We Are Not Shooting Enough Cows

Yes, you heard me right, we are not shooting enough cows.
If you read my Facebook feed this morning, I told a story to illustrate my thoughts on the current “action” against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. My concern is that our focus, the one that supports and protects our national interest, should be to totally destroy ISIS. Unfortunately, I believe that we are taking a short sided tactical approach rather than looking at this from a strategic point of view. What is the difference? I am glad you asked that question, my friend.
General Curtis LeMay was a World War II bomber commander whose planes reduced most of Japan’s cities to cinders. He was later the Commander of the Strategic Air Command, America’s flying nuclear arsenal. He was a big believer in strategic air power. Someone once asked him what the difference between tactical and strategic operations was. His response went something like this. Say you decide that you don’t want your neighbor to have milk. Tactical is going into the barn every morning after milking and kicking over the milk bucket. Strategic is going out the pasture and shooting the cow.
I told that story this morning and noted that with the strategy against ISIS, we seem to be kicking over a lot of buckets and not shooting any cows. I was challenged, asking if I was for reinstating the draft and having the U. S. be the world’s policeman. No, I did not say that. But if you have decided that ISIS is a threat to our national interest, it only makes sense to me that you should do whatever it takes to cut the head off the snake. That is the only thing snakes understand. So, in the interest of being as clear as I can, I would like to pose some questions and what I think are the reasonable answers.
Are we at war? Yes we are. When you are conducting live fire military operations and bombing targets in other countries, you are definitely at war. According to Webster, war is “a state of usually open and armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” The United States if a nation and ISIS is a state (it says so right in its name) and what we are doing is both armed and hostile. So, yes we are at war. I don’t understand why that concept is so difficult for some people to admit. Planes, bombs, shooting and bombing sure look a lot like war to me. And when you don’t call a war a war, you really let yourself in for problems. We thought Korea was a “police action” and Vietnam was merely a “conflict”. But ask the people who were there and they will tell you it sure looked like a war. Maybe someone is worried they may ask for that Nobel Peace prize back. I dunno.
Are we at war with Islam? Yes. Definitely. Not all of Islam, mind you, but this is definitely a war against Islam. Radical Islam to be exact. But it is disingenuous (that is a polite word for a lie) to say this war is not against Islam. We are going after ISIS. The first “I” stands for “Islamic”, as in the Islamic State in Syria. So, if this is not a war against Islam, someone need to tell them they need to change their name. And, this is a war against terrorism, but since the early 1990’s the only terrorist to target us are radical Islamist ones. Why is that so hard for some people to comprehend? We are bombing and strafing targets in parts of the Middle East that are not in Israel. Does the President think those are Methodist down there on the ground? I think what he means to say is that we are not at war with Muslims simply because they are followers of The Prophet. That is like President Roosevelt denying we were at war with Germany because not all Germans were Nazis.
Could we have prevented this? Maybe. When you are raising a child and you give them an ultimatum, such as behave or else, and then don’t enforce it, their behavior tends to get worse, not better. Why? Because they know you don’t mean it and they keep pushing until they get what they want. Same sort of thing happens in international relations. When you draw lines in the sand and don’t do anything when they are crossed, people don’t take you seriously.
 Should we feel morally superior in this thing? Yes, although the President doesn’t seem to think so. I watched a historic moment live on television yesterday. For the first time ever, the President of the United States presided over a session of the United Nations Security Council. And what did he do? He apologized for the United States and our perceived racial problems, specifically bringing up the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Really? I am still at a loss to explain that one. I think he was trying, once again, to show that this is not a war against Islam and that Muslims are not bad people. True, most of them are not. But we should not be ashamed of being at war with the radical ones. It is true that, right or wrong, many black people in America feel they are getting the short end of the stick. But I followed the chaos in Ferguson pretty close. I do not recall any reports of black folks beheading people, burning down mosques, murdering infants because they were white or systematically raping and murdering women in the name of their cause, all things which have become commonplace for radical Islamist.
Can you win a war without boots on the ground? I don’t think so and I am not alone. The proponent of airpower, including General LeMay, have always put forth the idea that you can win a war with strategic air power. The problem is, that has been tried many times and it has never been successfully accomplished. You can accomplish a lot from the air, but sooner or later, you have to have troops on the ground to take and hold territory. And I am not alone in that assessment. In the last week, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of Homeland Security Leon Panetta and the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all said that we cannot accomplish what the President says he wants without troops on the ground. And those are not a bunch of Republican nut jobs. They are 2 of President Obama’s former cabinet members and a professional office he appointed as JCS Chairman who are saying he is kidding himself, and us too, if he thinks we can do this without boots on the ground.
Should we rely on coalition partners or moderate rebels to handle the ground stuff? No. No, no, no. We, that is the United States of America, have decided that the destruction of ISIS is in our national interest. So, why should we depend on someone else to do the heavy lifting? The fall of the Roman Empire began when they lost the stomach for maintaining and army had to start hiring mercenaries to fight for them. Same thing with the British hiring the Hessians to fight for them. If it is important enough to fight for, it is important enough to do it ourselves. Put another way, if you knew that your home and your family were likely to be targeted for a home invasion robbery by a murderous gang of thugs, would you be satisfied to go out and buy some shotguns and ammunition, but then give them to your neighbor and tell him you are counting on him to take care of this? I didn’t think so

.
. Should the United States be the world’s policeman? No. But is September 11 thought us anything, it was that we need to confront our enemies on their own ground before they bring their murderous scheme to ours.
So, having answered those pesky little questions, let’s get back to why we need to be shooting more cows.
So far, the U.S. and its allies have conducted tactical bombing raids on targets in Syria and Iraq. Our aviators and those of our coalition partners have performed professionally and bravely. But, the first round of strikes targeted buildings, bunker and other structures that are part of ISIS’s command and control structure. The purpose of those appear to be to make operations more difficult. The second round of strikes took out about a dozen small oil refineries which ISIS was operating to finance its activities. We blew up some building and took out some black market refineries. And in the process we killed an estimated, we think, probably, around 14 ISIS fighters. 14 out of how many? Let’s say that ISIS has 14,000 fighters. At this rate, it is going to take us 1000 days and a lot of fuel and ordinance to get the job done. That is a lot of buckets to kick over

.
What we should be doing is finding ISIS’s troop concentrations and bombing the hell out of them. When you encounter a rabid dog, you don’t start out by cutting off his tail. You shoot him between the eyes. That is the only thing ISIS is going to understand. They have a fetish for death. Let’s give it to them. General Robert E. Lee was a military genius. He was trained as a solider and was considered the best military mind of his time. He was ahead of his time in that he understood that in war, your goal is not to take territory or capture the enemy’s arms and munitions. Those things were only tools to reaching your ultimate goal: destroying the enemy’s army. It is a hard thing, but Lee understood that the only path to victory was to kill as many of the enemy as quickly as possible. Robert E. Lee understood why you need to shoot those cows. Unfortunately, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
So, in my humble opinion, the strategy to deal with ISIS is simple. We treat them like they used to treat pirates in the 1700’s. Declare that they are a pariah on all civilized people. Any nation is within its rights to hunt them down and dispose of them wherever they are found. In this case, that means tracking them down and bombing them, day and night, day in and day out. With cluster bombs, high explosives or any other anti-personnel armaments on hand at the time. Of course, I am sure someone is going to ask what about civilian casualties? My response is, what about them? If you are living and travelling with ISIS, you are not an innocent civilian. Make sure everyone understands, you are either against the terrorist or you are one yourself. Now, wasn’t that simple?
Yep, I think we need to be kicking less buckets and shooting more cows.

Louisiana’s Civil Law Tradition

Today is Constitution Day and I had the opportunity to speak to several classes of 8th Grade students at Live Oak Middle School.  I have been fortunate enough to so this before and I always find it interesting.  Some of the questions they come up with are quite interesting.  I always get some form of “isn’t Louisiana law based on Napoleonic law?”  I always give a very lawyer like answer that goes something like “Yes and no.”  But mostly no.

I enjoy the intricacies of the law and I love history.  So when I get the chance to talk about history and law at the same time, I am as happy as a hog in a mud hole.  So, I shared with them this little missive I put together for my website a couple of years ago about where Louisiana’s unique civil law system comes from.  I hope you all enjoy it and I would appreciate your thoughts.

The bicentennial of Louisiana statehood seems an appropriate time to celebrate Louisiana’s unique civilian legal tradition. Most people are somewhat aware that Louisiana law is “different” and many mistakenly think that it is based on “Napoleonic” law. The answer is not that simple. Louisiana’s legal tradition is more a “gumbo” of Roman traditions, Spanish law and French language sources, which have been simmered over three centuries to result in today’s Louisiana Civil Code.
French law was never reestablished in Louisiana. In fact, France did not take possession of the colony until 1803, shortly before it was ceded to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. From 1800 to 1803, the colony, although owned by France, remained under Spanish governance, including the legal system. When French officials showed up, just in time to hand Louisiana over to the United States, an edict was issued providing that all laws in the colony would remain in effect. This was, of course, Spanish civil law.

When Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, the territorial governor, William C. C. Claiborne was appointed by the President. Claiborne was a Virginia trained lawyer who expressed a desire to convert Louisiana to a common law system. However, the inhabitants of New Orleans, mostly French and French speaking, insisted that the civil law tradition be maintained. As a result, in 1805, Congress passed Acts providing that, insofar as they were not in conflict with federal laws, the civil laws in force in the Territory of Orleans would remain in force, until “altered, modified or repealed by the legislature.” In 1806, the legislature passed a resolution that a Civil Code be prepared and that “the civil law by which this territory is now governed” be the basis for the code. There was no doubt among the legislature and the leading jurist of the time that that law was Spanish civil law.
At that time, French was still the official language of the territory and the code was to be drafted in French. The two lawyers charged with drafting the code, James Brown and Louis Moreu-Lislet, had a daunting task of gathering thousands of legal rules into a single volume. The Spanish and French civil law were very similar and they had available a French language model which contained most of the substantive provisions, the Projet (draft) of the French Civil Code. The Projet became the Code civil des Francais of 1804, later more commonly known as the Code Napoleon. The Projet and the Napoleonic Code contained most of the substantive provisions of the Spanish civil law, and when the two were consistent, the French language version of the Spanish rule was utilized in the Digest of 1808. However, when the two differed, the Spanish articles where translated into French and inserted. Brown and Moureau-Lislet also organized their work based on the structure of the French Civil Code, which remains the structure of all subsequent Louisiana Civil Codes.
Following the enactment of the 1808 Digest, Louisiana courts consistently l recognized that the codification did not represent a substantive shift from Spanish to French source law. Decisions routinely looked to Spanish laws to provide details on the generalities of the Digest and stated that Spanish law was not abolished, except where clearly repealed by the Digest. Also, distinctive provisions of the Spanish law, which were very different from the French model, were incorporated into the Digest, including provisions on marriage, community property, alimony and successions.
The 1808 Digest was replaced by the enactment of a new Civil Code in 1825. Again, the official version was written in French and translated into English. The English version has widely been recognized as a very poor translation and, until the latest revisions in the 1980’s, any difference between the two versions was decided in favor of the original French text.
The Civil Code was revised and reenacted in 1870, following the Civil War.

The official version was, for the first time, in English. The primary substantive changes were to remove references to slavery following abolition. Other than that, it was substantively similar to the 1825 Code. In the 1980’s the Code was again revised, under the supervision of the Louisiana State Law Institute. The current Civil Code retains much of the Spanish system, with the revisions updating the language and removing mostly anachronistic references, such as the redhibitory vices of horses and mules. Substantive changes were made to reflect modern realities, but the structure and system remains uniquely civilian in nature. Today, the Louisiana Civil Code can accurately be described as one of the most modern civil codes in the world.
Louisiana’s civilian legal system has been described by LSU law professor Robert Pascal as “a Spanish girl in a French dress.” What makes Louisiana law unique, much like Louisiana itself, is the mix of influence from many different cultures. As Professor Olivier Moreteua recently pointed out in an article in the Louisiana State Bar Journal:
“What makes Louisiana unique is its combination of cultures from at least three different continents. New Orleans is an American city with a Spanish downtown called the French Quarter and something of an African and Caribbean way of life. In Louisiana, much of people’s daily lives, regardless of their origins, continue to be shaped by laws combining Roman, French, Spanish and Anglo-American heritage. The French elegance given to it some 200 years ago should not hide the pluralism of its sources. It keeps bringing major contributions to the legal gumbo cooked by the Louisiana jurist, where ingredients of various origins remain visible but combine to a unique flavor. “

Down the Mighty Amite…

Saturday, thanks to my friend Jeff Easley, I had the opportunity to kayak down the Amite River in Watson. It was a great day, but as we headed down the river I realized that, although it had been here the whole time, this was the first time I had actually been on the Amite in 25 or more years. That realization was a shock for a Watson boy, who grew up on and around the Amite. But, more on that later.

Jeff called me last week and said he and some folks were planning to “float the river” Saturday morning.  He was gracious enough to invite me to go with them.  After last Saturday’s adventure on the Mighty Mississippi, I was definitely ready for a more laid back, rural float trip.  We were concerned about the weather and the condition of the river, but when Saturday morning dawned, it was going to be a beautiful day. At least until around noon, when the rain was supposed to start. I called Jeff and found out that we were still on, so I packed my gear, loaded my kayak and headed out.

Jeff and his wife live up Hwy 16, almost to the parish line and have access to a beach on the river behind their house. Jeff’s family also owns a tract of land on the East Baton Rouge side of the river around Indian Mound, off Greenwell Springs Road.  The plan was to make a 3 hour or so float from Jeff’s house to the other property. So far so good.  There were six of us going today. Me, Jeff, my neighbor John Kennedy, Jeff’s friend Dean and Jeff’s brother and sister-in-law, Joey and Jan. We loaded the gear and the kayaks on a trailer behind an ATV and headed down to the beach.  Well, nothing ever goes quite as planned.  The first casualty of the day was when Jeff got the ATV and trailer stuck in the sand.

Not a big thing. We had enough man power to get it out and unload the kayaks. In just a few minutes, we were all geared up, in the water and ready to head out.

When we got on the water headed downstream, I was immediately impressed with the tranquil beauty of being out on the water on such a perfect day.  The water was muddy, but the current was just about right, not to swift but not too slow. We were going to be able to do a lot of floating and less paddling.  It was going to be a great day.  As we floated along, the thought hit me that this was the first time I had actually been on the Amite in almost 30 years.  That was quite a revelation for a kid from Watson, Louisiana. I spent a lot of time in and around that river, up until I was about 20 years old.  When I was growing up, “the river” played such a big part in life around here. It was one of those things that was just always there.
https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/10646811_845026828843491_7029875144093703996_n.jpg?oh=0cc3cfb276b19b02351ff5d09668f6e2&oe=5484D84C&__gda__=1420076020_111a7ea728c155b7a5b77e359d04fd8c

The Amite River originates from two forks in Amite County Mississippi, which eventually join up and flows south through the Florida Parishes.  It separates St. Helena Parish from East Feliciana.  It separates Livingston Parish from East Baton Rouge Parish and further south from Ascension Parish, before it empties into Lake Marepaus.  The lower 28 miles or so of the Amite, from Port Vincent south, are navigable. Which means that for years it was populated with camps and small houses. Today, many of those have been replaced with million dollar homes.  But the portion of the Amite that winds past northern Livingston Parish, and therefore right through Watson, is a curvy, shallow, sandy, muddy bottomland stream.  But for many years, it has been the heart of the community and the people who live here.

According to historians, Indians lived along the Amite, drawn here for its easily accessible sand and gravel deposits, as far back 4,000 B.C.   How they know this is a mystery to me, because I am pretty sure the Indians did not write anything down and white people were still about 3,500 years from finding the New World.  But, I am willing to take them at their word. which means that 1,000 years before the Egyptians built the first pyramids, there were people in Watson living along the Amite River.   Pretty cool, huh?

Back in the day, even when I was growing up, the river was a source of recreation, food, income and pride.  Many of us learned to swim in that river.  Back then, no one in Watson had a swimming pool so the best way to cool off on a hot summer day was a family trip to river for a swim. It was a great place to fish, before folks were willing to drive several hours to Fourchon or Toledo Bend. Catfish, bass and sacalait were plentiful.   The swamps and bottomland forest produced  bountiful amounts of  whitetail deer, rabbits, squirrels and ducks.  Gravel operations were common as far back as the 1920’s and a lot of people made their living in the sand and gravel business.  That muddy little river meant a lot to people around here.

For some of us, maybe it meant even a little more.  If you read my previous “Being Underwood” blog, you know that I am an Underwood, like many of us natives of Watson.  It is more than just happenstance of birth.  It is a state of mind.  Well one thing is for certain. The Amite River is as sacred to an Underwood as the Jordan River was to the Israelites.   It is much more than  just a geographic feature, it represents The Promised Land.   Sometime after the War For Southern Independence, our family patriarch, John Zachary Underwood migrated from Pine Grove in St. Helena Parish to the Watson area and settled near the Amite River.  He was a few thousand years after the Indians, but it must have looked pretty good to him too; it looked like home.   John and his wife raised 12 children, most of whom stayed close to the river themselves.  Their oldest son and my great-grandfather, Walter, wound up with a couple of hundred acres near the end of the Bend Road, which fronted the river.  Some of his children set up homesteads on part of his land.  The river always held a special place for all of them.  Family picnics. baptisms, fishing trips, camp meetings  and the like were, more often that not, held on the river.  Many an Underwood child learned to swim in the Amite.


This is a picture of Grandpa Walter and some of his grandchildren at the river in the 1920’s.  My Daddy is the one on the left with his head turned.   By the time I was child, Walter’s daughter and son in law, Margie and Ken Goodman, had purchased the land at the dead end of the Bend Road.  From where their house was at the end of the blacktop, there was a gravel road that lead down the hill to the sandbar on the river.  They had fixed up a beach and picnic area for the extended family and whoever else wanted to use it.  Each Spring, they would go down to the river and wade in, checking for logs, snags or drop offs.  After this reconnoiter, they would rope off a safe swimming area.  They painted old Clorox bottles and use them as the boundaries.  One set was painted blue and was were the water was only a couple of feet deep.  This was the younger kids area.  The other set was painted yellow and marked the general swimming area.   I remember spending many a hot summer day, and every 4th of July, on that little beach, swimming, playing and eating watermelon cooled in the river.  Those were some good times.

Later when I was a teenager, the river played another large part in my life.  Sometimes my friends and I would put a boat in up around Cloverleaf Farms and float down the river to the Bend Road area. Sometimes we would fish and sometimes we would just float and partake of cold malt beverages we were too young to buy but acquired anyway.  A buzz bait with a white skirt thrown up against a log was the undoing of many a bass and sacalait.  Other times we would run lines or put slat traps in the river to catch catfish.  When we weren’t fishing or floating, Keith Jones and I spent many  hours in the swamps along the river, coon hunting and trapping.  We had visions of getting rich on selling those hides, but somehow we never really did. Those were the days.

One of my best memories of the river were when I was in my high school and early college years.  My Daddy and I had cows for many years.  Uncle Howard Underwood, Walter’s only son, wound up with the bulk of the family home place.  When I was 15 or so, my Daddy leased it from Uncle Howard to run cows on.  So, for the next 6 years or so, I spent a good deal of time on the “old family place”.   It had open pasture, plenty of woods and some swamp.  Two of the most noticeable features were a long sand beach about 50 yards wide and, just upriver, a cleared pasture which abruptly ended at a 30 foot bluff that dropped straight down to the river.  My Dad and I spent many long days there working cows, building fences, cutting and bailing hay, planting rye grass, birthing calves, spraying and worming cattle and many other things.  We even set some lines and traps in the river and did a little hunting. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to work with my Dad on the same land he told me he used to help his grandfather, Walter, work when he was a young boy.   At the time I didn’t really appreciate it like I should have.  But it was quality time.  Some of the best times I spent with my Daddy during my youth happened right there.  After I graduated from high school, we sold the cows and gave up the lease.  I went on to LSU, got married, started a family and found other things to do for fun that did not involve the river.

So, as I headed downriver Saturday, a lot of these thoughts were running through my head.  Had it really been that long since I had been on the Amite?  And if so, why not. I needn’t have worried though.  Like an old friend  you haven’t talked to in a long time, but discover they have not changed much, the river was still the same.  The simple beauty and rustic charm were the same as they had always been.  The day was bright and clear and the water was cold and muddy. The scenery was spectacular.

Just like it had for years, the river had drawn a group of friends to it to rest and recharge.  We had a great time, just floating and visiting, chasing the shade as we went.


As we made our way down the river, I kept looking for things that were familiar, but most of it, while beautiful, looked the same.  Brown water, woods and sandbars.  Jeff told me about the route and where we would take out.  His property on the East Baton Rouge side had two sandbars.  The farthest one was across from the end of the Bend Road, where the tubers put in.  By my calculation that was or next to Aunt Margie and Uncle Ken’s old place.   The first sandbar, where we would take out, was just past a bend in the river and was right across from a steep bluff with a large clearing at the top.  My mind started racing.  Was it? Could it be? Probably not, but then you never know.

As we neared the end of our trip, I saw Jeff and John round a bend and then head for the bank on a wide sandbar.  We had reached the take out point.  I was excited, but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. But then I made the turn, and there it was.

Yes. that was “our” bluff; mine and my Daddy’s bluff.  The clear area at the top used to be our rye grass field. I have plowed and seeded that thing many times.   I beached my kayak and stood and just took it all in.  I walked down the beach for a better look.  I could see the north end of the sandbar downriver on the opposite bank.

Yes, this was Underwood land for sure. I stood there and all the memories and stories came flooding back.  I felt like I should do like Moses and take my shoes off.  I was almost on holy ground!   I was home.

So, thanks to Jeff for inviting me.  He thought he was just taking for a float down the river. But it turned into much more than that.  I look forward to the next time so I can do it again.

Farewell Mon Ami

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Jennings, Louisiana for a memorial service for an old friend of mine.  Frank Touchet was a law school classmate, a former colleague and a long time friend.  He passed away rather suddenly, after battling for many years with various health problems.  Going to a funeral is never something to look forward too, but when it is for someone your age, or close to your age, it makes you stop and think.  That seems to be happening to me with more regularity these days.

I first met Frank Touchet in the fall of 1984, in my first semester of law school at LSU.  Frank was in my class, but not in my section.  To be honest, I don’t really remember the circumstances of our first meeting, but it was not long before we had become friends.  Frank and I were different in a lot of ways. He was a coonass boy from Lake Arthur, Louisiana and I was a goat ropin’ redneck from greater Livingston Parish.  Frank had long hair and an ear ring. I was more of a button down, short hair kinda guy.  But we also had a lot in common.  We both had ‘real world’ experience before law school.  I had worked as a deputy sheriff and Frank spent 10 year or so as a forensic scientist at the crime lab in Lake Charles.  We were both married when we started school and were both raising kids at some point during our law school careers.  But, I think the biggest factor was an intangible one.We both sized each other up and came to a conclusion that, for both of us, was the highest form of flattery. At some point, we both looked at each other and thought “that’s a pretty good ole boy right there.”

After law school, I started practicing in Baton Rouge.  Frank started his practice in Livingston Parish. He was living in Denham Springs, where his first wife was teaching school.  Frank’s practice was primarily criminal and family law, and he was very good at it. Frank was, above all else, a people person.  He was outgoing and jovial.  But he was a hard worker and had a heart for people.  One of the reasons Franks never got rich practicing law was that he was incapable of saying “no” to someone who was in trouble and needed help, especially a single mom who needed help.  He told me at times that those situations reminded him of his own mother, who was a single mom trying to raise a houseful of children on her own.

A few years later, I moved my practice to Livingston Parish and Frank had established his office in a small house, literally across the street from the courthouse.  On days that I had court, I would usually wind up across the street at Frank’s office, for a cup of coffee, a good cigar and a visit.  Frank was an accomplished cook and a lot of days, if I happened to walk in around lunchtime, I’d find Frank in the kitchen with an apron on, fixing lunch for “his girls”, Peggy and Cindy. .  Frank and I grew close during those years.  When you practice law by yourself, it is always good to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and when necessary, to play the Devil’s advocate.  Frank and I worked together on cases and had cases against each other.  Sometimes it seemed it was me and Frank against the world.  On a personal level, I was his lawyer and he was mine. When we worked together, we used to joke that I was the brains of the operation and Frank was the balls.

LIke most lawyers, we worked hard and, when the time was right, we played hard, often together.  We made many a trip to the casino together, partied in New Orleans and sometimes just cracked a bottle in Frank’s office.  We had that kind of relationship where we could disagree and yell at each other (when he was mad at me, his favorite phrase was “What the hell is wrong with you, you dumb sonofabitch”), then laugh about it and carry on like nothing had happened.

Frank was a people person. He also had a certain style.  Frank had long hair, a beard, “bling” and an earring, before that kind of thing was popular.  I was more of a dark suit, white shirt and tie sorta guy. But over the years, I think he has influenced my fashion choices. I’ve let my hair grow a little longer and I currently have a fashion sense that sometimes baffles my wife.  I don’t have an earring yet, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?  Frank was also unique among people my age in the fact that

he was fluent in Cajun French.  I asked him about that one time. He was raised in Lake Arthur, and Jennings, Louisiana.  He said that he grew up speaking French at home.  He told me once that his grandmother did not speak English, and his mother spoke English and French, but preferred French. He and his siblings spoke English at school and to each other at home, but spoke French to Momma and Grandma.

I was with Frank when he divorced his first wife.  I was his best man a few years later when the got married again.  In that capacity, it was my duty to organize the bachelor party.  We wound up with a group in which Frank and I were the senior members.  It started out in Baton Rouge and eventually wound up in the French Quarter.  Turns out the other celebrants couldn’t hang with us old dogs and the night ended with just me and Frank having breakfast at the Tiffin Inn in Metairie at 4 o’clock in the morning.   The wedding was on April 15.  I asked Frank why he picked that date. He said that way he could always remember his anniversary! A couple of years later, I handled his divorce from Wife number 2 and actually got the final judgment signed on April 15.  Nobody thought that was funnier than Frank Touchet.

Some years ago, Frank gave up practicing law.  He moved to South Carolina for awhile and eventually found his way back to Jennings, Louisiana.  To be honest, Frank and I lost touch for a long time during those years. He was dealing with what he was dealing with and I was busy with work and kids and a lot of other things  Then one day out of the blue, my phone rang and Frank was on the other end.  Strangely enough, we were able to take up right where we left off.  We had that kind of friendship. Over the next 10 years or so, we talked regularly, if not often.  Frank’s health, which was never good, was getting worse.  He seemed to be dealing with a lot of things. Then one day, he called me on the phone and his entire tone was different. He was different. It turns out he had met the love of his life, his new wife Karen. His whole demeanor was different. For the first time in a long time, Frank was happy.

As the years went on, Frank’s health got worse and worse. He had to give up his restaurant where he was owner and chef. After that, he had a weekly gig cooking for the local Baptist church on Wednesday night.  As his condition got worse he had to give that up to. During this time, I actually visited with Frank face to face one time, about 2 years ago.  My wife was meeting her sister in Crowley one day.  I tagged along and hoodwinked Frank into giving me his home address. Unannounced, I showed up at his door for a visit. He was glad to see me. He didn’t get out much at that point. Not only did he welcome the company, but it was a chance to talk and pass a good time.  We talked for hours. One thing Frank could do was talk.  He would always tell you about his medical condition, what doctors he was seeing and what medicines he was taking.  And he also liked to talk about football and wrestling.  Frank and I were both old time “rasslin” fans.  Not that NWA or WWF mess.  I’m talking about the good ole days with Skandar Akbar, Cowboy Bill Watts, Dr. X, The Big Cat Ernie Ladd and the Junkyard Dog. Back before wrestling got all fake and stuff.

We said goodbye that day and, it turns out, that was the last time I would see Frank.  We continued to talk. He would call to check on me, to refer a client or just to talk. Mostly he would talk and I would listen. About 6 weeks ago, I got a call from Frank.  He just wanted to talk.  He was not in a bad or down mood. But, he had called to tell me this might be the last time we talked.  He had come to the conclusion that the doctors and the medicine were not going to be able to do him much good anymore. And, as usual, he wasn’t worried about himself. He wanted to make sure I would be there to help Karen and his son Adam when his time came.

Then, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from a mutual acquaintance that Frank has passed away.  I was stunned, but not shocked.  He told me it was coming.  I found out the arrangements.  There was a memorial service that Saturday at the Jennings Church of Christ. I decided I needed to go.  Although Frank and I had stayed in touch, I wasn’t sure  what his circle of influence was outside of his immediate family.  I thought it would be sad if they had the service and not many people showed up.  I need not have worried.

When I got the the church that day, the first thing I realized was that I was going to have trouble finding a place to park. I finally found a spot and made my way into the church.  The Jennings Church of Christ  is not a mega-church, but it is not small by any means.  The place was packed.  And it was packed with people whose life Frank had touched.  As I sat there waiting for the service to start, there was a photo slideshow playing.  Very quickly I noticed that most of the pictures were not of Frank.  They were of people who were important to Frank.  That seemed appropriate, since that is the way Frank was. Life was not about him, it was about those he loved and who loved him.

The service started and I was struck by another thought.  During our relationship, Frank was not particularly religious or spiritual. Not that he did not believe, but it was not a big thing with him.  Just something we never talked about. But I soon discovered that after coming home to Jennings again, Frank had also found a personal relationship with the Lord.  He was a deacon in the Jennings Church of Christ. He was the cook for First Baptist Church.  He had  not one, but two different preachers stand up and say good things about him. One was a Baptist and the other was Church of Christ.  I hope someone can say that about me when my time comes!  And, not surprisingly, most of what they had to say about Frank was how he put others first, how he had a heart for people, how he had the ‘works’ kind of faith, not just the ‘words’ kind.  How Frank would see a need and go out of his way to help meet it. How when he was at his worst, he still tried to help others.  How he was one of those rare people in this day and age who, when he found out you needed something, would stop what he was doing to try to help you.  In short, the same things that I found out about another starving law student almost 30 years ago.

I left there that day with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.  It wasn’t really  a funeral, it was a celebration of Frank’s life.  I am sad that I will no longer get my phone calls. There won’t be another time when my cell phone rings and I look down and it says “Frank”.  But, that does not mean I won’t think about him. And it doesn’t even mean I won’t see him again. One of the hymns we sang that day in Jennings was “When We All Get to Heaven” .  And when I do, I am sure Frank will be there, stirring up something in the pot and talking about wrestling.  Until then mon ami.

 

Jo’s Grand Adventure…

Today I have a guest blogger… My wife Jo Ann!  Saturday we participated in the Big River Regional Paddle, a 13 miler down the Mississippi River.  After we were done, Jo decided she wanted to write a blog about her experience.  Although I might be a little biased, I think she did a great job! So, here it is:

 

My Day On The Mighty Mississip


About 2 months ago I was sitting at home feeling kind of sorry for myself. My husband (and partner in crime), Robbie, was at summer camp with our Boy Scout Troop. I had chosen to stay at home for several reasons, the main one being that we were dog sitting and the visiting dogs and our dogs didn’t get along … at all. So I was sitting at home watching all of the neat things going on in Facebook World. I was ready to get out and do something fun. About that time I saw a Facebook posting about the Big River Paddle. I remembered my friend Julie Rutherford had talked about paddling in a kayak race in Natchez the last couple of years. The first one was something like 40 miles long. The second one, called the Half-Phat, was for 18 miles. Hmmmm … I thought. I could do that. I mean, really you are going with the flow, so to speak. Then I saw this post… Big River Paddle 13 miler. Ok .. I could probably do that. I had kayaked the Okatoma several times which was a blast. I was scared the first time I did it, but overcame that fear and had a great time.

So, before I could change my mind, I signed up. And, I signed Robbie up also. What was I thinking?? The closer it got to August 30th – the day of the race – the more nervous I got. You see, I am not athletic at all. I stay busy. I stay active. But I don’t do much in which I have to depend on my own strength. I am not very competitive unless it comes to a good game of Scrabble. And I have signed up for this kayak race … on the biggest, fastest river in the country!!

I started worrying. Of course, I am really good at covering up just how nervous or worried I am. I put on my confident face and talked about how excited I was about paddling the Mississippi. I also admitted I was scared, but only in a joking kind of way.

All the What If’s started …
What if I turned over the kayak getting into it at the start of the race?
What if I flipped the kayak over in the middle of the freaking MISSISSIPPI River and couldn’t get back in?
What if I lost my paddles and had to be rescued?
What if I had to go to the bathroom? How would I do that?
What if I got worn out and couldn’t finish?
What if I was the very last person in the race, and they made me get out because they couldn’t hold the river traffic longer than the 15 hours I was sure it was going to take me to finish?

I mean .. we are talking about the Mighty Mississippi River! I had ridden and/or driven over the Mississippi all of my life. I had been on the Mississippi in those huge cruise ships. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I actually rode a paddle wheel on the Mississippi for a dinner cruise. But that was still a big boat. I knew that people died on the Mississippi River while they were fishing out of small boats. I had been taught all of my life to fear the Mississippi River. I didn’t know of anyone personally who paddled the Mississippi just because. And here I was .. signed up to do that very thing.

I put on my game face because I was the one who signed up. Why did I sign up? I wasn’t sure. Bragging rights? Doubtful, that isn’t my style. Did I have something to prove? I don’t think so. I still don’t know why I signed up. But now that I had, I was going to do everything I could to make sure I finished. Robbie and I went to an informational meeting beforehand. The race directors assured me that it was something I could do. They said that many of the boaters/paddlers were first-timers. Robbie and I spent the week before the race making sure that we had everything we would need. Type III PFD .. check; Safety whistle .. check; Camelbacks .. check; sunscreen .. check; and on and on. Fortunately we had everything on the safety list except polarized sunglasses. We are veteran Scouters after all.

So .. on Friday evening, Robbie and I loaded up the kayaks and all of our gear and headed to Baton Rouge. The plan was to pick up our race packet, drop the kayaks at the start line, meet the kids for some supper and have our nephew Cale bring the trailer to his house during the race. We then checked into the Hotel Indigo, who is a sponsor of the Big River, and hit the sack early because Saturday was the big day. Saturday morning came bright and early (or rather dark and early). We got up, lathered ourselves with sunscreen and headed toward the river.

There were about 140 people registered for this event – mostly SUP (Stand Up Paddle) entrants with quite a few kayakers. There was even a 4 person sail boat and a canoe entered in the event. The forecast ominously declared an 80% chance of thunderstorms for that morning, but the weather looked beautiful.

My friend Sharon came with her dog, Ashok. Sharon is one of those people who inspires me to be more …. more adventurous … more introspective… just more. After a few photo shoots, the moment I had anticipated had arrived. It was time to get in the water.

This was going to be my first .. what if .. What if I turned over the kayak getting in? What if it took 4 men to hold my kayak steady for me to get in? My stomach was starting to hurt from worrying, but I put on my brave face. Thankfully the race director instructed those of us with sturdy kayaks to put in off of the rocks to the side of the dock because of the bottleneck that was forming. What?!? THIS I could do. For some reason I thought that there would be a huge drop off right there. Not so. Just had to wade through some mud and muck and boom .. my kayak was in the water with my rear firmly planted in my seat. No problem. Now it was time to paddle upstream. Upstream?? All the racers had to get behind the buoys before the start of the race. So I started paddling and guess what .. yep .. it was easy. Hmmmmm I thought. This may not be so bad after all.

After everyone had gotten in the water and behind the starting lines, we were given a one minute warning and then an air horn signaled the start of the race. Robbie and I had already talked about hanging back because we weren’t there to win. We just wanted to finish. We just wanted to enjoy the race.

The race started just north of the new Mississippi River Bridge. It was exciting to be paddling under that massive structure. No problems. The river wasn’t rough, and there wasn’t a strong current, even in the middle of the river. Cool. This means that my What if I flipped my kayak over in the middle of the freaking Mississippi River? had a very low chance of happening.

After about 10 minutes of paddling, I quickly realized that I was paddling into the wind. Hmphh. I guess this was going to be harder than I thought. I had no strong current and was paddling into the wind. At about that point I realized that in order for me to finish this race in a timely manner I was going to have to get with it. Robbie wasn’t in any big hurry. He was enjoying the river and being the master of his own craft. But something in me told me that I needed to get with the program, dig in and get going. So I told Robbie of my plans and took off. I was secretly scared that if I didn’t put some effort into this while I was fresh I wouldn’t be able to finish at all. You know ..that What if I took 15 hours to finish the race and held up all of the Mississippi River boat traffic for a day fear.

The longer I paddled, the worse the weather looked. I caught up with a young woman who was on a YOLO board. Her name is Katelynn and this was her first SUP race. She is 26 years old, used to dance in high school and decided to do this race on the spur of the moment. Her friends were ahead of her. We talked for a little bit as the two of us continued paddling down the river. At this point the wind was blowing hard enough that if I quit paddling, even to take a sip of water, my kayak would turn with the wind and start going upstream. Again I realized that if I was going to finish this race I needed to get going. Soon after I left Katelynn a monsoon hit. Hard, heavy raindrops that were very warm. After about 10 minutes of that deluge, the rain turned cold, and I couldn’t tell if I was paddling up stream, down stream, towards Baton Rouge or towards Brusly. The only thing I could see was the faint blue flashing lights on the patrol boats in the distance.

The second monsoon came in the way of a low cloud. I could see it starting to envelop the banks…. then the river … then me. With the cloud obscuring my vision and rain pouring on me, the only thing I could see was a paddler about 500 feet ahead of me in a bright orange shirt. I focused on that shirt, losing myself in the steady, rhythmic paddling.

I never at any point in this adventure felt truly scared. The river was shut down to barge traffic. All the tug boats and barges were parked on the side of the river. Everyone was so nice, waving and wishing us well. The Coast Guard, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were monitoring the river the entire length of the race along with several privately owned vessels. These race volunteers would check on us, offer water and make sure that everything was going okay. At one point I asked them what time it was, and if I had passed the half way mark. They said yes .. I was over half way there and that it was 10:00. Again, I was worried about losing steam so I dug my paddles in deep, counting along as I went .. 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 1, 2.

I soon caught up with a young man who was Katelynn’s friend. He and I paddled along together, wondering what time it was and if the take-out point was around the next bend. It was raining at this point but not heavily. I still felt physically able. It was hard because at this point I had been paddling nonstop for 3 hours, but I felt as if I could go on. And then it happened .. lightning. Oh no. I knew that if it was lightning, the Coast Guard would call the race and make us get off the water. Robbie and I had just made a similar decision two days before for our scout troop trip. They were planning a canoe trip in Mississippi the same day as the Big River. Because the weather forecasted an 80% chance of thunderstorms, we as leaders, made the decision to postpone. Crap. Another clap of thunder. I edged towards the bank from the middle of the river. If it got bad enough I figured I could get on the bank under my kayak and wait it out. Another paddler, a young girl, came up beside me and asked if I thought they would call the race. I said “probably”. About that time a LDWF boat came up in the middle of the river. The agents on board yelled for us to head to the middle of the river. My response was .. “why?” Is the current better in the middle?

That’s when he confirmed that the race was canceled. Of course I wasn’t ready to quit just yet. I asked how much farther? He said about 3 more miles. An older gentleman on a Yolo Board asked if he could continue because he wanted to finish the race. They informed us that they had pulled all the racers behind us and if we didn’t get in the boat then we were on our own. The race had been canceled, it was thundering and lightening, and I still had 3 miles to go. I knew that they were there for our safety, but I was mad because that meant that I was going to get a DNF… Did Not Finish. I know in my heart of hearts that I could have completed that race in the one hour I had left. It was not meant to be. When Sharon asked how I felt about getting pulled, I really couldn’t answer how I felt. In that moment I was mad, I was tired, and I had adrenaline flowing. I knew the weather was bad, and I was relieved I was safe. But I guess I really felt cheated.

So now I have this longing in my heart to complete a race. This is something that was not there before. Will I do the Big River again?? Maybe. Or I may find something a little more relaxed so that I can ensure I don’t get a DNF. I just know that I want the satisfaction of saying that I completed a race.