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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.

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Outside Lyndell’s home the Friday after Thanksgiving.

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.

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Truck and trailer which transported a large load of donated items from southern Wisconsin to north central Mississippi during Thanksgiving.

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.

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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.

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The old family home of Norman and Willie, now serving as a mission bunkhouse.

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.

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My bed for two nights in the “Black Hawk Comfort Inn.”

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.

Friday morning…

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!

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Country Road in Carroll County.

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.

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Chuck, Lindbergh and Fritz talk before breakfast.

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.

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Lindbergh and his 40-year old Chevy pickup.

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.

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Lyndell’s father, Lindbergh, age 76 years old.

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!

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Lyndell cooking breakfast for the crew.

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.

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New drywall on Lyndell’s living room ceiling.

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.

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Hush puppies cooking on Lyndell’s stove.

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.

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Lyndell’s special pan fried catfish.

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.

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Faith and Fritz eat catfish at Lyndell’s.

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.

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Mission crew works on replacing ceiling drywall in Cynthia’s bedroom. L-R: Rev. Richard, Chuck, Jim, Mark (measuring) and fritz.

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.

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Thanksgiving 2008 SD Missions crew, Front (L-R): Faith, Fritz, Donnell, Mateus, Lance. Back: Chuck, Mark, Rev. Richard, Jim, Lyndell, Cynthia, Lindbergh, Kendall.

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.”

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Does a cat really have nine lives?

What about people?

In a couple of posts last June, I shared stories about my own “close encounters” as it were, in the post examining a serious horseback accident at the Canyon Creek Ranch in southwest Montana in the summer of 1964, and then other horse accidents during 1975 and 1976, in Wyoming.

And then there were the brushes with rattlesnakes in the summer of 1975.

There have been a few more “brushes” along the way, too, that maybe could be considered as having “done in” a couple of more of those cat lives.

One the more interesting aspects, for me, of living, working and volunteering down here in Long Beach on the Gulf Coast these past 22 months, has been the freight trains which pass through here several times during the day and night, transporting who knows what, back and forth along the Gulf Coast.

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My weekday work campus and my travel trailer location are both very near the tracks of the CSX Railroad, and I love seeing and hearing the freight trains traveling through several times each day and night.

During the night before retiring, I hear the trains as they rumble past, the loud horn blowing its two long, one short and one long blasts, as they approach each crossing in its path.

One such cat life, close encounter experience of mine involved an incident with a train, myself and my brand new tricycle on my birthday in 1950, in Cashton, Wisconsin.

As I recall from my own personal memories, and those of my mother supplied years later, concerning that birthday train incident, it was a warm, sunshiny, summer day.

My parents had given me a great birthday present that morning, a brand new shiny tricycle, before my father had left for his work as a route salesman in that part of the state, for the Oscar Mayer Company, of Madison.

After lunch that day, while my mother was busy in the kitchen, I went to take that new trike for a spin around the block.

My older sister and I were allowed to play on the sidewalks and in the yards next to our home, and had been instructed not to go into the street. The train track crossing thing was kind of fuzzy, though.

For the first part of my journey, I remember pedaling down the side walk to the local school, then turning around and heading the other way, towards the train tracks, which ran a block away, on the other side of our house.

Oh, it was fun cruising along on that shiny new beauty!

Everything was going just great, until I came to where the railroad tracks crossed the sidewalk.

As I went to cross the tracks, I got by the first rail OK, and then was stopped cold when my front trike wheel turned sideways and went “slup” down into the slot between the second rail and the pavement next to the rail, becoming instantly stuck tightly in the slot.

Here it was, my birthday, and I was riding my brand new trike, and now it was stuck on the railroad tracks. I was upset!

For several minutes or so, I tried in vane, to pull that trike out from between the rail and the pavement. But, try as I might, I couldn’t get it loose.

Now, what?

Well, the “now, what” loudly announced itself, as an on-coming freight train horn started blowing from a block away, swiftly moving my way.

As I turned and saw the train rolling towards me, I remember the locomotive horn getting louder and louder, so very near to where I was, and I pulled and pulled on that trike with all my might to get it loose.

Finally, with the train engineer frantically blowing his horn and the engine virtually upon me only a few yards away, I let go of the trike’s handle bars, scrambled off the tracks to a place about 10 feet away, and watched as the huge train engine crushed and crunched my tricycle beneath its huge steel wheels, as it rolled on by.

After about 10 rail cars had passed, I turned around and started walking back along the sidewalk towards my house. Upon arriving there, I walked up the front steps and went inside.

To supplement my memories of that experience, my mother related many years later, the details of what transpired next.

As I walked into the kitchen, where my mother was working, I walked over to her and said, “Whatcha doin’?”

She said, “Baking cookies.”

I said, “Can I have some?”

She said, “OK,” and gave me a couple, which were still warm, fresh out of the oven.

As I was walking away, I stopped, turned around for a moment and said, “Train ran over my trike, Mommy.” after which I turned back around and walked out the door to the front steps, sat down and started to eat my cookies.

About that time, a close friend of my father’s, Hugh Bacon, the local fuel oil dealer in our town, came half-running, half-walking, up our sidewalk, panting like a hot dog, like he was all out of breath, went up our stairs, and into our house, calling out for my mother.

A few moments later, I heard her shriek loudly, saying, “OH MY GOD!” She then came running out the front door to where I was sitting, scaring me half to death, grabbed me by the arms, looked into my eyes, and said, “Are you all right?”

Trying my best not to choke on a mouth full of cookies, I replied, “I’m OK, Mommy.”

With that, she sat down beside me and began to cry. By that time, Hugh had come out of the house, and he sat down besides me, too.

Years later, I listened as she told of the experience that day, and she related that Hugh had told her that he was up on top of one of his huge bulk storage tanks, on the other side of the tracks, getting ready to load his bulk delivery truck, when he heard the train horn blowing unusually long as it approached the railroad crossing a block away from our house. He looked up and then towards the approaching train, and then saw me over on the tracks with my tricycle.

Instantly realizing the danger I was in, he frantically tried to climb down the ladder from the top of the bulk tank and get to me before the train reached me and crushed me underneath its wheels.

Hugh said that he yelled and yelled at me to get away from the tracks, but apparently I was too focused on trying to free the trike, and I didn’t hear him.

Hugh added that, when he had reached the bottom of the tank ladder, he looked over at me, and watched helplessly as the train approached to within 15’-20’ of where I was standing by my tricycle, thinking to himself that I was about to be run over by the train.

He said that virtually at the last second before the train reached me, I appeared to jump off the tracks to about 10’ away, and stood there, watching the front of the train roll over my tricycle, grinding it to bits.

He then said that I turned away from the train and walked down the sidewalk to my house, up the front steps and inside. He then started running across the tracks and up the sidewalk to our house to find my mother.

Hugh said that he had never been so scared in his life, and had never seen anyone come so close to being killed right in front of him.

My mother never said anything more about the train incident to me, until years later, when I was an adult, when she helped make many of the details of what happened then, much more clearer.

When my father returned home that evening from work, my mother told him what had happened that afternoon. That evening, my father had a talk with me about staying off the train tracks. Strangely though, I did lose another trike to a train in that same place, during the time we lived there prior to moving to Michigan for a year.

Unfortunately, for my mother, that was far from the only great scare that we kids gave her while we were growing up. And, I will have to admit, most of the scares were my doing.

Bless her heart, she passed away at the young age of 62, but that was mainly due to the effects of an adult lifetime of having diabetes.

In all my life, I have never known a more caring soul.

As for me, another cat life was probably gone in that experience.

And, I remain eternally grateful for that guardian angel who got me off those tracks that day so long ago.

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Close encounters with Automobiles will be along soon

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I very much appreciate the opportunity to be a “pinch-hit” host for my friend, Sometimes Serendipitous Girl, one of my very favorite bloggers. This true story was written to also appear on her blog during the time she will be on her upcoming trip to France.

Have a great trip, SSG!

LISTEN, AND I WILL LEAD YOU…

By Coast Rat

More than a dozen years ago, early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, a small band of travelers, eight in number, were making their way down across the southern United States, from Wisconsin to Mississippi, on a annual mission of mercy.

The group traveled in two 24’ rented Ryder box trucks and a borrowed passenger van, with the trucks loaded to the gills with over a thousand boxes of donated clothes, bedding, and many other items, destined for disadvantaged families in the poverty-ridden delta area of north central Mississippi, home to some of the poorest counties in the United States.

This had been an annual pilgrimage for several of the travelers, who had made this Thanksgiving trip many times in the past, leaving their homes in southern Wisconsin on Wednesday evening, driving all night on a southward journey though Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, to arrive in northern Mississippi Thanksgiving morning, where they would begin delivering their precious cargo to more than a dozen locations in the Magnolia State.

On their long journey south, the group would stop only for fuel, or to use the restroom, normally arriving in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early morning, for breakfast and fuel, before proceeding on their journey.

On this particular trip, though, something strange, something very different, happened.

On that cold, November, early Thanksgiving morning, as the group was traveling through southern Missouri, the van driver radioed to the lead truck of our small convoy, that he would need gas soon for his vehicle.

I happened to be driving the lead Ryder truck in the little convoy, and replied to the van driver that I would take the next exit in the interstate that had all night gas stations, so he could fuel the van. The two trucks, equipped with large saddle tanks, would not need to be fueled until we reached West Memphis, a couple of hours ahead.

Shortly thereafter, we approached a small town just off the highway, and I turned onto the off ramp to stop at a station. The time was approximately 5:00am or so.

As I came to a stop at the end of the ramp, tired and anxious to continue on to our breakfast stop, a couple of hours down the road, I saw that there were two gas stations open directly across from stop sign where our three vehicles sat.

As I pulled the lead truck away from the stop sign, for some reason, I drove past the first open station.

And then, remarkably, I drove past the second open station.

Why?

I continued driving on down the access road that swung around to the right, and preceded on for about a quarter of a mile, where I turned into a small, Mini-Mart, with two gasoline pumps out front.

As I led the other Ryder truck around the back of the station, I radioed the van driver to go ahead and fuel up at the pumps in front.

After arriving around the other side of the station, I parked the truck, and myself and the second truck driver, one of my favorite people in the world, Chuck, walked inside the station and proceeded pour a cup of coffee, and then walked up to the counter in front, to pay for it and the gas that the van had filled up with.

As Chuck and I stood there talking, the woman clerk took my money. As she was giving me back the change and receipt for the gas, she asked us if we would consider putting some of the change in a coffee can setting on counter there, that said: “Fire Fund.”

She went on to explain that one of the mini-mart employees had had a fire the day before that, and although she and her two children had escaped without injury, her mobile home and everything in it, had burned up.

On the coffee can, were listed clothing sizes for the young, single mother and her two children.

When she asked that, I looked at Chuck and he looked at me; I put some of my change in the coffee can, and then kind of chuckled and said: “I think we may be able to help a bit more than that, too.”

I told the clerk that we were from out-of-state, and traveling to Mississippi for a few days, and that we would be coming back through in 2-3 days on our way back home, and that perhaps we could stop and help the fire victims a bit more.

We then mounted up, and continued on our journey south, had breakfast about two hours later, at Shoney’s in West Memphis, as we had for so many years previously, with our long-time friend, Gretchen waiting on us, and then drove through Memphis and down into Mississippi to deliver our cargo to many of our charitable coordinators in several counties in the delta.

Two days later, in the darkness of Saturday evening, on our back way up I-55, in southern Missouri, we took the off ramp back towards the same little Mini-Mart we had stopped at on the trip down, on early Thanksgiving morning.

Driving the lead truck again, I led our little convoy around to the back of the mini-mart building, where we parked the two trucks, and I walked around the building to talk with the clerk on duty.

As I walked into the store, I saw that the clerk, a younger female, had a rather worried expression on her face as I approached.

As I got to the counter, I saw that she hand her hand on the telephone and had actually picked it up (probably on the verge of calling 911), as she waited for me to say something. Who could blame her, having seen three vehicles drive to the rear of her store and then not come back out, and now there was a man with a beard standing in front of her at 9:00pm at night.

I proceeded to explain to the nervous clerk that I was part of a small group of travelers from out-of-state, and that we had stopped early on Thanksgiving morning, purchased gas for our van, and had learned then about the tragic mobile home fire that her fellow employee had suffered, where she lost everything.

As I talked more, trying to put her at ease that I was not there to hold her up, but was there to help, she finally put down the phone and her expression sort of relaxed a little.

I explained that our group was at the back of the store, waiting for her to open the door so that we could leave some things for the woman employee and her two children.

Finally, she accepted my explanation of what our mission was, and we walked to the back of the store, through the storeroom, where she unlocked and opened the back door.

As she opened the back door, her mouth dropped open, as there were two large Ryder trucks backed up there, with the back doors open, and eight people sitting on the backs of the two trucks, talking, waiting for the door to be opened.

The clerk said to me: “Oh, my God, you weren’t kidding!”

One of the people waiting there was my oldest son, Lucas, who was a junior in high school then, but who now is married, has two sons and lives in North Carolina. Another there was his best friend from his high school, Kristina, a year or two older than Luke, who had made the trip so she and Lucas could put on a special art fair for a number of kids in one little neighborhood we stopped at two days earlier.

I then asked the clerk if it was all right to stack the items we had in the store room, until the employee could get them. She said that would be fine.

As we started to unload the items from the trucks, the clerk just kept shaking her head in disbelief, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening!”

As she continued to watch us unload, she saw the following, mostly used, but very nice things, go from the trucks into the storeroom for the fire family: 3 beds and mattresses, a kitchen table and 4 chairs, refrigerator, electric stove, small TV, small microwave, small portable heater, 2 couches, 3 boxes of clothes for each of the children and the mother (we got the sizes from the coffee can earlier), a box of dishes and silverware, a box of kitchen glasses and cups, 2 boxes of towels, 2 boxes of hand-made quilts and blankets, a box of sheets and pillowcases, 3 pillows, a washer & a dryer, a box of wrapped Christmas presents for each of the children, and a couple of presents for the mother.

During the previous two days of unloading our trucks in Mississippi at our coordinators, I had made a mental list of items to save and keep on the truck, for this last, very special stop on our Thanksgiving trip.

As we finished unloading the trucks, the storeroom of the mini-mart was virtually full of things for the family who lost everything just 4 days before, in the fire.

As our volunteers pulled down the back doors of the trucks and loaded into the three vehicles to continue on our journey, I turned to the disbelieving clerk, and asked her to tell her fellow employee that we hope that these things will help her and her children to recover from their tragedy.

And then I turned, got into my truck, and we continued on up the highway.

I had not even told her or the other clerk who we were, where we were from, my name or what our true purpose was in traveling through during that weekend.

We in this small convoy all left with a special feeling in our hearts that night, warm and loving, that I think all of us has yet to this day.

We had left the north to help families in Mississippi over the Thanksgiving weekend, as many of us had for years. And during that trip, because the lead truck driver, for some reason, hadn’t stopped at the first, or at the second available gas station to fuel the van, but had driven on instead to yet a third station, we ended up being in position to reach out to a special family in timely need, in southern Missouri.

About a year and a half later, during a spring trip my wife and I were making to Mississippi to visit some of our friends there, I swung by the little Mini-Mart, had a cup of coffee, and as I was paying for it, asked the clerk if she knew what ever happened to the mini-mart employee who experienced the mobile home fire, just before Thanksgiving almost a year and a half earlier.

The clerk replied that, the women who had the fire, didn’t work at the mini-mart any more, but she and her two children were doing well. She said that the woman’s spirit was just crushed when the fire happened and she lost everything.

But then, the clerk said, an amazing thing happened a few days after the fire. She said that a group of strangers traveling through then during the night, had stopped there and left a large stack of things, clothes, bedding, appliances, beds and other household things, for the women and her two children, who were living with her parents after the fire. Nobody knew who they were or where they were from.

She said that the woman cried and cried after finding out about the strangers generosity to her a few nights after the fire. The clerk added that all the store employees were amazed at what happened.

The clerk said that after the strangers had stopped, area people found out about happened after the strangers left all those things in the middle of the night, and the town then rallied around the family with money donations, and raised enough money to buy them another mobile home.

She said that in the newspaper article the little local paper did about the whole thing and the traveling strangers slipping in and out in the middle of the night to help out, the paper had called the unknown strangers,

“The Angels of the Night.”

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Another “Close Encounter?”

Those of you who have been reading here for awhile, might remember a couple of posts appearing here talking about “Close Encounters…”

With the long anticipated arrival of Hurricane GUSTAV finally at hand, another hand, perhaps the hand of providence, reached out and gave Hurricane GUSTAV just a little nudge to the west, into the south Louisiana coast, away from a direct hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, three years after Hurricane Katrina didn’t veer away.

With Gulf Coast residents either evacuated or ‘hunkered down’ to wait it out, Hurricane GUSTAV finally arrived in south Mississippi Sunday evening, almost dead on at 6:00pm, announcing its coming with a spectacular dark, cloud roll and torrential rain deluge, as the first major ‘outer band’ rolled in ashore.

The highways were virtually empty, stores and gas stations closed and boarded up, as those area residents still in town, waited to see how bad it might get.

During the night Sunday, additional bands of rain, accompanied by tropical storm force winds, buffeted homes, buildings and trees, rattled metal siding and picked up anything that wasn’t secured down and sent it on a ride, as the storm increased in momentum as the hours of darkness passed, and GUSTAV stormed on into the Labor Day morning.

After a long Sunday spent helping evacuate our remaining 42 special needs clients and transport supplies and equipment from the South Mississippi Regional Center in Long Beach, up to another State Mental health facility 12 miles north, the Specialized Treat Facility, your correspondent, Coast Rat, closed down his little trailer home across the road from the SMRC, and literally moved into an office at the Center to ‘hunker down’ hopefully safe from whatever GUSTAV would send our way.

As I got settled in, set up my cot, and unpacked a few things for the evening, I could hear the winds outside, howling and whistling as it flew around the building. Just down the hall, I could hear a Weather Channel announcer talk about what GUSTAV was doing, as the various correspondents gave their on-the-spot reports, one hand holding tightly to their microphone, and the other holding on to the top of their specially-made rain jackets from L.L. Bean.

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My ‘home-away-from-home’ during the past two days.

With 2-3 hard days of preparation for GUSTAV telling on my body’s energy level, I just could not watch or listen to any more weather news, or even listen to the howling winds or watch the building entrance door at the rain coming down in sheets. What I desperately needed, was SLEEP!

My last act as I lay down on my cot, was to say a prayer or two for all those folks in harm’s way of GUSTAV, especially everyone in southern Louisiana, that they stay safe during this long, stormy night and through tomorrow, when GUSTAV would finally come ashore, somewhere.

When I put my head down on my pillow, I don’t think it took more than a minute or two before I was fast asleep. The next thing I knew, it was 6:00am and my alarm was ringing to wake me up.

After getting dressed and putting on my rain parka, I stepped out through the entrance doors and watched in amazement as the rain came down so heavy, it was in thick sheets, so hard that you could hardly see across the road, being driven sideways by the 40-55 mile per hour winds, with gusts higher, that were also making the trees dance around as if they were all in some huge musical and each one was trying to out-do the other.

Frankly, I was in awe of this tremendous display of power!

It was incredible! And as for me, a ‘first-timer’ in a hurricane’s path, I immediately decided that I didn’t really want to be in the path of anything stronger that this level of a hurricane’s fury. I have one strong memory of Monday morning, sitting in my work truck, and having the truck literally rock back and forth vigerously from the string gusts of wind. Yeah, that stuck in my mind.

As I watched the trees, even the Live Oak limbs, bend and sway, caused to do so by such a powerful force, my thoughts went immediately to my little trailer home, and I said another prayer that it would be spared destruction or serious damage. I prayed that the three new, bright yellow tie-down straps would keep it anchored, and that no trees or limbs would would be blown loose and fall to strike it.

I also said a prayer of Thanks for all of those people who had sent thoughts and prayers my way, and and to the way of all the others on the Gulf Coast who would still be here for whatever reason. And the last one was again, that all here stay safe.

At a few minutes to 7:00am, I drove down to the maintenance complex to meet 3 of my fellow workers there, to talk about what we needed to do during the day.

The first thing I noticed as I drove into the maintenance parking area, was that the rear side metal roof of our Maintenance office building was coming apart. Not really the way I had wanted to start this Labor Day morning dealing with GUSTAV. This was a part of the roof that had been repaired the summer before, by a repair crew. Yeah, right.

As I took a drive around the 45-acre campus, I notice that downed tree limbs and branches were lying everywhere. But, so far, damage to campus buildings seemed to be minor. In some of the older, flat-roofed buildings, there had been some roof leaks, and several wet tiles fell and literally exploded into pieces as they hit the hard floors.

In the afternoon, I was asked by Master Naturalist Buddy John, who also happens to be the Director of Residential Services at the Center, if I would help him deliver a load of relief supplies up to the Specialized Treatment Facility (STF), 12 miles north of the Center, where the staff had evacuated 42 of our special needs clients to Sunday afternoon, to be safe out of harm’s way from GUSTAV.

John gave me a list of things that needed to be gathered up from various cottages, so I went about assembling all those items, and stacking them in one of the 20-bed cottages so we could pick them up and make the trip when there was a break in the weather.

One of the stops to pick up supplies, was to the cafeteria, for food and soda for the staff at STF, who were caring for our 42 clients there. As we loaded there, again, it rained in sheets.

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Note the wind-driven rain, going almost sideways as it falls.

As John and I were making our way carefully up Beatline Road, the 12 miles up to the STF, I said to him that I hoped we didn’t get stopped by the police and turned back, due to the entire area being under curfew.

Just then, my cell phone rang (yes, the Cellular One tower was still operating), and the calling party advised that she was with the BBC News in London, and was calling to talk with me about what was happening with GUSTAV, my involvement in preparations for it, both personal and work-related, and about my personal mission work on the Mississippi Coast helping the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

She said she had come across my Blog, which had been providing update posts about preparing for Gustav, and decided to contact me, as I was here on the coast, and might be able to help their listeners and website readers to better understand what was happening here. We talked for about 12-15 minutes, and by then, John and I had arrived at the STF.

And, low and behold, I am humbled to say, the BBC used my interview comments and a picture of my trailer in two separate abstracts on the front page on their website, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7591641.stm or you can also see a PDF version.

As we drove through the two tall, locked wire gates to enter the facility, and brought the supplies inside the STF, and passed among the various clients, some of them again gestured or said some greetings, and had smiles at seeing more people they knew from various day-to-day contact, back at the Center.

After leaving the STF, we made our way back down Beatline, and made a quick swing over to John’s home, located on the Arcadia Bayou, and nearby Wolf River.

For comparison purposes, here is an image of John’s home last year:

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And here is the view from Monday afternoon:

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The surge water level from GUSTAV at John’s home on the Arcadia Bayou, north of Pass Christian, MS.

WOW! The water level, from the storm surge, was up to the bottom of John’s concrete slab, which he advised was the second highest he had ever seen the water level since the 20 some years he had been out there. The highest level, was some 15-18 feet higher, during Hurricane Katrina, when the water lever was 5 feet deep in his home up on pilings. John was visibly impressed with the surge level, as was I, even more so. That was an incredible amount of water to see.

That evening then, I made my first trip across the road and back into where my trailer was located, to see if it was OK. Driving back in on the narrow blacktop road was made treacherous by having several large, fallen trees sticking into and along the road, including two large, dead, southern pines that were killed by Katrina, and were leaning towards the road, that went down Monday in Gustav’s winds, just around a small corner from where I live.

Every single time I drive back on this road to my trailer, I watch these two ‘widow makers’ standing tall and dead, leaning towards the road, as it to silently crushed one of us some day when we least expect it.

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GUSTAV’s winds blew this dead pine down beside the road, crushing an aluminum gate as if it was made out of paper. Thank you GUSTAV!

I finally arrived at my little home, tremendously relieved as I approached, that it was still there, apparently in once piece, and, miraculously, with no damage! Thank you, Jesus! I felt so blessed, to have escaped Gustav and not lost my little home, as so many thousands had during Hurricane Katrina.

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Fortunately, my trailer, sitting on a north-south axis with the back pointed south and located approximately 2-3 blocks north of the Gulf, weathered the storm OK.

As I parked, got out and walked around behind the trailer, I saw several tree limbs lying there within a few feet of it. Yes, indeed, I was blessed.

One thing I also noticed while walking around, was the sound of electric generators humming away all over the neighborhood. The power was off! I thought to myself, I wonder if it will come back on this evening…? And then, I remembered that for thousands of families after Katrina, it was several days and weeks before the power was fully restored.

OK, here goes another night on my cot at the office. No build deal; after all, is will only be the second evening.

And, another day and evening without internet and blog access. Oh well.

During the day, I talked with my wife and also youngest son, about what was going on, and that I was OK through all of it. They were relieved, and it was good to talk with them, too. I also talked briefly two of my Wisconsin buddies, Maggie and Michael, who were in the image by the huge Life Oak a day or two in one of my update posts. It was also good to talk with them.

Today, I worked around the Center campus, doing various things, including cleaning up two of the cottages, getting them ready to be looked at by State building inspectors, who must certify that the building was ready to receive clients again.

Several of the people at work remarked about how GUSTAV was so much weaker than Katrina; that it was “just a little wind and a few drops of rain.” Well, to this Yankee, it was much more than that, as as much of a hurricane as I really care to be a part of. Almost unanimously, people I talked with after GUSTAV had passed, expressed tremendous relief that it had not hit here with the eye, and concern and thoughts for the people in Louisiana that it did hit with the eye and the high winds and water.

It would have been an incredible tragedy if GUSTAV had destroyed all the rebuilding that has occured here since Katrina, an incredible tragedy, indeed.

As I was working in one of the 20-bed cottages during the mid-afternoon, standing high up on my stepladder changing a fluorescent fixture ballast, my cell phone rang, and low and behold, it was Ana again from the BBC, calling for an update on GUSTAV.

We talked for about 10 minutes, without me falling off the ladder, and she said she would send me a link to the comments they would use on their website from the two interviews. It was kind of one of those little neat things that happen to one’s self periodically through life. A very, very brief moment of fame, or, perhaps maybe it is infamy…

Earlier this evening, Ray and I headed back up to the STF facility with the box truck to pick up the specialized equipment there and bring it back to the cottages as soon as possible, as the cottages were approved this evening by the State Building Inspectors for use, a d all 42 clients resideing there were being bused back to their cottage homes at the Center.

This evening, I drove over into Pass Christian to check for possible storm damage on my storage building over there, and again, it was a blessing to find it weathered GUSTAV OK.

I made my way to the street just above the beach Highway 90, to the Pass harbor. I wanted to check on Shaggy’s Cafe, too, to see if was still there or had been damaged at all.

Well, it is there, but may not be serving sandwiches for a few days or weeks. It seems that two large shrimp boats were inadvertently parked by GUSTAV on Shaggy’s access road when the storm surge came ashore. Now, what those two shrimpers were still doing in the harbor, defies all logic, when every other shrimp boast was moved out prior to the storm surge arriving.

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Two large shrimp boats were moved by GUSTAV a bit from their normal slips at the pier in Pass Christian harbor Monday

Hopefully, a big crane can pick those boats up and set them back in the harbor, out of Shaggy’s customers way to get there for that great Gulf Coast seafood!

I noticed while driving in The Pass they had numerous trees down from the storm, and that, in response to downed power lines, there were literally several dozen, large, electric utility trucks, either working, driving around or parked in the city. Their aim, to their credit, is to get the electrical service back up and working as quickly as possible.

I must say here that all during these past several days, hundreds and hundreds of folks stopped by for a visit to this blog to get GUSTAV updates, and many of them left expressions, thoughts and prayers of concern, safety and encouragement for those of us remaining on the coast in front of GUSTAV, for whatever reason(s). Again, I want to express my most sincere appreciation for all the visits, the incredible comments, emails, and calls from you to myself and others here.

Maggie, Quin, Mandy,Dawn, Christine, The West Virgina Watcher, THANK YOU ESPECIALLY, for your beautiful posts and words of encouragement. You are an amazing family, and I love you all!

Now. I don’t want to hear anything about no Hanna, Ike, No. 10 or any other storm deciding to start steaming this way! I think that maybe God heard all your prayers and moved Gustav away from hitting us dead-on. I don’t know if he/she will be able to honor all our prayers again…

Yes, there will be a little more to come, as I get around and talk with more folks around here, and get some more images.

Take care, Thanks again, and God Bless!

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Outdoors has always had a strong calling for me.

A. VERY. STRONG. CALLING.

From the first day I was allowed by my parents to walk down to the river near our home to fish, to the day it was OK for me to go and roam around on the hills and cliffs behind our home, my preference of where to spend my time, as much as possible, has been roaming and exploring in the outdoors.

While growing up as a young lad in rural, south central, Wisconsin, I did not have many of the distractions, (or, attractions), that youngsters of today have.

My brother and sisters and I did have a television, a black & white television, that is, to watch in our home, and we did spend a good amount of time, after arriving home from grade school, watching such shows as Howdy Dooty, and the westerns shows that were on, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid and Tom Mix. Other shows we watched included Ozzie and Harriet, Name That Tune, and The Ed Sullivan Show.

But, we didn’t have a home computer, Satellite or Cable TV, I-Pod, MP3 Player, DVD Player, Walkman, Cell Phone or Malls to occupy any of our non-school hours.

Consequently, my attention was drawn reading, and, to the outdoors.

During my summer weekdays as a youth, I was permitted to take my fishing pole, a box of worms I had dug, and walk down to the Pine River, located about a half mile southwest of our home, to spend the morning trying to catch the elusive Rainbow and German Brown trout that lurked in the holes that pocketed the river there.

This weekday adventure was a real ritual, where I would put a couple of bottles of soda, usually orange or R C Coca-Cola, maybe a sandwich, a candy bar or two, and once in awhile, a cigar or two from my father’s cigar boxes, in a knapsack, then grab my fly rod, belt bait box, my ball cap, and take off for the river to spend the morning.

My little brother would occasionally go along on those daily fishing adventures, but when he came along, I would never bring along any cigars, as I really didn’t want to let my folks possibly find out that their oldest son was smoking cigars at his young age.

Saturday and Sunday mornings, were reserved for my brother and sisters and I to help our parents with food preparation for the afternoon or evening meal serving hours at our Supper Club. Thus, usually there was no fishing for me on those days.

Having fished up and down the Pine for a long time, I came to know where the trout holes were. and the best time of the morning to try to lure them into biting on one of my worm-laden hooks, or on a special fly I floated down over the holes.

Most of the time, though on those daily adventures, I didn’t catch many trout. What I did catch were lots of suckers, chubs and carp, of which there were great numbers of each in that water.

After catching one of those types of ‘rough’ fish, I would throw them as far as I could back into the brush, away from the water, congratulating myself that I had river the river of yet another one of there kind.

Those daily experiences along the river, were some of the most pleasant of all of my memories about living in those years. I remember so vividly, sitting on the bank or on a limb I had dragged to the river’s edge, listening and watching the water ripple past, waiting for the feel of a tug on my line, that a fish was interested in my bait.

Opening a bottle of soda, holding it in one hand, and the fly rod in the other, feeling so at home there, so at peace, so one with nature, with the trees, the earth, the water, the wind and the sun.

Eventually, as the morning passed and noon approached, I would pick up my gear, turn and walk up to a place of crossing, where I would make my way carefully across a tree down over the river, and then walk back to my home.

It was dinner time, and another ritual was nearing. The Braves.

After dinner, I would walk over into the bar room of the Supper Club, walk behind the bar, and lift up the small brown radio from its hiding spot, and set it on the bar, near the front windows, and turn the button to turn it on.

Then I would reach into one of the drink coolers and take out a couple of bottles of orange soda, set them on the bar, and walk around to set on a stool and listen.

It was Milwaukee Braves baseball time.

And every afternoon, I was there, listening to the Braves, with Earl Gillespie and Blane Walsh announcing the play-by-play and color.

Those were the hay days for the Braves while they were in Milwaukee, when they had such greats as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and pitchers Warren Spaun and Lew Burdette. Many were the times when I listened as Mathews, the ‘Santa Barbara Bomber’, Aaron and Adcock would slam back-to-back home runs off the opposing pitchers, and the Braves would win another one.

As I grew older during my boy-hood years, my summer daily fishing adventures decreased dramatically, when my father enrolled my brother and I in Little League Baseball in a town 15 miles to our south.

The more I played it, the more I came to enjoy little league baseball. After my brother finished our morning games, we would walk across the street to the A&W Root Beer Stand, and Ira, the owner, would draw us a big glass of root beer, in a large, frosted mug.

Because we were such good customers, Ira would often give my brother and I a free glass of root beer, while we were waiting for one of our parents to pick us up.

Although I have discussed my love for the out-of-doors during many of the middle years of my childhood, this outside attraction actually came to life even earlier, when I was in the second grade, just after we had moved to our home in south central Wisconsin, from southern Michigan.

After we had settled in in our home next to the supper club, in a very rural area of our county, my parents enrolled us kids in the local school, which was something very different than where we previously attended classes.

Our new school (an older structure, but new to us), was a large, square building located on the edge of a tamarack swamp, about a mile north of our little hamlet where our home was located.

In fact, our school was one of those famous, rural American schools known as a “One Room School.”

The structure had a large classroom (with a small library area set off on one side), where one teacher taught ALL 8 grades. There was also a large other room, which was a play room, for us to play dodge ball and other games when it rained, and then there was a small kitchen, where a hired cook prepared our meals (18 of them) for the students and the teacher.

Our drinking and cooking water for the school came from a well outside the front door of the school, and was drawn from the well by using a well hand pump.

The building was located on about 6 acres total, with two wood outhouses located behind the building, about a hundred feet from each other. Between the outhouses, was located our burn pile, where we would burn the trash daily in a burn barrel, which was located next to the back fence, beyond where the swamp lands began.

During the late fall, on a particularly windy day, it was not uncommon for the little trash fire to spread to the nearby swamp grass, and then spread rapidly to a large area of swamp. During those swamp fires, the bigger boys in school, would start a bucket brigade from the well pump to the back fence, trying to put out the fire before it burned the entire area to the rear of the school.

When the hand water pump was worked very fast for several minutes, while fighting such a swamp fire, the normally clean water would quickly turn rusty brown, and could not be used for drinking water until the next day, when the rust level would be way down again.

To the one side of the school were 4 level acres of grassy field, where our softball diamond was located, and where, during nice weather, the kids usually played work-up softball.

All around the school grounds, was a barbed wire fence, meant to keep nearby dairy cattle out and we kids, in.

I was not happy about having to go to this new school, after leaving my friends in my former school in Riverside, Michigan, north of Benton Harbor, and was rather a bit out-of-synch with life during that change process.

After we moved to our new home, and we two older kids, my older sister Barb, and I, started school in the one-room school, it was in late winter. On a school-day morning, if it wasn’t too cold, we would bundle up and walk through the frozen, snow-covered swamp the mile to the school house, or if it was cold, one of our parents would drive us there on a round-about gravel road, and then come and get us after school was out.

Being trapped in that new school I really didn’t like, I was anxious to be gone from there, in any way I could, in mind and spirit, and in person.

When spring arrived, and the snows melted and the grass grew green and tall, my inner spirit became restless.

Finally, one nice warm day, when our noon hour started, I went outside after eating, and walked across the gravel road, wiggled through the fence and climbed up the woodsy hill and sat on top of the 50′ sandstone cliff facing our school.

Man, it was wonderful! Sunny, warm, peaceful and not school! I laid back and just watched the fluffy white clouds move by, as time seemed to stop altogether.

Suddenly, there was the loud clanging of the school bell across the road, announcing that the noon hour had ended and it was time for all the students to come in to start the afternoon class session.

I just sat there and watched the clouds, and the other kids as they made their way back into the school. After about five minutes, the teacher came out looked around, finally saw me sitting up on top of the sandstone cliff, and shouted for me to come down and back into the school. I waved back, and said OK.

Reluctantly, I climbed down from the cliff and hill, and went into the building. Very. reluctantly.

But now, I knew how to bring relief to my troubled spirit, how to get away from this place, this new school I didn’t want to be at, even if to feel relief for only a little while.

I knew.

The next day at noon, away I went again, back to the same beautiful place. Sitting high up on the cliff, in the warm sunshine, watching the clouds float by, feeling the spring wind move through the pine trees, floating their fragrant scent through the air all around me.

And then, clang – clang – clang, and it was over. Followed by another yell from the teacher.

Damn! This sucked!

After this same scenario was played out during the remaining three days of the week, Friday afternoon, the teacher made it very clear to me that he did not want to see me sitting up on that cliff during noon hour any more.

Henh – henh- henh, …….OOOOOOOOOO-K.

The following Monday during early the noon hour, found me playing playing out in right field during ‘work-up’ on the softball field. Deep in right field.

When the next batter hit the next pitch deep into left field, and all other eyes focused on the action there, I quietly and quickly slipped over the right field fence and into the tall weeds and brush growing there, and headed swiftly towards the hills, across the gravel road from that patch of brush.

This time, I didn’t stop on the first hill, to sit and just enjoy being there. I kept walking and climbing, and was soon a good half mile from the school yard, and from the ringing bell that I could only faintly hear, announcing the end of noon hour.

Well, it all made perfect sense to me then, after all, my teacher had told me NOT to be sitting up on that sandstone cliff across from the school anymore,….and, well, I wasn’t.

I went on to spend the rest of the afternoon then exploring the hills where I had ‘escaped’ to, and eventually made my way out to the highway, and caught a ride back to my little hamlet where my home was.

When I walked into the house, apparently, the teacher had stopped to talk with my father on his way home from school that afternoon, as my father said, “Come one, let’s go for a little walk; we’re going to have a little talk, you and I.”

Well, on that little walk, my father made it abundantly clear that my days of running away from school were over. End of discussion. OK, him I will listen to.

That was the last time I ran away from school, for any reason. However, it was only the beginning of my life-long adventure with the out-of-doors, and my love for it.

Not only did I come to love my summer morning fishing experiences, but as I grew older, and was allowed to carry a .22 rifle and other firearms in the woods by myself, at every opportunity, I came to explore and come to know so much of the hills and valleys and rivers near my home.

Eventually, I came to spend more time ‘out there’ than at home.

Out there, became my home.

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WOW!

What a pleasant surprise early this afternoon…

One of my favorite ‘Mississippi kids,’ longtime family friend, and ‘brother’ to my three kids, Reese Cobbins (pronounced: Ree-see Cobb-ins), from up in the delta area, near Greenwood, stopped by to see me early this afternoon, when he was driving his semi-truck west on I-10 from Alabama over to Nachez, to drop off a load of things for K-Mart stores.

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Long-haul truck driver and family member, Reese Cobbins.

Reese, who is 28, handsome, single, honest, hard-working, was born and raised in north central Mississippi, and spent time up in our home in Wisconsin during several summers as a member of our family, when he was growing up.

In doing so, he formed a very strong bond with all of us, which continues to this day. In fact, when our oldest son decided to get married about 7-8 years ago, he and his fiance asked Reese to be in their wedding, which was held about an hour north of St. Louis. Reese came up and had a great time.

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Reese and his truck.

Reese comes from a close-knit family, and currently has a small home on acreage owned and near by his grandfather, Norman, age 102, just west of Vaiden in Carroll County. Norman and his bride of 72 years, Willie, age 92, live about 100 yards from Reese, in a small ranch home, close by their original home.

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Norman and Willie, with your author, in 2002.

My wife and I have been privileged to be good friends with Norman and Willie for the past 15 years, having spent several weeks staying with them in their home over the years. They are gracious and considerate hosts.

Reese’s parents, and one of his uncles and his family, also live nearby, about 100 yards on either side of Norman and Willie’s home. Several years ago, after a tragic, late night fire had destroyed their family home and all contents, four of us from Wisconsin were able to help Reese’s parents rebuild their home, by completely wiring the new home and furnishing the three, exterior steel doors for the new structure.

Taught a strong work ethic by his parents, Reese has been employed as an owner-operator long-haul truck driver for several years for a large trucking firm out of Memphis, and spends most of his days driving the highways and byways of the U.S., delivering goods to a host of customers.

Reese admits he loves driving truck, and traveling, and usually gets home to see his parents and grandparents, about every two weeks or so. One thing he doesn’t like about his work, though, is the escalating price of diesel fuel he must purchase for his truck on an almost daily basis, especially when his fuel tanks holds 600 gallons of the high-priced stuff.

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Reese in his tractor cab.

Prior to going over the road as a truck driver, Reese worked for one of his uncles driving a Tour Bus around the U.S., and also had a vehicle hauling business, and a business setting up and skirting mobile homes in central Mississippi.

Reese keeps in contact with the five of us in our family regularly, calling on his cell phone (using a Blue Tooth), during his travels all over the country. The brotherly bond he has with my kids is very strong and important to all of them. Our daughter also asked Reese to be in her wedding several years ago, but unfortunately, when Reese and his fiance started north to Wisconsin for the wedding from his home in Mississippi, he experienced car trouble and was unable to complete the trip.

In years past, when he was traveling in southern Wisconsin with his truck, he would stop by our Wisconsin home for the night, parking his truck in a nearby Industrial Park. I always like it when Reese is in the area and has time to stop by and visit.

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Hitting the road to Nachez.

Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of bringing many charitable volunteers to north central Mississippi, and most of them have been able to meet Reese and make his acquaintance. Reese makes it a point to periodically call as many of them as he has telephone numbers for, and keep their friendships alive. One of Reese’s many Wisconsin friends he calls regularly includes buddy, Maggie, Dammit.

Many is the time during the past 8 years when I have been visiting in Reese’s neighborhood on charitable mission work trips, and Reese has graciously and generously opened his home for me to stay in one of his bedrooms or on his couch.

A finer gentleman or friend, you cannot find anywhere.

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Ok, Blue Bird fans, it’s Week #17 update time for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Blue Bird Program in the city of Long Beach, on the 45-acre campus of the South Mississippi Regional Center!

So, here is what ‘Master Naturalist’ buddy John and I found today, June 27, 2008, walking around campus during a Friday morning, taking the Blue Bird Trail nesting survey.

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There are dozens of gray squirrels on the SMRC Campus.

Here are this week’s Survey results:

Box #1- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

Box #2- 3 Blue Bird babies. – Last week: 3 Blue Bird babies, 2 Blue Bird eggs.

Box #3- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

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Another campus gray squirrel.

Box #4- 4 Blue Bird eggs. – Last week: 5 Blue Bird eggs.

Box #5- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

Box #6- 3 Blue Bird eggs. – Last week: New Blue Bird nest, 1 Blue Bird egg.

Box #7- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: 4 Blue Bird babies flew the nest on Friday afternoon.

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The Killdeer babies on the campus have really grown during the past week, and almost look like their parents now.

Box #8- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

Box #9- 4 Blue Bird babies flew the nest. – Last week: 4 Blue Bird babies.

Box #10- Empty nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

Box #11- Few old straw. – Last week: Few straw, no activity.

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One of the Killdeer parents is always near the babies.

Box #12- 5 Blue Bird eggs. – Last week: e Blue Bird eggs.

Box #13- Empty Nesting box, no activity. – Last week: Empty nesting box, no activity.

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During the past several days, ‘pop-up’ thunderstorms have been very common on the Mississippi Gulf Coast area, and yesterday, provided a very heavy rain storm over the SMRC Campus.

Totals This Week: 12 Blue Bird eggs, 3 Blue Bird babies, 4 Blue Bird babies flew the nest, 0 sterile eggs,
7 empty nesting boxes, 3 Killdeer babies.

Totals Last Week: 12 Blue Bird eggs, 7 Blue Bird babies, 0 Sterile eggs, 7 empty nesting boxes, 4 Blue Bird babies flew the nest, 3 Killdeer babies.

Master Naturalist buddy John continues to be very enthused about the activity, and reports that during the last 17 weeks of the program, 36 Blue Bird babies and 6 Chickadee babies have flown from their nests, and we also have 3 Killdeer babies who have left their ground nest in one of the grassy areas on campus, and have joined their parents in feeding on the ground, during this first season of the new Blue Bird Trail.

The weather today was partly cloudy, light wind and about 88 degrees.

Another update will be along next weekend.

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