As Thanksgivings go, this one has been memorable, but kind of a blur.
Fast and furious, lots of people, faces, miles traveled, a little turkey, and catfish, and not much sleep.
For me, it all started Thanksgiving morning, when I left Long Beach, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, bound for I-55 north and the city of Grenada, which would begin the 25th annual Thanksgiving mission trip to north central Mississippi.
It would be there, in the parking lot of the local WalMart in Grenada, that I would meet six wonderful friends and fellow mission workers from southwestern Wisconsin, who had been driving all through the night to bring a large horse trailer and truck load of donated items to disadvantaged families in the Mississippi Delta, a Thanksgiving mission tradition that began some 25-30 years ago.
My longtime friend and fellow mission worker, Chuck, a Special Education Teacher from rural Mineral Point, who organized and led the Wisconsin mission crew, had called late Wednesday evening, at about 11:00pm, from Stoughton, Wisconsin, that the crew had just loaded the last of the donations and were heading down I-90 south towards Mississippi. On a normal trip down from there, team driving, re-fueling and restroom stops, would normally put them in Grenada around 1:00pm-2:00pm or so.
In southern Wisconsin, Chuck had recruited the mission trip workers, arranged for the trip vehicles and trailer, scheduled the loading events, obtained volunteers to help load and led the mission crew down I39 and I-55 to Mississippi over Thanksgiving, all as part of a mission effort to help others of SAMARITANS DEEDS MISSIONS, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
A number of the donations in the large trailer, a number of used, reconditioned appliances,were donated by Bob’s Electric of Dodgeville, who has been supporting the mission for more than 15 years with the used appliances for disadvantaged Mississippi families. Also on board, were probably 100+ gallons of donated paint from a painter in my hometown, Tom, who I went to high school with.
Shortly before 2:00pm, Chuck called and advised that they had sustained a couple of flat tired on the trailer, and were in Batesville at another WalMart having two new tires installed and would be down shortly.
Just before 3:00pm, the two vehicles pulled into the Grenada parking lot, and a brief reunion took place among old friends.
In the Wisconsin crew were Fritz, a longtime mission worker, who, with his son, owns a farm implement dealership in Mineral Point (The Farmers Implement Store). It was Fritz who donated the use of his pickup and passenger van for use during this trip, as he has so many times over the years, both to this group and so many others, one of the most kind and giving men I have ever met. Fritz is also well-known among our Mississippi coordinators as the purveyor and hander-out of fine Wisconsin cheeses, donated for the mission by superb Mineral point cheese makers, Tony and Julie Hook of the Hook Cheese Company.
Fritz with some Hook cheddar cheese and his truck and trailer.
Also along was Jim, a soon-to-be retired, U.S. Mail Carrier, and licensed Wisconsin electrician, who also lives in my hometown, and with whom I have made Mississippi mission delivery/work trips with for at least fifteen years. Jim is one of the most resourceful people I have ever known, and can repair virtually anything.
Rev. Richard has been a Thanksgiving missions worker with this crew for the past 6-8 years, and ministers passionately to two Lutheran parishes in the Stoughton area, West Koshkonong Lutheran and nearby Rockdale Lutheran, who have supported the mission work of this group for many, many years.
Mark, who with his brother and father, own the Mitchell Hardware store in Mineral Point, has also been a hard-working, regular member on these Thanksgiving delivery/work trips for several years.
Also along, for the first time on one of our SAMARITANS DEEDS MISSIONS Thanksgiving mission trips, is one of Rev. Richard’s delightful Stoughton church lay-persons, Faith, who has two sisters, appropriately named Hope and Charity. Interestingly, Hope and her spouse, Jerry, are also members of the same little church my wife and I are members of, and coincidentally, Jerry and I are both volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians in our hometown EMS Unit. Small world.
Leaving Grenada shortly after 3:00pm, we headed for Greenwood, and the first delivery at the home of one of our mission coordinators there, named Sallie. After unloading the boxes we had for her, we visited with Sallie for a few minutes, and before leaving for our next stop in Itta Bena, Sallie presented us warm one of her delicious Sweet Potato pies, which we promised to consume later that night.
In Itta Bena, which is Choctow Indian translates into “Home in the woods,” we first stopped at the home of one of our longtime coordinators there, Mary Alice. She had family home for Thanksgiving, and there were people everywhere! After unloading her boxes and a used refrigerator and dryer, she invited us to partake of the large Thanksgiving dinner she had prepared for her family, and we were included as part of her family.
This was Thanksgiving dinner number one.
At about 5:30pm, after dark, after leaving Mary Alice’s, we journeyed several blocks away to the home of Annie Ruth’s, another of our longtime, Itta Bena mission coordinators.
It is always a treat and special affair to visit Annie’s. Our friendship goes back 30 years ago when I met her and her family on my very first mission trip to Mississippi. In countless trips since then, I have come to know and befriend her daughters and sons and have many special memories of our get-togethers and conversations. I had the privilege of spending one very special Christmas with Annie and her family, at their former home on a plantation outside of Itta Bena, which will be the subject of another post sometime.
Thursday evening, we were able to visit with her daughters, Janice, Gwen and Linda, who were home at the time. Gwen is a supervisor on death row at the state prison, where Linda also works. Gwen graduated from nearby Mississippi Valley State University, and is a confirmed 49s fan, where her famous college classmate, NFL Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice, played his college football. Of course, before leaving Annie’s, Fritz shared a couple of packages of Hook Wisconsin cheese with her.
Leaving Itta Bena, we traveled back through Greenwood, and from there south to the small town of Cruger, where we arrived at 6:30pm and visited with another one of our very special mission coordinators, Bobbie.
While we were unloading boxes there into the mission storage shed, Jim went to troubleshoot the electrical problem with the shed and within a few minutes, had the power and lights back on. It was good to see Bobbie again.
At that point, with the trailer and truck considerably lighter, we headed towards Lexington and almost our last stop of the evening, at the home of our longtime coordinator there, Lyndell, who would once again, serve as our trip host during this Thanksgiving.
I have known Lyndell for the past thirty years, during our missions work with a previous charitable organization, which is now dissolved. She is now our senior coordinator in Mississippi for our new charitable organization, Samaritans Deeds Missions. Her home is the hub of our annual Thanksgiving mission activities. She is a gracious and giving host, and mother to three children at home, named Mateus, Cynthia (“Mussie”) and Donnell. She also has eight grown children living in other states.
At 8:00pm, our little convoy pulled into her rural driveway, parked, and went inside for our second and last, Thanksgiving dinner. The only unloading there would be of bedding and duffel bags for those staying at Lyndell’s and the nearby home of her father, Lindbergh.
As we snacked and talked, we discussed our plans for the morning and the following day. In the morning we would unload the small remaining balance of donated items in the truck and trailer at Lyndell’s, where she would disperse them later to families in her surrounding community.
During the day Friday, three members of the crew would stay at Lyndell’s for the day and replace ceiling drywall in her living room and bathroom, while the other four of us, would journey south down to the Gulf Coast to my trailer home in Long Beach, where we would load up much of the tools and supplies I have been using in my two-year personal mission down here, that the Wisconsin crew would transport back and store for me back home until I would transition back myself later this winter, after my Hurricane Katrina recovery mission concluded on the Gulf Coast. We would arrive back at Lyndell’s Friday evening for a special culinary treat.
After eating at Lyndell’s, and establishing plans for Friday, Chuck and I set out for Black Hawk, some 17 miles to the north of Lexington, where we would spend the night in the former home of my old friend, Norman Cobbins, Sr., who passed on a couple of months ago at the age of 102. Norman has allowed our mission group to make use of his former family home for a number of years now, as a mission bunkhouse for visiting mission workers.
Arriving at Black Hawk at about 10:30pm, Chuck set out in search of “my Mississippi son,” Reese, who had the key to the padlock on the old house. I went inside the newer Cobbins home, to visit with several of Norman and Willie’s children, who were home from out-of-state visiting their momma and siblings.
About 45 minutes later, I excused myself from the Cobbins home for the evening, and walked up to the old house, to find Chuck asleep on the old couch in the front room. After bringing in my suitcase and sleeping bag from the car, I arrange a place to sleep on one of the lower bunks, and went in to the kitchen for a little while, to sit down at the table there, sip on some diet Coke and make a few notes about the trip experience.
About an hour later, I finally called it a night and slipped under the covers in my bunk. The 60′s temperature outside made for pleasant sleeping that night.
The house is very old, and slowly disentigrating, as the Mississippi weather and each passing year takes its toll on the structure. Some future day, we will need to secure another structure to use as a mission worker bunkhouse, or perhaps raise sufficient funds to building a functional structure.
A few minutes before 7:00am, I awoke, as did Chuck shortly thereafter. We gathered our gear, loaded up and began the journey south towards Lexington.
The Cobbins farm in rural Black Hawk, located in southern Carroll County, sits approximately 3-4 miles back off the blacktop highway, in a heavily-wooded area, on a gravel road. The road off highway 17 back there, is one of those beautiful drives, especially at this time of the season.
When the road leaves hwy 17, it is in Holmes County, and after a short distance, it narrows somewhat and passes into Carroll County. The Carroll County road is a beautiful stretch. The roadway itself is cut down between the banks on either side, lined heavily with cedar and hardwood trees, the latter of which are exploding with fall colors of brilliant reds, yellows, oranges and shades in between. The road is narrow, and for much of the way from the county line over to the Cobbins farm, the trees form a virtual canopy over the road and the traveler passing along the road. Year round the drive through it is beautiful, but during the fall, today, it was magnificent!
About 7:45am, Chuck and I arrived at Lyndell’s home, and after a small bit of good morning conversation, the crew started unloading the remaining donated boxes, appliances and cans of paint from the horse trailer into Lyndell’s little storage building. By Sunday evening, all of those things will have been distributed throughout the surrounding community.
Shortly after Chuck and I arrived, Lyndell’s father, Lindbergh, age 76, drove into the driveway in his 40-year old 1968 Chevrolet Model 10 pickup truck. What a truck and what a guy! Lindbergh lost his wife over 20 years ago, and lives alone in his small home just up the road. Alone, that is, except outside his back door, lives 10-12 cats, which he says hello to and feeds every morning.
It is always a pleasure sitting and visiting a spell with Lindbergh. To Lyndell and her children, Lindbergh is always addressed as “Daddy.” Lindbergh is one of my favorite people to photograph.
By 9:00am or so, the unloading was finished, and Lyndell was fast at work preparing a quick, hot breakfast consisting of fried, sliced weiners, grits and cheeseburgers garnished with more of that delicious Hook cheddar cheese. It was delicious!
After breakfast, Fritz, Jim, Faith and myself left in two vehicles for Long Beach to pick up the load of my tools, equipment, etc. waiting there, and Chuck, Rev. Richard and Mark started working on replacing the ceiling drywall.
In a nutshell, Friday was wet! It was raining when we left for the coast, all the way there, and all the way back.
When our travel crew was just north of Jackson on the return trip, at about 7:30pm, I called Lyndell and advised that she could start cooking catfish, we were almost there!
When we arrived, Lyndell was just putting the dishes on the table. Plates were piled high with steaming spaghetti, golden brown hush puppies, savory greens cooked with bacon, creamy coleslaw and, of course, lots of golden, pan-fried catfish! For dessert, there was sweet potato pie and pound cake.
Lyndell’s catfish supper is legend among our longtime mission workers from Wisconsin. Literally several hundred mission volunteers over the past two decades have enjoyed Lyndell’s special catfish suppers. If they remember nothing else from their trip experience (which doesn’t happen), they remember being her guest for catfish supper.
After supper, and evening conversation, Chuck and I again left for our overnight stay at the mission bunkhouse in rural Black Hawk. Upon arrival there, I installed a new, heavy duty hasp and padlock on the front door. Shortly thereafter, it was time to get some badly-needed sleep.
Saturday morning, Lyndell prepared another great breakfast for the crew, this one consisting of a fried pork casserole dish containing pork, chopped onions and peppers, and more of the delicious Hook cheddar, with toast and jam.
After breakfast, the crew worked on replacing old ceiling drywall in Cynthia’s bedroom, which was finished about 1:00pm.
Within an hour after that, it was time for the final mission trip crew group photo, hugs all around, and then, it was time to head home, the six Wisconsinites would head north, to their homes, and I would head south, back to the Gulf Coast, at least for now, to my work and personal mission.
Goodbyes at this time of the trip are always a bit sad, as another Thanksgiving mission trip experience is about to come to a close.
The trip back down I-55 and US-49 was a bit lonely, driving along in the rain most of the way, after spending the previous 48 hours with my friends, but I made it back to the coast and Long Beach safely, but very tired. Sunday evening, I received an email from Chuck advising that the Wisconsin crew had also arrived back there to their homes safe and sound, to some snow blowing around.
Life goes on for us all, and hopefully, as a result of the way some folks chose to spend their Thanksgiving, far from family and home, life will be a bit more cheerful for some.
Speaking, I believe, for myself and my six Wisconsin friends, over the past 25 years, I have often been asked by others, “Don’t you miss your being with your family, being so far away from home at the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas and such?” My answer is always the same, “You don’t understand, I was with my family.”