Rebecca had 11 children, six boys and five girls, which eventually provided them with 72 grandchildren. My paternal grandmother, Mildred Underwood Harrison, was one of those grandchildren. Her father, Walter Underwood, was John and Rebecca’s oldest child. He and his wife had 9 children, 2 sons and 7 daughters and had 29 grandchildren. Which was about average for an Underwood in those days. So, as you can see, in just a couple of generations, the woods around Watson were plumb full of Underwoods. And the family tree continued to branch out.

And, since there were a lot of girls in that Underwood family, they did not all carry the Underwood name. A quick run down on the old Watson families will tell you what I mean. Back in the day a partial roll call of Watson families looked something like this: Mixon, Story, Hancock, Nesom, Rose, Erwin, Kinchen, Webb, Philpot, Everett, Harris, Harrison, Truax, Rasberry, Justice, Meinke, Curry. Yep, you guessed it, they were all Underwoods. Oh, and I forgot to mention that two sets of Joneses and some of the Easterlys  and some of the Fuglers were Underwoods too.

Live Oak School students and faculty, 1910. I bet most of them are Underwoods!
And, believe it or not, all those Underwoods were a close bunch. When I was growing up, I always thought it was neat that I had all these people that I was related to, although I wasn’t always sure exactly how. But that is one of the things about being Underwood. The legal degree of relationship is immaterial. It doesn’t matter whether you were my first cousin, or if our parents were fist cousins, or if our grandparents were first cousins. We are all still Underwoods and that means we are cousins and that’s all that really matters!

I remember as a child sitting in services at Live Oak Church. Even at that age, I realized that I could look around the building and count on both hands the people that were not my “cousins”. I sometimes joke that when I was in high school, you still couldn’t throw a rock in Live Oak Church without hitting an Underwood. I realize now that is not true. You would hit at least two.

The old Underwoods were quite a bunch. Most of them were blessed with good health and longevity. Living into their nineties was quite common. I hope I inherited that gene. They were people of faith, who loved family and loved the outdoors. Even when I was young, those two things centered around two venues; Live Oak Church and the Amite River. Both of those places are special if you are Underwood. We spent many a 4th of July down at the end of the Bend Road at Aunt Margie Goodman’s place, swimming in the river, eating watermelon and just visiting.

Grandpa Walter, Uncle Willie and grandchildren in the Amite River, around 1930. One of those boys is my Daddy

The Underwoods were and always have been a close knit bunch. The height of the social season in Watson used to be the annual Underwood Family Reunion. All of the descendants of Grandpa John would descend on Live Oak Church on a Saturday in the fall for a day long family get together. Everybody was there and you would consider missing ‘the reunion’ about like you would consider skipping your Momma’s funeral. It just wasn’t done. The day usually started out with a couple of hours of just visiting and catching up. In those days, Aunt Ethel Hancock, John and Rebecca’s youngest daughter was the family matriarch. She seemed to have been 100 yrs old when I was five. Then around noon there was dinner on the grounds. And believe me it was good. Sweet tea and all the food you could imagine.  After lunch everyone would gather inside the church for some old time gospel singing and reminiscing. Then it was back outside for dessert and coffee. Think about it a minute. If John and Rebecca had 72 grandchildren and those kids all married and had 3 or 4 children a piece, and that generation had some of there own, by the time I was born there were easily 300-400 people at those reunions. Those were some good times. Here is a video captured from an old 8mm home movie:

 

They also loved to travel. I can remember my Grandma and her sisters and brother-in-laws taking long driving vacations together. Grandma Harrison used to keep two suitcases packed and ready in her bedroom closet. One had an extra nightgown, a change of underwear, a toothbrush and a few dollars. That was her hospital bag. The other one had a week’s worth of clothes, a week’s worth of medicine, extra shoes and around $100 in cash. That one was in case somebody came along and said “We’re going to …… You wanna go?” That way all she had to do was change her clothes, grab that bag and call somebody and let them know how long she would be gone.  Not strange at all if you are an Underwood.

The Underwoods also have quite a connection to public education around Watson. Grandpa John started the first school in Watson. His children, Walter and Posey, became school teachers. Walter eventually was superintendent for Livingston Parish. Their brother Willie was the school board member for the Watson area for many years. When he died, Walter was appointed to his seat, which he held until his death in 1944. My Daddy was later elected to that school board seat in 1960 and held it until 1976. I can remember my Grandma telling about her Daddy teaching her to read as a child, using the King James Bible as a primer.

Walter Underwood and family, 1937. Pretty gal on the far left is my Aunt Mary.

The Underwoods were always active in church and community affairs. Walter attended his first Methodist Church Annual Conference in 1894. He went on to attend 50 consecutive conferences, a record that likely still stands. Willie was the point man for getting folks to sign up with the REA during The Depression and was largely responsible for bringing electricity to Watson. Every Sunday at Live Oak Church looked like an Underwood family meeting.

Underwoods are also easy going and friendly, but on the other hand they tend to be hard headed and stubborn once they make up their mind. In 1976, the Bicentennial celebration was in full swing. One of the events was a trail ride along Hwy 190 through Livingston Parish. Folks from each community were supposed to ride from their place to 190 and join up with the main group. Aunt Ethel, who was in her 90’s at the time, caused something of a stir in the family when she announced she was going to ride a horse, sidesaddle, from Watson to Denham Springs. The excitement went on for a week or so, because she wouldn’t budge, To everyone’s relief, , a compromise was eventually reached; she was still going, but agreed to drive a buggy instead. Being an Underwood was never dull!

So, when I went to Live Oak Church Monday for the wake, I pretty much knew what to expect. I was going to know just about everybody there and more than half the crowd would be my Underwood kinfolk. I was right. Not only the Harris kids, but my sister Cindy, the Curry girls, Jackie and Claudia, Hal Rasberry, Tim Truax, Johnny and Robbie Hancock, Laurie Taylor and Dawn Rush, just to name some around my age. Of course, the current generation of “old” Underwoods were there too. Mr. Dan Truax, Mr. Leon Kinchen, Mr. Hewitt Underwood, Carol Justice, my Aunt Lela and my Aunt Mary, to name just a few. Leon, Dan and Carol are my Daddy’s first cousins. Hewitt, who was the same age as my Dad, is one of those generic “cousins” I was talking about. But if I have the story straight, he is actually my Grandma Harrison’s first cousin, but as usual I might be  little fuzzy on this. A little discussion quickly revealed that Aunt Mary, who is 90, is now the oldest Underwood in captivity.  Mr.Hewitt and Mr. Leon, both 88, are running a close second. Aunt Lela and Carol are not far behind.

On the young side, I ran into Ethan and his younger brother Evan. Ethan is 11 and Evan is 7. Ethan is one of the boys in my Scout Troop. Ethan is a great kid, but to be honest, I don’t remember every laying eyes on him until him and 9 of his friends visited and subsequently decided to join our Troop last year. But, true to form, when I found out who his people were, I knew what I needed to know. Yep, you guessed it; he is an Underwood too, by way of the Webb branch. We have sort of a tradition in our Troop. I am not real good at remembering names. I think it is just rude to keep referring to someone’s child as “Hey you.” or “Hey boy, whatever your name is”.   So, when we get new blood, I usually give each of them a nickname I can remember until I get their real names fixed in my head. Usually the nickname I pick is something that will hopefully help me to eventually remember who they are. The kids think it is funny, and sometimes the nickname sticks. Picking a nickname for Ethan was easy. When I found out who he really was, there was really only one choice. So, forevermore, he will always be known to me as “Cuz”.   After all, he is an Underwood!


My cousin, Ethan!

Biloxi, Then and Now

This past weekend, my wife Jo Ann, our friend Sharon and I spent a nice weekend in Biloxi.  We took the RV and stayed in a park right across from the beach.  Like any trip to Biloxi, it involved good food, good times, a little gaming and a couple of trips to the beach.  Biloxi is one of those places that we all seem to have good memories of.  People have been streaming into Biloxi for fun and relaxation on the beach since before the War For Southern Independence.  It is a familiar place. If you were from South Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, Biloxi was the closest “beach town”.  I can remember my parents taking me to Biloxi when I was a kid. Later Jo Ann and I would take our own kids a few times.  It was close and it was affordable.   It was close enough and cheap enough that you could get off work on a Friday afternoon, start talking about ‘what are we doing this weekend’ and when someone said “Let’s go to Biloxi!” your answer usually was “Let’s go!”

Jo Ann and I did that several times in the days before we had children.  We could just pick up and go. You could be there in a couple of hours.  You didn’t need a reservation because there were enough Mom and Pop motels, hotels and beach cottages that you could always find someplace to stay.  U.S. Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard) runs right along the beach from Gulfport, through Biloxi, to the Ocean Springs bridge.  All along the beach it was jam packed with motels, restaurants, bars, souvenir places and t-shirt shops. Places with names like Sharkheads, Gulf Breeze Cottages, Lighthouse Inn, Sea Oats Motel and Broadwater Beach Resort.   Everybody had a favorite place in Biloxi. A favorite place to stay, a favorite place to eat or a favorite place to party.

One thing that made Biloxi special was the fact that it was the original “Sin City”.  Its heyday was from the early 1940’s through the mid 70’s.  Casino gambling was illegal and the entire state of Mississippi was “dry”.  You couldn’t even buy a beer. But that didn’t stop Biloxi from having open, albeit technically unlawful, gambling halls, bars and strip clubs. That is why it was known for years as the “poor man’s Riveria”.  That is also why being the Sheriff of Harrison County used to be the most lucrative elected offie in the State of Mississippi.  But even after that era ended, Biloxi was still a big party town.

Another thing that you always noticed about Biloxi was the fact that the ‘tourist’ places were commingled with large stretches of residential neighborhoods right along the beach. There were so many beautiful antebellum and Victorian houses, shaded with live oaks and magnolias,lining beach boulevard, facing the beach and the Gulf just beyond. You could ride along Highway 90 and admire the beauty, wondering about the history they represented and daydreaming about how nice it must be to live right on the beach, with the awesome view and the Gulf breeze gently blowing  day and night.

There have been a lot of changes in Biloxi over the years, some planned, some not. In the early 1990’s, big time casino gambling came to town, giving Biloxi another tourist niche as the largest gaming venue in the country outside of Las Vegas.  New hotels and big casinos began to dot the waterfront. Hurricanes have always been a danger in along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Biloxi suffered at least 4 major hurricanes between 1855 and 1947, back in the days before storms even had names.  In 1969, Hurricane Camille hit Biloxi head on with 175 mph winds and a large storm surge. She was the first Category 5 storm to ever make landfall in North America.   Camille devastated the Biloxi/Gulfport area, killing 27 people in the process. Reports were that there was not a single structure on the beach between Pass Christian and Ocean Springs that was not destroyed or damaged.

It was a hard blow, but people on the Coast are a tough, resilient bunch.  The clean up and rebuilding started almost immediately.  Homes and businesses damaged by the storm were repaired.  What was gone or too damaged to repair was rebuilt.  Sometimes even the hurricane damage was incorporated into new ventures.  In Gulfport, an 80 foot tug boat named Ease Point  washed ashore, coming to rest 200 feet inland along Highway 90.  The family that owned the property where she came to rest saw an opportunity.  Rather than remove the boat, they renamed it S.S. Hurricane Camille and built a gift shop next to it and were open for business less than a year after the storm. If you went to Gulfport over the next 35 years, you definitely remember it:

.S.S. Hurricane Camille

One of my most vivid childhood experiences happened about that time. Around 1971 or 1972, when I was about 9 years old, my family passed through the Gulfport/Biloxi area on the way to a vacation in Pensacola.  Those were the end of the pre-interstate days and we had to drive right down Hwy 90. While the debris was gone and much had been rebuilt and repaired, the thing that struck me most, even at that young age, was the trees.  All up and down the highway, the live oak trees along the road were literally full of clothes, towels, bed sheets and linens which had become entangled there when places they came from had been blown away two years earlier by Camille.  It definitely made and impression on me.

Biloxi had weathered the strongest storm in American history and survived. While there was still work to be done, within a couple of years, Biloxi was back and open for business. And for the next three decades, Biloxi was that eclectic, groovy little redneck beach town where motels and souvenir shops shared the beach with stately old homes, churches and some huge floating casinos.

Then, on August 28, 2005,  Katrina hit.  After striking a glancing blow to New Orleans, which destroyed the levees and caused massive flooding and the resultant  great loss of life, she barreled head-on into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Katrina hit Biloxi right in the gut, with Category 3 winds that lasted for 18 hours, a 28 foot storm surge and 55 foot ocean waves. Biloxi, protected from Katrina’s wrath by only a sand beach and a four lane highway, was absolutely defenseless. Homes and businesses which had survived Camille, which had become a benchmark for most locals, weren’t just damaged by Katrina. They were just.. well, gone.  235 people lost their lives.  It is estimated that nearly 100% of the structures along the coast, within 3 blocks of the beach, from Pass Christian to Ocean Springs  were destroyed or sustained catastrophic damage.  The damage was so widespread and so total that then Gov. Haley Barbour said the Mississippi Gulf coast looked like “an American Hiroshima.” Many businesses and homes that had not been completely blown away were crushed under huge casino barges which were torn from their moorings and washed inland. Many people thought Katrina meant the end for Biloxi and with good reason.  The before and after pictures show the extent of the devastation.

Camille Memorial and Church of the Redeemer, Biloxi
The Camille Memorial and Church of the Redeemer


Santini House

The Father Ryan house

Tullis House, crushed under the Grand Casino

The Sharkhead store

Grass Lawn historic home


St. Claire Catholic Church

Seaton House

Gulfside Assembly Church


The President Casino sitting on top of what used to be the Holiday Inn

With the exceptions of Edgewater Malll and the Gulf Coast Coliseum, almost everything within 2 to 3 blocks of the beach was destroyed. Not damaged, destroyed. And many times, there wasn’t even much left to clean up. What the wind and storm surge knocked down, the flooding and ocean waves washed away. This often resulted in one of the iconic scenes of Katrina in Biloxi. All along the beach, you could find a set of steps leading up to a house that was no longer there.

Nine years later, Biloxi has rebuilt, but not as fast and and as extensively as it did after Camille. There are motels, restaurants, amusements, convenience stores and souvenir shops. The casinos are open, as are the hotels. Some of the pre-Katrina casinos are back in business and others have been replaced by new operators in the same spot. All of them are land based now. Jet Ski rentals and miniature golf are up and running. There are places to stay and things to do all up and down Beach Boulevard, but the “old Biloxi Beach” is gone, probably never to return like we remember it.

The striking thing is that if you drive from Gulfport to the Ocean Springs bridge, everything you remember about “old” Biloxi is not there anymore. The local motels and cottages have all been replaced by national chains or high rise condos.

Many of the restaurants have been replaced by Waffle House, which seem to be on every other block.

Even the S.S. Hurricane Camille is gone, bulldozed by its new owners when the property was sold. The Broadwater Beach Resort, The Oceanarium, Fort Maurepas,Fun Time USA, Grand Casino Gulfport, and all but one of the Sharkshead souvenir shops are gone. You pass many empty parking lots and clean slabs, which cause you to play the “I wonder what used to be there” game. Like this abandoned lot across from the RV park:

Or this one down the road. The parking lot is big and I think there used to be a grocery store or a large pharmacy located here, but its hard to remember now:

Even somethings that are new remind you that something is missing. This is a little snowball stand on Beach Boulevard at Veterans. Nice little set up, but the Airstream is sitting on a 50×50 slab in the middle of a large concrete parking lot. So you know that whoever owned whatever was here before decided not to rebuild.

One of the Sharkhead stores is back in business.

The beaches are open and one of the cool things about the recovery is the artwork on display. Many of the trees along Hwy 90 were broken off or damaged by the storm. Someone with a lot more creative talent than me has turned them into some beautiful ocean themed sculptures.


But for me, the most striking and the saddest thing about post-Katrina Biloxi is the loss of all those beautiful old homes. Blocks and blocks of beachfront neighborhoods are just gone, never to be replaced. And many of these were homes which survived not only Camille, but many other storms without names. In their place are empty lots and FOR SALE signs that have sprouted up like weeds along the side of the highway.

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These pictures are from a two block stretch on Beach Boulevard. There are only two houses left, one on each block, surrounded by empty lots with old driveways and slabs.

These are the places next door to each, where someone’s homes once stood.

 

Some things catch your attention when you least expect it. For me it was these two stone lions, silently guarding a house that is no more.

I don’t know how old the house that stood here was, but judging from the neighborhood, it could have easily been built in the late 1800’s. And it makes me wonder how long those lions stood as silent sentinels guarding the front door. They saw storms come and go, probably even Camille. They probably watched as generations of kids grew up, played in that yard, got married and moved away. They may have waited, perhaps in vain, for some young man to come home from San Juan Hill, France, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Korea or Vietnam. They no doubt protected their owners for many, many years. But, in August, 2005 the were powerless against a natural disaster named Katrina. Now they seem to wait silently, wondering when, or if, their owners are coming back. Maybe they never will.

I’m not sure what separates the recovery after Camille from the one after Katrina. Maybe many of the owners didn’t have the money to rebuild. Maybe they didn’t have the stomach for it this time. Maybe they saw a demolished structure and a clean lot as a sign it was time to move on or move inland. Maybe the economy after Katrina wasn’t as vibrant as it was 35 years ago. We may never know.

The only thing for sure is, that for many years to come, some of us will drive down Beach Boulevard and think, “I wonder what used to be there?”

The Biloxi Lighthouse, still standing in the same place since 1847.

Mayhem in America

As I sit here today, I am thinking about what is happening on our southern border.  I have seen a lot of things happen in America in my 52 years on Earth.  I have lived through Vietnam protests, race riots in American cities in the 60’s, the Constitutional crisis surrounding Watergate, recessions, outrage over abortion, the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict,  Hurricane Katrina and others.  But, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Texas and Arizona today as a result of the wave of unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors.  This thing is big. And I think it will have profound effects on this country for some time to come.

We as Americans, as a whole, are a pretty tolerant bunch. Sometimes we are too tolerant, but it takes quite a bit to get the entire populace pissed off about one particular issue. But, I think we have reached that point with the immigration problem and the current administration’s response, or lack thereof, to the current crisis.  In the past few days, I have come to the conclusion that this whole mess may actually be (1) finally the undoing of President Obama, and possibly the Democratic party with him; or (2) a true turning point in the history of our republic, on par with the Tea Act of 1773.  Maybe it is going to be both. Illegal immigration has been a problem in this country for years.

Governors, law enforcement officials and citizens in border states have been pleading for help for years.  During the Bush administration, Congress authorized a border fence to try to staunch illegals coming across the border.  But there seem to be a couple of problems with that.  First, I am not a genius or anything, but a fence, by definition encloses something. A piece of fencing that does not do that is just a barrier. Let’s say I am concerned about my neighbor’s dogs coming into my yard and digging up my flower beds. So I decide to put up a fence.  Does it do me any good to just fence part of the boundary between my house and his? Of course not.  Even a dog is smart enough to walk around to the part of my land that is not fenced. It only does me any good if I put up a fence that is secure and completely protects my yard.  But, we have put up a partial fence on the border, had the federal government decree that the border is secure and everything is honky dory. No, it isn’t, at least for people interested in real solutions and not political nonsense. Another thing I find odd is how we deploy the Border Patrol.  We pay for the Border Patrol to, well, patrol the border.  But it appears that that is not how DHS thinks is the best way to secure the border.  It seems that most Border Patrol Agents are staged somewhere around 70-80 miles inside the border, most of them at immigrant checkpoints. Really? How weird it that? That would be like the State of Louisiana creating a special police force to combat violent crime in the City of New Orleans. Not a bad idea I think. But then, they decide to ‘stage’ those officers in Baton Rouge. Now that would make about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine, but that is how we are trying to secure the border.

Now we have discovered that there is a human wave of unaccompanied children entering the country illegally.  Estimates are that since January, 52,000 unaccompanied illegals have arrived in Texas and Arizona.   The White House denies responsibility and says it is just an anomaly, caused, incidentally they say, by Republicans blocking immigration reform.  It has nothing to do with the President going around Congress and setting up key provisions of the Dream Act, which Congress voted against, by executive order. They also deny that they had any warning that it was coming. They found out on the news, just like the rest of us, right?  Pay no attention to the fact that DHS was advertising for contractors to provide escort and other services for unaccompanied minors back in January. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Nothing to see here people, just move along.

Now I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.  As someone once said, if something happens once, it is a random occurrence. If it happens twice, it is a trend. If it happens 52,000 times, it is a pattern.  When my boys were growing up, our house was famous for great XBox LAN parties. So, when I came home and one or two friends were in my house, I figured they just popped in by chance. But when I came home and my house was overrun with 40 to 50 teenagers, I knew someone had sent out an invitation. Not exactly rocket science is it?

So now, we have been literally overrun by unaccompanied minor illegals. And I’m sorry, but you have to call a spade a spade. It is illegal for any non-citizen to enter the U.S. without proper permission and documentation. We are housing and feeding them in secret camps, where children are sleeping on the floor with Red Cross blankets, sending them all over the country, without notice to the communities where they are headed and without thought to some credible and serious public health issues.  This situation has stirred up the American population like no other issue I can remember.  Two things that I think are interesting about how loud and vociferous that reaction has been.

First, there has been a simmering undercurrent in this country about illegal immigration for years.  But, for most Americans not living on the border, our response has been lukewarm at best. It reminds me of the story about the scientist and the frog. Supposedly, if you put a frog in a dish full of hot water, it will jump out. But, if you put the frog in cool water and slowly heat it, the frog will just sit there until it boils to death, not noticing the gradual change. We in America are much like that. But in the last month, it seems that not only has the temperature been slowing rising, but all of a sudden, the Administration poured a bucket of boiling oil over the Petri dish.  Not only have people jumped, they have jumped high, long and loud.

The second is that the opposition to the current mayhem on the border is so widespread. The alarm about illegal immigration has traditionally been sounded by conservatives, Republicans and those living in border states.  But, in the last month, opposition to what is going on in this crisis has spread through all political, geographic and socioeconomic groups. Certainly border towns in the southwest are opposed to having to provide services for these children. Not on moral grounds, but on common sense grounds.  There budgets are stretched thin as it is. If the federal government forces a few thousand unaccompanied children on them, they will not be able to provide necessary services to their own citizens. But, it is not just the mean people on the border who have figured this out. In the past week, we have seen protest in Murrieta, California, Waco Texas, League City, Texas, Oracle, Arizona, Vassar, Michigan, Lawrenceville, Virginia and Dupont, Washington.

In addition, the Democratic governors of Washington and Maryland and the Republican governors of Nebraska and Iowa have stated that their states are not willing to accept illegal immigrant minors. The City of Lynn, Massachusetts, north of Boston, has refused to accept several hundred unannounced immigrant children who DHS proposed to register in their local school system. And, both Democrat and Republican members of Congress, who finally seem to be getting the message that they were elected to represent the people of their states and not the special interest lobby, are loudly condemning the border crisis and demanding immediate action. This thing is moving so fast that today, in the span of a few hours, I saw a news story were DHS had granted a potential $50 million contract to a non-profit group to buy a luxury hotel in Texas to house up to 600 teenaged detainees. Within hours of the story being broadcast, the outcry was so great that the proposed contractor pulled out of the deal.

Another little fact has come to light and has apparently convinced Americans that DHS is just giving us all the proverbial finger. As an citizen born in this country and who holds a valid U.S. passport, I cannot board a plane without an acceptable form of photo ID. “Acceptable” to TSA being the operative word. If your government issued ID is expired or not otherwise acceptable for some reason, you don’t fly. I have even had TSA try to tell me that my ID was expired because that little sticker you get to put on the back of your license when you renew by mail was “illegal”. My response was “Well then you need to call Kathleen Blanco” “Who?” “Kathleen Blanco, she is the Governor of Louisiana. She is the one that gave me that.” Now it has come to light that these illegal detainees are being allowed to fly on commercial flights with nothing more than a piece of paper issued to them by ICE saying they have ‘registered’. A paper they got, by the way, without providing any form of identification or verification that any of the information they gave the Border Patrol is even correct.

Members of Congress and the media are in a lather over the inane DHS rules that allow them to visit the detention centers, but prohibit them from bringing a cell phone, taking pictures or talking to any of the detainees or the staff. That really got things stirred up. Congressmen and news reports have one thing in common. They can be like spoiled children. They surest way to get them upset about something it to tell them they can’t do it. And they both have legitimate complaints about such rules. For members of Congress, they are elected representatives visiting a federally run facility. They represent one of the three co-equal branches of government in this country. If you believe that we have such a thing as separation of powers under our Constitution, you understand that the Executive Branch cannot prohibit a member of Congress from doing anything. As for journalist, taking photos and video and talking to people is how they do their job. The free, uncensored flow of information, especially political information, is the lifeblood of a republic. Whether you like them or not, journalist are essential to our form of government. That’s why we have this pesky thing in America called the First Amendment. DHS says these rules because they are legally obligated to protect the privacy of the children being detained. There is one word I think of when I hear that, and it is not one that I can use here, since this is a family column.

First, privacy only comes into play if you show or disseminate personally identifiable data about a particular detainee. So how is talking to them and asking where they come from, how and why they came to America and where they plan to go a violation of privacy. How is privacy violated if you ask the staff things like how many detainees are being held here, what are their ages or what communicable diseases have you observed? And as far as showing identifiable images of individual detainees, give me a break. TV reporters are professionals. They air footage everyday with faces blurred or identities protected, all in the name of privacy. If the folks at DHS don’t know this, they obviously have never watched COPS or Girls Gone Wild. And, it this was happening in Rwanda or Gaza, the U.S. government would be raising holy hell if those in charge were imposing those same restrictions on U.S. journalists. So, in light of all that, it makes you wonder what the real reason they don’t want people taking pictures or talking to the staff.

It seems the situation has gotten so bad that only people who don’t think this is a major problem are the President and those loyal minions who seem to be willing to go down with the ship. And, as usual these days, they respond by telling outrageous falsehoods and hoping if they get repeated often enough, people will be dumb enough to believe it. But I don’t think it is going to work this time. Obama says there is no crisis and the border is secure. So, when he goes to Texas last week for Democratic fundraisers, he doesn’t even bother to go to the border and see what’s going on. Instead, he decides to drink beer and play pool.


Maybe he found out they were out of beer at the border? Or could it be that the Secret Service told him they couldn’t guarantee his safety if he went?

Now Harry Reid and a few more delusional members of Congress are telling us that the border is secure. How do they know that? Because the illegals are turning themselves in to the Border Patrol! Praise Jesus, we are saved! See for yourself:

Now Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion for emergency funds to deal with this crisis, which is not really a crisis. Most Congressmen have quickly said now way. But not to worry. Harry Reid. Harry Reid says the President really doesn’t need Congress’ permission to spend that money, but it would be nice to have it. Oh, and Eric Holder said this week that if you disagree with the President, your probably a racist. Which reminds me of this:

Wow, and for a sidebar this just in; apparently even Joe Biden is trying to distance himself from Obama.

But, I digress. So what do I think we should do about all this mess. Just my opinion, but here goes.

1. Secure the border. Really secure the border. Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution imposes certain obligations on the Federal government in favor of the States, including one that says “and shall protect each of them against Invasion;..” So, the President has not only the power, but the Constitutional duty, to protect Texas, Arizona and New Mexico from the current invasion. If you think this is not the kind of ‘invasion’ the Founders had in mind, you need to do some reading about the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916. Because a handful of Mexican bandits under Pancho Villa raided the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico, President Wilson sent the U.S. Army not only to secure the border but to spend the next year or so in Mexico chasing bandits. Maybe we should ask Mr. Wilson what ‘invasion’ means. It would not take much for President Obama to order the military to the border to stem the flow. And, before you throw up the Posse Comitatus act, it expressly does not apply to “cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution..”

2. If the President declines to secure the border, the Governors of those states should invoke their powers under the 10th Amendment and call out the National Guard to do what the President won’t.

3. Spend part of the President’s $3.7 billion to finish the border fence.

4. Enact emergency legislation that authorizes and directs ICE to hold a preliminary hearing for any alleged illegal alien who is an unaccompanied minor within 10 days of detention and requires deportation to their country of origin withing 72 hours after the ruling on the hearing. This satisfies due process concerns and also sends a message to families in Central America. You can spend your life savings on getting your children to the United States, but when we catch them, they are coming back quickly, with no refund.

5. In November, remember who caused this mess in the first place and how they treated all of us when they did it.

Thanks for reading today. I am Robbie Harrison, American Citizen!

The High Cost of Progress

Every once in a while, something smacks you in the face and makes you realize ‘the times they are a changing’.   I had one of those moments recently and while change is inevitable, sometimes it can be bittersweet.

Not long ago I was driving down the road by the old Live Oak High School site and was stunned to see a track hoe and dozer tearing down the old elementary school building.  I knew that they were remodeling the campus to accommodate a new middle school, since the a brand new high school had just been occupied. I did not know they were going to demolish the portion  of the buildings that used to house the elementary school grades. So, imagine my surprise when I saw this

My heart sank. That was the old elementary school building where all of us went to school! If you are “Old Watson” you definitely have many memories of that little red brick schoolhouse. I know I do.

To set the stage, our little community of Watson, Louisiana has changed a lot in the past 20 years or so. Progress is good, but it can also be painful. When I was in elementary school, Watson was a sleepy little spot on Hwy 16 north of Denham Springs. The school was a combined first-12 school, with a total of about 350 students. In addition to the school, Watson consisted of the Methodist church, the post office, Mr. Eldo’s Red & White grocery store, Mr. Peano’s hardware, cafe’ and Esso station and the cemetery. That was it; not much else. Very little changed and people liked that. Everybody knew everybody, and most of them were related in some way. Occasionally, somebody new would move into the community, but that was okay. It was the kind of place that if you moved in, 15 years later you were were still ‘those new people’ who live on Springfield Road.

But, around 1981 or so, that began to change. Drastically change. There were a lot of factors, but the biggest one was that was the year that the Federal Court in Baton Rouge ordered forced busing for public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. What had been a trickle of folks moving out to Watson became a flood and then a wave. So, thirty something years later, our sleepy little community now has 5 schools and will soon have 6. Were we used to have 350 student, today we have around 3,500. We have a four lane highway with traffic lights. We have gas stations, convenience stores, Pizza Hut, Pappa John’s, two Subway stores, 4 auto parts stores, a 24 hour Walgreen’s, restaurants, supermarkets, fitness centers, daiquiri bars and more. Where Mr. Berlin Devall’s pasture, complete with horses, used to be right by the red light is now a 20 unit shopping center. And all that was before Wal-Mart came to town. Yes, Watson LA now has a 24 hour Wal-Mart Supercenter.

As you can imagine, a lot of things have changed with all that progress. My Grandmother’s home place is now a subdivision. My Mom and Dad’s house that we all grew up in is gone. The lot is still there, awaiting some future venture. After all, it is right across the road from Wal-Mart. But for some reason, none of that affected me like seeing them demolish that old school building.

It was no architectural showpiece. It was simple. Just a little rectangular building with 6 classrooms on each side with a central hallway. Sort of like taking two shoe boxes, putting them side by side and covering them with a roof. Each classroom opened into the hallway, but if you were a student and you were lucky, you never used that hallway. Each classroom had an outside door that opened onto the playground that you used all the time. If you were in the hallway, that generally meant you were about to be administered some old time corporal punishment.

In addition to the outside door, each classroom had large windows that looked out onto the playground. If you went to elementary school at Live Oak when I did, you remember that metal door and those windows. You began each school day by ‘lining up’ at that door to be admitted to the classroom. You also did the same thing after each recess when you went back to class. The windows were your escape from the drudgery of school. I can remember many days when I was supposed to be learning, but instead I was gazing out the window, daydreaming about who knows what. And, if you were lucky enough that your room was on the north side of the building, you could see when the school buses started arriving in the afternoon. You knew your day was almost over. Kids tend to get really squirmy when they know school is almost over for the day.

There were 12 classrooms in that building, six on each side of the hall. Grades 1 through 6. At the end of the school year, you didn’t move far. You either moved to the next room down the hall or across the hall for your next grade. Many of us started our education in that little building. I know I did. I started first grade in the classroom of Mrs. Neal. Here is how many of us remember that room:

This is what it looked like on the day they were tearing it down:

I started first grade in 1968. At that time I remember thinking that Mrs. Neal was really old. I realize now that she was probably around 40 at the time, but time seems so elusive when you are six years old. I was so excited to start school. My sisters had been going to school my whole life and I thought is was totally unfair that they got to go everyday and I had to stay home. I used to beg my Momma to let me go with them. So, I was one proud little boy on that day when I got to climb on Mr. Osborne Turner’s school bus and ride to school. It was awesome. That lasted about 2 weeks. I soon found out that school wasn’t as much fun as I thought. It was too much like work. Which led to Mrs. Neal and myself clashing on many occasions.

But I remember a couple of things from that year. First, everyday ended with a hug. Not just for me, but for everybody in the class. Maybe what school kids today are missing is not more federal standards, but not enough hugs. The other thing that I remember is that one day we were doing art. I am not, and never have been, an artist. We were supposed to draw and color a picture of something our Momma did at home. I picked laundry. But my picture didn’t come out so good. It was sloppy and messy and had so many eraser marks there where holes in the page. Mrs. Neal and I clashed again on this one. She even made me stay in at morning recess to work on it. When she finally gave in and let me turn it in, it looked like some kind of abstract primitive pencil art. She took mercy on me and let me go out to lunch recess. When we came back from recess, she showed everybody’s pictures to the class. When she got to mine, she held up a pretty nice looking , brightly colored picture. I was shocked. It didn’t look at all like what I had turned in. But even at 6 years old, I realized that she had spent a few minutes during recess retouching and coloring my picture, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed when it was show to the class. That is a singular act of kindness and caring that I still remember 46 years later.

The next year I moved to the room next door for 2nd grade with Mrs. Dot Allen. Mrs. Dot’s class was different from first grade. Let’s just say that it was a little louder and her style was to verbally motivate us to do better. But, each day still ended with a hug. The next year, I moved next door again for 3rd grade with Mrs. Davis. It was a good year, but something changed. For one thing, on the end of the first day ,when we thought it was “hug time”, we were informed that we were third graders now and we were to big for that kind of thing now. Oh well. I admit that in 3rd grade I was something of a teacher’s pet, but it worked for me. But it did a poor job of preparing me for 4th grade.

In my 4th grade year, I moved across the hall to Mrs. Weeks’ room. And boy, did things change. Mrs. Weeks was a disciplinarian and certainly did not believe in teacher’s pets or anything of the sort. Mrs. Weeks and I clashed, often. The basic problem was that she knew I was smart and had it in me to be a very good student. She also knew I was lazy, prone to daydreaming and would rather play than learn. She decided early that she was going to break me from that, even if it killed me. Ultimately, she was successful. If you ever experienced having her for a teacher, you have to hand it to Mrs. Weeks. She was no nonsense and made sure everyone knew it. She was not shy about applying the ‘board of education’ when she thought it was needed, which turned out to be early and often. And it was an amazing thing to behold. If you transgressed, correction was swift and certain. She had a world class move where she could grab a student by one arm, lift them out their desk in one movement and apply 3 or 4 swift licks with a paddle and deposit them back in their seat before they really knew what happened. No witnesses, no going out to the hall, no paperwork. And when it was done, the student was highly motivated and immediately ready to resume their education.

I think it is difficult for those who did not experience it to understand how much that little schoolhouse meant to those of us who did. There were usually less that 200 of us in those grades at any one time. So, you knew everybody. And by that, I don’t just mean their names. You knew where they lived, who there brothers and sisters were, what their daddy did for a living. So it was close and intimate. Second, when you were a kid in Watson in those days, your life pretty much centered around school. There were not many extracurricular activities for younger kids in those days. So, your social life was school. It is where you saw your friends and kept up with the important things. Like who had a new baby sister or brother, who had some cousins moving to Watson and other important stuff. There were also no organized sports for elementary age kids in those days, so for most of us, our first exposure to sports was at school. I remember playing a lot of baseball at recess. It was fun and, since we usually had only 10 or 15 minutes, we had some interesting ground rules. If you hit 5 foul balls you’re out. If a batter has 2 strikes, someone else can take the last swing for him. If you hit a ball over the chain link fence, you’re out. Stuff like that there.

That little school was were we learned things. How to read, how to write, multiplication tables and long division. How to put ideas down on paper and how to search out information you didn’t already know. But we learned a lot of other things too. Like how to make new friends, how to get along with people and play well with others. How to be a team player and that you couldn’t always get your own way. What is was like to fall in love and what it was like to get your heart broken for the first time. We learned the manly art of self defense. For some reason, fisticuffs were much more common at school in those days. We learned how to stand up for yourself when you had to, and more importantly, how to stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. We learned love, compassion, sympathy and kindness. All of them lessons much more important that how to diagram sentences or work through verb tenses.

We also made friendships, many of which would last for a lifetime. I don’t think a lot of people can say they are still friends with a good number of people they went to elementary school with. But that is very common for those of us from Live Oak. When I graduated from high school, there were 45 people in my graduating class. At least 20 of us started to school together. And in those days we were not unique in that regard. It was just the way things were.

Even later, that old school building played a part in our lives. When the elementary school was finally split off and moved to a new campus, many of us moved back to those classrooms for 7th and 8th grade. Later, when the middle school moved to a separate campus, those rooms became the Math and French hall for the high school and our kids were there. we visited them many times during open house. They might have been being used as the algebra lab or audio-visual room for the French class, but to us they were always Mrs. Neal’s room or Mrs. Weeks’ room. And they always would be.

But now that little schoolhouse is gone and the place we learned and laughed and played looks like this:

We have to say “so long’ old friend. Progress is good, but sometimes it’s painful. But the memories of that little schoolhouse will live on in the hearts and memories of all of us who were there. And that is quite a legacy.

FOR THE RECORD

Yesterday I saw a news article online  where former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ant-gun group, Everytown for Gun Safety, plans on sending a questionnaire every candidate in the U.S. who is running for a House or Senate seat in the Fall elections this year. According to Everytown President John Fienblatt, ““People deserve in this country to know where candidates stand on reasonable gun measures.”

That started me to thinking. The NRA and other groups, like Everytown, are always grading people on their position on guns and asking for their beliefs and opinions on the subject. I am a reasonably smart, adequately educated, professional middle-aged white guy, but no one has ever graded or asked about my stance on guns or gun rights. Maybe that’s because I have never run Congress. And, I don’t intend to as long as I am in possession of most of my mental capacity. But, just in case, I decided it might be a good thing to get my opinions “on the record”, just in case. Plus, that way if I ever do lose my mind and decide to run, I won’t have to waste time filling out forms or answering questions; time that I could be spending shaking hands and kissing babies. Or is that kissing hands and shaking babies? I always get confused. But I digress.

So here goes.

First, I like guns. No, actually I love guns. I am a country boy and I have been around guns and people who also love guns all my life.  My Daddy owned guns and bought me my first one when I was 12 years old.  It was a single shot H&R .20 gauge shotgun.  Nothing compares to being a young  boy, growing up on the family place and taking your own gun out in the woods to stalk big game, like squirrels, rabbits, birds and an occasional copperheaded rattle moccasin.  As I got older, I was allowed to take one of my Daddy’s guns on hunting trips. It was an Ithaca Feahterlight .12 gauge. It was a beautiful one that was fun to shoot.  Once my Daddy passed, I got that one and still treasure it very much.  I guess that is okay with Joe Biden, since it is a shotgun, but I don’t really care one way or another.

I have owned many other guns over the years as well.  The first handgun I ever bought for myself was a stainless steel Smith & Wesson Model 13 .357 magnum with a 4 inch barrel. When I was a deputy sheriff, this was my ‘duty weapon’.  Since then I have owned several different models of semi-auto handguns in various calibers.   I have also owned several rifles.  Not hunting rifles, since I don’t hunt anymore. My tastes generally run to collectible old military style stuff.  The finest one I ever owned was an World War II era M-1 Garand, which was chambered for .30-06.  It was the gun that won the war and that General Patton said was “the greatest battle implement ever devised”.

So, as you can see, I have, and do, own quite a few guns. One thing I have noticed over the years is that none of them have ever shot at anything that I did not want to and make a conscious effort to shoot at. Okay, there was that one  hole in the ceiling at the camp, but even that was my fault.  Don’t ask. Nobody was hurt and its best just to not talk about it.

The point is, I don’t feel that guns are bad or inherently evil. A gun is tool to be used for a particular purpose. In that sense, a gun is just like a shovel or a power saw.  And like a shovel or a power saw, they are best when used in the hands of people who are familiar with them and know how to use them safely.  Shovels and power saws have been used to murder and maim people at times, but that does not make them evil. It all depends on the mind and actions of the person holding them.  One thing that guns, shovels and power saws do have in common is this: You can take each of them, get them ready to use, lay them on a table, step back and tell them to do their thing.  And you can wait as long as you want, but none of them will do anything until someone puts their hands on them.   Sometimes people use them wisely and sometimes they don’t, but whatever happens is not the fault of the tool.

Second, I am a card carrying NRA member. I think I should say that in the interest of full disclosure, although I don’t see where that is anyone else’s business.  I also believe in the Constitution of the United States, which includes the Second Amendment.  I believe that the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is one of the cornerstones of freedom.  I also believe that the words “shall” and “not” are mandatory and are pretty clear.  I think what the words “keep AND bear” are pretty important.  We, as Americans have the constitutional right (which is not granted by the government, by the way) bear arms.  That does not mean I intend to always go around armed. But when I think I need to, and that decision should be up to me, I have that right. I don’t need a permit or permission. It is my right.  Which brings up one of the first lessons my Daddy taught me about guns. He used to say “You don’t always need a gun, but when you do, your gonna need one real bad.”

Since we are on the subject, I might as well let you know that I don’t think the Second Amendment has anything to do with hunting. Or with self-defense or home protection.  It has to do with the fact that the founders, who had just fought a revolution to gain independence, knew that an unarmed populace was the greatest threat to freedom and liberty in the world. I know a lot of people today see this as a radical thought, but while it does provide for us to hunt or defend our person or home from criminals, the Second exists to allow us to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government.

For what it is worth, I do favor laws, and the enforcement of those laws, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally unstable.  But I do not think the way to do that is to restrict the rights of sane, law abiding citizens.  To me, that is like saying we should take people’s cars away because some people drive drunk or some old people can’t see to well anymore. And on that note, I don’t think MORE gun laws are a good idea.  Maybe before we start passing more laws on that subject, we might want to try enforcing the ones we already have and see if that makes a difference.

I also do not believe that gun free zones and other such things do much to curb violence. In fact, I think they encourage it.   First, if a homicidal maniac is out to shoot up a theater or school, they are not gonna stop and say “wait.. that is a gun free zone. It would be illegal to do it there!”

Plus, criminals like to prey on unarmed people and tend to avoid those that they think might be packing a gun. I saw a few news articles this week that tend to confirm that. First, recent statistics show that as there has been a rise in granting concealed handgun permits in this country, there has been a corresponding decrease in violent crime.  Also, Target stores recently banned possession of handguns in their stores.  Surprising no one, there has been a sharp increase in store robberies and crimes committed against customers in and around the parking lots of Target stores. This is why I think ‘gun free zones’ should actually be called ‘a target rich environment’ for bad guys.  It would make things so much simpler and not give non-smart people a false sense of security.

In addition, I have heard people say why do you need a gun to protect yourself? Wouldn’t a knife or a baseball bat be just as good.  It would if the other guy had a knife or a baseball bat.  But if you don’t understand why bringing a knife to a gunfight is not a good idea, you are a special kind of stupid and there is nothing I can do for you. So disarming law abiding citizens is not a very smart idea.

I believe that we all have a right to defend ourselves and our families.  This is not a constitutional right, but a natural right that exists outside the provision of any law or statute.  Come in my house in the middle of the night and you will learn what kind and how many guns I really do own.   And, while I have the utmost respect for the police and the men and women who serve us, I always think about this inconvenient little fact that the anti-gun crowd hates.  Most violent criminals, whether burglars, robbers or rapist are still smart enough not to hang around until the cops show up.  A quick plan of ex filtration is always part of the plan. So, remember, when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

Also, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I am some kind of right wing nut job. I am not planning or plotting the overthrow of the government, waiting for the revolution to start or actually expecting a zombie apocalypse. But, I have lived through natural disasters and seen civil unrest, even in this great country of ours. I am not preparing for doomsday, but I am preparing for the day that something happens and help is 3-4 days away and I have to protect myself and those I hold dear. If you are one of those who believes that everything is going to be okay because the government can help you, you either did not live through or have forgotten about a little thing called Hurricane Katrina.

Another news story that was interesting was the fact that over the 4ht of July weekend in Chicago, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in America, 82 people were shot, 16 of them fatally. You would have thought that a legally gun free city would be much safer, right? I agree with Samuel L. Jackson on this one.

And this guy:

While we are on the subject of gun laws, while I don’t think we need more, if we are going to pass some anyway it might be a good idea to let people who understand guns do the thinking.


There are other issues like registration, banning certain firearms or restricting magazines, but I think by this time, Mayor Bloomberg and my potential  voters should have a pretty good idea of my “position” on guns. If anybody else is unsure, you are a special kind of stupid and I can’t help ya.

I am Robbie Harrison and I approved this message! (I know you knew that, but for some reason Mary Landrieu says I have to say it).

A Trip to Rural Georgia

As reported in my last blog, I just spent a week at Scout Camp at Camp Thunder in Molena, Georgia. The camp is located in Pike County on the banks of the Flint River, about 55 miles south of Atlanta. We had an awesome week at camp. Uncharacteristically for me, I did not do a lot of research on the general area before heading out. But, along the way I made some interesting discoveries about this area of central Georgia.

On Sunday afternoon, following a day at Six Flags over Georgia, we left Atlanta and headed south on I-85 on our way to camp. We bailed off the Interstate at Newnan, Georgia and it was immediately obvious that we weren’t in Hotlanta anymore, Scarlett. The area is beautiful. Not in a breathtaking sense, like the Smokey Mountains or the coastal plains, but in a very simple comforting way. Mostly piney woods set on rolling hills, the place feels like home. You immediately encounter farmhouses and wide fields. There were definitely more cows grazing in the pastures than there were people around. Our route down U.S. 27A took us through a succession of quaint, sleepy little towns. Newnan, Manchester, Greenville. Mostly well kept white frame houses with wide front porches and lots of windows. Newnan, the county seat of Coweta County, and Greenville, the county seat of Meriwether County, both were anchored by a large courthouse square complete with huge domed Colonial style courthouses, complete with a clock.

As we progressed down 27A, I made my first really cool discovery. As a was trying to watch the road and follow my GPS, I suddenly passed a sign that said “Moreland GA Corporate Limits”. I knew exactly where I was. And the next, much bigger sign confirmed it. “Welcome to Moreland GA, Hometown of LEWIS GRIZZARD”. Now some of you may not know of or remember Lewis, but if you are a dedicated fan like me, that was like finding a “George Washington slept here” sign or getting invited to dinner at John Wayne’s house.

Lewis was a columnist, writer, humorist and television actor. After graduating from Georgia, Lewis started out, at the ripe old age of 23, as the Sports Editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Later he started writing a 4-5 times a week column for The Journal, which was eventually syndicated in over 450 newspapers around the country. Above all, Lewis was a Southern and made no apologies about it. His wit and wisdom hit everything from sports, to politics to relationships. But he most often wrote about the conversion of the “New South” and how that was seen by those of us who had lived here all of our lives. When you read his columns or books, you would very often laugh out loud at what he had to say. He was somewhat controversial at times. One time, a newspaper “up North” declined to pick up his column, claiming that it was “too Southern”. True to form, Lewis penned a column that started out with “Too Southern? That is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as TOO Southern!”. He wrote many books and I used to have them all, with great titles like “Shoot Low Boys, They’re Ridin’ Shetland Ponies” to “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes!”. He even made a number of guest appearances on “Designing Women” as the Sugarbaker sisters black sheep brother.

Unfortunately, Lewis died in 1994 at the age of 47 from complications from a congenital heart defect. But, just riding through town brought back a lot of good memories. If you have never had the pleasure of partaking of his humor, here is a favorite video of mine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imZjCbRuZ3c

And, if you listen to this one, you will know why I laughed when I saw the sign for Hogansville, Georgia:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxky2HOJEOs

We made it to the camp, and I spent Monday getting the lay of the land and helping the Scouts find where their classes where and figuring out the schedule along with various and sundry other adult leader duties. On Tuesday, I decided it was time to play some golf. So, I headed out to find the closest golf course. My trip took me through Molena, Woodbury Zebulon and to the outskirts of Griffin. That trip confirmed what I had started to realize on Sunday afternoon; this place if rural. Really rural. Not in a bad way, but in a comforting, sit on the porch, drink sweet tea and watch the sun go down sorta way. The closest big towns are Atlanta, which is 75 miles north, or Columbus, which is 65 miles east. You could tell that farming and raising cattle where the primary sources of income around hear for many years. You could drive for miles without passing another car, but when you did, they always waved.

Another thing I noticed was how many churches I passed along the route. Apparently this area is deeply religious, in a real Southern sort of way. There seemed to be a Baptist Church every few miles, with an occasional Methodist one sprinkled in from time to time.
Beulah Baptis Church
According to the Census Bureau, 70% of Georgians identify themselves as Protestants. Around here, that means Baptist. Southern Baptist. They report that there are around 600,000 Methodists in Georgia. And there are still three times as many Baptists as there are Methodists. And, if you are a Presbyterian or Episcopalian, you have to go “to town”, like Griffin or Greenville, to worship. I don’t recall passing a single Catholic Church at all, which is quite strange if you are from South Louisiana.

Speaking of churches, on the road from Molena to Zebulon, I made a fascinating discovery. About halfway down Hwy 109, I discovered the Mount Olive Baptist Church, established in 1827.

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I continued down the road about 100 hundred yards. Only about 100 yards, on the opposite side of the road, was the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

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You can literally stand in the parking lot and see the original Mount Olive Baptist Church across the road:

You might think that it is great that the folks out there are so religious that they need two churches across the road from each other. But, as a Baptist myself, I am betting there is a really good split story in there somewhere.

I finally found the golf course on the outskirts of Griffin. If you are a Walking Dead fan, you might know that they film the show in and around Griffin. In fact, they were reportedly filming there the day I was in town. The Golf Course was called Morgan’s Dairy Golf Club. It was a very pretty 18 hole course that had, in fact, been a dairy farm at one time. I liked it, but there were some strange moments. Like the ball I lost in the old sawmill on the right of the fairway. And on number 16, you play the fairway behind the old milk barn.

On the way back, I missed a turn on Hwy 41. As I was looking for a place to turn around. I noticed a historical marker along the side of the road and decided to check it out. When I got to where I could read it, the title said, and I am not making this up, “FIRST PAVEMENT”. It seems that in 1924, the people of Spaulding County completed a road program, which left Spaulding as the only county in the United States between Miami and Chicago to have a paved road from county line to county line. An achievement which they are still apparently pretty proud of.

On

Wednesday, I headed to Warm Springs, Georgia to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House. Warm Springs is only about 15 miles from Camp Thunder and some of our boys were taking a field trip there for their Citizenship in the Nation class. I like historical stuff, so I decided to drive on over. Warm Springs is a nice little town. The tour of the house and museum was very interesting. I might pen a future blog on that in the future. However, there is one story I feel compelled to share. As we were touring the cottage, we got to see President Roosevelt’s bedroom and bathroom. For whatever reason, as I stood there, I just felt compelled to take this picture:
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I turned to my friend Mel Martin and said it may be strange, but I had to take that. Not many people can say the saw a commode where the President of the United States use to have bowel movement. Maybe it is a guy thing, but Mel smiled and said “I think that’s why I like you. I was just thinking the exact same thing.” Great minds think alike they say.

After the tour, Mel and I decided to find something for lunch. The lady at the Little White house recommended the Bulloch House. I am so glad she did. It is a huge Victorian style house that has been converted into a buffet style restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine. The buffet was awesome; 20 feet of delicious home cooked food like my Momma used to make. We feasted on meatloaf, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, fried green tomatoes, black eyed peas, cabbage, hot biscuits, cornbread and sweet tea, topped off by a piece of homemade caramel cake, all for under $20. I think there was also a salad bar, but I can’t be sure. It was certainly better that whatever they were serving in the dining hall at camp that day.

Another interesting thing I discovered is that the people in Pike, Upton and Meriwether counties are still Southerners. I mean real, old fashioned, down home Southerners. Everywhere you went, you were greeted with a smile and a kind word. And the kind words were spoken in a drawl about as thick and sweet as homemade cane syrup on a cold winter morning. They maintain a different pace. They move slower and don’t get excited, but that allows them to observe the genteel pleasantries of life. While some might find it strange, it was comforting and familiar to be greeted by total strangers who call you “Sugar”, “Honey” or “Baby” or hearing them “Bless your heart”. One day I went to Woodbury to buy 4 bags of ice. I was having a hard time keeping the bags on the counter, paying for my purchase and getting my wallet back in my pocket. Saying anything else, the older gentleman in line behind me grabbed two of the bags and simply said “Whatcha riding in.” Something like that has not happened to me in years.

All in all, it was an interesting trip. While I don’t see the area as a major tourist destination, if you want some down home, old time religion, cooking and hospitality, it might be worth a visit, especially if you are already in the Atlanta area.