Friday, July 31, 2009

Politics Another Word for Power

I had the pleasure to attend one portion of the T. L. Bozeman High School Class of 1959 50th Reunion last week. I watched as the surviving classmates laughed and greeted each other while remembering old times. My good friend, Mary Colson, referred to by her classmates as the glue that held the reunion together did not surprise me. She has served this community and school system diligently for many years.

Mary offered me a DVD which was prepared very well by former resident of Hawkinsville, Robert Scott. As I watched and enjoyed the scenery around the city by the muddy river, and the still-life pictures of students from that time long ago, I was touched by the students who overcame a life of segregation to make the most of their lives. Mister Scott also had live movie shorts featuring such early musical stars as Little Richard and Ray Charles, both Georgia natives and many others who performed to the enjoyment of Blacks and Whites as well.

Mister Scott interviewed a number of the classmates for the DVD presentation, asking a variety of questions. The one question he asked each person was, “Did you think you would ever live to see a Black president?”

Their answers were all the same. “No, never!”

“How does it make you feel?” was his next question. All of those who were interviewed said generally how proud they were, and they hoped he did a good job.

I could tell that they were very proud to have their race represented in the highest elected office in the nation. I felt the exact same way when a Georgia native, Jimmy Carter was elected. After the debacle of LBJ, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, I bit hook, line, and sinker for his line, “I’ll never tell you a lie!” How proud I was to help elect a fellow Georgian! Little did I realize that he would turn out to be the worst President in my lifetime, up to this point anyway.

But the change that I’ve seen since January—with the emphasis on “change”—gives me pause to be concerned for our nation, and I can only hope that President Obama doesn’t continue on his path and disappoint all those 1959 graduates.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) asked rhetorically, “Is health care a constitutional right?” He answered, “Well, we believe that people do and we're introducing a constitutional amendment just to make it real clear so that you don't have to infer or assume that that's a given and all that.”
In a sense, Obama admits the unpopularity of the major proposals being bantered about in Congress. “This has been the most difficult test for me so far in public life,” he complained, “trying to describe in clear, simple terms how important it is that we reform this system. The case is so clear to me. ”
“And the case is equally clear to many that Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress are acting unconstitutionally,” said Economist Walter E. Williams. “Look it up! Health care isn’t there!”
Columnist Rich Hrebic explains, “A right is not a guarantee that the government (i.e., other people) will provide you something for free. We have the right to engage in religious expression, but that doesn't mean that the government pays for the construction of the church. We have the right to peacefully assemble, but the government doesn't promise to supply your transportation. You have the right to keep and bear arms, but don't expect the government to provide you with a free firearm and bullets. You have the right to free speech, but the government won't grant you free radio or TV air time. What makes something a right is not whether the government can force somebody else to pay for it.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mater Samich Smilin'

If you’ve noticed more people smiling lately and are wondering why that could be, given the dreadful situation we find our nation in, it just might be caused by the return of “kitchen sink mater samiches.”
Sure July is hot and June must have set a record for being the hottest June ever, and only the Good Lord knows what we may be in store for, come the dog days of August, but let me tell you what I’ve been filling up on lately. Cantaloupes, watermelons, real peaches, and real tomatoes. Don’t take exception to the descriptive word “real!” You know it’s true! I just can’t bring myself to make a tomato sandwich out of those grocery store cardboard tomato look-a-likes. Yuk!
And did you ever go to one of those fancy shmansy restaurants or to a big-time meeting where they put out some things that looked like cantaloupes, honey-dew melons and watermelons that couldn’t reach the stage of ripeness if it had a head start. Where in the world do they get those things anyhow? Guata-dadgummed-mala in the dead of winter?
Give me a break!
My brother described a true tomato samich as one in which the person devouring it had to hold said samich over the kitchen sink in order not to allow the juice to flow down their arms onto their belly. When you think about it, that makes real sense, doesn’t it? Today, I made me one out of an entire tomato, done thusly. Apply generous amount of mayonnaise to two pieces of bread. Peel all the skin off the tomato, being careful to allow the red juice to wash through your fingers onto the plate where said bread is awaiting. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice the tomato into thick Portions and crowd them all onto the bread before topping it off with the second piece of bread. Allow the juice to soak into the bread. Take a sharp knife and fork with you to the front of the Braves baseball game, and cut little tid-bits of the samich to fit into the mouth. When you get down to the last little bit of that samich, be sure to scrub it around on your plate to allow no juice to escape. When you are through, you will notice the plate is as clean as it was when removed from the dishwasher. The plate is now ready for a second samich.
Now if this wasn’t enough, Sheila made me a peach cobbler, and I was fully armed with some white ice cream to go onto the hot southern treat.
My brother, Billy, called me tonight and guess what the conversation was about? If you guessed mater samiches and fresh Georgia peaches, you guessed right. He said he wished he had some right then. I suppose it wasn’t nice to rub it in, but what the hey? We both married Florida girls—cousins to be exact—and I brought mine to Georgia .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

For the Love of a River

A little over a year ago, Publisher Chuck Southerland of the Hawkinsville Dispatch and News had a vision to bring an Oral History Forum of the Ocmulgee River—a main portion of a living history of Pulaski County—to the historic stage of the Old Opera House.
His idea was to have citizens of our community, who had different perspectives, talk about how the muddy river has been a huge part of Hawkinsville and Pulaski County. The public was invited to hear first-hand accounts of how the river has played a role in various parts of our lives.
First on the agenda, was eighty-two-year-old Sam Way III, a historian extraordinaire, of no small amount of knowledge concerning the history of the river and our county. Way pointed out that the development of history follows the rivers and trails of the world. When the European settlers came to the shores of this new land on the southeastern coast of what is today the United States of America, they found tribes of Indians living on the coastal plains. As more and more Europeans came ashore, they began to push the tribes inland. The Indians followed the Ogeechee River first and as they were forced to move on, they took to the Oconee River and finally to the Ocmulgee River.
They settled in this area and finally the Europeans came here as well, forcing the natives further west onto what we know today as the Flint River.
Just east of the Ocmulgee River, a small settlement was named Hartford, and because of the river and the ability to cross it where some rocks made it easy to do so, coupled with this area being a heavy cotton producing region, the small community began to become of great consequence. As Way told us in his talk that day, transportation was practically all by river, and the Ocmulgee following northward to Macon helped our area become even more significant in the trade and supplies which were a result of river travel.
Today, people can drive right through tiny Hartford, the area which at one time was a border town, and as a matter of history, it was one of the communities which were nominated to become the State Capitol of Georgia—losing by one vote as history has recorded it. The area along the banks of the Ocmulgee River connected by rocks was later named the Uchee Trail after the Indian tribes who lived here and finally to the Flint River where it ended in Macon County.
Again, keeping in mind that rivers and trails developed the history of the world, it is important to know that other trails came through our area.

The second trail was known as the DeSoto Trail discovered and named for the Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto who was looking for gold. After exploring through Florida, he later became famous for discovering the Mississippi River.
The third trail was known as Slosheye and it traversed to Vienna, a city which has become famous for its cotton production and its barbecue contest annually known as the Big Pig Jig which brings in folks from across the country to compete.
The fourth trail was named after Jefferson Davis the President of the Confederate States of America. It was named after the political leader because he was making a desperate attempt to escape the Union forces which were hot on his trail. He was finally captured on the morning of May 10, 1865 in Irwin County in the small community of Irwinville. Speculation is that he may have spent one of his final nights of freedom in Pulaski County near the Ocmulgee River.
The fifth trail was named for the Chickasaw Indians. That trail runs from nearby Empire through Hartford, and is known today as the Chicken Road. Those trails along with the remarkable muddy river we know as the Ocmulgee were important in bringing five railroad lines into Hawkinsville during those historic times.
They were the Macon-Hawkinsville RR, the WT RR from Sandersville through Dublin to Hartford where it turned around and headed back eastward. The Hawkinsville and Florida Southern RR left here and headed south to Pineview-Pitts-Cordele and on down to Ashburn. The Hawkinsville & Western RR came in our direction from Browndale, and lastly, the Ocilla Southern RR came in from Irwin County and then left Hawkinsville en route to Fort Valley. Today, a railroad track is difficult to find in Pulaski County, most having been paved over.
John Calvin Hadden, Jr. a son of the last Riverboat Captain—who captained stern-wheeler steamboats up and down the Ocmulgee River—remembered the story of his father waving to a young woman who was fishing on the banks of the river, and she waving back in turn. The couple finally met and later married.
Around 1958, a group of men, approximately 200 plus, formed a charter of boat owners and some of the most fast-paced and exciting times ever took place on the muddy river as the boat club members raced for trophies to the enjoyment of many citizens who were celebrating the sesquicentennial of Pulaski County. Some of those who took part, other than Hadden, included Emmett Head, Ed Darsey and Mark Hall. How many people cross the bridges over the Ocmulgee River today without even a glance?

There is much history in our muddy river! Some men such as Thomas Herrington and the late George Slappey taught their sons the value and enjoyment of fishing and hunting from the banks of the river. Others like my brothers and I enjoyed the river of our youth while we were growing up within a stone’s throw of a splash.
Most of us who have been on the river have tried our hand at water skiing at one time or another as did my old friend, Wendell Greer, grandson of Railroad Station Master, J. K. Greer. On one occasion, with me pulling Wendell, my daredevil buddy spotted a water moccasin swimming across the river, but instead of trying to avoid him, he directed his skis on top of the deadly snake. Brave or crazy! Your guess is as good as mine! He enjoyed pulling me past where the sewer used to flow into the river and make a quick turn forcing me to sink right in there. Maybe he was just crazy.
This article would be incomplete without mentioning two things: floods and people who drowned. In 1994, we saw the river at its all-time recorded high when a good portion of old Hartford was underwater.
Through the years, quite a number of people have drowned in the Ocmulgee River because of a lack of respect for the swirling sink holes in it. If you want to hear first-hand knowledge of the danger that can lurk in our river ask Ed Darsey, a man who literally grew up swimming and fishing in the muddy waters and he has a true love of the Ocmulgee River.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Runaway Horse

Daddy rented a very old house in the country for twenty dollars a month. The setting was fifty yards back from a red, dirt road—Georgia clay—that was bordered by deep ditches. The big yellow school bus rolled down that road each morning to pick us up. When it rained, the road turned treacherous, making the ride fun for us while the driver fought to keep it between the ditches
In the spacious front yard of the house was several enormous oak, maple, pine and hickory nut trees. During the daytime, the old house looked like most old houses that were built around the turn of the century—tin roof, no paint, unusually large windows, and a front door that opened with a skeleton key—but after dark it took on an ominous appearance. The trees cast long and frightening shadows, aided by the moon. The wind almost talked as it blew its way through them. Mostly, we stayed out of the dark if possible, the exception being a mad dash to the outhouse occasionally when necessary.
Not many people lived close by, therefore imagination was a good playmate. There was an exception however. A boy named Terry and his sister, Janice lived across the watermelon patch, about a half mile away, as the crow flies. On one occasion they rode a huge plow-horse across the field to see us. It was a friendly gesture because they offered to let us ride the horse whose name, like mine was Sam. I liked that.
When I was a young boy on the mill village, I rode pretend horse—made from chinaberry limbs, trimmed with Daddy’s pocket knife—around the village, as did most of my friends. I never had the opportunity to ride a real horse.
When they arrived in front of our house, Terry was riding, with Janice close behind him on the massive animal’s back. Sam was huge—seemingly as large as a Budwieser Clydesdale horse—yet he appeared to be gentle enough. Janice slid off his rear end, and Terry walked him out to the edge of the road. Seemed simple enough! Janice rode next with the same result. They offered my brother, Billy a ride. He had never ridden one before either, yet he seemed to know what he was doing. On his return, they asked me if I wanted to ride Sam. I recall that I did not want to appear afraid, so with a boost, I found myself on a real horse for the first time. As he walked slowly to the road, I thought a saddle would be nice, nevertheless so far so good. Once he made the turn, Sam had a different idea. He broke into a dead run past my friends and brother. They yelled loudly, and I yelled even louder. “Whoa! Whoa, Sam,” I yelled. “Please whoa!” As I lost my grip on his reins, grabbing him around the neck, he ran faster, jumping a small ditch—it seemed like a cavern—rider still in tact, yelling all the way. When he arrived at his house, he ran up a small hill and stopped, allowing me to slide down.
The three kids in hot pursuit arrived, out of breath, obviously concerned for my safety. Thoroughly, shaken from the ride, I vowed never to get on another horse—a vow that I have kept so far—and now I am too old to break it.

Could They Have Been Real?

In our youth during the 1940s and 1950s, certain folks played a large role in our lives—highly influencing us on a daily basis. Sometimes I wonder if they were real? They certainly had our attention. They came to our door each day with interesting subjects. We found ourselves anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Those of whom I speak, came in all ages, sizes, shapes and with varying personalities. They were the characters on the comic strips of the Macon News in the afternoon and the Macon Telegraph each morning. They made us laugh! They made us want tomorrow’s paper right away. They were the topic of conversation around the dinner table. I began to read about them in the early 1940s, and I suppose I quit some time after I turned forty. I’m not sure why. Sometimes, I still glance at the comic section to see who are the delights of children’s minds today. Alas, I believe the comic strip business has suffered tremendously of late. Oh, I will still look to see if Beetle Bailey is still pestering Sarge in the army. I glance at Hagar the Horrible and Dagwood just for old time’s sake.

But, I dreadfully miss the late Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, Daisy Mae, the beautiful, Joe Bltszmk and his ever-present dark cloud over his head, and Hairless Joe—who was anything but hairless—along with his Indian friend whose name escapes me, indulging us with the kickapoo joy juice which they made to drink. Mammy and Pappy Yokum, Abner’s parents were everyman’s parents.

Capp’s greatest creation was of course the shmoo, the lovable little white, cuddly, everything animal whose mission in life was to please everyone by becoming a great steak, pork chops, quart of milk or eggs—all produced with a smile. If one met an untimely death, the shmoo would automatically double itself into two shmoos. Oh glory! I used to longingly wish for a shmoo in my life.
Li’l Abner ranks among the greatest comic strips ever created. There are some who argue that it is the greatest. But what is indisputable is that Alfred Gerald Caplin best known as Al Capp, was the most influential and most controversial cartoonist of his era. Li’l Abner, at its peak, appeared in more than 900 newspapers with a daily readership of 90,000,000. A handful of competing comic strips appeared in more newspapers, but Capp's exposure didn't end in the comic section. His personal celebrity transcended comics, reaching the public and influencing the culture in a variety of media. For many years he simultaneously produced the daily strip, a weekly syndicated newspaper column and a 500-station radio program while maintaining a steady presence on television screens
In a single five-year cluster, five of America's top magazines paid prominent homage to Capp's genius. In 1947 he earned a Newsweek cover story. That same year The New Yorker's profile on him was so long that it ran in consecutive issues. In 1950 he was a cover story for TIME. Two years later he and his characters graced the covers of both LIFE and TV Guide. In 1937 Capp created Sadie Hawkins Day as an annual November plot device in Li’l Abner, in which Dogpatch’s love-starved maidens were allowed to chase and catch the town's eligible bachelors. In 1939, only two years after its inauguration, a double-page spread in LIFE proclaimed, "On Sadie Hawkins Day Girls Chase Boys in 201 Colleges." In 1952 the fictional event was celebrated at 40,000 known venues!
Capp took advantage of the popular Dick Tracy comic strip by Chester Gould to create a parody of the great detective. He introduced the bumbling detective, Fearless Fosdick, who could get shot badly—leaving his body full of mock holes in battles with bad guys—but continue to fight crime. It would take on a life of its own with Fosdick at times—a comic strip that was the favorite of Li’l Abner Yokum—meeting what would be almost certain death, only to survive. Capp had Fosdick advertising Wild Root Cream Oil, a hair product in the comic strip.
Al Capp finally retired his strip in 1977, and with his retirement went one of the most celebrated and controversial cartoonists of all time.

I had so many friends in the comic strips, one of which was Alley Oop, a mixture of adventure, fantasy and humor. The comic strip revolves around the irrepressible Alley Oop, who traveled from prehistoric Moo all the way to the 21st century in his friend Doc Wonmug's time machine. Other favorite regulars in the strip include King Guz and Queen Umpa, the king and queen of Moo, Oscar and Ava, assistants to Wonmug, and Ooola, Alley Oop's girlfriend. Oop’s favorite animal was Dinny, a giant dinosaur, and once saddled on the prehistoric animal’s neck, they could go anywhere, Alley swinging his ax club for protection.
There were so many comic strip characters who led our brave fighting men into battle during World War II. There was crack-flying navy pilot, John “Buz” Sawyer and his navy pal during the war, Roscoe Sweeney. After the end of the war, Sweeney dropped out of the daily newspapers, and instead appeared as a regular character in rural Florida. Along with his homely sister, Lucille, a dead-ringer for her brother, they periodically had to put up with deadbeat cousins coming around to sponge off them during an un-welcome visit.
Lucille eventually took up football and won a scholarship to college running the ball better than famed Bulldog great Herschel Walker. What fun that was each Sunday to read those great adventures on the gridiron!
Terry Lee in the strip known as Terry and the Pirates took a leave from his search for a missing gold mine in China to join up with Uncle Sam against the invading Japanese after the infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Steve Canyon and Buck Rogers, to a lesser degree, were factors against our enemies in WWII.

One of the greatest strips during the war and during my growing-up years had to be Smilin’ Jack Martin, known for his handsome, debonair looks, sporting a pencil-thin mustache. One of the characters in Smilin’ Jack was Downwind Jaxon, said to be the only cartoon character better looking than Jack—so good-looking that they could never show a front view of him, seeing only the edge of his face, perhaps in fear that readers might be struck blind by his beauty. Fatstuff, Jack's Hawaiian friend who was always popping his shirt buttons usually into the mouths of hungry chickens, so under-nourished from eating buttons instead of bugs that they were unable to grow feathers.
The final edition of Smilin’ Jack depicted his son, Jack, Jr. getting married in 1976 as the creator of the strip, retired at the age of sixty-seven.
One of the great strips was known as Gasoline Alley and starred the family named Wallett. It’s star was Skeezix who married his high school sweetheart, Nina Clock. The characters in Gasoline Alley, unlike many others, aged along with the adventures of the strip. In opposition to that, Snuffy Smith and Lowezy had a son named Tater at the same time our now 41-year-old son was born. Tater is still a baby.
Who could ever forget Little Orphan Annie, the girl with circles of nothing for eyes. She and Sandy, her dog were adopted by “Daddy” Warbucks, and because of all the successful movies may be the wealthiest comic strip character of all time.
So many of those comic strip characters played a large role in our lives. Dick Tracy and his team of detectives wore wristwatches that they could see who was calling them. Well, of course that had to be fantasy, or did it? Can you say picture-sending cell phones? Maybe they were real.