The Birthday I Have Been Dreading

75.  Seven decades and half of another one.  Half a century plus a quarter of a century.  Fourteen presidents.  It becomes official on Jan. 21.

How in the world did this happen?  Why it was just a few days ago I had a full head of hair, wore pants with a much smaller waist size and ran in 10 K races.

Honest, I have never been all that concerned about birthdays coming and going.  However, I do recall that becoming 30 seemed a bit of a jolt.  Suddenly the 20’s were gone and I was plunging headlong into middle age.  Then 60 got my attention a bit.  What I remember most about that one was hosting a birthday party for friends from all over the south.  That was great fun.  One friend said he came because he could not believe I was footing the bill.

But 75?  Dad gum.  I am much older than my grandpa was when I first met him.  And he was the oldest man on earth.

However, I am not complaining about getting here.  Just glad I made it.  Too many friends and colleagues did not have this good fortune.  But this does not prevent you from spending time wondering how it happened.  And where did all the days go?  How did I end at this point where I have many more yesterdays than tomorrows.

And I of course reflect on so many good times and am grateful for all the kindnesses I’ve been shown along my life’s path.  I am especially grateful for so many new friends I have found during my venture into blogland.  People who have been willing to join me in my wee little effort to bring attention to our educators in public schools and all their contributions to our way of life.  People who have stepped forward when I’ve asked for emails to the governor, or state school board members or legislators.

I will always be thankful for you.

And for anyone so inclined, I direct your attention to the little place on this home page where you can support the cause by using PayPal.  In honor of the occasion, may I suggest $7.50.

Editor’s note:  While I appreciate the friend who suggested that 75 is really the new 74, not sure I am yet convinced.

If Christmas Is On Monday, Don’t Drive Through Atlanta The Friday Before

A list of my top 1,000 things to do would not include driving through Atlanta.  If at all possible, I avoid getting anywhere near the mecca of Peachtree streets.  But since it is very inconvenient to get from south of Atlanta to north of it without passing through, some times you just have to take the plunge.

And so it was on Friday, Dec. 22 when son Kevin and I were returning from Lake Lure, NC to Montgomery.  We figured our best bet would be to try some time between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.  As I normally do, I bypassed the 285 bypass and headed down I-85 toward the heart of town

About one mile inside 285 we saw one of those traffic signs telling us it was 35 minutes to midtown.  This was no surprise as we were already going from zero to 15 mph and then repeating.  Since Kevin was with me, we qualified to ride along in the HOV lane.  It was no faster, but at least I didn’t have to worry about someone on my left side since I was in the extreme left lane.  Off to my right stretched about 40 lanes also creeping along.

Now I am not a patient person.  Except when I realize the deck is totally stacked against me and getting exasperated is pointless.  So I crept and crept and crept.  But somewhere south of the Varsity and before midtown there was an exit for Williams Street right there beckoning for wayward travelers in the HOV lane to escape.

I had no idea where Williams Street went.  Nor did I care.  I just knew I would be free of I 85-75 and off I sped.

Basically, this street heads straight into the heart of downtown in a north-south direction.  That was all I cared about.  Soon a sign said I had to go left or right because Williams suddenly became one-lane.  And not in the direction I was going.  So we hung a right and within two blocks were looking dead at Centennial Park.  A left here and a giant Ferris wheel appeared.  Then the gleaming new Mercedes-Benz stadium where Auburn plays in the Peach Bowl Jan. 1.

There was little traffic and my tried and true sense of direction told me Montgomery was somewhere over the distant horizon.  I have no clue what street we were on.  And didn’t care.  We were moving faster than 15 mph and that was all that mattered.  We passed Fort McPherson and soon were in College Park.

We knew we were near the airport because planes kept zooming across the road.  Kevin spied a sign showing the way to I-85 and we followed its instructions.  Kevin said to look at the cars on the interstate and see if I recognized any of them from the parking lot we left miles earlier.  He thought it was funny.  I did not laugh.

But we survived.  Did we actually save any time?  I have no way of knowing.  But I have now seen parts of Atlanta I’d never seen before and I would rather drive 40 mph and stop for red lights than drive 15 mph and stop every time the tail lights in front of me get brighter.

Here’s hoping Santa did make it to your house earlier today.  But in case he did not, you might look for him somewhere on the interstate in Atlanta.

The Season Of Giving

To me, Christmas has long seemed more about giving thanks than anything else.  It’s when I look around and consider the true wealth and great fortune that have come my way.  It is definitely not about what gifts I might receive wrapped in bright paper and curly ribbons.

So I spend time reflecting on what is really important, about those who came before me and made my today possible and about those who will take up my journey once I am gone.

For reasons I know nothing about, I was blessed to be born in this country.  A place, though while far from perfect, offers the hope of freedom that most on this planet do not comprehend.  I do not live in fear that tomorrow I may not have enough to eat, or good water to drink, or a warm place to sleep.

It was the search for such freedom that long ago prompted unknown ancestors to herd onto small boats to risk a dangerous trip to a new land.  I simply can not relate to the hardships these people endured, even as recently as my own mother and daddy, that led me to Christmas Eve 2017.  I will forever give thanks to them for doing so.

I give profound thanks for the untold numbers of friends I have acquired in the last seven decades.  Many I acquired before I ever graduated high school.  We shared a special time together and therefore are forever joined.  And thanks to computers and social media, we still rejoice with one another, pray for one another, and hurt for one another.

I especially give thanks to the very special people who give their daily lives to working with children and budding teens and those who magically reach 17 and suddenly are the wisest people in the world.  Of all the vocations I know about, educators hold a very special spot.  One that, unfortunately, is too often not given the credit it truly deserves.

They touch our future each day they go to work.  They set the examples that shape values.  They comfort and cajole and encourage and hug.  Once upon a time some inner voice called them to their work.  Thank God for that.

As I write this, my little house is quiet.  No big meal graced my table at lunch.  Santa will not be coming down my chimney tonight.  My phone is silent.  It’s just me and my thoughts.

A grand time of reflection.  And for giving thanks to all those who have so richly blessed my life.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday.

The Most Amazing Person In Alabama

At this point you are probably expecting a drum roll.  Sorry to disappoint you.  Though I’m sure the person I am about to tell you about would appreciate it.

My longtime friend Ron Gilbert is my nominee for the Most Amazing Person in Alabama.

Ron who you ask?

The guy who does the email Arise Daily News Digest WITHOUT FAIL every time the sun comes up.  Christmas Day, the Fourth of July, Confederate Memorial Day, his own birthday.  Doesn’t matter.  At some point early in the morning Ron scans newspapers across Alabama, as well as across the country, finds articles of interest and edits his daily epistle with links to each and every story he has found.

In real life Ron is retired from the Alabama Department of Human Resources and runs the Community Action Association of Alabama.  The digest is sponsored by Alabama Arise.

And if you want to subscribe, you need to go here.

If you don’t get this every day, you should.  I signed up years ago and if it failed to be in my inbox a single time since, I do not remember it happening.

I am not a morning person.  Thankfully Ron Is.  And I appreciate him for it.



Auburn Flags Are Flying

This is not a non-partisan post.  When it comes to picking an allegiance on the football field (or the basketball court of in swimming or tic-tac-toe) I am orange and blue through and through.

I have wonderful friends who graduated from the University of Alabama.  I have great respect for former Bama president David Mathews, greatly enjoyed my friendship with former chancellor Tom Meredith and truly appreciated former president Judy Bonner.

But it was Auburn University that took in a farm kid in 1961 and did their best to open his eyes to a whole new world.  And for this I will always be grateful and always cheer when Auburn competes with anyone else, especially the University of Alabama.

I saw my first AU vs. Bama football game in 1961.  That was 57 games ago.  I have no idea how many of them I have seen in person.  A lot for sure.  I was there the day Auburn blocked the punts in 1972.  Ditto for 1969 when Connie Frederick ran about 90 yards on a fake punt.  Also the first time the game was played in Auburn in 1989 and in 2013 when “Kick Six” happened.

I suffered through the hey day of Coach Bear Bryant and the nine straight Bama wins from 1973-1981.  Coach Nick Saban has taken Bama on an amazing run during his time in Tuscaloosa.  But he will NEVER rise to the mythical place that Bear Bryant occupied   Bryant was the coach for Everyman.  Forged by the Great Depression and rough as a corn cob, Bryant touched a warm place in the heart of many Alabamians whose Scots-Irish ancestors told them to not take a back seat to anyone.

The world has changed since Bryant and Shug Jordan walked the sidelines.  College football has morphed into BIG BUSINESS.  Very big business with multi-million dollar coaches’ salaries, sky boxes and all the other glitz and glitter.

But on the day of the game it is still Auburn vs. Alabama and a win is still as satisfying as ever.  So it was Nov. 25 when Auburn beat No.l 1 Alabama 26-14.

Life has been more tolerable for those of us in orange and blue since Bryant retired after the 1981 season.  That was 36 games ago.  Auburn has won 19 of them, Bama has won 17.  For decades the annual contest was played in Birmingham’s Legion Field.  That changed in 1989 when Auburn hosted it’s cross-state rival in Jordan-Hare stadium.  Auburn won.

Bama played Auburn on campus for the first time in 2000.  Auburn won that one too.  It was a raw late November day with the temperature just above freezing and sleet falling.  My son Kevin and I were there.  Auburn kicked three field goals and won 9-0.  Interestingly enough, there have now been 23 on campus games since the one in 1989.  Fourteen in Auburn, nine in Tuscaloosa.  Auburn has won 14 of the 23.

I am not a football fan per se.  When Auburn is on TV, I am there from kickoff to final whistle.  But other college games get only a quick look at the score and no way could I tell you who won the last Super Bowl.  In fact, as I write this there is a pro game on my TV in another room.  I hear the announcers and the crowd.  But honest, I don’t even know which two teams are playing.

But then, none of these other schools and teams took me in nearly 60 years.  They did not form life-long friendships and allegiances.  Only Auburn has that claim.

WAR EAGLE!!!  26-14.  How sweet it is.

A Unique Perspective On The Iron Bowl

While the rest of the country considers this the week of Thanksgiving, in Alabama it is known as the week of the Iron Bowl.  My son Kevin, who writes for the weekly Mobile newspaper Lagniappe, came up with the following concerning this rivalry between Auburn and Alabama.  It is an interesting and entertaining history lesson.  (And obviously written by someone who prefers orange and blue to crimson and white.)

“The bitter roots of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry are based in opposing perspectives. All Auburn folks ever wanted was freedom. Alabama wanted Auburn’s eradication.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 made Auburn University possible. Public lands were apportioned for the establishment of higher education dedicated toward agriculture and the mechanical arts: architecture, engineering and the like. Most of the modern-day SEC – Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M – sprang from this act as the nation recovered from the Civil War.

The University of Alabama felt sure they should determine the fate of land-grant opportunity. As expected, the state legislature was rife with Bama alumni. They wanted to sell the 240,000 acres of Morrill Act land scripts or have them held in conjunction with the Tuscaloosa college.

Meanwhile Auburn was successful in offering up the remains of the East Alabama Male College for the new plan. In 1872, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama was founded but its new board of trustees and the state mismanaged the endowment. The new school was in danger of collapse.

The state legislature’s failure in due diligence seemed beyond coincidental to some. Were the school to go belly up, the University of Alabama would benefit by assuming the remaining land scripts.

Bama continued to vex the land-grant school. They lowered tuition and graduation standards to siphon off students. Auburn President Isaac Tichenor beseeched the state to make his school’s rates comparable so they could compete.

In 1892, the land-grant school became coed and its name soon changed to Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Its struggles remained the same.

In 1907, a proposal arose on Goat Hill to move the land-grant school to Birmingham. In that same session, Auburn finally was awarded its first state appropriation after 35 years of existence. However, they only gained receipt of a third of the $800,000 dollars as it seemed the Bama alum-packed legislature was aided in attempts to “dry out” the east Alabama upstarts.

In 1912, new University of Alabama President George Denny – the same man who openly voiced plans to turn the university into a football factory – penned a piece for newspaper publication. He wrote “choice young men and women” of the state wanted to attend the University of Alabama because it was known throughout the country, not within the “narrow confines” of a single state.

From before World War I through the Great Depression, further Auburn appropriations were regularly withheld. Instead, the state attempted to fund Auburn through a portion of a tax on agricultural equipment and fertilizer. Remaining funding was from federal sources.

In 1922, Auburn weathered an attempt to have the college moved to Montgomery.

In 1932, Bama forces tried having Auburn defunded after a Brooking Institute report showed API had higher per-student expenditure than the Capstone. API countered that scientific courses cost more than liberal arts programs.

Bama’s perceived superiority culminated in a 1945 address to state entities wherein they maintained that the University of Alabama’s responsibilities for higher educations were undercut by the establishment of “the normal schools, higher education for blacks,” the women’s college at Montevallo and the land-grant college at Auburn. They tried to paint the schools’ founding with endemic hatred for the Reconstruction era. They claimed their founding as the results of “the illogic inherent in the evolution of a democratic government.”

The report’s haughty tone drew a sharp response from Auburn President Luther Duncan who said he had never seen “a bolder, more deliberate, more vicious, or more deceptive document.” He predicted if the friends of Auburn and Montevallo did not rise up to combat “this evil monster,” it would consume them “just like the doctrine of Hitler.”

With the G.I. Bill at the end of World War II, Auburn’s enrollment doubled between 1944 and 1948. Bama’s hopes of starving the cross-state school and absorbing its resources died.

In the Heart of Dixie, Faulkner’s observation – “the past is never dead; it isn’t even past” – reigns supreme. This historic friction has filtered down to contemporary residents and institutions.

That’s what fueled the gridiron rivalry. It’s what drove the passions of 1989’s “First Time Ever,” when the Crimson Tide’s arrival in the Loveliest Village was their disgruntled admission of equality. It’s what fed David Housel’s oft-scoffed comparisons of Bama to historic villains and dictatorial adversaries.

I have listened as Bama alums admitted their university is “just better” than Auburn, with no logic or reasoning, just a fact of existence like gravity or entropy. To me it comes from a perspective rooted in the Old South and its feudal system, where the womb that fostered you determined your lifelong worth.

It’s the mindset of oligarchs and oppressors. It’s antithetical to the best of America. The only cure for this kind of bullying is well established: rise up and punch it right in the kisser.

And that’s what Bama’s about to find out in less than a week’s time.”

Kevin, your old pappy sure hopes you are correct.