Friday, August 30, 2013



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. 

See that big tree about 20 feet to the left of my rig?

A huge bolt of lightening struck it ---making a slash from top to bottom. The noise nearly gave me a heart attack.
It slashed down to the ground--right next to my rig---burning out two chargers and my refrigerator.  The ranger said that if I were outside my trailer I would have been killed.
My feeling---it's an ok way to go.






Linda Sand said...

I agree about it being an OK way to go. Not in any hurry to do so but an OK way if it happens.

I've enjoyed your Sondheimer stories. It does make me realize how homogenized my childhood was, though, in spite of spending ages 5 to 10 in a mixed neighborhood where I played with rich and poor and black and white. I didn't know the adults that belonged to those playmates so missed the depth of your experiences. Thanks for sharing yours.

Wayne (Wirs) said...

"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."

Almost got hit by lightning huh? Hmm. Maybe She (sorry, "He") was trying to change your mind about Her/Him. :)

Rob said...

That series was a fine story, thanks for sharing!

The Desert Scruff said...

I agree, Codger, these were some of your best stories and your best summations. I also agree your town help make an interesting fellow.

Lisa Hussey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy said...

Thanks Lisa---and all who commented--it helped me think my way down to the bedrock of my identity. I'm confident that every story when sifted a bit contains gold.

Anita said...

Randy, I've enjoyed your series about your home, family and identity. I thought that I knew you, but have learned much more about you and enjoyed reading it. You have a remarkable family and they must have deeply appreciated your visit.

Best, Anita

Jim said...

Great stuff Randy. I have long believed the single most significant measure of mental health is the ability and willingness to take reasonable RISK (not to be confused with foolhardiness). Only those coming from a solid foundation are able to do so. You seem the embodiment of that principle. THANKS for being such a good role model.