Father Time Taps Auburn Alum On The Shoulder

How many times have I been part of the multitude gathered in Auburn to watch a football game?  No earthy idea.  The first one was in the fall of 1961 back when Shug Jordan was coach and the stadium held about 40,000 people.

No million dollar contracts for coaches, no ESPN, no giant video boards.  If there were RVs and reserved parking I didn’t know about them.

And Saturday night, Sept. 8, as I waited in the stands for the kickoff of Auburn vs. Alabama State I was flooded with memories.  This is where I watched all three of Auburn’s Heisman players perform.  Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and Cam Newton.  I saw Auburn beat Alabama in Auburn for the first time ever in 1989.  I saw Auburn come up with miracle finishes to beat Georgia and then Alabama in 2013.

I got season tickets for years and remember Auburn beating LSU in the fourth quarter on pass interceptions run back for touchdowns.  And suffering through too many seasons of Doug Barfield and his woeful teams.

But it was last Saturday when I finally came to know that the thrill of being in the stadium is about gone.  It’s been creeping up on me for several years.  Once the hustle and bustle of being there in person was not given a second thought.  But no more.

Several years ago I started taking the shuttle bus to the stadium.  Which makes far more sense to me than trying to find a parking place that may be way away from the stadium.  The bus lets you off about two blocks from the stadium and takes you back to your car away from traffic jams.  But too many sausage and biscuits and too little exercise have made even this journey on foot more of a march than a walk in the park.  You sweat like someone heading to their cell on death row.

Your steps are much more measured and no guard rail goes unused.  You climb stadium steps more gingerly and pray you don’t stumble.  Other old-timers navigate cautiously and you know deep inside you are their carbon copy.

The calm and cool of your living room, with the big screen TV and 10 steps to the bathroom seems all the more inviting.  Midway through the third quarter you leave.  There is not a dry stitch on you.

You pause and look around just before you enter the exit tunnel and quietly utter, “Thanks for the memories.”

You may some day return–or you may not.  But you know for sure that either way, Father Time has claimed another one.

The Prodigal Has Returned

Yes, there really is an Eiffel Tower in Paris, TN.  I have now seen it with my own eyes,  As well as the playground, swimming pool and tennis courts that surround it.  Granted, it is miniscule compared to the real one in France (which I have also seen live and in person) but it is well done and quite recognizable.

After covering 1,696 miles and being in five states (Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri) this week, the tower is just one of the many memories I have filed away

Others include: somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks between Cherryville and Bixby there is a real live, honest-to-goodness, still in operation drive-in picture show.  Now dang if I know who comes to the movies because people are few and far between in that part of the world.  In fact, the Ozarks seems like a great place to hide someone who is in the witness protection program.

Those who think agriculture is dead or dying should have been riding with me.  I passed about a jillion aces of corn and soybeans in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and the boot hill of Missouri.  And while Alabama has endless acres in planted pines, I don’t recall seeing any on this trip..

Outside the little community of Milburn, KY I happened upon a sign announcing “tuxedo rental.”  This struck me as being oddly out of place.  I stopped at the only gas station in Milburn and asked the young lady there if I were in downtown Milburn.  “Ain’t no downtown,” she told me.

Time after time you pass through a small community where a very large cemetery lets you know things were not always like they are now.  Back before interstates and Wal-Marts and Dollar Generals.

A high overlook at Wickliffe, KY, centuries ago the site of Fort Jefferson, stands guard at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  You have to marvel at the history and commerce this site has witnessed for generations.

If you are looking for the best deal on gas for your car, go right around the corner to the nearest station.  Avoid Tennessee at all costs.  I filled up in Alabama for $2.44 a gallon, it was $2.99 some places in the volunteer state.  Other states were between these extremes.

Some recall U.S. Route 66 that opened in 1926 and ran from Chicago to California.  If you are in Cuba, MO you can find Shelley’s diner located on a portion of the original highway.  Shelley’s began life in the 50’s as the local Dairy Queen.  I got a cheeseburger.  I’ve had better.

We have done a fine job of homogenizing America.  The arches of McDonalds sprout above the landscape in countless communities, large and small.  We have franchised our way to a bland sameness in too many locations.  Still, there are sights to see if you look closely and leave the interstate.

And even with all our warts, we are each blessed to call the United States our home.




Leaving The Reservation

Have changed the oil in my old car (the 1999 model with 125,000 miles on it) and about to hit the road.  So won’t be on my keyboard for several days.

Purpose of this wandering is to attend the board meeting of the Rural Schools Collaborative being held in St.; Louis.  This is the group that has worked hand-in-hand with the University of West Alabama to get the Black Belt Teacher Corps up and going.  They also coordinate the rural grants program that has assisted many teachers across the state.

Other than St. Louis, I have no itinerary or real destination.  Just another chapter in Larry Lee sees the country.  Somewhere I happened on info telling me that there is a replica of the Eifel Tower in Paris, TN.  I have seen the real tower in Paris, France and have also been to Paris, TX.  So chances are good that I will make a stop in Paris, TN just to say I’ve been.

No doubt I will find some country roads and see what is at the other end of them, keeping an eye out for local eateries.

I trust you will keep the home fires burning.


A Beautiful Goodbye

I have never met J. L. Strickland in person.  But I do know he worked in the textile mills for many years in “the valley” where the Chattahoochee River becomes the Georgia-Alabama border.  And he is a heck of a story teller, which is important in order to be a good writer–which he is.  He has shared some of his pieces with me for a long time and I always enjoy them.

Now his beloved wife of many years, Yvonne, has passed away and like so many writers, me included, at such times you turn to the written word to express your emotions.  I wanted to share his heartfelt thoughts with you.

As well as to make the point that while the TV news focuses on the same handful of people 24-7 as if they were the only humans alive, this is hardy the case.  It’s easy to see a crowd and simply dismiss each as a stranger with unknown faces and unknown feelings.  However, they are all real people, with real thoughts and feelings and struggles with all the things life deals us every day.  We cheat ourselves when we don’t recognize them as such.

People like my friend J. L. Strickland.

My father and his older brother used to sing an old song with lyrics that went, “Life’s evening sun is sinking low, a few more days, and I must go.”   To that generation from up in the sticks, death was often brutal, and frequently as familiar as a next-door neighbor. .  
 Yvonne’s sun has disappeared below the horizon, and, man, is it dark and cold right now. 
BTW, I can’t say enough good things about the Bethany House Hospice in Auburn.   That place is a blessing for terminal patients and their families.

“I’ve never experienced such a laid-back, subdued, comforting atmosphere. I never heard or saw anything other than kind acts and caring words during our stay.
Even the fellow who cleans the floors always had a smile and a kind word for everybody.   Yvonne and I were there only three days, but I felt like he and I had become old friends. 
A real rarity in this increasingly “not my problem” world.”  Someone put some real thought into how this place is designed and operated. I didn’t see or hear a single, jarring note in the place, only what can be described as a tangible calm. 
And if anybody ever needed a respite and a kind word, it was ol’ self-centered “woe is me.” 
Even the soft, overstuffed chairs in the place are like floating on a cloud — in contrast to the reinforced concrete furniture usually found in hospitals.

After a combined seven hospital stays over the past few years,  Yvonne and I had become experts in such matters. When she was admitted, I always stayed the entire time with her; and when I was admitted she did the same for me. 
Bethany House, a ten-patient facility–is the end of the line, for sure. The final exit. But, they make the passing as comfortable as possible. And it costs nothing.
Seriously ill patients can stay at Bethany House for up to six months, maximum.  However, I think the average stay is about a week or so.  Maybe less.  When a patient is sent to Bethany House, somebody better start making funeral arrangements. 
When they transferred her from East Alabama Hospital, I rode down to Bethany House in the ambulance with the comatose Yvonne; and walked into the place and pulled out my checkbook.

The friendly, soft-spoken angel who runs Bethany House immediately told me to put it away — there were no charges to patients at Bethany House.  They accept whatever Medicare pays with no cost to the patient. 
I thought I was hallucinating.   As it is, I’ll probably have to take a second mortgage on my soul to pay off East Alabama Hospital. (Not that I’m worried about it. With my many and nasty ailments, they’ll probably have to send the bill Resthaven Memorial Gardens, in care of my cemetery lot.) 
However, if I had a million bucks, I’d probably sign it over to Bethany House and move to the projects.   The place is a blessing on earth — for those who’s life script is ending, and their loved ones who really hate to see them go.
And, did I ever hate to see my darling brown-eyed girl go.”.. 

Needs To Be Repeated

I said something in my last blog post, that bears repeating and then thinking about.

“When you look at the high schools in the state with the 20 HIGHEST average ACT scores and the 20 with the LOWEST, you discover they have one thing in common.

According to the A-F school report card, both lists have one C school on them.

McIntosh high school in Washington County has an average ACT of only 14.7.  In fact, there are only two schools that are lower.  Grissom high in Huntsville has an average of 23.1 ACT.  There are only five schools in the state higher than Grissom.

But the A-F school report card system says both are C schools.  Forget the 8.4 points difference in ACT scores, someone wants us to believe they are equals.”

Let that soak in a minute.  The state A-F school report card tells us that one of the high schools with the worst ACT scores in the state and one with the best scores are both C schools.

Somehow we are to suspend reality and believe such crap?   And I will go outside tonight to watch the cow jump over the moon.

The legislation creating this very useless process passed in 2012.  Here is the second paragraph on page one:

“Section 1. (a) Just as there is value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of public school students

in Alabama, the Legislature finds that there is also value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of the public

schools attended by public school students in Alabama. The Legislature further finds that an easy to understand school

grading system would best serve the interests of the public as a whole, and specifically the parents and guardians of public

school students, by providing another transparent layer of accountability for the public dollars allocated to elementary

and secondary education in the state”

Where did the legislature find value in doing this?.  Can someone show me the research they used to support such a statement?  Or did they pull it out of thin air as they so often do?

Since being released earlier this year, I have seen just ONE reference to these letter grades.  That was on a hit piece of mail a PAC in Montgomery sent out saying “33 of 50 schools graded D or F by the state.”

Of course, no where did anyone mention that these letter grades were based on a test that the state no longer uses because it was deemed unreliable.  No where did anyone call A-F “junk” science with no merit.

There is no value in such grades.  Unless that is, you are like some folks in Montgomery intent on painting public schools as terrible.

Every law that is passed can also be repealed.  A-F school report cards is a prime example of one that should be.



Can Montgomery Handle The Truth About Its Schools?

In 1992 the movie, A Few Good Men, told the riveting story of a military court martial.  The climatic moment being when the character played by Jack Nickolson says to the character Tom Cruise played, “You can’t handle the truth.”

That scene has gone through my mind over and over as I’ve watched the current hand-wringing about the MPS school board play out.

Because Montgomery and it’s “leadership” refuse to come face to face with reality in regards to our public school system.

Instead, we have press conferences, blame everyone else and raise money to fuel political campaigns based on deceit and deception.

And some good and well-intentioned people blindly follow those who say all our problems rest at the feet of our current school board.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

More than anything else, we have a COMMUNITY problem in Montgomery and all my friends who have written checks in support of the Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools campaign need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

What have YOU DONE to help our public schools? Do you belong to a public school PTA?  Do you mentor a struggling student?  When I was a surrogate dad at the Goodwyn Middle school “Dad and Daughter Dance” recently, I didn’t see any of you there.

And writing a check to hire a political consultant to come up with big post cards slamming our school system is hardly paying your debt to society.

I sat through several candidate forums leading up to the June 5 primary. I listened to good people share their ideas.  Things like, “I went to Lanier and I don’t know why it can’t be like it used to be,” or, “I know how to fix things,” or my favorite, “all schools should be magnets.”

The one thing they all had in common is that they had evidently not spent enough time in schools talking to teachers and principals, especially those in high-poverty schools. As a result, they were all looking for band aides—instead of trying figure out why our schools are bleeding.

This includes the mayor, the chamber of commerce and the folks writing the checks to the political action committee.

We have a COMMUNITY problem and our schools are only a symptom.

Montgomery has three school systems. More than 35 private schools, eight magnet schools and 44 more traditional schools.

The differences in demographics in magnet and traditional schools is glaring. The poverty rate for magnets is only 14.6 percent but is 63.7 percent in traditional schools.

Since the greatest predictor of student and school performance is poverty, this nearly 50-point gap in poverty between magnets and traditional is very telling. And a strong message that any “turnaround” effort focused on just the school board or even classroom has a scant chance to move the needle.

Don’t think so? Then attend any PTA meeting at a magnet and non-magnet school.  Bear elementary has more PTA members than they do students.  It’s an entirely different story in traditional schools.

Which means comparing the home environment of students in these schools is apples and oranges. And wondering why all schools aren’t magnets makes as much sense as wondering why the football team at Huntingdon can not beat the one at the University of Alabama.

But instead of leadership trying to find common ground and unify Montgomery, we’re holding press conferences that divide us even more.

Until this community thinks of its public schools as “our” schools we’re kidding ourselves by thinking changing faces at the school board will make much difference. How can the school board by itself lower school poverty rates.  A principal of a school with an 84 percent poverty rate told me probably 90 percent of her kids come from single parent homes.  Can the school board round up dozens of daddies?

Ministers, both black and white, should be sitting down together to figure out how they can assist their neighborhood schools. The Montgomery Education Foundation should work WITH the MPS board, instead of being an adversary.  Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools should be raising money to help teachers buy needed supplies, not stuffing mail boxes with fliers screaming “our school board and our school system are broken.”

Instead of talking about charter schools, the mayor should look at Washington D.C. that has perhaps the worst school system in the country—and a greater percentage of students in charter schools than anywhere else.

We need to attack our issues with community-centered schools that provide wraparound services. We need to engage the whole community in doing this.  We had two community school pilots two years ago.  Then the state intervention took away their funding.

The truth is that education is everyone’s business—not just the school board’s. And as long as we claim them as the scapegoat, while we let everyone else off the hook, we are not accepting the truth.