Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Roland Cooper STATE PARK to reopen

The phrase “Keeping Public Parks Open” shouts from the top of the home page of Recreation Resource Management, the Arizona-based company that is going to re-open the Alabama Black Belt’s Roland Cooper State Park in Wilcox County.
Meanwhile, the headline on the state of Alabama’s home page for Roland Cooper State Park reads, “The park and golf course have been closed to the public.”
What a contrast.
But let me state this clearly. HOORAY! Roland Cooper State Park is going to REOPEN, perhaps by Labor Day, almost a year after it and four other state parks were closed, to quote myself, “because of budget cuts and what I and a bunch of other folks see as bumbling and ineffective, shortsighted state leadership.”
In a deal negotiated by officials from Camden, Wilcox County, U.S. Corp of Engineers and the beleaguered State Parks Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Recreation Resource Management, a for-profit business, will operate the park’s facilities. The reopening does not, however, include the nine-hole golf course -- with its deer on the greens and for-real hazard areas where gators pose as patrons -- which closed more than a year ago. To my knowledge, the golf course currently has no rescue in sight.
Because I ranted about the closure of Roland Cooper State Park last October, it’s important that I detail how it is reopening, and how our heartbreakingly dysfunctional state government still must be held accountable.  Our lovely, postcard pretty, Spanish moss-draped state park that brings anglers and families, fishing tournaments and family reunions from across the state and the South, is reopening not because any elected state office holder did anything to help. And, certainly the LUV GUV did nothing at all…to help.
Roland Cooper State Park – with access to the ridiculously diverse Alabama River and 22,000 acre Dannelly Reservoir -- is reopening because local folks fought for it to reopen. (See headline in post below.)  They worked together with state parks officials to find a way.
That way turned out to be a contract with Recreation Resource Management.  RRM manages public parks and facilities in 10 states including campgrounds and parks in Alabama near Guntersville.
It appears to be a good solution, but the closures should not have happened in the first place. Make no mistake, these closures happened (and the state can’t pay its Medicaid bill or take care of its overcrowded prisons) because of ongoing sorry budgeting practices by state leaders who forget campaign promises as quickly as the LUV GUV traded burn cell phones.
Specifically, the state park division was forced to close Roland Cooper and others because of the $3 million a year the legislature routinely transfers OUT of the state parks budget. Yes, like a slight-of-hand double-crossing magic trick, they rob state parks EVERY YEAR to fund some other programs.
In fact, over the last five years, more than $30 million has been transferred from the ADCNR to the general fund to support other state programs. The state parks system alone has been forced to transfer half of the $30 million from its division.  This transferring of funds is standard operating procedure for our state government. They sneak millions of dollars from one public fund to another. It ought to be illegal, and we can make it so.
Amendment 2 on the November 8 general election would outlaw this practice. One of 13 amendments on the ballot to modify our famously lengthy and antique state constitution, Amendment 2 would prohibit the transfer of state parks funds to the general fund. The exception would be when and if guest revenues to specific state park funds exceed $50 million.
Amendment 2 also would allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources the option of using non-state entities to operate and management of hotels, golf courses and restaurants at Alabama State Parks. In other words, the private operation of public parks is needed to keep our parks open. The amendment was proposed by Alabama State Sen. Clay Scofield, a farmer from Marshall County who is the exception to the “no elected officials helped” statement above. The amendment passed both houses by an overwhelming majority.
The bottom line is: Vote yes on Amendment 2 on Nov. 8.
If allowing state parks to stay open and not be robbed by legislators is not reason enough for us to support Amendment 2, here are other words of support for the amendment:
These parks were built for the people and they belong to the people and that's how they should stay.” – Sandra Burroughs, vice president of the Alabama State Parks Partners Coalition.
We urge all Alabama outdoor recreational groups to get behind the amendment with advocacy to inform the public about its importance before the fall elections.
Its passage will restore financial stability to the parks system, including the ability to plan ahead for needed maintenance and improvement projects.
Alabama’s parks help preserve Alabama’s natural resources, sustain the economies of nearby towns and raise quality of living standards that matter to industries looking for new locations to build facilities.
Let’s keep them open.” -- The Montgomery Advertiser, editorial, May 1, 2016.
“…Alabamians from all corners of the state shouted loudly last year when lawmakers’ failure to create new revenue led to the closing of five state parks and threatened the entire system. That same energy should be pumped into support of this constitutional amendment. Alabama’s state parks are too valuable to leave unprotected.” – The Anniston Star, editorial, April 29, 2016
I say AMEN.

And, I say welcome back Roland Cooper State Park, and welcome back, taxpaying public, to your STATE PARK.

Picture of the day:
This picture of twilight on the Alabama River from Roland Cooper State Park
originally appeared on the website of the Wilcox newspaper,
The Progressive Era

Song of the day:
         Looking for a song that sings of outdoors and fishing, I thought of "Fishin' Blues." Written by Texas Bluesman Henry Thomas and featured in the Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), Fishin' Blues was covered by the Loving Spoonful in 1965.  But the version I know, with some lyric changes, is by Taj Mahal, recorded in 1968. I like the part about "Your sweet wife will catch more fish than you."


"Bet your going fishing all of the time
Baby going fishing too
Bet your life, your sweet wife
Will catch more fish than you
Many fish bites if you got good bait
Here's a little tip that I would like to relate
Many fish bites if you got good bait
I'm a going fishing, yes I'm going fishing
And my baby going fishing too
I went on down to my favorite fishing hole
Baby grabbed me a pole and a line
Throwed my pole on in, caught a nine pound catfish
You know I brought him home for supper time
Proving any fish bites if you got good bait
Here's a little tip that I would like to relate

Many fish bites if you've got good bait
I'm a going fishing, yes I'm going fishing
And my baby goin' fishin' too...."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Black Belt folks fighting mad about parks, closings

Folks in Wilcox County are riled up -- seriously fighting mad. It’s bad enough that the state of Alabama is closing the driver’s license office in Camden AND the town's National Guard Armory. But worst of all: the county's prized Roland Cooper State Park is slated for closing, too.

Piers at Roland Cooper State Park, one of five state parks
slated for closing in "shortsighted" budget cuts
RCSP provides public access to Dannelly Reservoir on 
the Alabama River, which offers some 
of the best fishing in southwest Alabama. 
The park hosts many fishing tournaments including 
major regional events that bring visitors and 
retail business to Camden and Wilcox County. 
 This photo, from Save the Roland Cooper State Park 
FB page,  is by Linda Myers Miller Patrick.

The state park in Wilcox County has a nine-hole public golf course running through Spanish moss-draped woods where you’re apt to see a gator on the green or deer on the driving range. It has walking trails, cabins and public access to the awesomely diverse and beautiful Alabama River. And, this postcard pretty public park is one of five state parks being closed by state budget cuts. CLOSED. These PUBLIC PARKS are being closed to the public because of budget cuts and what I and a bunch of other folks see as bumbling and ineffective, shortsighted state leadership.

Folks in the Alabama Black Belt can’t believe they are getting the triple gut kick of losing state parks, National Guard armories and county driver’s license offices.* But it appears to be true, and residents are ticked off. So am I. This once-proud Republican is disgusted, ashamed and just plain angry as the full impact becomes clear of sorry budgeting job done by the 2015 Alabama legislature and governor.

After fumbling through a full legislative session and two special sessions (what we private, taxpaying citizens would call OVERTIME PAY costing us up to $800,000), Alabama leaders managed to address the general fund’s shortfall by increasing the tax on cigarettes, borrowing millions from the education trust fund and passing along inadequate funding to state agencies. In the end, they kicked to the curb Alabama’s small towns and impacted the state’s poorest residents. 

Let me tell you why I care so much about the Black Belt, a group of rural central and south Alabama counties named for rich dark soil and known for high African-American populations. The Black Belt is also known for its rich history, folklore, folk arts and abundant natural resources. I lived and worked in the Black Belt, in Selma and then in Camden in Dallas and Wilcox counties, for more than 25 years. Our children were born and raised there. We all still call it “home” and know there are no finer people anywhere. And, we are blessed to own a slice of wildness along the beautiful river that’s part of Roland Cooper State Park. 

So, we are upset, and there is plenty of outrage to go around. What makes it much, much worse is that this did not have to happen. There were other options. However, our LEADERS didn’t even allow other options to be considered.

While these so-called leaders hemmed and hawed, preached and pointed and wasted nine months, none of the bills proposed by any of the Republican legislature’s own members were allowed out of committee – not even discussed in any of the three sessions. These included bills for Alabama residents to have to chance to vote on creating or joining a lottery (the last state in), one to establish an oversight committee on state spending and one to remove earmarks from some $488 million of general fund dollars. There was also supposedly talk about revenue options being offered by Tribal leaders who operate casinos in Alabama.

But, No. No. No. So, after nine months of posturing and being paid for not doing their jobs, a last minute patchwork budgeting bill finally passed that the governor would sign. Gov. Robert Bentley -- who apparently opposes a lottery and gambling on “moral” grounds but is having his own troubles like a very public divorce and being the brunt of jokes at barber and beauty shops -- signed the legislation Sept. 17. Last week, as the state's new fiscal year began, Alabamians began to learn what this legislature’s budgeting meant for our state. No wonder people think Alabama is backassward.

Specifically, here is what the new Alabama budget is expected to do:


In addition to Roland Cooper State Park near Camden, my heart also breaks for Paul Grist State Park in Selma that is closing, along with Chickasaw State Park in Marengo County, Bladon Springs in Choctaw County and Florala State Park in Covington County.  These were not money-making parks, but a real problem that helped prompt closings, park leaders say, is the Legislature's recurring transfer of funds from the conservation department.  The legislature transfers conservation money from state parks to the general fund for other programs to the tune of more than $30 million over the last five years. What is that about?

A deer on the green at the golf course 
at Roland Cooper State Park. 
Photo by Micky Crouch, from 
Save Roland Cooper State Park Facebook page

The closing of the popular park has caused the most anger and frustration in our former hometown of Camden. A public group on Facebook called Save Roland Cooper State Park had 1,272 members when I joined late Saturday, and had 1,638 Wednesday afternoon. Folks have shared their letters to the governor, written in no uncertain terms just what they think of Republicans, posted breathtaking pictures and are talking about inviting legislators to a special golf tournament at the park (and inviting the governor to stay at one of the cabins there, which are booked, by the way). There was no mention of if they will make sure the biggest gators are there at Hole 3 for the legislators' visit.


Also at the Save RCSP Facebook page, they’ve posted a notice about the meeting planned by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Selma, at a church in Wilcox County on Wednesday night, October 14.

Rep. Sewell, who is from Selma, has already complained to the U.S. Justice department about the CLOSING of 31 county driver’s license offices and how that might affect voting in a state where photo identifications are required. Eleven of the non-state owned offices are in the Black Belt (almost half of the closings). 

*BLOGGERS NOTE: Late Tuesday, Gov. Robert Bentley announced an effort to try to fund these county driver's license offices with a "bridge loan" from the governor's "emergency fund" in return for some legislative promises for support for full funding next year. However, nothing final on the offices being kept open had been announced as of post-time. 

For now, the offices are closed, and citizens of these counties will now have to drive much farther to one of the few offices remaining open, the closest probably being at Selma or Tuscaloosa, to get a new license, get a permit or take a driver’s test. Folks working those counties could lose their jobs. Affected Black Belt communities are: Camden in Wilcox County, Marion in Perry County, Butler in Choctaw County, Hayneville in Lowndes County, Tuskegee in Macon County, Livington in Sumter County and Greensboro in Hale County.


Six National Guard armories will close in addition to 15 that were already expected to be closed and consolidated. A prolonged and continuing lack of state matching funds is blamed for the master plan closings of 15 armories; the budget cuts just helped speed up the process for the other six. Two of the six armories being closed are in the Black Belt in Marion and Demopolis. Armories in Huntsville, Winfield, Alexander City and Eufaula will also be closed this year. Those six are in addition those being closed as part of a 25 year master plan – blamed on lack of state matching support. The original 15 are in Sheffield, Scottsboro, Vernon, Jasper, Aliceville, Sylacauga, Camden, Fort Deposit, Jackson, Brantley, Elba, Geneva and Hartford. The national guard armories have already closed in Albertville and Monroeville. 

I can't tell you how many events we  had at the Camden National Guard armory -- from Wild Turkey Federation parties to wedding receptions to ACT test prep classes sponsored by the company I worked for. The armory, the National Guard and the people who work with them are important parts of these communities. Why can't Alabama get its budgeting house in order? Stop the hoodoo, slight-of-hand transfers and odd funding traditions and budget like, say, the businesses it taxes?  Sorry, I got carried away again.

Also, according to reporting by, THEY (THE STATE AND THE REPUBLICANS) are closing down several ABC stores in Black Belt towns, too. Have mercy!

There are so many rich stories in the Black Belt and so many reasons to be upset about what appears to be the piling on already wounded economies and communities. Here is a link to some excellent coverage of the Black Belt cuts and their impact.

The story has made national news, too, and it's not been positive.

Sure, it's just some ABC stores and just one-day-a-week driver's license offices...but all this equates to more lost jobs in towns that cannot afford more lost jobs and to another closed office or storefront in struggling downtowns and rural shopping centers. In addition to being discouraging and disheartening from an economic and hometown pride standpoint, there is the R word, the racial angle. And, perhaps the legislature and governor may not have set out to target poor, mostly black communities in their budget cuts, but that's exactly what they did and what is happening. 

This situation is called “disparate impact,” meaning a negative impact is there on poor minority communities, even if the direct intent is not. I bet Rep. Sewell knows this language and the folks at the U.S. Justice Department do, too. I say sic ‘em.

In the meantime, many in these struggling communities are not on the ground rolling, ducking and covering, preparing for the next kick in the gut or knee to the kidney. No, many of them are lining up their ducks, like Wilcox County is, to fight back, to fight for their parks and their driver’s license offices, fight for their communities.

It’s wise to never underestimate a small town or small town folks, particularly those of the Black Belt, where folks have always had to get along and make do. These folks, who know lots of other folks and are kin to a bunch more, will come together and do the best they can to fight for their parks and their armories and the folks who help with public safety in their courthouses.

This isn’t over. But these STATE folks – who convinced us to vote for them because they’d do it right and honestly and fairly and who now don’t want to give us any choices about how our money is spent or how we move forward as a state and who say we aren’t ready for this or that or smart enough to decide for ourselves, they need to remember. These folks need to remember….that we will remember.

Picture of the Day:

Borrowed from Save Roland Cooper State Park Facebook Page and
member Jackie Coleman Watson, this is a hilltop at the state park
where Jackie and husband 
Stanley decided 
wanted to be together forever... more than 26 years ago. 
"Put a price on that," she wrote....
(Photo by Jackie Coleman Watson)

Song of the Day:

I Won't Back Down, by Tom Petty

"No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down..."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Things my Daddy taught me

This is the second Father’s Day since Daddy died. He died quietly, like he lived, at age 86 at home on July 7, 2013, with his dog Pancer beside him and his wife of 50 years, Emily, caring for and keeping watch over him.

I couldn’t write about Daddy then or the first Father’s Day, but today I keep thinking of Daddy, wishing I could ride over to Pleasant Grove today and visit him, bring him some chocolate or some ice cream or a new book to read and talk about Auburn football and the weather.

I’ve been thinking about all he taught me, how he helped make me into me.

Born Charles Henry Romine, the oldest son of the oldest son, Clarence Brown Romine and sweet Nana Ora Lee Durham Romine, Daddy was raised in Fairfield and Ensley. He served in the Navy near what would become the end of World War II, serving in California and Washington, until victory over Germany and Japan sent him and others home with a GI bill that he used to attend and graduate Birmingham Southern. Like so many others in Birmingham then, he went to work at U.S. Steel, then still called T.C.I., because those initials from Tennessee Coal and Iron Company appear on my birth certificate. He was a supervisor and worked as a manager and department boss, walking miles through the steel mills and coming home smelling of sweat and iron.

That’s a brief bio, but what we remember most about our daddies is what they taught us, and the older I get, the more I know and appreciate what Daddy taught me.

Daddy taught me to love Auburn University, a gift I passed along to my former Bama fan husband. Daddy lived to enjoy both of Auburn’s official national championships, but he was a War Eagle, win or lose.

Daddy and me, circa 1963, U.S.S. Alabama

Daddy taught me how to garden, how to pick beans and dig peanuts and hoe around the plants, getting the weeds, but leaving the vegetables.

Daddy taught me to cook eggs with just a little bacon grease for perfect eggs I never really mastered. My children still call these PawPaw eggs.

Daddy taught me to work hard and not expect anything you didn’t work for. He’s been proven right again and again.

Daddy taught me, or tried to, not to use credit, to buy only what you have the money for. It’s taken me too long to master that one, too, but again truth wins out.

Daddy taught me that parents aren’t perfect, and we cannot always get what we want – especially when what a little girl wants is for her parents to not be divorced, and her family not to be so different from everyone else, or so it seemed.

Daddy taught me that grown-ups have struggles, too, and that they can eventually make the hard changes they have to to survive and stop hurting themselves and those they love. He was a sponsor in AA and sober for more than 30 years. I know he passed it on and tried to help others, and he made sure we understood how the choices we make affect others.

Daddy taught me how to fish, to wait until the bobber goes all the way under before pulling back and bringing in the crappie or brim. He taught me you can put dog food in panty hose and tie it to the pier to attract minnows that attract fish. He taught me to throw back the ones too little, and he taught me how to clean the fish I caught -- although I’ve tried to avoid using that knowledge, if ever there were any willing male fish cleaners available.

He taught me to keep a coat in my car during wintertime, and some water, too, a flashlight and a halfway decent spare tire. He taught me how to change a tire, but, like the fish-cleaning, I avoided this if I could. He taught me how to check my oil and my water, and eventually, to reset/unstuck the carburetor on my first of many clunker cars, the 1965 Rambler Classic, tinted aqua blue-green, with its sticky finicky carburetor and no air conditioner or working radio. He taught me the value of saving for something – like I did that Rambler. I paid half and Daddy paid half of its $500 pricetag.

Daddy, and Momma, separately, taught me to love to read and to always have a book handy, to go those other places and learn new things through books. And even though he could have benefited from a tablet or Kindle in his latter days, he stuck with real paper books. I shall do likewise, I hope. He also tried to teach me his way with math and to love Suduko,  but it didn’t take and skipped a generation to my daughter who groups numbers in her head like I do words.

Daddy taught me to play dominoes at an early age, and card games, too. Merciless in dominoes, he counted and knew what dominoes were left in the boneyard and likely what was in your stack. A month before he died, when we all thought he his mind was blurring, he beat me three out of four in dominoes, still counting and still working those numbers.

Daddy taught me there is always room to love others, to help others -- as he and Emily took care of, adopted and raised Emily's then niece, Dreama Shea Romine, who became, in their senior years, their second daughter and the sister I've always wanted. I am glad I was able to share Daddy with Dreama and know she could make a long list of what "Uncle Charlie" taught her, too.  

Daddy taught me to do what you say you are going to do. And as a young woman, he preached to me to make sure I am always able to take care of myself -- so you are prepared, no matter what life brings you.

Today, as I remember all the things my Daddy taught me and recall all the wisdom my husband and children’s father has tried to pass on to our precious ones, I’m grateful for fathers and their important place in families everywhere.

I thank the Lord for mine and miss him today and most every day.  But, I remember what he taught me, as a child, a young woman, and as a full grown-up, and his wisdom continues to serve me well.

Happy Father Day Daddy, and to my children’s Daddy. Thank you for your love and all you’ve done for us.

Picture of the Day:

This is another favorite, little me with Daddy.

Song of the day:

By Billy Joe Shaver

"You fathers and you mothers, 
be good to one another. 
Please try to raise your children right. 
Don't let the darkness take 'em. 
Don't let 'em feel forsaken. 
Just lead 'em safely to the light.

When this old world is blown assunder
And all the stars fall from the sky
Remember someone really loves you
We'll live forever you and I."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Trying real hard to fast time

Life is a series of adjustments.  We adjust to kindergarten or to a new little sister or brother;  then comes middle school, a new school, high school.  Goodness knows we must adjust from preteen to teenager, from that awkward not-sure-who-we-are stage to a strutting we-know-it-all period. We adjust to college, hopefully, and/or, eventually, to a work-every-day career.

We adjust to marriage or to being single or to being divorced, or to our parents divorcing. We adjust to parenthood, which qualifies as a mammoth modification. We adjust to sickness, death and taxes.

We adjust to a new job, losing a job, looking for a job, retiring from a job. We gladly adjust to a promotion or raise, and we -- most of us who've lived in corporate land -- will someday have to adjust to a restructuring, which is a business term for mandatory adjusting.

We adjust to a new hair do -- like that perm I thought was a great idea in the 1980s. We adjust to changes in fashion, interest rates, weather, music and which way the wind blows.

Bottom line: If we are to survive, we learn to adjust.

This week, we had to adjust to Daylight Saving Time -- that extra hour of daylight before it gets dark, and that added hour of darkness before it gets light.  

“It’s this new time,” we said to each other this week as we woke up still sleepy and went to bed not even drowsy. The new time -- the springing forward we did last weekend -- messes with our circadian rhythm, that built-in 24-hour cycling that controls many human functions. Also, as DST begins, we have to try to fool our sleep/wake homeostatis, our brain’s built-in monitor of our need for sleep based on how long we’ve been awake.

I don’t know about the rest of the daylight saving world, but I’m still trying real hard to adjust. 

In the long run, we probably like the idea of daylight saving time in the summertime. But, initially, most of us struggle to bend to this man-made time travel called DST which officially began during the first big war of the 20th century and has evolved and required our adjustments ever since.

Getting used to DST means we balance not being sleepy at bedtime, when our bodies KNOW it’s really an hour earlier, with trying to wake up bright eyed and with bushy tail while it’s likely still dark and our bodies KNOW it’s not time to get up yet.

It's like in that long-ago margarine commercial, you can’t fool Mother Nature. However, Daylight Saving Time tries to, and we have to try along with it. We learn to trade darkness at the break of a later dawn for that extra hour of light in the evening.

Until I researched in my effort to adjust, I thought the fall-back and spring-forward deal was an idea born of the 1970s energy crisis. However, Daylight Saving Time (it's single-- Saving, not Savings) originated during war time, first in WWI and again in WWII.

A change in standard time aimed at energy conservation and maximizing sunlight, Daylight Saving Time was first introduced in the U.S. as “fast time” in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson who signed it into law to support the World War I effort. This change followed the lead of Germany and the United Kingdom, who were first to initiate war-time DST.

The U.S.’s 1918 time change was repealed seven months later. But cities including Pittsburgh, Boston and New York continued to use it until President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-around DST in the U.S. in 1942, again part of the war effort.

Year-round DST, also called “War Time,” was in force during World War II, from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945. The change was implemented 40 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during this time, the U.S. time zones were called Eastern War Time, Central War Time, and Pacific War Time. After the surrender of Japan in mid-August 1945, the time zones were relabeled “Peace Time.”
After WWII, states and localities were free to choose when and if to observe DST, creating much confusion, especially for train, bus and broadcasting schedules. Congress fixed that in establishing the Uniform Time Act of 1966, stating that DST would begin the last Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October. But, localities and state could still choose to participate or not.
Following the 1973 oil embargo -- when I remember DST and the controversy around extending it -- Congress extended fast time to 10 months in 1974 and eight months in 1975. The extended period was estimated to save 10,000 barrels of oil a day, but early winter darkness caused controversy and fear for school children’s safety. Congress adjusted it back, and more changes were made in 1987 and in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That 2005 legislation set the current schedule of DST -- if a state or locality chooses to implement it -- to begin at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and end at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.
So, we have a kind of uniform fast time, and we all have to adjust – unless we live in Hawaii or U.S. territories or a hamlet that refuses to make the DST change. More than 70 countries worldwide have a version of DST, so we are not alone in our rhythm, sunrise and sunset being knocked around.
It's been almost a week since we sprang forward, and, just as surely as the sun rises (an hour later), we'll soon be on target and will stop staying up too late or sleeping past the alarm with the justification that it's really an hour earlier. 
Our fast move into fast time is just another of life’s adjustments -- and likely one of the easier and predicable ones. And, like with so much else in this changing world, we’ll try real hard, and we’ll adjust.

Song of the day:

Old Hippie

-written by David Bellamy, The Bellamy Brothers

He’s an old hippie and he don’t know what to do.
Should he hang on to the old
Should he grab on to the new
He’s an old hippie…his new life is just a bust
He ain’t trying to change nobody
He’s just trying real hard to adjust.”

Picture of the day:

Darkness at the break of dawn: DST brought late sunrises this week.
This dawning picture was taken at 6:58 a.m. Wednesday,
March 11, 2015, from the eastern side of our back porch. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Selma: Queen City's time to be remembered

They sang, marched and celebrated in Selma, again, yesterday. 
With Oprah Winfrey and movie star company coming to town and John Legend and Common singing "Glory," an Oscar-nominated song from the movie Selma, right there on the famous bridge, it was enough to make me wish I was still a cub reporter with the Selma Times-Journal.
Yes, Selma, Alabama -- where I lived, reported and learned for more than 10 years -- came to mind and media again and again in recent days.
Publicity around the new movie Selma, produced by Oprah and telling the story of the voting rights efforts in Selma that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, took me back to my days as reporter in Selma, a small town with a big news draw and huge impact in the civil rights movement. The talk of all things Selma brought to mind the times when we (Janet Gresham, Jeannette Berryman, Nikki Davis Maute, Jean Martin, Alvin Benn, Chuck Chandler and many others) covered marches and protests, power struggles, school woes, more power struggles and the city’s economic and historic preservation ups and downs. There are power struggles still, I’m sure, and certainly economic downs and ups.
Edmund Pettus Bridge, at night, photo from Selma
Times-Journal website.
      Selma was always a town that attracted famous people, datelines and news coverage, be it about the marches, the flamboyant late mayor Joe T. Smitherman or the architecturally lovely Edmund Pettus Bridge, built in 1940 and named for a former U.S. Senator. Site of violence then triumph in 1965, the bridge is now a national historic landmark.
As for the recent Selma publicity, most delightful was when I heard J. L Chestnut on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program. The late Selma attorney and rabblerousing columnist for The Selma Times-Journal had been recorded in the mid-1990s talking to Terry Gross about Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights March that prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chestnut was Selma’s first black attorney and one of the few attorneys working with the movement; he didn’t march so much as be ready to bail folks out. He said on NPR that Bloody Sunday’s violence stole his faith in white folks and the law he was sworn to uphold. However, he added, the federal-court protected successful march two weeks later renewed that faith. 
But Chestnut, who I saw sway juries with animated prose and aggravate the establishment, white and black, with his column and later, radio show, never lost his misgivings and suspicions.  He called a racial spade a shovel every time.
Selma being in the news also reminded me of some the truths I learned there.
A primary made-in-Selma truth was a lesson learned from J. L. Chestnut himself and from true life experiences. Racism still exists, and whether we want to admit it or not, race still plays a major part in some of today’s power struggles. Regarding Chestnut’s specific lesson to me back then, it happened when I wrote an opinion column that basically said: Does it ALWAYS have to be about RACE in Selma? Then, Chestnut answered the question in his column, calling me a “naïve young white woman.”
J. L.’s argument to me and to anyone who would listen was that in Selma, in Alabama, in the world, IT is sometimes, quite often, still about race, at least in part.  I have seen his point ring true too often, especially lately, but the always-about-race hypothesis has been proved wrong many times, too.
Other recent Selma publicity also struck a chord.  A Birmingham News front page story on Selma, the movie and town detailed the city's loss of population and white folks since the heydays before Craig Air Force base closed in 1977. Compared to back in the day, Selma struggles as a smaller, poorer and less integrated town. The movie folks come and go, and what’s left for Selma? Maybe more tourism for the town that touts its civil war and civil rights history out loud and has a Civil Rights museum and an Old Depot Museum at an old train depot not far from the remains of Confederate munitions works.
Then, in that same News issue was a column by Frank Sikora, former Birmingham News reporter who wrote the book Selma, Lord, Selma that tells the Selma civil rights story through the eyes of an 11-year-old African American girl named Sheyann Webb. I met Sikora covering Selma – reenactment marches every spring and court cases and murder trials. He was a favorite among the “out of town” press and taught me a thing or three and saved me once when I ruined some Tri-X film filled with images from an anniversary commemoration, but that’s another story.
Sikora’s column talked about the way it really was in Selma in 1965, how the state troopers “dispersed” the crowd on that Bloody Sunday march, using clubs and tear gas. Eighty-four people were injured. The next day, lawyers, probably Chestnut and others, filed suit in federal court. Federal Judge Frank Johnson (whom Sikora has written a book about, too), after several days of testimony, issued an order to allow the march from Selma to Montgomery. He ordered state, and if need be, federal officials to provide protection.  Martin Luther King Jr. was in front on that march to Montgomery that began on March 21, 1965. Congress passed the Voting Rights in August of 1965. Sikora's Selma, Lord, Selma was made into a television movie in 1999 and nominated for awards.  Oprah didn’t produce that one, however.
We Selma reporters covered more marches and protests than I can remember, and I learned to respect anyone’s right to protest, to speak out. It doesn't matter if we agree.  That’s one of the great things about Selma’s legacy.
Today, with all the publicity and to-do over Selma, I am struck anew with the importance of the moral and constitutional message of Selma’s movement – especially as the world sees daily and weekly mass shootings and car bombs by terrorists who hate the idea of “us.”
From an early assignment at the Selma Times-Journal, when an elderly white voter registrar told me that “A (n-word) would rather be in the courthouse than heaven….,” this naïve white woman has seen extremes and a host of  ’’isms”  in a rainbow of people.  Racism, sexism, extremism…..rightism? leftism? Terrorism.
And, these days, the always-about-race truth continues to slap older and supposedly wiser me hard across the face.
Some 50 years after folks got killed and beaten for using non-violent protest to seek the freedom to vote and equal treatment in America, we see folks strap explosives to their bodies to kill themselves and others and take videos of hostages’ heads being chopped off   -- all in the name of…..race….and religion. “Freedom” marches of the 1960s, I believe, take on new meaning amid today’s brutally expressed belief by extremists of varying stripes that there is no room or right to life for those who are “other” from them.
Selma, Lord, Selma.
In Selma, the movie, and in Selma, the town, a group of brave folks stood up for the right to vote and the right to protest, the right to be “other,” and  the right to express your opinion without fear for your life or livelihood. That’s still a huge deal in this crazy world we live in.
The rest of the world does not live by free speech and equal rights – FREEDOM – guarantees that we have (and should treasure) here in our United States.
Selma made a difference across this country in the 1960s, and in many ways, it still does, as a symbol for the little guy who will fight for your right to fight for your rights. “Otherness” and freedom remain under fire across the globe – as long as there are martyrs with machine guns. With each tragedy, I am afraid we lose another battle with the right to be who we are or to speak about it.

I’m glad Selma is getting credit for being Ground Zero for civil rights, even if some folks are saying the movie makers stretched the political truths in a few places in the movie Selma. It’s a movie, after all.  I haven’t seen it yet but look forward to it. I hope the movie tells the stories of the regular folks who were involved, not just Martin Luther King Jr., the official hero of the movement recognized with his own national holiday, today. 
I heard a lady, Lynda Blackmon Lowery, still of Selma, quoted on NPR, too. The youngest of the marchers then and author of the book Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, said the spirit of the march stays with her still. “Every day you can create change,” she said. I liked that.

Mostly, I hope the movie helps remind me and all Americans to cherish and guard closely the freedoms that were cemented in SELMA -- that Queen City of the Black Belt, on its Edmund Pettus Bridge and along the long road from Selma to Montgomery. 

Song of the Day: 
This Little Light of Mine
written by Harry Dixon Loes, circa 1920

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine. All the time. Let it shine."

Picture of the day:
At a protest in Selma, circa, early 1980s, that's me looking
 the other way -- perhaps for a better place to shoot pictures
from. Below me, left, is the late Paul Davis, editor and 
ground-breaking writer, who hired me at my first 
two jobs out of AU, at Auburn then Selma.  
In front of me with the fluffy hair and glasses is Alvin Benn, 
then STJ  managing editor, later to  become Selma's super reporter 
with his work for The Montgomery Advertiser. 
I just bet Al was there on the bridge with Oprah yesterday.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cancer survivor Deb Wegent advises: LIVE IT UP!!!

Her husband calls her Wonder Woman. Her sons call her their hero.

I just call her Debra, my strong Italian, laughing, caring, dancing and determined friend since seventh grade who kicked two kinds of lymphoma with a slogan of “it’s not about cancer. It’s about life.”

And four years after a devastating diagnosis, I wasn’t surprised that Deb Lovoy Wegent was one of the cancer survivors selected to help carry the holy water when St. Vincent’s Hospital dedicated and blessed its new Bruno Cancer Center, a place where Deb and thousands of others (including me) have found hope and healing.

A blessing at the blessing: Deb Lovoy Wegent
with Bishop Emeritus David E. Foley
and Monsignor Michael Sexton
 at Bruno Cancer Center Dedication and Blessing.

“I was honored and thrilled beyond words,” Deb says about being selected to participate in the August 6, 2014 dedication and blessing.  “All those thousands of patients who have been treated there, and for my humble self to participate, I was floored.”  She accompanied Msgr. Michael Sexton as he blessed rooms and hallways of the new 71,000 square-foot facility. And her friend Louis Josof, an oncology counselor at the center and double cancer survivor, carried the holy water for Bishop Emeritus David E. Foley.

“They blessed every room, even the bathrooms, and we laughed when monsignor double blessed the break room because he said, “I bet there’s a lot of gossiping in there. A double dose.”

I was not really surprised that Deb would be selected to represent her fellow cancer patients at the dedication and blessing. I was so proud for her and thought her story needed to be told. So I insisted on telling it. 

Debra and me, as seniors, at FHS
Folks who know her understand that the barely five-foot-tall Debra would stand out as a smiling example of staying positive and seizing the day. She has always let her light shine, with laughter and care and fierce dedication to the people she loves and to her joy for life.

I met Deb Lovoy when Fairfield’s middle school kids all came together at Fairfield Junior High School. Deb had the first and the best “boy-girl parties” at Joe and Pauline Lovoy’s house in Fair Oaks, where we danced and perfected the “round-the-world,” a dance she and I still think we invented and can do better than anyone else (‘cept now we have to be careful with our old knees).  We went together to the Catholic school dances, where Deb knew everybody because she’s Catholic and double Italian, I call it, or “all Italian,” her daddy a Lovoy and her mother a Vizzina. Then, Debra and I worked at Mr. Steak together, wearing short-short skirts and making 75 cents an hour plus tips. And, we laughed a lot then, too.

Then, she and Frank Wegent -- her soul mate who graduated from  John Carroll and was older than us and had a cool car, always a cool car -- got married as soon as we graduated high school. I was a dotted-Swiss covered bridesmaid at their wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown, the first wedding party I’d ever been to where they had real food, not just mints and cake, but also a champagne fountain, a band and dance floor, and where the bride carried around a silk bag, just like in The Godfather, where people kept stashing money after they hugged and kissed the bride and groom. The Wegents lived in Birmingham, then, Selma, where we crossed paths again for several years, then back to Alabaster.

In June of 2010, Deb was a healthy banking professional, a financial specialist with 25 years with Regions Financial, and a fun-loving, Roll Tide yelling mother of two grown sons who are still the apples of her loving Italian-mother eyes. Then her life changed -- after severe leg and knee pain and coughing took her to her doctor’s office. An ultrasound revealed a two-and-one-half inch tumor in her groin area and 70 cancerous nodules in her chest and lungs.  They knew it was cancer that day, June 10, ironically the same day as her and Frank’s 36th wedding anniversary.

“I cried that day,” she remembers now. “I cried, Frank cried,” she says. “My boys cried,” she said of Sammy and Patrick Wegent.

Then, after a painful bone biopsy and a three week wait while results were analyzed at Vanderbilt, they learned the frightening full, confirmed diagnosis: a rare one-two-punch of Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  

“I decided then that it was my new job to conquer cancer,” she says, laughing.

Laughter, she said, and humor, guided her and her close-knit family through 46 chemotherapy treatments over four years -- six months of chemotherapy with four different drugs, then a couple years later, five weeks of more intense treatments and a stem cell transplant, from her own chemically-scrubbed cells, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Through it all, Deb found reasons to smile and laugh – with help from her clever husband Frank, who runs grocery stores, started out working for Mr. Joseph Bruno and cracks wry-humor jokes as easy as egg shells. He was literally Nurse Frank during  their five weeks living at the Nebraska hospital’s treatment center.  He trained on how to check vital signs, dispense her medicine and serve as fulltime practically-a-nurse. “I tried to steal him a white coat,” she laughs, but never did.

Smiles, laughter and feeling blessed also came with the help of her sons, whom she still calls her “boys.”

Son Sammy, 35, flew in from San Francisco several times to take Mom to chemo treatments. On the west coast after earning bachelor and master’s degrees in theater and acting, Sammy works with computer game creator Zynga, does improv comedy and created a corporate training program called Speechless that uses the fear of the PowerPoint presentations, comedy, satire and improvisation to teach corporate folks how to better communicate and speak in public. Google just sent Sammy and his Speechless partners to India to present to its employees there. Deb has the Newsweek article from the week of Nov. 10, 2014, to prove it. Here’s the link. .

See, laughter runs in their family.

Patrick, 32, talked to his mom most every day and came for treatments and doctor meetings, too, from Pensacola where he is an accountant, having graduated from the Wegents’ beloved University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in management. When his mother got sick, he posted a picture of him and his mom as his Facebook profile picture, and kept it there, calling her his hero.

Three months into her chemotherapy at Bruno Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Ira Gore, who she calls “brilliant,” the doctor said Deb's latest PET scan “was spectacular.” The family celebrated. But they did three more months of chemo to be sure. Still, Sammy posted on his Facebook page when they heard the first good news, “My Mom just kicked cancer’s ass!”

Deb says she was blessed, blessed to have the Bruno Cancer Center, a brilliant oncologist, a devoted family, loving friends, supporters among other cancer patients and an early tolerance for chemo that left her bald (but with a Rachel Welch wig), but not badly nauseated or as sick as so many of her fellow patients. 

“During treatments, I’d unplug and go around visiting other patients, trying to help them feel better. At least make them laugh.” It was tough, and she would be wrung out, but, she says, “everytime I go to treatment, I feel blessed, because there are so many people in worse situations, so many people fighting.”  So, some days, she’d just tell herself, “Deb, quit your damn whining.”

Deb was on maintenance immunity treatments when the chance came to receive a stem cell transplant with Dr. Philip Bierman, a stem cell expert who Dr. Gore had consulted earlier about Deb’s case, at the famed University of Nebraska’s Medical Center.  The transplant might decrease the chances of the cancers returning.

So, Frank took five weeks off work, and in May of 2013, they were at the University of Nebraska. “The first morning, Frank looks at me, and says, now we are LIVING at the damn hospital,” she says, laughing again.

The chemo at Nebraska Medical did make her sick, severely so. She received  ten chemo treatments in six days. Heavy duty chemicals aimed to eliminate all cancer cells (and therefore all the white cells, too) before the stem cell transplant, which she says is sort of like dialysis. They used her own stem cells, cleaned, frozen, infused, and then thawed and returned to her in a six-hour infusion. “I called that my Life Machine.” She said Robin Roberts, television personality, had a similar stem cell treatment, and her sister donated the stem cells for Roberts’ procedure.

At Nebraska Medical and at Bruno Cancer Center, and in support groups at both, Deb said she’s met many people, strong people, people who became her heroes. Some of them are gone now; others, like Debra, are still fighting, every day.

These days, Deb has a monthly Gamma treatment, to boost her immune system, is having her “baby shots,” childhood immunizations again because the chemo and stem cell transplant stripped all the protection out of her system. She still has tests and rechecks, and she hopes and prays that the hard-fought stem cell treatment – and a positive attitude and lots of laughter and prayers  – keep the cancers at bay.

In the meantime, she still lives her mantra – one she always told her sons even before this happened  -- to “LIVE IT UP.”

Live it up today. Enjoy today. Cherish today. Dance today. Laugh today. You don’t know what’s coming tomorrow.

Picture of the day:

Deb Wegent at dedication and blessing event
with fellow cancer survivors Natalie Hooks, patient navigator, left,
and Louis Josof, right,who is oncology counselor at the Bruno Cancer Center

Song of the Day:

"Did you ever know that you're my hero
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings."

-- From Wind Beneath My Wings (written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley), a special song to Debra