Everyone comes to consciousness somewhere----somewhen---and in the company of somewho---and like fish we barely notice the water we swim in. I grew up in Sondheimer, La---and its waters permeated my being. I've gone back after all these years to remember--- and see with an outsider's eyes the "pond" where I was spawned.
Three hundred years ago only scattered Indian bands occupied small clearings in a vast primeval forest stretching a hundred miles in every direction from my birth ground. Settlers came and drove them away---slashed a highway through---then a railroad. A sawmill was established to harvest the "inexhaustible" timber supply. Four stores, several bars, a hotel and a hundred houses made up my social cradle.
I awoke from infancy to find myself in company with Blacks, whites, farmers, merchants and lumbermen. Youngest of four children---all born in a five year span---nannied by black women----loved well--as I recall---Neighbors would "borrow" me for days at a time for the joy of my company. I was given awesome freedom and autonomy--I never had to go home for dinner as did my playmates----because I cooked for myself from age six. (I remember the moment. Said: "mother, I'm hungry". She replied: "well eat") She did cook on Sundays.
My freedom and autonomy were nearly absolute. At age 12 my cousin and I hoboed a train to Dallas Texas for 2 weeks. When I returned, announcing my adventure----I was stunned to learn that they (my family) had not noticed my absence. All of us lead separate lives. (Indeed, as a teenager I once tried to entangle my father in one of my problems. He said to me: "look son---I have a life----get one for yourself".
When my mother got religion--she indoctrinated us all in Baptist theology. I was 27 when I laid it aside and tapered into agnosticism/atheism/humanism---my current understanding. (I think that if there is a God, he wants us to act as if there were not--to take full responsibility for our lives, our world and each other--that there never has been any divine intervention, or messages---of any kind--ever.)
1. I come away with a fresh appreciation of my region's place in History:
a. Home of an ancient Indian culture that built Americas largest mound pyramid.
(70 ft high---Poverty Point Natl monument)
b. Staging area for the Union Army---site of an historic effort to divert the
Mississippi river as a war strategy. Lake Providence, La.
c. First use of Black soldier units in combat. (battle of Milligans bend) near Tallulah
d. First shopping mall in America. Tallulah, La.
e. Birthplace of Delta Airlines. Tallulah, La
f. Birthplace of the mechanized Cotton picker.
2. I come away grateful for the richness of my childhood--for being loved but allowed
to be free. Grateful for my genes, my decent and interesting parents---for siblings that did not burden me with dormant hostilities.
3. I come away pondering how that town and those people produced me---the character that I am. I think it's likely that being youngest and most vulnerable---activated an inquiring mind---anxious to discover a WINNING WAY. ( a way to deal with larger, stronger. smarter siblings.) Every child adopts a "winning way---a strategy to make their way in the world. Some broad examples: Be Strong(hide vulnerability) --be perfect---be pleasing--be smart)
My strategy seemed to have been to be strong and smart and pleasing---it worked--for a time---long enough to establish a sense of self and move me forward into adulthood. Each of these qualities has a crippling downside: Be strong---hide your needs and they don't get met. Be pleasing and you too often "give yourself away"--not doing what you want to do.
Happily, a "winning way" strategy can morph into a better winning way---I still project strength but have learned to embrace vulnerability---lay aside defensiveness. My disposition to please others has moderated to a healthy medium.
4. I come away believing that every place has a history worth knowing---that every
town and every person and thing in it is interesting---and relevant to the greater whole.
5. I come away convinced that the proper aim of child rearing---is to ACTIVATE INTEREST--- to set a mind a-thirst and a-flame.
6. I come away persuaded that character grows like a snowball rolling downhill--in FEEDBACK LOOPS where a tiny success encourages a greater venture---and perhaps greater success and an even more daring venture and so on.
And I think that encouraging character growth is ridiculously easy to do. As easy as humoring a child's vision. My mind flashes to Mary Franklin agreeing to go with me to help catch a sleeping bird under the iron bridge with a bent wire hook. A ridiculous quest as it turned out but by going with me she made me believe that my vision mattered. And here I am--this day---daring to share my vision with you. (thank you Mary--I will never forget you)
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Sondheimer is now almost a ghost town---a handful of interesting characters remain. I have chronicled its rise and demise---and hopefully its place in the scheme of things. The trees for a hundred miles are largely gone--their useful lumber scattered across the nation. Now rich delta farmland produces soy, rice, cotton and corn which also blesses the nation.
UPDATE: Laurie and I ---situated here at the Grand Canyon---Waiting for the film crew to arrive on the third--got zapped by lightening Wednesday---as close to death as I've ever been.