Family, History and Love

Wanda and I have been discussing, of late, the need to set down in writing some portion of our family history so that in the future our children and grandchildren will have the stories and tales of our lives direct from the source. The technophile that I am, I choose to do this online so that the what we write will be accessible and available for comment to our wider family (though I reserve the right to moderate those comments).

To that end, I have repurposed this blog. In coming posts, we will endeavor to provide an abridged story of our life (hey, everyone has their secrets). We're writing this for our children and their children and those that come later so elements of these tales will be familiar only to our family,

Monday, May 31, 2010

Visiting the South

Just a short week ago, I returned from a 10 day trip to my home town of Douglasville, a small town in a mostly rural county about 25 miles west of Atlanta. I hadn't visited there since my mother's funeral back in August of 2007 and I really felt the need to spend some time with my dad who is turning 74 this year. He had had back and neck surgery earlier this year and I had sent my oldest daughter to stay with him for a few weeks while he recovered, but I really needed to see him as a few phone calls each week just isn't the same, though he'll probably outlive all his children.

An unusual tree in my dad's yard - this is the flower bud.

This is a partially open bud.

This is the fully opened flower.

And this is the full tree - my dad gave me a cutting from it.

I alway feel a bit of trepidation when I plan a visit back to the South. I haven't lived in Georgia since I was 18 years old, though we did live in South Carolina and Florida from 1985 - 1993.  I always feel like I've moved on from a lot of the attitudes and biases that still permeate the region, and I'm never sure how well I'll be able to bite my tongue and not get into any political, religious or social arguments. Actually, it turned out pretty well and my tongue was only slightly sore at the end of the trip.  I did, of course, encounter some attitudes that run counter to my world view, but they weren't so strident that I couldn't just ignore them, though I did have to say a word or two to one of my nephews over the course of a dinner.
The Southeast experience significant flooding two years ago.
Some of the repairs are not yet complete.

I enjoyed spending time with my dad, though. Although he's an ordained minister, he didn't bring up religion at all to me. I did, however, spend quite a bit of time listening to his gospel music, but that was nostalgic for me since we all spent a lot of time at church, revivals, and "singings" with him.  He did have on DVD of a gospel group in concert that was quite good. The music was good and the singers were obviously having a lot of fun playing their music and joking around with each other.

Over the course of my visit with my dad, I felt like I accomplished quite a lot with/for him. The first day I was there, I was able to complete setting up his wireless network, connect his computer and printer to it, and set him up a gmail account so he could send and receive e-mails. My sister had done most of the work before I arrived (connecting the wireless model up and setting the password), but it was fun to help my dad enter the 21st century. During the rest of the week we replaced the faucets in his downstairs apartment, refinished some of the caulking on the downstairs tub, pulled wild blackberry vines out of his shrubbery, planted a dozen tomato plants for him, and helped him with a few smaller projects around his home.

I did manage to get some time for myself as well. I got out for a hike along Sweetwater Creek one afternoon. The heat and humidity were certainly more that I was used to after living so many years out of the South, and I was soaked from collar to waist by the time I returned to the air conditioned car, but it was well worth it.

Sweetwater Creek

The ruins of the New Manchester Textile Mill along the creek.

Looking upstream from the old mill ruins.

Rough water and storm clouds in the distance.

A creek bed of granite.

The Monday after my arrival I was fortunate enough to be able to meet an old friend from high school for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. Tim was one of my best friends in middle and high school and we spent 6 years in band playing the trombone (Tim) and the tenor saxophone (me). In fact, both Tim and I joined the Navy out of high school and I moved up my active duty date by over a week so we could go to boot camp together. Alas, Tim had a medical condition that kept him from completing his service, while I went on to complete 21 years of total service.

It sure was good to see him again, though the years have definitely changed us both. Tim had a terrible auto accident a few years ago, but has made a remarkable recovery considering the extent of his injuries. What amazed me though, was Tim's great attitude and sense of humor about his ordeal. He mentioned that we was hoping to write a book, and I hope that he does. I, for one, would be among the first to buy it.

I also managed to go fishing with a boyhood companion. Randy and I were the best of friends while we were growing up together. He moved away sometime when we were in high school, but until he moved we would fish, ride motorcycles, swim, and just ramble around the county together. We were in 1st grade together and spent lots of time at each other's homes while we were growing up.  In any case, the last time I had seen Randy was at my wedding over 31 years ago, and shortly before my trip to Georgia he and I reconnected via Facebook.  I learned that he had moved back to Georgia after living many years in the Florida Panhandle and we made arrangements for me to come up to meet him in Woodstock for some fishing on Lake Altoona.

Lake Altoona at Dawn.

We made a day of it. I met Randy at 6 am on a dock and we headed out for a day of fishing. When we were lads, fishing mean cane poles, small hooks, bobbers and catching grasshoppers or digging worms for bait. We fished in small pools and streams, often in pastures or along the side of highways. Our catches typically included bream, small catfish, and other panfish. This fishing trip was quite different. Randy has a center console fishing boat with an oxygenated bait tank, a 150 hp Mercury outboard, a sophisticated sonar/fish finder/navigation system and a remote controlled trolling motor that was GPS enabled. The fish we caught were significantly different too. I caught a huge crappie and several striped and hybrid bass, while Randy caught even more than I did.  The best part of the whole fishing trip wasn't catching fish though, rather it was reconnecting with a boyhood friend and learning about his life over the last 30 years as well as laughing about all the trouble we used to get into when we were kids. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to meet his wife and family, but on my next trip to Georgia I'll make the time to do so.

One of the dams on Lake Altoona.

Fishing on the lake.

For my dad, the best part of my visit was probably our trip to Biloxi, Mississippi to see some of his grandsons and great grandsons. It's about a 6 hour drive to Biloxi from where he lives, and he wanted to take his new truck to show it to his grandsons. It was a fun trip. Dad and I talked a lot about our family history, relatives I haven't seen in years, and he told me stories about his childhood and mine. We took our time, and stopped a few times along the way to walk around, sit at the rest area to enjoy our lunch, and to enjoy the scenery.

When we got to Biloxi, I was delighted to find that our hotel was right on the Gulf. We could literally walk across the street and stand on a lovely white sand beach. Since we had some time before my nephews got off work, we took a walk on the beach and out to the end of a pier (rebuilt since Katrina) to enjoy the view and for me to take some photos. My dad enjoyed the walk, as did I, but he really enjoyed seeing his grandsons when they showed up at our hotel room a bit later.

Dad at the souvenir shop.

The pier and the lighthouse along the beach.

Bradley showed up first with 5 year old son, Gavin and we got to visit with them while we waited for Brent, his girlfriend and his son, Conner to arrive. Brian, Bradley and Brent's brother didn't make it over, but the rest of us went out to dinner that evening and spent some time talking and catching up with each other.

Brent, Dad and Bradley.

The next day, Dad and I did some souvenir shopping and a little bit of sight seeing. Brent was working, so he invited us out to the terminal to see his workplace and we got a little lesson in how commercial container ships were unloaded and the containers mounted onto chassis and sent out onto the road. Brent certainly has to work hard for his paycheck and I admire his ability to perform such hard physical labor in such a hard environment.

After our visit with Brent we went over to Bradley's apartment (right next to our hotel), and spent some time with Bradley and Gavin and to prepare that evenings meal. Dad had promised his "boys" some fresh cooked biscuits, their favorites, and I offered to prepare the rest of the meal which consisted of cube steak with onions, cole slaw, and creamed potatoes. I'll have to say the meal went over quite well with everyone and we had a fun time eating, chatting and talking about life.

Bradley is an electricians apprentice and he showed me some of the work he has been doing in his classes and on the job. He's quite adept at the vocation and I'm sure he'll do quite well with the rest of his studies and with his chosen profession.

After dinner, a few of us took a walk on the beach and I got some final photos of Biloxi and some of the people on the beach. Brent and Jessica, his girlfriend, wanted some photos of themselves and Conner so I happily obliged their request.

Brent, Conner and Jessica.

Conner enjoys the water.

Conner and his daddy.

Dad and I had to leave the next day as I had to pack and prepare for my flight back to Portland, but we did make it back over to Bradley's the next morning for a final visit with the boys. Dad get to speak with his other grandson that morning, but he wasn't able to talk him into coming over for a visit and that was a shame because I could tell my dad really wanted to see him.

Dad, his grandsons and great-grandsons.

Saying goodbye required a pose in front of dad's truck.

That was pretty much it for the visit. Our drive back to Douglasville was as pleasant as our drive to Biloxi and my flight to Portland the next day was fairly uneventful, though there was the upset child in the seat behind me that I always seem to attract. Wanda met me at the airport and we took a little detour so I could visit my own grandchildren.

I don't know when I'll get back to Georgia for another visit, but I do feel like I made the best of this one.

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