Sunday, January 27, 2013


MORE THAN JUST A FOOTBALL GAME




     For the last 517 Tuesdays I have chronicled the events of the past which have shaped our lives and guided us through the uncertainty of the future.  Today, just for once, I ask leave to explain what the game of football means to the community of Dublin and what some of our senior players have meant to me personally.  Football is more than a game.  It is molded around many of the basic essentials of a successful life. Among these are teamwork, finishing a job, achieving a goal, perseverance, honor, dedication, contributing, problem solving and admittedly, having a great time.  A friend of mine, Pete Tyre, was a member of two of Dublin's state championship teams.  He was at every practice and every game but never played a down.  When asked about the impact that football had on his life, Pete said that "football and Boy Scouts got me through the horrors of Vietnam." 

     This Saturday afternoon, in the first day time and the first Saturday game in Shamrock Bowl history, some of Dublin's finest young men will strap on the "green and the gold"for the last time  in the first state championship game ever to be played in Dublin.  The first three state championship games, all victories, were played on neutral sites.  The last three, all losses, were played on the opponent's field.  There is a saying that  everything bad or good happens in threes.  So we've lost three in a row.  Now is the time to begin another trio of state championships.

     My connection to this year's team comes through my son Scotty.  Through baseball, Boy Scouts and the band I have come to know, and yes admire, many of the seniors of this year's team.  Over the last ten years, I have watched these young boys mature into young men.  They are a part of me.  They will always be a part of me.

     I first met Chris Williams on the ball field at Little Hilburn Park.  He was a little
chubby and not very fast on his feet.  But immediately Chris showed one of his most endearing and enduring qualities.  It seemed like he always had a smile permanently cemented on his round face.  Well mannered and always well behaved, Chris was and still is a compliment to his parents Luther and Valencia Williams, who were there at every ball game and every Cub Scout outing.    Chris got stronger and faster and could knock a baseball as hard as anyone.  Chris is one of those kids you might not think of as being a member of the band. He played saxophone in the band until he settled solely on football as his number one extra curricular activity. This once teddy bear like kid will now knock your head off if you aren't wearing a green and gold uniform. 

     I also met Tyler Josey on the ball field.  At the age of eight, Tyler, with his "Boog
Powell" physique and a buzz cut  towered over the rest of the kids in the league. I think I actually ordered him an XL jersey.    Tyler played first base and could catch nearly every ball thrown his way.  He never managed to get under the ball to lift it out of the park. But, I'll guarantee you if there was no fence and no Big Hilburn park next door, his line drives would have rolled into C.W. Anderson's side yard on Hodges Street.  I'll never forget the sight of Tyler rambling around the bases, his freckled face smiling and his parents cheering him on.   When I saw him four years later in the halls of Dublin Middle School, Tyler was as tall as I am.  I knew right there and then that this kid was going to be a very good football player some day.

     There is a  trio of seniors who never seem to draw the attention of the sportswriters.  I never coached only one of these young men, but my teams did play against two of them on many occasions.  Thomas Cox was always as fast as greased lightning. As a pitcher, Thomas had one of the best and most wicked breaking balls you've ever seen in a young kid.  On the soccer field, where his true talents shine, Thomas is always one of the first to get down the field, with or without the ball.  Just watch him on the kick off teams, he is usually the first one down and always manages to perform his assignment.  He's also a pretty fair defensive back in his own right and somehow despite the rigors of football and soccer, he manages to be one of the top students in his class.  

     Then there's Josh Tarpley.  "J.T.," the consummate team player, has persevered and this year took over the job of being the team's short snapper. Considering the fact that in the Dome the Irish set the state all time season scoring record, "J.T." just may have snapped more extra points in a season than anyone in Georgia high school history.   Izell Stephens and Miles Allen are also team players.  These kind young men with kind hearts l unselfishly play wherever it is necessary to help their team win. 

     The team's quarterback, Ben Cochran, carries the dogged intelligent athleticism
of his mother and the courage and leadership of his father.  As an 8th grader, Ben
pitched a near-perfect game and was snaring nearly every ground ball in the second game of a doubleheader to lead his team to the Middle Georgia Middle School Championship.  At last year's graduation ceremony, I observed Ben, dapperly dressed in a tux as a part of his duties as a marshal, take the arm of a special ed graduate who lost her way back to her seat.  Ben escorted the young lady back to her seat as if she was the queen of homecoming.  I have never been more proud of Ben than I was that night.

     No one and I mean no one, plays with more determination than Jesse Coxwell.  I have seen Jesse time and time again, dive, push, throw, stretch, play while hurting and hustle with the best of them.  Hampered by a nagging injury this season, Jesse is a smart sentinel in the defensive backfield.  Making less mistakes than his father has hairs on the top of his head, Jessie is more than aptly ready at a moment's notice to take over the duties of quarterback if necessary.

     If you don't believe in angels in the outfield, then you don't know Drew Griggs. 
At the point of death two springs ago and buttressed with an army of empathetic supporters, Drew battled back to excel both on the diamond and on the gridiron.  Check him out as the long snapper.  After he snaps the ball, he is almost always the first Irish defender to reach and tackle or hinder the receiver.   Drew has stepped up and taken his place in the long line of place kickers in Dublin football history. Will Griffith is a combination of Larry Csonka and Dick Butkus.  It's too bad that the good Lord didn't see fit to bless him with an enormous frame to accommodate his bullish style of play.  Pound for pound, no one runs harder and hits harder than "Willie G."  

     Brian Wilcher, another former sax player in the band, might be considered the best athlete on the team.  I once watched him lead a seven-man baseball team into a close contest with the best nine-man team in the league.  Had he stayed with baseball, he would have certainly been a star in that sport as well.  If you do the math and Coach Holmes let Brian carry the ball twenty five to thirty times a game as many team's number one tail backs do, Brian would easily be approaching 3000 rushing yards by now.     I used to watch Thomas Barnes as he would come into elementary school.  There was something about his demeanor that stood out from many of the other kids.  Now sporting a goatee and the bronze face of a Roman warrior, this quiet man came almost out of nowhere three years ago to become one the most important driving forces in this team's successes on both defense and offense in the last three seasons.  His leadership and aggressive style of play was a leading factor in the Irish basketball team's state championship this past spring. 

     I think I met Michael Hall one time.  I hope to meet him on more occasions.  This young man, with blazing speed, brute strength and a brilliant mind, spends many moments of his precious spare time after practice to tutor those kids who can't seem to keep up with the arduous standards of school work.  Michael has helped to organize a S.W.A.T. team and enlisted other seniors to help others in their studies.  I really don't know Tony Smith, though I hear Billy Beacham calling his name over the loudspeaker a lot.  I do know he loves to come by the concession stand after the game and ask for a piece of left over pizza.  Tony, if we have any pizza left Saturday night, you can have a whole one. 

     I don't know Brandon Edmond or Jamon Morris.  I do know it's difficult to tell them apart as their single digit numbered uniforms are hard to differentiate as the fly down the field.  I would like to get to know Brandon Taylor and Tim Wells.  I hear great things about them as  players and  persons as well.   As for Nick Davis, Sammie Daniel, Grant Hingst, Derelle Lewis and Kenyardo O'Neal, I wish I knew you better as well. I do admire your dedication to the team. 
                                                            
     The boys in the band are pumped too.  It's their last football game as well.  Scotty will eat his turkey sandwich for lunch instead of supper as he has for the last three seasons.  It didn't work against Cook last year and he had to eat a standard Bryan's sub before the dome loss to Buford.  He will join Paul and Heath in driving  the fight song rhythms.  Sris and Tim will sing melodies on their saxes.   Jeremy, Matt, Joey and Josh will be blasting their horns rooting their classmates on.  Meanwhile Kentaro, on tuba, will keep the bass line pumping.  Nelson Carswell, IV, the unofficial leader in the student section and the team's 12th man, will be painted in green and waving the Irish battle flag.  Nelson's indomitable spirit and unbridled enthusiasm has become a special and integral part of Dublin Irish football.

     Here's my prediction for the game this Saturday afternoon.  Dublin will play with the same intensity, determination, heart and discipline they have displayed in the past three seasons.  Many people associate luck with being Irish.  This year's incomparable team has relied on meticulous and exhausting preparation rather than an enchanted pot of gold.  Nevertheless, bring all your good luck charms.  Our angels will be there too.  They sit up in the trees in the north end zone in the bowl's best seats.  Look carefully. You may see a few of them rattling limbs and whistling after every Irish first down.    

     I do know this. When I turn off the light in the concession stand for the last time, there will be tears in my eyes and the eyes of many others.  For no matter what the final scoreboard reads, ours will be tears of joy and our Irish eyes, well as always,  they will be smiling, and you'll hear the angels singing "Go Irish!"
     

TRUE CHAMPIONS

I was right in my prediction of the outcome of last Saturday's state championship game at the Shamrock Bowl.  The Dublin Irish played with the same intensity, determination, heart and discipline they have displayed in the past three seasons. All season  long the players and the coaches kept their eyes on a single solitary goal.   They did not set out to score more points in a single season than any other team in the history of Georgia, colleges and professional included.  They did not desire to score more points in the playoffs than any other team in Georgia history.  Nor did they make it their goal to score more points and win by the largest margin in the history of high school football play in the Georgia Dome.  Their ultimate goal was to finish what they had started and win a state championship.  In the cooling darkness of a warm mid December evening they did just that.

Most people can't understand the concept which the Georgia High School Association has adopted concerning ties after the end of regulation play of championship football games.  It is a rule which has been in effect for at least forty-nine years.  It first happened in 1958 when Avondale and Thomasville were named co-champions.  It happened again in 1969, 1978, 1991 and as recently as 2004 when Hawkinsville and Clinch County, two great teams, battled to a draw at the end of the fourth quarter.  Last Saturday, it happened twice.  Roswell and Peachtree Ridge were named co-champions of Class 5A following a tie in their championship game.  Regardless of the reasoning behind the rule, a rule is a rule.  It is just as much a part of the game as having two feet in bounds or being able to interfere with a receiver on a Hail Mary pass in the end zone and give the offended team the ball back fifteen yards from the original line of scrimmage.

I first arrived at the Shamrock Bowl just after 8:00 on Saturday morning.  I had been there with my son and two of my loyal band boosters three hours the night before getting the concession stands ready for the game the next day.  As I topped the hill by the fire department, I began to notice the tailgaters were already there.  A motor home had been in the Century Club parking lot all night, parked in a strategic location on the slope outside the fence  where it's occupants and guests could shed their shoes, climb on top and get an optimal and free view of the spectacle about to unfold.     My trusted and loyal fellow band boosters had six hours to get ready for the onslaught of thirsty and hungry fans who were scheduled to come through the gate at 2:00.  Did we have enough food?  We ordered as much as we could store.  When I think about it, every restaurant in Dublin could not accommodate eight thousand people in four hours. 

I walked up the hill to see a line forming sometime around 11:00.  My friends Ronnie and Renee Green were the first to station themselves within inches of the gate.  I noticed everyone was sitting down, enjoying the moments.  Someone even brought along a bingo game to pass the time.  As we scurried about trying to meet the deadline, the aroma of steaks and burgers on the grill and the rapidly warming sunlight made things more pleasant.  It was as if the Super Bowl had come to Dublin.  By 12:30, the line continued to grow as if there was a big sale going on inside.  Everyone in the line began to stand.  By 1:45 the line was so enormous the game manager decided to open the gates fifteen minutes early.  I saw hundreds of people running or walking as fast as they could to stake out their usual seats.  It seemed like a bomb had gone off out in the parking lot.  Only the reserved seat holders knew they had a seat for sure. Within thirty minutes and with one hundred and five minutes before kickoff to go,  the home stands and the imported baseball bleachers  were crammed to near capacity.  One by one and then by the dozens people began to line up at the concession stand.    Drinks were sold so rapidly, you might have thought that the stand was in the middle of the Arizona desert.  There wasn't enough ice to cool the thousand gallons of drinks. 

But at 4:00 the highly anticipated match between Dublin and Charlton County began.  As I focused my camera toward the south end zone, I was amazed at the immense congregation on the hill.  Never before had so many people come to a football game in Dublin.  I was dumbstruck.  I couldn't believe what was unfolding before my eyes.  I was nervous. We were all nervous.  Those nerves subsided once Dublin jumped to an early 10-0 lead.  I will admit that I laid down face up on the slope next to the band.  It was the near the same place where I used to sneak under the fence forty years ago on Sunday afternoons to play football where my heroes did.  In the clear blue late autumn sky I noticed a jet airliner passing above, its occupants and crew oblivious as to what was going on thirty thousand feet below them. 

As the second quarter ended, Irish fans were smiling.  The band stepped it up and put on one of its best performances of the season.  I could have announced the show from the booth but I wanted to be on the field with my kids for one final time.  I checked back in the concession stand and we had made it through half time.   We did sell out the supply of all the peanuts we could order.  Everything was going well and then it happened.

Charlton County, the two-time defending state champions, roared back with a vengeance. The state appointed public address announcer kept on calling out positive plays as the boys from South Georgia moved the ball with relative ease.  With a touchdown within their grasp, the Irish defense formed a stone wall and kept the ball out of the end zone when Thomas Barnes intercepted a pass and kept the Irish ahead. Drew Griggs kicked the ball through the middle of the uprights in the south end zone to give the Irish a 13-0 lead.  Buried between the "B" and the "L" in that end zone was a shiny penny, found heads up lying next to the curb of the Friendly Gus Store  on Claxton Dairy Road just two days before.  I buried it there as a good luck piece early Saturday morning while no one was looking.  My son Scotty said he hoped that Drew would kick the winning field goal. Well he did. 

Dublin couldn't move the ball against the stingy Charlton defense.  Once again Charlton came back down the field. Charlton's champions would not relent and scored.  Another touchdown brought the score  to 13-13.  Dwight Dasher, the Indian quarterback, punter and place kicker lined up to put his team in the lead.  Brandon Edmond managed to get the tips of his fingers  on the ball and the conversion attempt failed.  The score was still knotted at 13-13. Maybe the lucky penny worked. 

Then the Irish stepped up like the true champions they are.  One time-consuming play after another exhausted the score board clock.  The drive stalled in the middle of the field.  Coach Roger Holmes made a decision.  It was his decision, the right decision.  He was not conceding defeat, he was playing to win.  Let every true Dublin football fan shun the doubters,  nay sayers and skeptics.  Many of them couldn't coach a team of grown men and beat the Dublin Irish.  After all, a major reason why there were some eight thousand people there Saturday afternoon was the countless days of preparation and brilliant planning that Dublin's coaching staff put in to get our team to the championship game.  

As the clock ticked down to 0:00, I knew our team had just won the state championship. Many were expecting an overtime session.  As I looked around, I saw no cheering, only wide eyes and open mouths in stunned disbelief as the announcer proclaimed both teams as state champions.  As parents, classmates and friends swarmed the field, I remained with the band.   When director Louis Foster announced the next band song was "Last Night," I made my way down to the field.  Just as I promised, I danced the twist on the field after we had won the championship.  My partners deserted me and I was forced to dance solo and endure alone the laughs on the faces of those around me.

I then walked to the center of the field trying to congratulate the kids whom I have known and grown to admire over the last ten years.  No one was smiling.  Tears were streaming down from their eyes.  Ben Cochran was sobbing uncontrollably as Johnny Payne attempted to get his thoughts on the game.  It seemed as if he had let the team down. He didn't.  I saw Tina Cochran crying.  She couldn't understand why her son was crying.  I tried to comfort her.  I hugged her.  We hadn't been that close since we slow danced to the long version of the Beatles' Let it Be some thirty eight football seasons ago on the dance floor of the un air-conditioned Shanty.  Guy Cochran was holding back his tears as well.  

I found nearly everyone I hugged was crying. I kept looking for Chris Williams, but never found him.  I only found out later that he injured himself twice during the game and was unable to play at the end of the game.  I too began to sob when I hugged Tyler Josey, whom I coached ten years before.  He smiled a little as he towered over me.  Other mothers were crying.  Some daddies were too.  But I kept on saying, "It's a win! It's a win! It's a win!"  Few remember that the first game ever played in the bowl was a 13-13 tie. 

I turned off the light in the concession stand and got in my truck to go to Ruby Tuesday's to celebrate another Irish victory with my fellow band boosters.  I took the long way around to avoid the long caravan of vehicles headed south to Folkston.  It has been a tradition for the last two years.  This time the place was crowded with a mixture of Dublin and Charlton fans.  We complimented our guests at the next table on the play of their team and their band.  They returned the compliment.  They were happy and we were happy.

On Sunday morning I drove out to the Shamrock Bowl just to see the place one more time. Forty years ago I did the same thing on the morning after the game.  I expected to see a gang of probationers stuffing trash into bags.  The bowl was empty.  The only evidence that a game had been played there fourteen hours before was the saturation of the bleachers with peanut hulls, spilled popcorn, empty nacho containers, candy wrappers and partially eaten slices of pizza. As I scanned the concrete for extra copies of over priced generic programs, I observed newspapers, magazines and other items brought in by fans to pass the pre game hours.  I picked up shakers and gold megaphones, their shouts long dissipated.  I must have picked up two dozen discarded tickets, the once highly desired piece of paper that caused people to stand in line for hours and criticize school officials, who sold all the tickets they could get their hands on.  There was an empty drink bottle under nearly every seat.  But my eagle eyes never spotted a single cent lying on the ground.  Maybe everyone kept their lucky pennies in their pockets. I do have to say that the band sections on both sides of the stadium were literally free of litter.

As an alumni, band booster president and school board member, I am extremely proud of the young men of the Dublin Irish football team.  Through the leadership and dedication of a unparalleled coaching staff, these champions finished the job. They achieved their goal. No asterisk, no "yea, but," no vent poster, and no one,  and I mean no one, can ever take it away from them.  They are champions, true champions. 

TRAVELS IN TIME



A River Cruise

I often think if I had a time machine,  the dial would be set first to the mid 1890s, location Dublin, Georgia, at the wharves along the banks of the Oconee River.  The intention of my adventure would be a ride down the Oconee and Altamaha Rivers to Darien on the Atlantic coast.  A warm winter's day, or perhaps a crisp autumn one when the crimson and gold leaves of the sweet gum and the oak would adorn my prolonged trek to the sea, would be my first choices. 

I stepped inside the strange contraption and set the dial for November 13, 1893.    All of a sudden, the cylindrical sphere began to wildly rotate.  The centrifugal force flung me against the wall.  When the spinning subsided,  the time dial indicated May 15, 1894.  It was a typical mid spring day, kind of warm, but at least it wasn't raining.  Though the number of houses and buildings were scant, I did manage to recognize the lay of the land.  Toward the east, I spotted what appeared to be the heart of the town, glowing in the rays of the setting sun.   A place to sleep and a good meal were the first order of my itinerary.  

Upon the crest of a small hill I  saw what I believed to be "Liberty Hall," the residence of Col. John M. Stubbs.  Stubbs was a well known and highly skilled attorney, but was also known as one of the men who brought river boating and the railroads to Dublin some dozen or fifteen years prior.  Col. Stubbs, as I surmised he would be, was in his study going over plans for his gardens and orchards, another of the things he was most famous for.  I introduced myself as a fellow Maconite, who was looking to chronicle a ride on a river boat down to Darien.  He smiled and said, "son, you are in luck.  There's a boat leaving before sunup in the morning.  I am supposed to be aboard, but I have a trial in Eastman in two days and the judge refuses to grant me a continuance.    Go up to the hotel across from the courthouse and Mr. Hooks will take care of you."  

All around me were new residences going up.  When I reached the bottom of the hill, I could see the main business district.  Off to my left was a new brick church for the Methodists  coming up from the sandy ground.    As the sun sank behind the trees, Jackson Street fell into near complete darkness.  I forgot, the electric light bulb hadn't come to Dublin yet.  Everyone I met was friendly, overly friendly.  It seemed as if they were having a contest to see who could be the friendliest to the new stranger in town.  

As I approached the center of town, I could make out the outline of a two-story wooden structure on what I knew to have been on the courthouse square.  Though I had seen photographs of it after it had been removed to another location, it seemed smaller than I thought it was.  Across the street was a handsome hotel building, not the typical home modified to accommodate itinerant travelers, but a substantial two-story brick structure with towers on each side of its front edifice.  I walked in and found Mr. Gabriel S.  Hooks, the innkeeper, behind the desk, just where the Colonel told me he would be.  I told the affable young gentleman that Col. Stubbs had sent me to his establishment.  Mr. Hooks replied, "yes, I know, Mr. Stubbs sent his servant the back way and your accommodations are ready for you."

At Mr. Hooks insistence, I sat down at a large table in a much brighter adjoining room.  Before I knew it, Mrs. Hooks was bringing out a large blue plate.  More like a platter, there were several meats and a half-dozen servings of vegetables heaped on it.  The charming lady brought out a tray with a large piping hot loaf of bread wrapped inside a red and white checkered cloth.  I ate what I could and just a bite or two more.

Not wanting to miss a chance on getting in on a little history research, I began to interrogate Mr. Hooks on the doings in Dublin.  He told me that there were plans to build a new courthouse, a large brick one, sometime next year.  Hooks and all of Dublin were extremely proud of the new artesian well on the courthouse square.    

We discussed river boats.  He said, "young man, Dublin's  got three boats in service now and we're going to have two fine new ones very soon."  "We've got three railroads in town and more on the way," the innkeeper added.    Hooks told me that I would be riding with members of the Forest and Stream Club.  This group of forty-five  men formed a club to hunt and fish along the shores and swamps of the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers.  

The group hired  Capt. J.W. Miller of Dublin  to supervise the construction of the Gypsy,  a river boat with forty state rooms and pilot the boat down the river from the club's headquarters in Dublin to Darien on the Georgia coast.   Each of the Gypsy's  state rooms were outfitted with all of the necessary appurtenances and accouterments for the hunter and the fisherman.   Among the club's charter members from Dublin were Col. John M. Stubbs, Blanton Nance, J.T. Wright and E.M. Whitehead.  Judge Emory Speer of Macon, Dudley Hughes of Danville and E.L. Dennard of Houston County were among the most erudite members of the club.  The group's membership extended to members as far away as Birmingham, Chicago, Kansas City and Topeka.  

The Gypsy was constructed in Savannah under the careful scrutinizing eye of Capt. Miller.    The captain hired his old friend W.T. Walton to serve as the boat's engineer.   J.W. Grantham, the Gypsy's master machinist, was the best of his kind in the state.  Norman McCall, an experienced river pilot and an African Baptist minister, took the helm.  McCall, a man of enormous proportions, once saved his cargo by swimming with fifty-pound sacks of fertilizer under his arms and carrying them to the river banks.  

The hour was late and I was desperately trying to memorize every utterance I could remember.    "You better go on to bed.  You'll need to be down at the river by four o'clock in the morning," Mr. Hooks warned me.  Despite the comfortable bed,  solemn slumber was not in order that night.  Just in case I did fall asleep, I asked for a early morning "wake up knock" on my door.

And though my room was more like a Pullman railroad compartment, I didn't mind it all.  The  brilliance of a waxing gibbous moon illuminated my room through a small, yet well placed, window overlooking the quiescent courthouse square.   I thought I saw an army of apparitions drifting across the lawn.  “Old Bill, a kind black man who came in earlier to clean up my room,  told me the place was haunted.  “Yas, sir!.  This place is got ghosts.   There’s folks buried under the north tower of this here hotel,” he said as he shook  and studdered to get out his words.   I questioned Bill if he seen any ghosts.  “I’s afraid of ghosts sir.  I once saw two of them in front of Mr. Maddox’s hardware store over yonder.  It must be old man Sam Coleman’s grand daddy.  He’s buried right under the store,” the old servant added.    I scanned the landscape and saw no ghosts that night, but I did see nine gaping holes in the ground where “Old Bill” said some important rich folks were buried. 

Beside my somewhat comfortable bed, I found the most recent issue of the "Dublin Post," edited by Lucien Quincy Stubbs, a brilliant man of many talents and a credit to his father, and my new friend, Col. J.M. Stubbs.  I tried to read the  news of the town with the additional aid of an oil burning lamp, but decided to pack it away to analyze every word  during the quiet moments of the ride down the river.

Right on schedule at four o'clock on the dot, "Big Norman" tugged the whistle of the "Gypsy" and interrupted a most  tranquil morning.   Fireman Hardy Perry stoked the boiler.   I purchased my ticket for a three quarters of a dollar and walked timidly along a wobbling plank to the safety of the floor of the river steamer.  Despite the early hour, the boat was filled with passengers, all seeking a pleasureful cruise down the river. 

Around daylight we reached Berryhill's Bluff in what we know now as Treutlen County.  That's when it happened again.  Dutiful black servants began to bring out the bounty of the land, the best that farms, forests and streams could render.  I met Capt. Isaac Hardeman and Joseph Miller, who was headed toward his home in Montgomery County.  Sam Yopp, E.J. Willingham and E.J. Dupree boarded the boat after a more than successful hunting trip.  The morning air was delightfully cool and made the breakfast one of the most satisfactory I have ever experienced.  Some of the passengers expressed a desire to have delayed their feast until the fresh game could be added to the serving table.

The day passed pleasantly, but all too quickly.  The few women on the boat congregated in the stern area as far away from the bow, where the men were comparing their marksmanship skills.  Any bird, whether perched or airborne, was marked for instant death.  All eyes scanned the banks for a the glimpse of the prize victim of the day, the villainous alligator. 

The crew dropped the Gypsy's anchor at the Devil's Elbow, a bend in the river which was hailed as the best resort for hunting and fishing anywhere on the Oconee River and situated just three miles above the confluence of the Oconee and the Ocmulgee and a mere ten crow-fly  miles from Lumber City.  The lakes there were the most beautiful I had ever seen.  My yells echoed throughout the lush forest.  The bream and trout jumped so freely and often, I thought they were going to jump into my hands.

After a fulfilling feast of the hunter's bounty, we enjoyed an convivial evening of vocal entertainment and several games of whist and euchre.    Around 11:00 o'clock, the sound of a small gong  reverberated throughout the boat.  It was time to retire to our staterooms.
  
The enticing aroma of coffee and biscuits holding real cow butter inside them brought me springing out of my bed.  While the men alighted from the boat for more hunting thrills, I remained behind and partook of another half dozen or so of the best biscuits I ever ate.  Remember, I am still unborn and calories don't count yet.    The hunters returned around nine for the real breakfast of the morning replete with fish and game.  They had to eat their meats alone, because the biscuits were gone.  I did manage to part with a few of them, dividing them among seven starving servants.  I also shared a couple of them and a day- long delightful conversation with Mrs. Mary and Miss Hennilu Hughes, the wife and daughter of Dudley M Hughes.   He doesn't know it yet, but in twenty years, Col. Hughes will become one of Georgia's leading congressmen and co-author a bill to establish vocational education in public schools of the United States.  

Some time later, Capt. Miller hoisted a forty-four star flag and ordered the anchor raised.   As pilot McCall began to guide the boat downstream, some of the hunters appeared to be missing.  But, the Gypsy kept on gliding through the smooth as silk waters.  Coming to a stop in a grove of willows, the Captain patiently waited for the exasperated malingerers to catch up in their rowboats.    Everyone laughed at the men, tired and exhausted from their trip, everyone except me.  If there hadn't been any biscuits left, I would have gone along on the hunt, just to see what the fuss was all about.  

On the 18th of May at high noon, the Gypsy reached it first milestone destination, the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, which is the beginning of the Altamaha River.   Though we had heard the boasts before, "The Forks" had boundless numbers of turkey and deer, just waiting for the hunters to come and place them on their dinner tables.  The boat headed to Bell's Ferry, one of the first ferries ever established in that part of Georgia.  William Chambers, who was about to enter his twenty fourth year as the ferryman, kindled  a fire and began to fry a fine mess of fish.  I took a small bream and a bowl full of hushpuppies over by a cool spring shaded by a virescent canopy of virgin pines.  I sat there and soaked in the aura of the ancient landmark.  By seven o'clock in the evening, we had arrived at White Bluff near the confluence of the Altamaha and the Great Ohoopee River, some one hundred miles distant from our departure point in Dublin. 

After a brief pause, the Gypsy moved down river to the Seven Sisters, a series of bluffs  crowned by large magnolia trees in full bloom.  With nothing alive to shoot, the itchy trigger fingered riflemen began firing at the fragrant blossoms, which exploded upon contact with their bullets.    The evening cruise continued until we reached Gypsy Lake.  Named by the club members in honor of their club boat, the six-mile-long lake was teeming with wild game.  Some of the men managed to capture two broods of young turkeys, but decided to release them hoping that soon they would be  hefty toms and hens.  Here we spent three days of feasting and more feasting, interspersed with hunting and merrymaking.  The camp ground was enveloped by a rim of oak, ash and elm carpeted with a blanket of snowy white sand.  

We traveled a half day until we reached London Bluff, where Col. Dudley M. Hughes, his wife and his daughter, along with Messers Dupree, Oliphant, Budd, Yopp and Shannon left our company for a rail trip back to their homes.  A trip of five more miles down the rapidly rising river found us at Doctor Town.  For the first time I observed the magnificent 800 yard long iron bridge,  one of a few of its kind over the Altamaha.  Fifteen miles from Darien, we found another one where the Florida Central trains crossed the mighty river on their route from Florida to the land where the Yankees used to live nearly year round.  Once again the Winchesters were pulled from their cases, much to the dismay of the gators along the banks.             

Captain Miller slowed the pace as the water was wide, but way too shallow to allow rapid passage.  On the 29th of May, some thirteen days after we left the docks in Dublin, the Gypsy pulled into Darien.   One of Georgia's most ancient towns, Darien was populated by some four thousand people; three-fourths of them were black, descendants of an honorable people who farmed the coastal granges for more than a quarter of a millennium.  I saw one large live oak which, I was told, shaded an entire acre of the sandy ground.  

After all the passengers debarked, Capt. Miller and his crew turned the boat around for the return trip to Dublin.   Many of the party lingered along the coast for a few more weeks of relaxation and revelry.   Captain Miller invited me to return the following October for another trip.  Hospitably acknowledging my thanks for a wonderful trip, but owing to the fact that I had other places to visit, I politely declined his offer.  T.C. Keenan, Isaac Hardeman, E.J. Willingham and I were driven through the countryside to Barington, where we boarded a Florida Central northbound train.   On the last day of the month in the mid afternoon I returned to Macon, ready for another adventure.  While there I decided I might as well  hang around for a year or so to see my great grandparents meet, fall in love and get married.  

Note: This is the first column written in a new style.  The story which you have just read is nearly all true.  Of course, I didn't really get in a time machine, but I certainly would if I could.   In future columns I hope to inform and entertain you with first person eyewitness accounts of more pieces of our past.  

LAURENS COUNTY, REFLECTIONS OF TWO CENTURIES


LAURENS COUNTY TURNS 200
Reflections of Two Centuries


Out of towners often ask, “what’s the greatest thing about Laurens County?”  They ask, “ do you have anyone famous from here?” I say, “it depends on what you mean by famous.”  I also say we are the home of the parents of several famous people.”  Then they say, “Did you ever have a Civil War battle fought here?”  I respond by saying, no but if the Union cavalry had been here one day earlier, Confederate President Jefferson Davis would have been captured here and there would be a monument and museum to commemorate the event.  Then I go back to the first question and say, “well, the greatest thing about Laurens County are her people.”  I tell them about the life long friendships we have, fellowships which transcend race, religion and social status.  Then I tell them how when ever something really needs to get done, there are usually a group of people here that will get it done, though there is always a corps of doubters and apathetic “do nothings” here and for that matter everywhere.  

But when my mind really concentrates, I think about the heroes and those who excel in their triumphs of the human spirit.  I think about the heroes of the armed services.  From the last great war of World War I, to the big war of World War II, to the so called “police action” in Korea, to the misunderstood and maligned war in the jungles of Vietnam, visions of heroes flash through my mind.  From Congressional Medals of Honor, to Navy Crosses, to Silver Stars and bronze ones as well, Laurens Countians are unparalleled in their devotion to do their duty for their country.  They do it well, with honor, with bravery and they do it in unrivaled numbers.    Even in day’s mix of regular army and national guard soldiers, more of the citizen soldiers come from this part of Georgia than any other section of the state.  We have served our countries from Gettysburg to San Juan to ---- Marne, to  Normandy to Hue.  No county, and I mean, no Georgia county can match the heroism, gallantry and bravery of Laurens.

Donning a uniform is not the only form of public service.  We have served as governors, senators and representatives, both at state and federal levels.  Laurens Countians have led the departments of Justice and Agriculture at the capital.   Laurens Countians have served on both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of Georgia.   Service is not left only to the politicians and the lawyers.  Think of the thousands of us who have worked for decades as school teachers, most of the them for a mere pittance.  Then there are the public safety employees, who work, train and risk their lives while the rest of us sleep, eat and play.  The next time  you see one of these underappreciated and woefully underpaid public  servants, shake their hand, buy their supper or simply say “thank you.”  

Do the math.  If everyone of the forty five thousand residents of this county performed only one hundred hours of volunteer service that would mean that there would be 4.5 million hours of helping each other.   Anyone can do it.  Everyone should do it.  Don’t just think about it.  Do it!

Throw adversity at many Laurens Countians and you’ll find a champion when the dust clears.  Time after time, especially in recent years, the young men and women of Laurens County have showed the entire state that they are champions, not only in athletics, but champion kids as well.  We have won world championships in baseball, football and basketball.  We have played in the Masters Golf tournament, raced at Daytona and repaired the race cars of Grand Prix champions.  Many have been named to All American teams  across a broad spectrum of sports.    One Dublin teacher was once billed as the fastest man in the world. 

Champions of the business world can call Laurens County home.  Georgia Power Company, the Atlanta Constitution, the Federal Reserve Board and the Coca Cola Company were led by folks from here.  Two of us have served as Imperial Potentates of the Shrine of North America, who make it their mission to help needy children.    

When all doubts are out of the shadows, the women of our county shine as brightly  as anywhere else.    For more than eight decades,   the fairer sex have shown they can remarkable things.  They were the first woman to be a Georgia judge, the first woman deputy attorney general, the first woman to head a medical department of a major black university and the first woman in Georgia to be a licensed dentist.  One Laurens County girl founded the first sorority in the world.   Another, Gen. Belinda “Brenda Higdon” Pinckney  may retire from the United States Army as one of the highest ranking generals, either black or white, in the history of the Army.  Heck, one Laurens County man, as governor of Georgia, appointed the first woman to serve in the United States Senate.  Our women have been here from day one, garnering few headlines, while if you look at, they are the reason the headlines were here in the first place.  Hug your mom, kiss your wife and encourage your daughter, “you go girl, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Then there are the thinkers and who excel when thinking outside the box is a good place to think.  In the 1920s and 1930s alone, ten Laurens Countians were writing for major newspapers and magazines around the country.  Dr. Reece Coleman helped to develop the first color camera to film the inside of a living human being.  Capt. Joseph Logue, former director of the Naval Hospital, reacted to the complaints of the U.S.  Marine Corps and ordered the first use of DDT to combat insect bites during World War II.

And least but not least, there are those who don’t believe “it can’t be done.”  Take Claude Harvard for example.  Harvard, a poor black kid, sold salve to buy a radio, likely the first one in the county.  His desire to learn took him to the highest levels of inventions for Ford Motor Company in the 1930s.    Major Herndon Cummings and his fellow pilots stood up to the entire U.S. Army and led to President Truman’s decision to integrate the armed forces.   For the younger crowd, one Laurens Countian convinced networks to air MTV, Nicklelodeon, ESPN 2 and the Movie Channel.    Dr. Robert Shurney, who grew up in the care of his grandparents and served his country in war time, went to back to college in his thirties and became, according to many experts, the leading black scientist of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, all without the benefit of a high school diploma. 

The list goes on and on, but no matter how many plaques, awards, citations, hall of fame elections and newspaper headlines we garner, Laurens Countians do what they do because it needs to be done or simply it is the right, or the only thing, they can do.  What do  all of these people and thousands of others have in common?  They are all natives or at one time residents of Laurens County just like you.  Ask yourself, can you be champion or a hero?  Sure you can and it doesn’t take anything special, just serve others in your community and your community will serve you.    Don’t seek recognition.  Just do it, do it well and do it with a passion.  The rewards will flow back to you  beyond all imagination.  As we end the first two hundred years of our county’s history, I challenge all of you to remember that our most important history is not in our past, but it lies in our future. 

A STORM ON HUNGER AND HARDSHIP


A Storm on Hunger and Hardship


The cicada symphony crescendoes.
Thunder rolls from east to west.
Fireflies flitter about the dusk signaling the menacing tempest.

Across the swamp, lighting breaks the fading rays of the setting sun.
Ole Mr. Raccoon, who earlier was skulking around the cherry laurels,
has found sanctuary in the hollow of a decaying water oak.

As the darkness envelopes the entire sky,
even the fireflies are seeking shelter from the trickle.
The cool zephyrs sway the canopy of ancient pines and fragrant magnolias.

The lightning frolics with the Devil.
The booming thunder bellows in tune.
Behind the clouds hides the trembling crescent moon.

Raindrops drip down from the leaves.
Slowly at first, then in steady streams.
Saturating the summer scorched sands.

The tumult retreats to the south.
The echoes of thunder wane.
And, the bullfrogs croak once again.

The freshet quenches the Earth’s thirst.
The creatures of Hunger and Hardship settle down for the night.
and sleep in solace ‘til the rosy dawn’s first light.



Scott B. Thompson, Sr.
June 15, 2008

ADDRESS TO THE DHS CLASS OF 2007


OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES


I stand here tonight as one of the twenty thousand or so  graduates of Dublin High School and it’s predecessor schools of Oconee High School and Washington Street High School.   Thirty three years ago, I sat where you sit now.

The four short years you have just completed will prepare you for the world you now enter.  The lessons you have learned in this school and at home will help to get you through the bad times and only make the good times that much better.

I have a passion for writing about heroes.  Each week I write stories about those who have gone before us.  You are the heroes of our future.  It is now up to you to carry the torch that others have carried before you.    You are our legacy, our opus, our dreams.

Just think kids from Dublin schools, kids just like you:

Have helped men to travel to the moon and have helped old an woman up a mountainous flight of stairs.

Have danced on Broadway and taken their daughters to hundreds and hundreds of dance lessons.

We have played in the Super Bowl and we have coached our son’s midget league football teams.

We have played in the Masters Golf Tournament and toiled in the factory to make the Green Jackets of the Masters Champions.

There were two of us who gave their  lives on the rocky shores of Iwo Jima and thousands of us who held our children all night when they are sick.

We have painted magnificent works of art and painted our neighbor’s house for free.

We have been champions of our state and country  and championed the causes of those who can’t fight for themselves.

Several of us have written the news for the country’s greatest newspapers and too many of us have been the one to tell parent’s the news that their child was killed in a car wreck.

One of us became  the youngest female lawyer in the history of Georgia and another the first woman to be certified as a surgeon in the Northeastern United States.

We have been All Americans in football, baseball, basketball and wrestling and we have given our all for America on the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East.

One of us has been saluted as one of the greatest African-American inventors of the 20th Century and nearly all of us have stayed up half of the night helping our kids finish their science projects which are due the next day.

We have won silver star medals for heroism and have done heroic acts with no recognition sought or given.

Several of us have been at the top of university classes and thousands of us  have taught thousands small children how to read.

We have been admirals and generals, and we have marched through the mud and snow of bitter winters of World War II.

One of us has been a Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and many  have defended those who couldn’t defend themselves.

We have been prisoners of war and many of us have kept the bad guys off the street so we can sleep at night and play on the playgrounds.

We have been among the top musicians in the country and have sung in the church choir for fifty years.

One of our teachers and our mothers  has been among the first women to be drafted in the first National Women’s Basketball League and many of our mothers  have cooked a hundreds and even thousands of  cupcakes to raise money for the PTA.

We have been the marshal of the District of Columbia and gathered on the National Mall to seek the freedoms of all Americans.

One of us has pitched in the major leagues and the luckiest of us has pitched a wiffle ball to our kids in the back yard.

We have built beds and sat by those same beds where our parents died.

Several of us have been honored in Halls of Fame and many of us have walked the halls of hospitals in anticipation of the birth of our first born.

We have been the first African-American woman vice president of CBS radio and transmitted radio messages in times of civil disasters.

We have jumped out an airplane in the pre dawn hours of the invasion of Normandy and we have jumped for joy when our child got their  first hit in tee ball.

We have been Speaker pro tem of the Georgia legislature and have spoken to thousands of the principles of faith, hope and love.

We have served on some of the state’s and nations most important boards and we have served food to the hungry when no one else would.

These of the just some of the things you can do. Your parents and your teachers have given you all the tools.  Now, it’s  up to you.   Failure is not an option.   Generations for centuries to come will be affected by what you accomplish in the next half century.

Do what you love to do in life and do it with a passion, but at all times love your family, love your neighbors, love your community and love your nation.

We are all put on this Earth for a purpose and that purpose is to build and not to destroy,  said the comedian Red Skelton.  The great baseball player Roberto Clemente always said “anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world, and you don’t, you are wasting your time on Earth.

Perhaps the most succinct graduation address came from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  On a very hot day and after many congratulatory remarks, Churchill rose to speak and told the graduates, “ Gentlemen, life is tough, but never ever give up.”

I am a child of what has been called the “Greatest Generation.”  My challenge to you tonight is to make us, your parents, the parents of the true “Greatest Generation” and make yourselves the parents of an even greater generation.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2007!  Thank you for allowing me to be your baseball coach, your school board member, your band booster president and most of all, thank you for letting me  be your friend.


BIG SCOTT


Big Scott

"You're Scott's son, aren't you?"  That's the question I most often get in Dublin, Georgia, the place I call home. Once you see us both, listen to us talk, watch us adjust our glasses and use the same facial expressions, there's not much doubt I'm Scott Thompson's son. 

If you know us really well, you'll know we can both be completely sarcastic and quite dorky as well. Those of you who know him know he works tirelessly. He's been a real estate attorney for I believe 27 years. He's a historian, has authored books on the history of Dublin and Laurens County and publishes a weekly column in the Courier Herald. He's a member of the Dublin City school board, having been elected in 2005. He was a little league coach, and he's been involved with the Dublin High School band and baseball team. And that's just some of what he does.

He also happens to be one of the more generous people you can run into, having given much money to kids and schools in the county, along with other charities and causes. And he lent a helping hand in making sure that every team member on Dublin's state championship athletic teams got their championship rings. He often quotes Winston Churchill, saying "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

We both share a love for writing. The highlight of my short career as a journalist so far has been covering a football game in Athens with him last September. As I sat in the press box, he was down on the field taking pictures between the hedges. 

And it was he who introduced me to baseball, which we both are very fond of. He was my coach for the majority of my little league career. I used to follow him to work a good bit when I was little, sporting a suit and all. 

Those days are gone now, but our bond isn't. Back in January, he had a heart attack. Luckily his heart problems were realized soon enough to avoid anything worse. Even when I got the call, I wasn't really panicked. Because the man endures. And even though I felt uncertain in those couple of months, I knew in the end, he'd be fine. It's certainly made me appreciate spending time with him a great deal more.

Along with my mom, my dad has been my rock. He's been to countless band concerts, practices, marching band performances, baseball games, banquets, you name it. And even when other people have let me down, he's been by my side throughout it all, supporting me in all that I've done.

Having a father that is so widely respected around the community as well as a grandfather who was the same way, I often find myself wondering if I will live up to that, and I put a good bit of pressure on myself. 

The best advice my dad has given me is to be myself and follow my dreams. People can be amazed at how he rattles information off the top of his head like an encyclopedia, and I used to pretend not to know him when he did the twist in front of the entire band. But it's all him being him. I believe he's still very much a kid at heart.

Big Scott is not perfect. He'll be the first to tell you there are things he could have done better. Like all the rest of us, he's only human. But in his number one job as a dad in a world that is in desperate need of more good ones, he gets an A+ from me. Happy (early) Father's Day. 

Scotty Thompson 
June 2009                                  

THE LAUNCH OF A LIFETIME




The Space Shuttle, The End of An American Era



First you see it. Then you hear it. And, then you feel it. The sight is heart pumping. The sound is ear deafening. The shock waves are earth shaking.

When I was five, I had a dream. I wanted to fly in a rocket ship. An Alan Shepard, John Glenn, or Gordon Cooper is whom I wanted to be. For nearly a half century I longed to see a rocket lift off from Cape Kennedy. On Friday, May 14, at 2:20:09 p.m., my dream came true. I was there. I saw the billowing orange and white smoke. I saw the blinding fire. I heard the distant rumble and then the crackling roar. Tweeters tweeted. Cameras clicked. Crowds cheered.

After securing my press credentials from a 1960s style office from a sweet lady named Mrs. Woodard, whose husband came from of all places, Eastman, Georgia, I toured the area on the day before the launch.

I saw the areas where in the old days they launched the Mercury and Gemini missions. I remembered my friend Bert Thigpen, who lives on the Old Savannah Road. As a young man, Bert worked on radar systems up and down the East Coast from New York to Cape Canaveral, as they called it back in the early 1960s. Bert was invited by NASA officials to come into the bunkers and watch some of the events. He fondly remembered Shorty Powers, who loved the last minute holds. He's the guy who coined the phrase, "a-ok." Thigpen remembered the time he was invited to ascend the gantry tower for one of the Gemini space missions. "I was amazed at how thin the aluminum door of the capsule was. The seats were smaller than a pickup truck. They invited me to climb in and see the inside, but I was scared to close the door," Bert remembered. My how things have changed. There was a good ol' country boy from Laurens County climbing in a space capsule as if were a friend's new car.

They took us to get a close up view of the shuttle. It didn’t seem to matter that it was only a mile away. I wanted to spend the night there to get the ultimate shot of the launch. But, after surviving a heart attack to save pieces of the old Dublin High School, I wasn’t about to get incinerated if something went terribly wrong. Besides, they wouldn’t let anywhere, except the biggest shots, get anywhere near the pad during liftoff.







I saw the real Apollo 13 capsule, one I was afraid I jinxed when I saw it on the same pad some 40 years before. Then, I touched the moon. Not really, but a small finger worn triangular piece NASA put out for the tourists to touch the bounty of their investment in the space program. I said a prayer for the astronauts of Apollo 1, who were burned on the launch pad in a pre-flight test and the thrills we all had way back in the summer of ’69.

The nice lady back at the badging office told me to get there by 7:30. I did. Then it was hurry up and wait. The sun was blazing, but there was a nice breeze. So for the next five hours, I looked around me. Camera crews were getting ready. There were several shuttle astronauts walking around in their blue jump suits. My son Scotty tells me journalists shouldn't be fans, so I didn't ask them for an autograph.

For most of the morning, I took advantage of the opportunity to watch a few of the300+ birds on Merritt Island, a National Wildlife Refuge. I watched three ospreys flying back and forth to their nest, constructed of twigs and sticks on top of a NASA sign. I spotted one of them flying in with a prized fish. He had already nibbled off the head before he got back to the nest. The AP guy got a photo of three of the ospreys in the nest. But, I got a prize picture of the eagle-like bird gliding into his tailgating perch with a pre-launch meal.

People kept walking around. Most of the media were enjoying just being there, taking pictures of themselves with NASA objects in the background. Speaking of objects in the back ground, the most dominating feature of the complex is the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB. It is the world’s fourth largest building in volume and you could cram four Empire State Buildings inside of it and still have room to walk around in.


As I looked around on the spot where the largest gathering of journalists in the history of the world came together on July 16, 1969 to chronicle the launch of Apollo 11, I thought of the late Walter Cronkite. I thought of Dr. Robert Shurney, a Dublin native who taught many of the early astronauts how to live in weightlessness. Shurney, considered one of the greatest African-American physicists at NASA, designed lunar rover's tires in addition to designing systems to allow the astronauts to eat easier and even go to the bathroom in the zero gravity of space in the Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle missions.

I thought of George English, who lived at the corner of Woodrow and North Elm Streets. English served as a Deputy Director of the Kennedy Space Center in the 1970s during the transition from the moon going Apollo and earth orbiting Shuttle missions.

When the clock struck T-1:20:00, I made my way down to the edge of the river. I noticed the manatee playing in the water and the shore birds skimming the surface for a meal. I heard a loud crash in the water near my bank side seat. Only later did I learn that it was probably a gator which infest the area.

A young graduate student stood next to me. She was busy on her cell phone reading the last minute messages of the flight controllers. Seemed there was a constraint to a launch, not a soft one, but a hard one, which meant I might have come back and do it all over again a month later. But then she found out it was only a missing camera bearing. We were go for launch. At T-0:09:00, the tweeters came running out of their air-conditioned tent like kids on the last day of school.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, lift off. The Space Shuttle Atlantis was on her final voyage. Only two more flights are scheduled. There is an urban legend that when the shuttle goes up, the alligators come out of the water. One did. So, I got up and left. After 49 years of waiting to get there, it was all over in two minutes.

After a seven-hour ride back to Dublin, I got in my bed and went to sleep, hoping that I just might dream that it was me up there circling the Earth.
























Saturday, January 26, 2013

I SURVIVED A HEART ATTACK, WILL YOU?


For those of you who don’t know, I had a heart attack on January 31st, 2009. I ask your leave to let me tell you about what led up to it and will result from my life changing invent.

I confess. I am an inveterate biscuit eater. Ever since I chewed one of my Gommie’s delicious biscuits made with lard and dripping with real cow butter, I was hooked. I gobbled every french fry within my reach. Meats, cheese, chips and peanut butter were the staples of my diet. I love salt, never dreaming it would be damaging my body. Being blessed with a mother who could out cook Paula Deen on her best day, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to.

At first, it didn’t matter, I was a bean pole up until the time I graduated high school. But then, I began to slow down. After I finished by physical training in R.O.T.C., I ran only when I had to, and not often enough. The stresses of daily adult life began to set in.

I knew I was overweight, but I never saw myself as overly fat. Back last summer, I made a conscious decision to lose weight. And I did. I had lost about 27 pounds. I had my cholesterol levels checked at least once a year. They weren’t bad, but they could have been better. My good HDL level was too low and my bad LDL needed some work. So, I continued to religiously take my Lipitor to control my cholesterol and started eating healthier foods. I didn’t exercise enough, a partial result of the onset of arthritis and planar fasciitis in my left foot. My blood pressure stayed normal, or even below normal, by taking my medicine as directed.

Like most men, I ignored some of the signs of heart problems. I got out of breath when I engaged in moderate exercise. I thought that just came with being fat and fifty. I was thinking about going to the fitness center and working out, but that was just it, I was thinking about it and not doing it.

Saturday, January 31st was another normal Saturday. I worked a little in the yard and I felt fine, or just normal. I went over to the site of the old Dublin High School to pick up a few more precious pieces of our city’s heritage to share with others, who couldn’t get there to save a memory.

And then, it happened. I felt a severe gas pain in my throat. I attributed it to a deliciously spicy bbq chicken samwich and serving of porknbeans, the night before. When I stopped, the pain subsided. I burped and everything seemed to be better. Then I felt worse. I headed home. Something in my mind, I believe it was one of my guardian angels, said to find the bottle of 81mg aspirin. I did and took six of them. That may have saved my life. Ask your doctor about starting a daily aspirin regimen.

I laid down for about five hours and took another blood pressure pill. The pain went away. I never had the first classic heart attack symptom. There was no strong pain in my chest, no severe pains in my shoulder or jaw. My breathing was normal. My blood pressure was elevated, but amazingly my pulse rate was normal. So, I did what any other stupid person would do. I went about my business the next day.

The next night wasn’t a good one. I still had the gas sensation and my back hurt, the latter of which I discounted as a result of lifting too much. Then it got worse again. I called one of my secretaries to take me to the Medical Center. A voice, belonging to another of my angels, said to me, call an ambulance. I did. They came. They comforted me and went to work doing the job that they were trained, but are so woefully underpaid, to do. EMT Mike Reed told me that there was some damage to the back of my heart. Reed calmly went through his normal routine keeping me at ease.

After arriving at the ER and undergoing a battery of tests, the staff doctor came in and told me that I had a heart attack. I said to myself, "yeah, but I am still here." When I was a child, the phrase, "He had a heart attack" was the response to what caused someone’s death.

And now, here is the strange twist. My HDL "good" cholesterol was 28 points better than the adult male recommended level of 50. My LDL "bad" cholesterol was 52, nearly fifty points below the optimal level of 100. In total, my cholesterol level was 130, a mark that any one of any age could be proud of. But I still had a heart attack. So despite a low cholesterol level, no one is ever safe. Other factors, family history, stresses, etc., remain.

Enter Dr. Manuel Vega and the crack operating staff at Fairview Park Hospital. Dr. Vega walked into the room. He quickly read my chart, walked over to wash his hands, and urged everyone to hurry up. With only a topical anesthetic, Dr. Vega inserted a catheter into my groin. I was awake the entire time. I felt the cold air of the operating room and the hardness of the table pressing against my back. He saved my life, though he will deny it, right there by placing four stints to relieve a completely blocked artery. I later found out that I had two other blocked arteries. By the grace of God, my heart had automatically rerouted the blood flow around the other two blockages. So, I am now blessed to say that I am on the elective bypass surgery list at Emory University Hospital and not on the emergency list. Hopefully, I will have the procedure done in one month by one of the finest cardiac surgeons in the country.

All will go well and I will become a poster boy for overcoming heart disease. All I ask is that you too, "learn and live," and follow the motto and advice of the American Heart Association. Visit your doctor and follow his advice. Eat right. Learn about your family’s medical history- see I keep trying to tell you that at least some history is important to you. Get off your fanny. Learn the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Support the American Heart Association. Try not worry. Pray for others who suffer from this killer disease. It was your prayers that got me through the first phase of this ordeal and your prayers that will get me through the next and most critical phase.

I am eternally grateful to Dr. Manuel Vega, EMTs Mike Reed and Mel Tripp , the nurses and staff of the Cardiac Care Unit of Fairview Park Hospital for the unparalleled care they gave me in saving my life. I know they will say it is their job, but to me they are heroes.

As I come to the point in my new life, I will begin to relieve myself of the stressful roles. One of my new roles will be as an advocate of a healthy heart life. I may, no I will, bug some of you about staying fit and eating right. But, that is okay, because that’s what friends are for. If, my efforts can save at least one of you, whether I know you or not, then my role as a survivor of a heart attack will be complete.

Some survive and fall back to bad habits when they start feeling better. So during this American Heart Month and all throughout the year, learn about heart disease. It will save your life or the life of someone you love. Heart disease kills more Americans than any other disease. Every twenty five seconds an American will have a coronary event. Every minute one of us dies. Yes, I said DIES, from it. It just wasn’t my minute. I was one of the lucky ones. Many are not so lucky. For those who make it and even for those of you who never have a coronary, every day will be a new and blessed day. Learn and live!

KATHERINE BANKS - AN AMERICAN GRANDMOTHER


An American Great Grandmother


I cannot imagine the United States of America without Katherine Banks. You ask, who is Katherine Banks? Katherine lived around three hundred and fifty years ago in 17th Century Virginia. So why is this Virginia lady so significant and what does she have to do with the history of east-central Georgia? Well, she has nothing to do directly with the history of our area, but without her, the face of the history of America, and the world for that matter, would have been vastly different. What did she do? Well, I will tell you.

Katherine Banks was born into a prosperous family in Canterbury, England in County Kent in 1627, the same year the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been chartered to colonize the eastern coast of North America. Her father, Christopher Banks, was one of England's most influential commoners in his position with the Old London Company, which financed the settlement of Jamestown and Virginia.

Sometime in the early 1640s, Katherine journeyed to America, landing in Charles City County, west of Jamestown on the James River. It was not long after her arrival that she married her cousin, Joseph Royall, twice a widower and 27 years her senior. Royall had come to Jamestown aboard the Charitie in July 1622, just after Powhatan Chief Opechancanough had murdered three hundred and forty-seven colonists. Royall survived "the burning fever," which killed even more settlers. By transporting colonists to Virginia, Joseph Royall was able to accumulate a large plantation, which he called "Doghams" after the French river D'Augham, on the James River above Shirley and opposite current day Hopewell, Virginia.

Joseph Royall died in the mid 1650s. As was the custom in those days, his wife's dower from his estate passed to her during her widowhood. When Katherine married Henry Isham in 1656, Royall's estate passed to Isham, who immediately added another wing to his residence on Bermuda Hundred.

From their luxurious home encircled by tall pines and a extensive English flower garden, the Ishams became leaders of Virginia society. It has been said that Katherine Banks Royall Isham was the wealthiest woman in America. Her father gave her one of the first English coaches to be used in the colonies. It was described as cumbrous and capacious. It held six individuals, three on a seat opposite one another. Two others could sit on stools which faced the doors. Its body was hung high on large springs and was entered by steps. The lining was made of cream-colored cloth. Silver trimmings, cords and tassels accented the exquisite exterior. The driver and the footman sat on the front, while luggage was carried in the rear.

As the fall weather began to cool the shores of the James River, Katherine made out her last will and testament. Three hundred and twenty three years ago today, Joseph Royall, Jr. and Francis Eppes walked into the court of Henrico County to probate her generous and loving testament to her children and grandchildren. Her bequests of exquisite and valuable heirlooms paled in comparison to the true legacy of this little known woman.

By her first husband, Katherine gave birth to six children, Joseph, John, Sarah, Katherine and two other unknown daughters. With Henry, Katherine had Henry, Jr. and Anne. But by far, her most famous child was Mary Isham. Mary was a much courted belle of Virginia. Suitors swarmed to get a glance of this charming young woman, who played the cittern, a three-stringed early version of the mandolin. Mary captured the heart of the wealthy William Randolph of Turkey Island. Over the next three centuries, the couple would come to be known as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia." Now, you will see why.

The Randolphs were the parents of ten children, most notably Isham Randolph. His daughter Jane married Peter Jefferson. They were the parents of President Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth, daughter of William and Mary Randolph, married Richard Bland. They were the great-great grandparents of the noble and the revered, General Robert Edward Lee. William and Mary's son Thomas was the great-grandfather of John Marshall, the nation's longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In point of fact, Katherine's descendants included the wives of both President Jefferson and General Lee. You can see why the Randolphs are the closest thing to royalty that Virginia ever had.

I will dispense with all the begats, the great-greats and the removed cousins and simply say that among the most well known descendants of Katherine Banks Royall Isham are presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, first lady Edith Wilson, authors William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Robert Penn Warren and Ray Badbury. Among the most interesting name on the list is Booker Talieferro Washington, a former slave, who became a highly revered educator, author and political leader. There are many, many more. Their names have not yet been entered in the files of ancestry.com. So for now, I will stop here.

Why would anyone care about Katherine Banks? She was never memorialized in the annals of early American history. All she did was live a good life and have children. And, that's just the point. All of us have a purpose on the Earth. As we go about our daily lives, we never stop to imagine that our descendants, close and remote, can play a pivotal role in the history of our country.

Can you imagine the Declaration of Independence written by someone else other than Thomas Jefferson? Can you imagine the Civil War without Robert E. Lee? Can you imagine the emergence of the Supreme Court without Chief Justice John Marshall? I cannot.

Maybe you can conceive of the world of literature without the names of Bradbury, Faulkner, Cather and Warren, but it would have been a far poorer one.

I can't envision the world without the leadership and brilliance of Booker T. Washington. I can't envision the world without John F. Kennedy. Would there have even been a man on the moon? Would Richard Nixon have been elected president in 1960? Would their have ever been a war in Vietnam or the turbulent times of the 1960s?

I can't imagine a world without these exceptional Americans who descended from the forgotten Katherine Banks Royall Isham. You see, I couldn't visualize these thoughts at all if it were not for Katherine, who was my eighth great-grandmother.

Study the history of your family. Learn where you came from so that you can know where you are going. Everyone's families are no more important than any others. It is up to you. Serve your community now. Don't rest of the accolades of your ancestors or wait on the achievements of your remotest descendants. Who knows what they may learn from you?