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Gene Barber

Gene Barber

Articles of 2002

  • Mural Reply
  • Nobody Wins
  • Handicap Parking
  • Polarizing
  • Teachers
  • Computers
  • Traffic
  • The Burnsed Blockhouse/Coll Brown House
  • Ol' Cranky
  • Sue Happy
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Working Mothers
  • Good Americans
  • Diversity
  • Old Baker County House
  • Grandma Mag Said
  • Thanksgiving Thoughts
  • Tarnished Tinsel Trophies
  • The Yule Tree Ordeal
  • Gene Barber replies 4/5/2002

    By now, some of you nice readers have learned that there has been a bit of controversy over a mural painted for our courthouse addition. Some of you have heard more than you want to hear about the feud between our board of county commissioners and a circuit court judge who seemed to take issue that some undeniable facts of history were depicted on one of the panels. Some haven’t been able to see anything but a dispute about “hanging a picture.” Not a few are able to look beyond the hanging of a picture and have seen the danger of our county’s sovereignty being eroded at a rapid pace.

    Through it all, the painter - that’s me - has tried to restrain commenting publicly, and it has been a Herculean effort to maintain silence when media people called repeatedly, media people who seemingly had never been introduced to the word “no.” Yes, I did come out with a few allusions in my presentation to the public back in January, and Channel 12 did capture a short heated remark from me after we were informed that the circuit court judge had issued some sort of contempt orders just prior to our program (too late for us to stop the program).

    It was difficult not to lash out at somebody when my Blazer and front porch were egged. It took strength when my yard was trashed three times to hold back and make myself believe it was the work of pranksters.

    The tongue was bitten when I read the thinly veiled comments that I was writing (in the mural captions) as a racist (Lord, we do love to toss that word around these days. Sort’a reminds me of the Salem Witch Trials).

    But the most hurting symptom of this exhausting ill situation was when…and I want this to be read carefully and mulled over…some of my black friends snubbed me and others reverted to addressing me as “Mr. Barber” rather than “Gene.”

    Now that the problem of where to hang the mural without giving umbrage to the viewer has been settled (seems folks will be less offended on the ground floor than they would be on the second story), I’ve decided it’s about time for me to make a statement.

    Much of my statement has already been given above, and for those who created the non-issue problem, I trust you will see from what was stated above that more was happening than the arguments and standoffs as reported in the media.

    I am still recovering from being stunned that some intelligent people allowed themselves to be caught up in the currently popular polarization of races and that they held that to be more precious than maintaining community pride, oneness, and independence. I am appalled that there are those who appoint themselves as leaders in this or that community or element of society but allow themselves to be manipulated by one or a few guys behind stage pulling their strings.

    But to exit on a positive note, as my dear old grandfather Barber often advised, “Ain’t no matter how bad it is, something good’ll come from it.”

    The judge did us a favor (thank you, Your Honor); (1) the mural will now be available to all the public rather than just those in the courthouse purely on court business. (2) Community spirit and good ol’ fashioned American independence has been displayed and put to use. (3) Several of my thinking black friends believe I and what I attempted to do in the mural was unjustly treated (Your Honor, some have held prayer services for my health and survival of the row that was unnecessarily created). (4) For the first time in many a year, Baker County received positive publicity.

    Here are a few suggestions to smoothing the path away from the recent controversy so that we can be free to move on to matters of much more importance. I would like the folks who reside in judicial ivory towers to come over and visit their constituency and get to know a large and strong section of their circuit. I greatly desire that we Americans will eventually learn that all our heritages and cultures are worthy of preservation and are necessary to our country’s strength and uniqueness. We must cease using our perspective and modern day standards to judge and revise history. We must dissuade anyone from furthering the division of the races for his/her own political and personality aggrandizement. We must remember that the future of our nation depends on rationality as well as emotion. Last, but not least…lighten up, America.

    NOBODY WINS 4/18/2002

    Leave it to self-serving attorneys to come up with a hare brained scheme to line their pockets, gain notoriety, and callously misuse a large segment of our society. Now they’re talking about suing certain American big business outfits for reparations for descendents of slaves who might or might not have been used to help the businesses get to where they are today.

    Before any of our nice readers start spending those big bucks that are not in their pockets yet, let’s do a bit of thinking. Let’s use CSX, one of the threatened companies, as an example in our thinking.

    Let’s just imagine that the suits are allowed in court (and in these days of people pouring hot coffee on themselves and taking it to court, I guess anything is possible). Maybe CSX decides to cough up some money just to keep from being tied up in court (this has become a form of legal blackmail now). Some of the very people who are supposed to benefit from the settlement ride trains. Train riders, take note…you will pay higher fares, because Mr. CSX is not going to dip into his profits; it will be made up by increased fares. The products you use delivered by rails will increase in costs to you. Nobody wins.

    Then let’s imagine that the suits get to court, costing millions - that every citizen of the country pays eventually - a whole new governmental agency with hundreds of thousands of employees will have to be set up to decide and dispense. What we don’t need is still one more government agency to spend more money. Nobody wins.

    How will claims be made? Can the descendents of slaves prove their pedigrees? Just because someone is black doesn’t necessarily mean he’s slave-descended. How about immigrant persons of color who came to these shores after slavery was abolished? Wouldn’t a person who had genuine American slave ancestors be a bit miffed at the relative newcomers getting in on the money and cutting into his share? Nobody wins.

    Now let’s say the reparations are decreed by the court, how much will each slave descendent receive…about a dollar and a quarter? Oops, forgot about the army of attorneys skimming off their share first…it’ll be more like thirty-five cents. Nobody wins.

    And how about the embarrassment of being manipulated by self-appointed leaders and self-aggrandizing attorneys? Surely we Americans of any segment of society have risen above being ill used for special interest groups. When any group permits itself to be herded and lured with promises of big money and power, nobody wins.

    Perhaps it will come as a surprise, folks, but slavery is over and done with. It was not a nice thing, it never will be, and we trust it will never return for any of us. No amount of lawsuits, reparations, and street demonstrations will recall and delete one second of that horrid time. With such lawsuits, reparations, and street demonstrations, nobody wins.

    For all of us to take advantage of opportunities that have never before been available (oh, yes, they’re there; just seek them out), for all of us to accept that we are human beings and citizens of one country, for us to remember the past but not live in it…well, all of us win.

    Handicap Parking 5/1/2002

    I trust the new Macclenny post office parking lot will have a greater number of handicap spaces than non-handicap ones. At the present facility, low slung sports cars, high wheel pick ups, and lawn maintenance vehicles defy all laws of rationality as multiples of them crowd into the one space designated for the crippled and sufferers of emphysema.

    Before I continue, I wish to ask the local constabulary not to infer criticism and an accusation of dereliction of duty. I am fully aware it would take approximately three law officers per citizen a day to control today’s public’s petty offenses.

    A word to the non-handicapped regarding the handicapped person: not all handicaps require walkers, canes, crutches, splints, or casts; there are those who suffer greatly from breathing difficulties who cannot take long walks from the outer edges of parking lots. There are those who need to keep their emergency oxygen tanks at least within less than a minute’s walk from where they’re doing business. Others find taking just one step is painful due to a weird disease labeled fybromyalgia (the more steps, the more painful).

    It is my reasoning that we have no choice but to accept that whoever uses handicap facilities is indeed debilitated. That is why I feel so sorry for those young women in little red vehicles who rush in cattycornered and grab the space ahead of a blue tag vehicle, hop out, rush into the post office, store, bra shop, etc. My heart also goes out to those young men who spend bucks and sweat at the gym for workouts and to those who jog miles daily but must use the handicap spaces to avoid walking 20 feet. I spend quite a bit of time feeling depressed over the plight of the good ol’ boys who need a ladder to climb into and down from their jacked-up-big-tire-bad-to-the-bone pick ups but have to pull into reserved spaces because although they can exert energy and strength to get in and out of their inconvenient vehicles, evidently they can’t swagger a few extra yards into the post office, store, beverage shop, etc.

    Now for some equal time for the other side. A few years ago, I was on the Hart Bridge expressway with a good view fore and aft. As far as I could see clearly up and down that long line of traffic, there were three vehicles, including mine, that didn’t sport the familiar blue tags. While traveling I - 10 I find it difficult to believe the number of blue tags swinging from rear view mirrors. If I remember correctly, I believe the instructions on the tags say they should be removed when the vehicle is being driven. Can’t help but wonder if we have developed a whole new element of society expressing some sort of pride in being handicapped.

    I can surmise from the little examples mentioned in the foregoing paragraph one or more of the following reasons for the inordinate number of handicap permits: (1) we are a nation with greatly more than our share of handicapped citizens, (2) a lot of folks have multiple tags and are allowing others to use them, (3) blue tags are being stolen, (4) doctors are somewhat lax and cavalier recommending permits for blue tags, or (5) blue tags are being counterfeited. Whichever, we are in serious trouble.

    I, for one, will continue to walk those extra several yards as long as I am able. I will leave the handicap spaces for the kids using grandma’s permit. And I will continue to wish evil things on those who use the spaces unlawfully and callously.

    I don’t have to be concerned about negative mail on this column; the truly handicapped folk will be in sympathy with the remarks, and the mis-users of handicap spaces probably can’t read anyhow.

    Polarizing 5/15/2002

    Polar, according to my dictionary, means, among other things, “…opposite in character, nature, direction, etc.” From the same source comes the definition of objective: “determined by…the features and characteristics of the object or thing dealt with rather than the thoughts, feelings, etc. of the artist, writer, or speaker…without bias or prejudice; detached…” Keep these meanings in mind, for they are the subjects of my sermon for the day.

    I have observed that sitting in company with others of another direction in thinking, social habits, religious faith, age group, etc. no longer lends itself to a mind stimulating conversation and exchange of ideas. Rather, we have taken to aligning ourselves against one another…polarizing is the word…and choosing to be blind and deaf to the other side’s thoughts on any subject.

    As an example of the two subjects, I recall the words of my father, otherwise a deep thinking man, who refused to acknowledge the deterioration of the natural world about him: “Ain’t nothing to that stuff [ecological problems]; it’s just something a bunch of hippies go marching in the streets about.” In other words, if a group who polarized themselves from his way of life and thinking proposed anything, he would be against it.

    Next I think of my mother and her political persuasion (boy, was she ever polarized). She was a dyed in the wool anti-Hoover Days Democrat. If Saint John the Baptist ran on the Republican ticket and Al Capone was the Democrat’s choice, she’d vote for Capone.

    Which brings me to the two major parties in this country. Most members of each party are going to be against the opposing party regardless of the issue. If the Republicans wanted each citizen in the United States to receive a gold double eagle from the government, the Democrats would be anti the idea, not that they wouldn’t want everybody in the country to possess a shiny valuable coin, but that it was a Republican idea. If the Democrats proposed that all working people should have a month long paid vacation each year, the Republicans would fight the proposal, not that they wouldn’t want good folks going to Disney World and spreading the wealth, but that it was a Democrat thing.

    To polarize one’s self and refuse to be objective leads to some mighty tragic ends. I call the attention of you nice readers to today’s Israelis and Palestinians, the Catholics and Protestants of Ireland, Islamics and anybody. The list is too long for the space allotted to this column.

    I further ask you to recall the abortionists/anti-abortionists confrontations of years back. Some anti-abortionists were so displeased with baby killing that they killed adults. Already, some of you folks are saying, “See there, he’s for abortion!” I suggest if you thought that, you are guilty of not being objective; nowhere in that sentence did I propose that abortion was a good idea. In fact, I abhor abortion as a means of birth control, but I can see it as a necessary but sad step sometimes to save a mother’s mind and life.

    I am happy that there are groups that preach good ecology measures, but it disturbs me that some of their army seems to have few qualms about blowing up ships at sea. Those who would damage the sea environmentally by blowing up a ship in it have allowed polarization against big business to belie their intentions, their intentions being to gain attention for themselves I fear.

    For several summers in the ‘90’s millions of dollars worth of homes, timber and pulpwood (pulpwood isn’t so bad; protest signs are painted on its product), and ecosystems were destroyed by wild fires. Some self-styled environmentalists who were unfamiliar with the history and needs of pinelands ecosystems and who were totally outside the sphere of objective thinking pushed for anti-controlled burns. It seems their thinking was that controlled burns were the work of big business and Cracker cowmen; therefore city-bred have-nots must be against controlled burns no matter what…a classic example of polarization.

    Somehow or other, these groups convinced lawmakers they were a voting majority and succeeded in putting a stop to a critical need of pine forests, i.e. annual burns. I suspect they used the current health fad of delicate constitutions and allergies (real and imagined) to strengthen their case and cause.

    Here’s where the non-objective part comes in; by not studying the needs of piney woods but using emotions as guides instead, the misguided environmentalists and lawmakers put a stop to woods burning. As a result, hardwoods are supplanting pinewoods, fox squirrels and other fauna are losing their habitat, and brush is building up among pines.

    Eventually during a drought period fires will rush through using the brush as tinder and fuel, pines will be destroyed (remember, they provide the pulp paper we paint our protest signs on), the ground will be baked, rare plants are lost for generations (if not forever), and…I think the idea might be getting across; after all, we’ve seen all this happen already.

    If a body does some objective thinking (please re-read the definition above), there is no way an intelligent person can place and keep him self in a totally polarized stance.

    Teachers 5/29/2002

    Recently, a sister newssheet’s poll of high schoolers revealed some kids’ total disdain of the study of world history. That elicited some spirited letters to the editor, the gist of which is, “ We will be condemned to repeat history if we aren’t familiar with it.”

    No one with a modicum of intelligence can deny the old adage represented in the previous paragraph, but at the same time one wonders if it is holding true today.

    The problems in the mid east are history repeating itself, and surely those people have knowledge of their past conflicts and the devastation those wars visited upon themselves. Citizens of the Balkans had to have knowledge of their frequent past wars and the disregard of human dignity by dictators, but the Balkan people repeated history after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The German people cannot have forgotten what following the Nazi route did to them, yet Neo-Nazism is cropping up often in that nation. Memories of racial atrocities in our nation are still with us, but there are those in both black and white factions still stirring up hatred and seemingly hoping for all out racial war.

    During one of my rare television watching periods I viewed again the PBS presentation of the Battle of the Bulge. I daresay most adults and teenagers were not tuned in to that account of a horrendous episode of WW II, but were sitting before a mindless terribly unfunny sitcom (if any were on at the time, and I think they’re on all the time) automatically chuckling every time the canned laughter prompted them to do so. Even on film, that presentation of history should be enough to discourage anybody at the top from wanting ever to make war again.

    Why do we not learn from history? Is it because we have short memories? Are we insensitive to everything that happened before today? Do we believe the past really didn’t happen? Are we living so well our affluence has dimmed our hindsight? Have we been inundated with so much false history that we have lost the ability to distinguish fake from genuine? Have we not had enthusiastic teachers of history?

    As one who has done a bit of the teaching of histories (regional, art, ethnic) and has observed all faces in the crowd firmly latched onto the speaker and his visual aids, I know history is fascinating and enlightening…when taught with enthusiasm and if connected to the audience.

    I recall an American history instructor who told us eleventh graders the main reasons we don’t put our hands on a burning stove. He gave us an example of a form of history: either the fact that we at one time had placed our hands on a burning stove and suffered the consequences and learned that it was a stupid thing ever to do in the future, or that we had been taught WELL by someone with the knowledge of what placing a hand on a burning stove would do, prevented our doing harm to ourselves in the future. He accompanied his talk with the appropriate sound effects. We could almost feel the pain with him.

    I like giving my audience an example of a chain of events that affects them. For instance, I sometimes place a corn sheller on a table and demonstrate its use and why it was of such a boon to the farmer. I take the crowd back before the invention of the corn sheller when hours were spent shelling by hand for planting or for the gristmill. During those several hours of hand shelling, there was time for story telling, song singing, jokes, and visiting, but the laborious task also cut down the amount of seed corn and material for the gristmill.

    Lo, the corn sheller was introduced - amid warnings that the metal teeth and hopper would certainly poison the kernels as well as amid praise for saving toil and time. Eventually it caught on, and there was more seed corn, which meant more produce, which meant more food on the table (I always brought in the subject of fattened livestock too). The time saved meant more hours could be spent on improving the house and outbuildings, finding other means of adding to the income, and all this repeated over time brought in more money that resulted in a motorized vehicle under the car shed, which meant classier sparking time (I had to define “sparking”), and finally Ma and Pa were able to get together, and…pointing to a few in the crowd, “…made it possible for you to be here today.”

    This is stretching it a tad, but it is not an historical chain outside the realm of possibility…and it gets the audience’s attention.

    I’m a great believer that a teacher should enjoy his subject, should be zealous about getting his subject across, and, as sternly advised by my long ago boss and mentor Mr. L. L. Dugger, must be a motivator. In the words of the late sterling educators Mr. N. J. Johns and Mr. R. O. McEwen, “Give me a teacher who places thinking above memorizing facts.”

    Computers 6/10/2002

    There is probably no more boring subject to a non-computer person than computers, so if you’re a non-computer person you might want to skip the following opinionated effusion. There is a possibility, however, that if you suffer through it you might reconfirm your oath never to permit one to reside in your home.

    Let’s start with the beaming grandparents who go on at great length about what whizzes on the computer their grandchildren are. This is the third subject after showing you their collection of photos of the kids (I actually saw a snap of a three year old nerdy grandkid sitting at his little computer desk). Subjects numbers one and two, of course, are how pretty they are and how smart they are, respectively.

    I always ask these doting grandparents if the kid can blow his own nose and come in out of the rain. Most aren’t certain the children can handle those complex tasks. I like to remind them there is no reason why the dears can’t be great computer users, because, “What else do they have to do? They don’t have to struggle to bring in salaries for expenses. They don’t have to meet mortgage payments. They don’t have to argue with non-English speaking credit card reps about incorrect balances. They don’t have to raise kids. Actually, they should be much better PC users than they are.”

    My experience with kids at the computer keyboard is that they are cracker jacks on playing electronic games and finding porn sites (don’t kid yourself, if a kid can get to a computer, he knows how to get to a porn site…that’s why those unsolicited invitations from Karla, Kandy, and Kitten are on your email every morning).

    Then let’s go to the subject of learning computers; there are some entertaining so-called self-help books supposedly written for dummies. After the first few pages the word “dummies” takes on new meaning as the authors immediately drop the jargon for the unlearned and go right into technical terms for those who’ve received their masters in computerese. Then the buyer of the book realizes just how dummy he really is.

    The language in the books and among long time computer users puts me in mind of a bunch of fifth grade boys in a secret comic book trading club who’ve invented their code words and phrases. I do believe long time computer users have forgotten simple English. Tell one, “I don’t understand that word”, and he’ll give you a string of substitutes of that ilk, and you sit there…eyes glazed over.

    I figure that if I ever win the lottery, I’ll take all the courses I can cram in, learn all that is possible for an old man to do, and then write a book for computer beginners, and I’ll write it in English with no cutesy words and phrases coined by the computer nerds. I will make twice as much as Bill Gates has ever dreamed of.

    To the computer itself: a computer is an obscene thing that takes great delight in erasing all the work you’ve put on it, refuses to let you go on-line, cuts you off from being on-line, pops up totally unrelated little messages to interfere with your work, teaches you new cuss words, and, I devoutly believe this, sucks out your brains while you sleep.

    If, however, you have the fortitude to keep trying to master the computer and learn its positive points such as the word processor, you find you have a renewed interest in recording your thoughts (as you presume the whole world is waiting for them,) and you discover it beats the heck out of cramping the fingers by writing long essays by hand.

    You’ll learn to like the idea of communicating via email with friends, relatives, and creditors any time of the day and night without disturbing them. The big problem here is that everybody who even remotely knows you will start sending you very unfunny, interminably long, and usually quite old jokes. Then come the inspirational messages lifted from the backs of church bulletins (you’ll receive each one approximately 85 times) from folks who have decided you don’t have the innate ability to lift your own spirits.

    You’ll eventually start connecting other stuff to your computer and go totally nuts copying every document and photo in your house, and, naturally, sharing them with everybody you know.

    With every new computer venture you enter, there will be one to several new problems to conquer, but you might as well tackle them; whether we like it or not, the computer is here to stay for a while and it is the future.

    TRAFFIC 6/19/2002

    Your ol’ commentator has some suggestions for cutting expenses for the cities of Jacksonville and Macclenny. For Jacksonville, as each traffic light nears the end of its life and purpose, don’t replace it; Jacksonville drivers, as a rule, pay no mind to those once highly regarded traffic regulators and life savers (except Beach Boulevard where, for some inexplicable reason, drivers stop on green and go on red). Think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars saved by not replacing the lights.

    For Macclenny, the traffic light at Lowder and South Sixth Street is becoming less necessary each week as evinced by the numbers of drivers who zip through regardless of the light color (also evinced by the frequent “meet-by-accident” encounters there). Don’t go to the expense of replacing the light there when next it fails.

    Then, our city fathers can cease replacing stop signs within the town, especially at the intersections of South Fifth Street with South Boulevard and with Jonathan. Were it not for the nice school patrol folks holding up traffic for 15 minutes while one single lone kid lolligags about at his own sweet pace (the lice on that kid won’t even know to drop off when he dies) before ambling across the road, we would seldom experience any stops at all at those sites.

    Am I the only one who notices a lot of vehicular type folks connected with the school system have evidently been taught the traffic regulations within school zones are for non-school related people only? I’ve been plowed into twice at the intersection of Jonathan and South Fifth, and both times were by school personnel (one was a teacher), and neither so much as slowed down approaching South Fifth.

    Every school morning I see drivers speeding, running stop signs, cutting dangerously across traffic, and parking on the wrong side of the road to deliver their kids to school or day care. In the afternoon, I see the same careless, oft times aggressive, driving…and always with a load of what we used to think of as “precious cargo” - children.

    More and more I am convinced America has developed a death wish.

    I’m not as concerned if you want to destroy yourselves, but leave me and your kids out of your foolish rush toward death and maiming.

    The first action suggested by most would be, “Let’s throw some more money at it”, meaning, I suppose, hire more traffic control deputies. Nice readers, money isn’t the answer. More cops are not the solution (they have more than enough to do if you’ll check out the county police reports). More laws on the already crowded statute tomes will only add more confusion (to the delight of litigation lawyers).

    This problem can only be dealt with by each individual driver. The individual drivers are going to have a rough time dealing with it, because it is my firm belief their mamas and their papas fell down on the job of instilling the lesson on the finality of death - their own and that of others.

    That’s your ol’ commentator’s opinion. He hopes it made some of you mad.

    The Burnsed Blockhouse/Coll Brown House 7/6/2002

    Your ol’ commentator recalls fondly when Baker Countians worked in concert on county wide projects - Pine Tree Festivals, centennial celebrations, county Christmas programs. There were minimal, or no, disputes. Our subject this week is one for which there should be no contention whatsoever but has begun to be the center of a controversy. I trust you will read this effusion with objectivity, for it concerns a matter that can eventually bring nation wide positive attention to our little county if handled properly.

    We have a structure among us that is close to being unique. It represents the raw era of Florida’s territorial status. It is probably the oldest building of its nature and type in the state. It is a statement about pioneers who faced a much greater challenge than most of those in the west. It is a reminder of guts but without glory among our ancestors. It is the Burnsed Blockhouse/Coll Brown House.

    A capsule history of the structure begins before it was erected. In the mid 1820’s one Grandison Barber (no known relationship to the writer) from Camden County, Georgia, homesteaded the land the house was later built on. This was west of the North Prong, below Pine Log Crossing (an ancient span across the river), and near the soon-to-be-established Raulerson Ferry. Surveyors Henry Washington (said to be a nephew of President George Washington) and George Willis penned in “Barber Old Fields” on their map of the area in 1831.

    Mr. Barber vacated the land and Mr. James M. Burnsed, another Georgian, settled the site in or about 1830. The late Sen. Edwin Fraser, a descendent of the Raulersons who had connections to the house, thought Mr. Burnsed built his home, now more familiarly known as the Coll Brown house, in 1827. One of the Burnsed descendents, namely Mr. James B. Burnsed, gave the building date as 1832 - ’33.

    It was claimed by some Burnsed descendents that the builder stood on his head upon completion. They said he was not only exhibiting his pleasure that the job was done but also to show his backside to the Indians who had been seen eyeing the pioneers from the depths of the river swamp.

    Mr. Burnsed moved to the Cedar Creek section above the present Sanderson in the 1850’s supposedly in anticipation of the creation of Baker County and therefore the opportunity to qualify for the office of sheriff (incidentally, he was the county’s first sheriff and later organizer of a unit in the CSA Army).

    After the Burnseds moved out, Mr. James Hugh Brown, another Georgian, settled his family in the house. A tragic tale of the Brown family has it that a female slave drowned one of the Browns’ little daughters in a creek nearby. She was attempting to drown another child when the slave children ran for help.

    The Brown family continued in the house for many years, so many years that Mr. Coll (often called “Carl”) Brown unwittingly lent his name to the structure. There is a possibility that had Sen. Fraser and I not brought the builder’s name and the approximate building date to the public, we might have been advised by the State that when applying for grants for restoration, we must use the label “Coll Brown House” rather than the “Burnsed Block House.”

    Both are, to use the late Mr. Eddy Kelly’s favorite description, noble families, and the house, if human, should be proud to carry either name.

    I think the last residents of the house were Mr. and Mrs. Lemmy Bennett and family. The house remained in good condition for all its years, but when vacant, deterioration set in (a house needs living souls in it to remain alive).

    I took some teams to the house site in the early ‘80’s, with permission from Mr. J. B. Altman, to explore, record, and, in divers other means, preserve the house on paper.

    For several years there was an unfortunate confusion regarding ownership. The ownership problem should not be surprising since the property has been located in Saint Johns, Duval, Alachua, Columbia, New River, and the present Baker County, not to mention being claimed a couple of times by Georgia. Earlier deeds seem to be non-existent.

    Now, after the caprices and vicissitudes of the greater part of two centuries of history, the house has been saved from total ruin. All who took part in the salvaging of this historic structure are to be commended.

    Here is where I wish you readers to be totally objective. It is my firm belief that we are not aware of what we have on our hands. That house is older than many Florida residences that lay claim to an earlier provenance (many of them are rebuilt on old foundations). It is one of the oldest wood frame/log buildings in Florida (where wood buildings don’t last long). It is, I repeat from an earlier paragraph, representative of the Florida Territorial Frontier.

    The Burnsed Blockhouse/Coll Brown House does not belong to Baker County. It is a national treasure. It must not be treated as if it were just another attraction in our Heritage Park. The Brown House’s integrity as a Florida frontier house must have acreage on which a working museum collection of outbuildings (hopefully original…not of new construction) surround it. There must be garden plots. There must be a representative number of stock animals. There must be space for a proper vista for guests to understand and feel the times of the house. It must be the star of its own show.

    If the house is situated correctly on acreage, and a commission of knowledgeable persons appointed to begin the restoration process, there will be no problems encountered in receiving state, national, or private foundation grants for the first class job that must be done on this venerable old structure.

    The reader is advised to visit one or all of the following restoration sites to understand a prudent use of old time Florida frontier structures: The Chesser Island homestead in the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, Obadiah’s Okefenok near Waycross, the Pioneer Settlement for Creative Arts at Barberville, the Pioneer Florida museum at Dade City, the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement in Calhoun County, and the superbly restored - in a most correct manner - Dudley Farm near Newberry. These showplaces have been created in the right way. They are first class jobs…and they are much younger than our Burnsed Block House/Coll Brown House.

    For all who have entered into an argument about the house and its location, it is time you proved your true interest in our heritage by agreeing to relocate the house to be properly displayed for this entire nation. We owe a first class job on this project to our future generations.

    Ol' Cranky 7/24/2002

    Ol’ Cranky (that’s me) can’t help it; he has to get back to his recent subject of inconsiderate drivers, parkers, and handicap permit abusers.

    I stopped by the library recently, parked properly, and noticed that if I had wanted to park improperly, I couldn’t have…all the improper parking spaces were filled. Four vehicles were pulled onto the sidewalk at random angles, and one big white pick-up spanned the blacktop addition to McIver, the sidewalk, and a bit of the lawn and flowerbed.

    There were no handicapped tags in view, but all five vehicles clearly said “mighty inconsiderate.”

    I wondered about pedestrians, especially handicapped and little kids getting from South Fifth Street to the front door of the library or over to South Sixth Street. Would they detour around the cars and trucks onto the street (not a prudent move in this town) or would they be forced into inconsideration and tromp over the lawn and flowerbeds?

    That same afternoon found me at one of our shopping centers - in the rain - standing in the splash of puddles while sweet young things in their little low-slung red vehicles, heads down and glued to their cell phones, whisked by just under breakneck speed, not allowing this old coot the opportunity to cross over to purchase his weekly supply of Ensure and pablum.

    Do any of you really old folks recall when the pedestrian always had the right-of-way in parking lots…when drivers eased by slowly to prevent splashing other cars and pedestrians…when drivers were actually aware there were other drivers on the streets? If you do, then why didn’t you do a better job of instructing your kids in road courtesy? You’ve failed miserably.

    Ostensibly, I use a cane to keep me from falling on my worse arthritis days, but I use it, actually, because I think it gives me an air of distinction and I can use it beat off the women folk who are after my body. In the belief that movement and mild exercise will keep me going and movable, I never use handicap parking spaces (after all, there are so many young people in jogging shorts who bounce in and out of businesses who seem to need those spaces badly). I utilize parking spaces pretty far from a business front door for a bit of exercise and hopefully to prevent any more dents in the doors of Ruby Red Dress (my Blazer).

    Several months ago at a Jacksonville shopping center, I pulled Ruby into an isolated space far from the store where I intended to do a bit of trading (that’s “shopping” to you of the younger generation…that’s dumb; I seriously doubt the majority of the younger generation is capable of reading this). A sweet female child of about 14 years with the currently faddish dirty looking hair do and her little bejeweled Britney tum tum bared for all the world to marvel at, pulled in as close as was possible to my right side and slammed her door into dear ol’ Ruby.

    As she darted past, I politely said, “Miss, just a minute. You dented my door, and we need to exchange info.” Without a word, she flounced back into her little low-slung car, gave me the rude finger sign, and tore off.

    If I heard “Did you get her tag number?” once, I guess I heard it a dozen times (until I wised up and ceased complaining to others about it). When a little impudent witch (yes, editor, that is the spelling I intended), treats one with unspeakable rudeness, one usually just stands there like the dazed fool I was and watch the perpetrator whiz away.

    Bet’cha a nickel (if I had one) not a soul among any of the aforementioned vehicle drivers could do more than just stare blankly if their rude parking and driving practices were brought to their attention.

    We can gripe and fret over world tension, hold protest meetings about removing God from schools and the Pledge of Allegiance, march against illegal drug use, hold candle light prayer vigils about terrorism, demand more laws and law enforcers, but…none of this is worth a hill of beans until we return to - oh, my liberal friends, please don’t be overly upset at this - taking time with our kids to teach by example and word common courtesy, respect for fellow human beings, and - yes, here it comes - morals.

    Old fashioned? Yes. Why is it old? Because for centuries it worked and it worked well.

    That’s your ol’ commentator’s opinion; he trusts it upset some of you enough to trigger some thinking.

    Sue Happy 8/4/2002

    I was asked several years ago by an acquaintance who was a citizen of another country, and not particularly friendly to the United States, if I had ever been ashamed of being an American. I bristled and answered sharply in the negative.

    I will admit, however, that sometimes I am embarrassed at sharing my nation with idiots.

    Ever since the tobacco cases and the MacDonald’s coffee scalding lawsuit, we’ve joked about how ludicrous the litigations could eventually be. The joke that made the rounds more was how we fat people would sue the so-called fast food chains for our lack of self-restraint and for our over-indulgence.

    Can you believe it? It has finally happened. The joke is now reality.

    Nothing could be more transparent than this recent grab at easy bucks and some moments of notoriety by the litigant and his attorney.

    I’ll go on record as saying that any attorney who would take on such a case, any judge who would allow such a stupid suit in his court, any panel of jurors who would award even one cent to the plaintiff are as despicable as the guy doing the suing.

    In this great American fad of blaming others for our own stupidity, I am tempted to do some suing myself. I’d start with my parents, but they’re not around anymore and really didn’t leave much of an estate to sue. But if they were still with us, I’d take them to court for not being richer and for not leaving me well heeled so that I never had to turn my hand at work (not that I’ve ever hurt myself with labor…come to think of it, maybe they’re at fault for my laziness too…genetics, you know).

    Next, I’d hit the First Baptist Church Sunday School Primary Department for instilling morals in me. Do you know how inconvenient being good can be at times? How many opportunities of picking up some body else’s property has to be passed by simply because of ingrained morals?

    Then I (and my greasy attorney) would go after the estates of Aunt Susie Barber for making me read and enjoy better literature, thus preventing me from spending hours before a television screen watching mindless unfunny sitcoms so that I could discuss them with the other dead brains over coffee the next morning.

    The estate of Mrs. Mae Overstreet would be a victim of my newfound litigious nature, because she insisted I stop malingering every arithmetic workbook day and learn simple numbers solving, thus making me liable for my own overdrawn accounts.

    My attorney would be directed to track down the heirs of Mr. R. O. McEwen, and they would feel the full fury of my sue-happy nature because he taught me that…(gasp) thinking was of supreme value, even above a head full of facts and a bushel basket of degrees. Oh, how I recall that distinguished gentleman transported to an imaginary Victorian stage, delivering this line: “If you make a man think he’s thinking, he’ll love you. If you make him think, he’ll hate you.”

    Think about it.

    I recall in my youth that lawsuits were whispered about in the same manner as divorce and bankruptcy. Such things simply were not done in polite society…at least such things were not talked about out loud.

    Passing the blame is surely as old as mankind’s consciousness. We have the well-known example in the Bible’s Book of Genesis of Adam laying the cause of his downfall on his woman, and she, in turn, laid the blame on a serpent. Had the serpent had the opportunities in his day that we have now, he doubtless would have had his attorney contact God’s attorney about the planting of that attractive nuisance of a tree with fruit of forbidden knowledge where Eve could have come in contact with it.

    People, we have to put a screeching halt to this sue madness. If not, you can witness in your lifetimes the going down the drain of this nation. Clip this out and keep it in your wallets, and when we’re all headed down the tube, take out the clipping and read it again, and say to yourself, “Oh, if only I had done some thinking and taken responsibility for my own actions and inactions.”

    U.S. Postal Service 8/19/2002

    My abject apologies to all the USPS bashers, especially the email freaks; I can’t add my voice to your’s. I come from a time when the post office, its duties, and its employees were almost sacrosanct (except for telling a few jokes on some of the good natured employees).

    We were dasn’t (old Cracker word) to touch anybody else’s mailbox because we had been led to believe Uncle Sam was watching us when we were around those hallowed containers of delivered news, monthly draws (old age pensions), and - most wonderful of all - advertisements (we called them circulars).

    Our deliveryman, when I was a kid, was Mr. Earn Rhoden. Although he had time for a word or two, he was never off his scheduled eleven a. m. stop at my granddaddy’s mailbox more than five minutes. We lived in the country, but we could hear the passing through of the morning mail train. My mother would then direct me to cross the creek and retrieve our share of the delivery (all the Turkey Creek Barbers got their mail in Granddaddy’s mailbox).

    Our Macclenny postmaster (? postmistress. ? postperson) was Ms. Eva Jones. She was not fast, but she was accommodating. It took us about a half hour one day to find out how to send a letter to Brazil, but we got it there.

    I recall the day my aunt Mary Hurst (later Rhoden) was offered the job of clerk in the Glen Saint Mary post office. She did all the work, and the postmaster Mr. Franklin came in at the end of the day and signed everything to make it all legal.

    Our county had a lot of illiterate folks in those days (we haven’t always been brilliant and highly educated in our county, you know). None of the postal workers were ever too busy to “back” a letter for their patrons who couldn’t write. You don’t know what “backing a letter” is? It means to address the envelope. The clerks would also make out money orders and even sometimes write the letters for their patrons.

    If for no other reason, I have to respect my United States Postal System for those good and accommodating days.

    In my research of area history, I discovered that getting a letter from our section to Charleston might cost the sender up to five dollars back in the early 1800’s. Some mail going out of state in those days cost more than five bucks, and there was little guarantee that the mail would arrive. Most letters going north into Georgia went by chance rider, and mail coming south usually traveled with new settlers coming to Florida.

    And folks complain about 37 cents a letter.

    That’s still quite a bargain for me to get my bills off to my creditors, and my creditors don’t even spend that much to get in touch with me about second and third notices. For some weird reason, my creditors seem never to have problems with the USPS getting their duns to me. They come through faithfully every month.

    Electronic mail is wonderful, but it still can be a problem when it comes to sending bulk, and some folks on the other end of the cyber line complain they can’t properly receive my mail of many pages. I’ll stick with the good old-fashioned post office when I send such.

    There were a few times in one of our county post offices that I encountered a couple of less-than-pleasant attitudes, but I happily say that 99.99% of the time, I’ve never had anything but the best service. After standing in line behind some of the cranky postal patrons who took delight in low-rating the clerks, I had to go home, pick some flowers or fruit and take same out to the still smiling people behind the counter.

    When my granddaddy Barber climbed down off his horse Ginger for the last time, his cousin Charley Rowe asked, “Rowe, why don’t you take that old horse out behind the field and shoot ‘er?” To which, Granddaddy answered, “I keep her around for the good she has been.”

    I continue to respect the USPS for the good it has been, for the good it is now, and for the good that I am certain will continue for many years to come. It’s part of the America I remember so well and with devotion.

    Working Mothers 9/14/2002

    I haven’t understood all the particulars and fuss and furor over the appointment of the head of the State’s Department of Children and Family Services, but one item grabbed my attention; it seems there is some criticism of the man’s idea that mothers would do a better job of rearing their offspring if they would stay home with the little dears.

    If we were a nation of a great majority of thinking people, I would have no reason to go further into this subject. However, such is proving daily not to be the case, and I am constrained to comment.

    What, I pray ask, could be possibly wrong for the person who has invested so much in that child for a sometimes quite unpleasant period of nine months, brought it into the world in an uncomfortable manner, and provided its early sustenance with her body, not want it to be with her as much as humanly possible for its first several years?

    No one has convinced me yet that there is a more effective teacher, instiller of morals (yes, I cling to the out-dated and unpopular value of morals), and proper disciplinarian than a mother. No daycare employee, Sunday school teacher, schoolteacher, Scoutmaster, or law officer has ever been as successful rearing and instructing other people’s children as have the parents of the children, especially the mother.

    Since World War II when mothers left the home as Rosie the Riveter (and as other necessary wartime employees on the home front), we have seen Mom ceding less and less of her duties as a kids-bringer-upper as the glitter of the work place enticed her.

    For those of you who might already be dipping your quill into the poison ink, cool down and do some thinking…with your eyes open. Are we not reaping the harvests of lack of parental control even now? Have you not noticed that the hand that rocks the cradle has been removed and the hard rock of acid and atrocious actions set in instead?

    Do I have to bring up guns in school; teenage rape; elementary school kids doping it up; kids using the lowest standards among them on which to model their life styles, speech, and fashions; entire schools receiving F grades, ad nauseum, to get your attention…to force you to look around you…to admit that the world just isn’t going right?

    Now for your argument that “these days, mothers just have to work to make ends meet.”

    I fear I’ll have to agree with you on that one. If the mother didn’t work out of the home, the family of three might have to make do with only two vehicles, only one vacation home, less expensive hair-do’s (and that’s just for the boys), fewer designer label clothes (that’s always been a weird one for me…they don’t wear any longer or better), only one ski trip a year, fewer restaurant and take-out meals, etc.

    Or course there are the unfortunate single mothers who genuinely have no choice but to eke out a living in the workplace for their children and must depend on family sitters or daycare providers. However, I’ve seen a number of them who complain about needing more government financial support who seem to find enough money for three inch long artificial nails and things stuck through their tongues (my heart is wrenched from my breast over their plight).

    My own mother was a mean ol’ soul, and not very bright either. She insisted I say “yes, m’am” and “please”, laid a switching on me when I was destructive to other’s property or to my self, punished me with denial of my favorite activities when I brought home a grade less than C (I brought home a lot of them until punishment wised me up), kept a close check on my friendships and associations, and even went so far as to refuse to work out of the home until I was 15 years old and she had figured she had pretty well done the basics with me.

    Until that time, I had a healthy fear of her frown of disapproval. I also felt great relief when I was made to realize punishments by denial of favorite activities was to protect me from taking wrong turns later in life and that her disapproval was not of me but for my wrong-doing.

    You might have guessed my next remark: she’s become much kinder and smarter as the years pass…and I don’t find my self robbing banks, killing convenience store clerks, doing dope, sassing my elders, and disrespecting women.

    To end it on a more positive note, some of our kids are evidently doing a grand job of rearing themselves. Whenever I do my grocery trading (that’s “shopping” to you younger folk) in either of our two big chains, I’ve been pleased at the courtesy and offers of assistance by the teen employees.

    I’m also hearing more young mothers say they’re cutting back on luxuries and staying home where the true luxury is - being with their babies. That just might save civilization.

    Good Americans 9/20/2002

    I’d like to preface this effusion with the statement “If all we have read and heard is true…”

    Recently three young men were detained by police in the south end of the state because a woman had overheard their conversation that had more than hinted at destroying something large…like a building or a city. Added to her concern about their words was their definite Middle Eastern appearance.

    It came as no surprise that the young men and their relatives immediately cried “foul”, lashed out at the law, and asserted that they were good Americans.

    These “good Americans” ran a tollbooth. Do good Americans run tollbooths?

    Immediately after the tragedy a year ago in New York, we were asked by the powers-that-be to be alert. We have received warnings since then that we were in imminent danger of more terrorism. After getting us in a truly hyper state, no one gave us specifics on what to be alert about or where.

    Then, a woman in Georgia, believing she must take the warnings seriously, reported what she believed to be a terrorist plot. I pity that lady. Would anybody like to make a bet that before this is over she will suffer embarrassment, castigation, and maybe a lawsuit leveled at her by the accused? And what’s worse, her peers will probably not rise up en masse in her defense (what has happened to old fashioned American rebelliousness?).

    Before this incident is done we will have to go through the ridiculous “racial profiling” howls. We will hear more about Islam being a religion of peace. We will experience more erosion of reason.

    I dislike intensely the statement “Some of my best friends are (insert race, religion, or political leaning here)”, but this time I’ll have to use it. Some of my dearest friends are people of Middle Eastern origin. They are good Americans. Some practice Islam and some practice Christianity. Some lean a bit to the left, and others are rather far to the right. Not a one of those acquaintances express anything but a willingness to be questioned by the law under the circumstances of this past year. They figure a bit of inconvenience is small when compared to the overall picture of perhaps saving thousands of lives.

    They are good Americans.

    Islam, like Christianity, has had its down sides in the past (please read up on your religion’s history before picking up stones), and I’m not certain the Lord is exceptionally pleased with the total conduct of either. Middle Easterners, like Western European peoples, cannot declare total purity of purposes in its past or present. I certainly cannot believe either group has the right to annihilate the other.

    I can believe we have not only the right but the duty to do as the lady in Calhoun County, Georgia did…but we must report, as I’m sure the Georgia lady did, only when we are certain or almost so. In this nation’s situation, I can accept “almost so” over laxity and mass murdering of my fellow Americans.

    Diversity 10/07/2002

    It seems one cannot get through a day without hearing or reading the word “diversity.” It comes on us much in the same manner in which “law and order”, “peace”, “morality”, etc. were used in days gone by…said or written with firm conviction, almost reverence. It’s especially big in reports of studies by some groups delving into social ills, real or imagined.

    In many of the newspaper articles, television reports, and NPR discussions in which “diversity” is frequently inserted, the words “division” and “divisive” appear also. The gist of most of the diversity discussions is that a lack of diversity creates divisiveness.

    As I hear and read the words, something begins gnawing at the far recesses of my mind. Suddenly, last week while negotiating the traffic around and through the intersection of Beach and St. John’s Bluff in Jacksonville and witnessing how the drivers are seemingly divided into idiots (in the majority) and intelligent folk (far outnumbered), it came to me; diversity and divisive have the same historical roots.

    Somewhere far beyond our modern English, further back than ancient English (or Germanic “Anglish”), and even prior to one of our parent languages - old French, there was the Latin “dividere.” Basically, dividere means to take apart, and if some of you over-dose-ers on diversity will get your brains back up above your mouths, you will begin to see the dangerous division in our country that is being created by your push of diversity at any cost (that’s not aimed at “the other side” - that’s aimed at YOU).

    Intelligent folk (far outnumbered these days by less-than-intelligent folk) already know that we are a nation of diverse peoples and cultural backgrounds. To continue this mindless emphasize of diversity is like getting up from entertaining Mr. Jones in your parlor, going to the front door, and inviting Mr. Jones to come in.

    I’m afraid I have nothing to offer in the way of helping the non-thinking segment of our society. There is none so blind as he who will not see, and there is none so deaf as he who will not hear (wish I had thought of this originally, but, alas, it’s borrowed).

    To borrow another bit of wisdom, Abe Lincoln said, in a different situation that yet has ties to our problems of divisiveness, “A house divided against its self cannot stand.”

    We have become a nation in which polyglot speakers are dividing us more each day. We are a nation severely divided by fanatical religious sects. We are a nation that has gone beyond polarization in politics and is moving dangerously toward anarchy.

    We are also a nation that has accepted the soporific pap from television screens, computer internet browsing, and socio-political demagogues and we cannot see the direction we are going.

    Lighten up, America. Isn’t it far past time we put the brakes on “diversity” and resume coming together?

    Old Baker County House 10/23/2002

    I had just sat at the keyboard to type up a little effusion for the Press when my telephone rang. Surprisingly, it was not a telemarketer or solicitor, but one of my favorite kinfolk with a question.

    He wanted to know if I’d heard of an old Baker County house with columns that had been used as a hospital and that had a cemetery in the rear of the yard; he had heard the story from someone downstate. The two of us racked our brains (his was the larger brain so mine did the major racking), but nothing of the description given him came to mind.

    I did think of the old Dr. Shuey/Jake Sessions house behind our major shopping centers. It had been used as a hospital during the Malaria epidemic of 1888, and although sworn to me by folks long ago that nurses in gray were sometimes seen toting buckets of water to the fevered patients on moonlit nights, there was no mention of a burial ground on the premises (Woodlawn - known in olden times as the Rowe Cemetery - was not far away enough to necessitate burying in the Shuey yard).

    The Shuey/Sessions house, while a very fine house by the standards of its day and for Baker County in particular, never to my understanding sported columns of the Twelve Oaks variety on its front porch.

    Until rich folk began moving out here fairly recently (and probably forcing our property appraisals up) we could not boast of a fine house with columns except for the Griffing House behind Woodlawn Cemetery. I recall Uncle Clem Fraser and his family living there in my youth, and he gave me some history of the structure. There was no talk of a cemetery except for Woodlawn (which was practically next door), and the house wasn’t erected until after the fever epidemic.

    Despite the fake histories of our county, fraught with plantation mansions, which have become so prevalent and popular in the past quarter of a century, there are no records, no documentation, no oral histories of anything that resembled even faintly the magnificent piles as described in Margaret Mitchell’s gushy novel.

    These thoughts took me back to a coffee table discussion overheard years ago when one of the young dandies in our coffee klatch regaled us with a story of “that old house where Barber Road takes a sharp turn.” He went into detail about a ghostly lady in a long dress roaming the porch. I’d taken about all the bull-oney I could and announced that the old house of his terribly unconvincing tale was my family home and that although my great-great grandmother Barber was considered a witch by most of the family (some couldn’t spell well and they substituted a “b” for the “w”), she certainly wasn’t around any more, ghost or otherwise; she had taken over hell and decided to stay there where she was appreciated.

    As my arthritic fingers stumbled over the keyboard in my reminiscing, I reckoned this could turn into a fine Halloween column, but I’d rather use it for a lesson.

    There’s an old saying that I wish I’d thought of first: “Nobody changes the course of history more than historians.” I’d like to amend that with inserting the adjective “amateur” before “historians.” Local history and genealogy have become quite popular here in our county, and many amateur (and some almost professional) historians and genealogists take great delight in presenting their own favorite versions.

    For those of you who wish to alter history to suit your tastes and egos, remember that history teaches us to prepare for the future and that no proper lesson can be learned with improper material.

    Grandma Mag Said 11/08/2002

    When I was much younger I saw Grandma Mag shake her head in dismay at the direction the world was going and say, “Sometimes I’m glad I don’t have much longer to stay here.”

    Well, Grandma Mag just thought she was witnessing problems. All she had to worry over were the cold war, polio, and atom bombs. We in the 21st century face woes that make her concerns pale by comparison - we have a government that continually suggests to terrorists methods for their next attack on us, young women in low-slung red vehicles on the highways, lady televangelists that look like prostitutes dressed for a tacky party, Whoopi Goldberg advising us how to communicate, and a government agency that says a guy who murdered two elderly ladies in a most horrid manner (and who stated he will kill again if the opportunity presents itself) is an alright candidate for a less secure facility (like right here in our back yard, good people).

    Robert Downing beat two ladies to death with a tire iron practically next door to us (103rd and Blanding in Jacksonville), and it would take a lawyer (either very wise or very weird or both) to figure out the intricacies of why this man is not considered dangerous enough to be kept in a maximum security facility. From what little I can understand about the case, it has to do with loopholes in the law, poor communication among the Department of Children and Families and attorneys, and quite a bit of fuzzy thinking (or non-thinking).

    For those of us who observe such things, rationality in our country seems to be ebbing away daily at an alarming rate (but what can we expect from a nation of parents who neglected to teach their sons which side of their bill caps was the front?).

    Rationality and the law should go hand in hand, but it seems that with the myriad convoluted amendments of the past couple of generations, rationality has vacated the premises and left loopholes behind to entice all who would circumvent and evade the law.

    As one attempts to read the amendments being offered for our consideration this fall, one might not understand the amendments, but one begins to see where loopholes in the law come from. We must take much care before allowing our emotions to vote in more amendments without carefully weighing their effects on us in the future.

    Thanksgiving Thoughts 11/25/2002

    Just for kicks - I already knew the answers - I quizzed some teen-aged kids last week thusly: “What is the significance of Thanksgiving?” I, of course, had to define “significance.” I’m surprised I didn’t have to define “what, is, the, and of.”

    The most frequent response was, “We git out’a school.” Other answers had to do with the televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, football games, and “We git a basket frum somebody.”

    My discourse to the little dears on being appreciative for freedoms, rights, education opportunities, etc. was met with blank stares and slack jaws. I prudently gave up on them and turned to my own list of blessings. I will now share them with you fine folks out there in weekly newspaper land (‘cause I know you’ve been dying to know them).

    I am thankful that I was encouraged by my parents, grandparents, and teachers to get a life, so now I have something to do other than sit in front of some sort of screen - television, computer, or movie. I’m also very thankful that they took on the job themselves of training me for life. I haven’t done that well with my life, but they did try.

    I am thankful beyond belief that I am not required to attend any kind of football game in the city of Jacksonville.

    Appreciation is a very mild word when I want to express how I feel that I haven’t been taken in by the health food bull-oney of the past couple of generations and that I still enjoy my hog lard, butter, sugar, and salt. I was reared on good tasting food, and I believe unequivocally that if it’s good to me, it’s good for me. Some have told me, “Yeah, and you’ll probably die tomorrow.” To which I replied, “Yeah, and I WILL HAVE LIVED UNTIL I DIED. Can you say the same?”

    My mother often called me “Squirrel” because, she said, I gather lots of nuts (meaning my friends and acquaintances). I am thankful for those nuts, because they’ve helped keep my life interesting and worth hanging onto. Ms. Pearle could sometimes be a little nutty herself, and that made her entertaining as well as a great mother.

    I’m thankful for my daddy who once said, “Son, I don’t always understand you, and sometimes I don’t approve of some of the things you do, but I do approve of you and I’ll support you in whatever you choose to do in life.” What better definition can there be of the word “father?”

    I was blessed to have had a fine stepmother (more my friend than step-mother).

    The best friends I ever had were my grandparents.

    I’m glad that most of the organizations, activities, and events I either began or helped begin have lasted and have been successful in their purposes.

    I’ve socialized with the famous, but I’m much more thankful for the friendships and little conversations with my kind of people that I meet up with in the post office and grocery stores.

    I’m ever so thankful that no matter how bitter the winter (and we can have some doozies here), I am fairly certain that summer will follow. I am one of the few people left on earth who appreciate summer heat and all its attendant pleasures - lemonade, swimming, sitting under shade trees, greenery, afternoon thunderstorms, and less clothes.

    Lord knows I am appreciative of my family - on both sides; they’re supportive, they’re enthusiastic, and they tend to look the other way when I foul up.

    I am happy that I live in an area where some folks still believe in common courtesies represented by "Thank you, ma'am, sir, please, after you, Mr., Miz", and "you're welcome (instead of that obnoxious 'no problem').

    Although there are many more thoughts on this subject, I’ll close with appreciation that the editor permits me these effusions every now and then. It’s great therapy for me to gripe, and I dearly love your negative responses.


    As Christmastide is upon us, I figured I might do a bit of reminiscing among some of my PRESS holiday effusions of long ago. I went to the first one in December 1983 because it had always been one of my favorites and had been one of my few column offerings that elicited some response from you folks out there in weekly newspaper reader land.

    I call it “The Tarnished Tinsel Trophies”. I’d like to offer it once more, but with a few modifications.

    Seems as how every organization or person of any importance (real and imagined) assumes an annual privilege of passing out awards right and left to other organizations and persons of any importance (real and imagined).

    Several years ago, Senator Proxmire, for instance, gave out his Golden Fleece awards to governmental agencies that threw the most money away on ludicrous projects. Esquire magazine passed out its Dubious Distinction labels.

    Now, every outfit one has ever heard of (or not heard of) has its annual awards nights on television…shows with more production gimmicks than meaty reasons for throwing the shebang.

    Your columnist would like to get in on the action with his Tarnished Tinsel Trophies awards.

    The first Tarnished Tinsel Trophy goes to the merchant who puts up a Christmas tree on the earliest date, the product that is suggested in the media as a Christmas gift right after Labor Day, and the radio station that begins playing Christmas music before we’ve finished washing Thanksgiving dishes.

    Other TTT’s go to the ad company thinking up the most tasteless suggestions for Christmas gifts, putting up the earliest holiday billboard (we don’t think August has been used yet), or touting the most horrid smelling men’s cologne in TV commercials that really don’t make sense or make one want to sniff the stuff.

    A big TTT for the family that most believes the faux quaint Christmas customs and decorations from America’s past or from foreign countries as pushed by Martha Stewart wannabes and the lifestyle sections of Sunday newspapers. An even bigger TTT for the family that believes in and uses those invented Christmas customs and decorations.

    Another TTT for the creator of the most tasteless jokes about Santa Claus, the three wise men, or the virgin birth…and still another for those who re-tell and email those same old tired jokes year after year

    Some very special Tarnished Tinsel Trophies for the inventors and retailers of toys and computer games that glorify violence and gore, and may there be even bigger TTT’s for the parents who buy those things and then sit around wondering what’s happening to the younger generation.

    How about a Tarnished Tinsel Trophy especially blessed for those who refer to Hannakuh as “the Jewish Christmas”, the protestant churches that rail against popish practices and then work hard to emulate the Catholic rites every year. While we’re at it, let’s pass out some TTT’s to the denominations that refuse to cooperate with their fellow Christians in holiday community services and projects.

    A huge Tarnished Tinsel Trophy for those who complain it doesn’t seem like Christmas without snow (actually, those people should be put away…they are sick).

    Tarnished Tinsel Trophies should be passed out for the most ridiculous “decorator” tree, the use of any combination of holiday colors except reds and greens, and the earliest decorated residence exterior (saw one in west Jacksonville all lit up in mid October).

    I’d give a TTT to Anglophiles who roast a goose for Christmas and then talk about it for months at their stand-around cocktail parties, to materialists who boast of the size of their tree last year, and to those who send the most Christmas cards while griping about the cost of postage.

    A Tarnished Tinsel Trophy to the network airing the most depressing (they’ll call it “heartwarming”) holiday special and another to the network with a ridiculously premature offering of a Christmas special of any kind.

    A whole passel of TTT’s will go to the career poor families who begin calling the earliest to the most organizations and churches for the baskets and money they presume are owned to them.

    A few TTT’s are left for folks who complain (really “boast”) about what the kids and grandkids insist on having for Christmas and how much they spend on the little dears for Christmas.

    The last Tarnished Tinsel Trophy goes to the newspaper columnist that gives you readers a whole list of gripes about the season.

    THE YULE TREE ORDEAL 12/25/2002

    Your columnist harbors no ill will toward Christmas trees. He does, however, view them as potential neuroses inducers. Consider, for instance, how much of one’s life is taken up by getting one tree up in the house.

    Average time spent:

    · Searching for a tree in the woods - four hours.
    · Searching for a tree on the sales lots after discovering all the good ones have been cut in the woods - 6 ½ hours.
    · Removing ticks after having been out in the woods searching for a Christmas tree - two hours.
    · Fretting about Lyme Disease after searching in the woods for a tree - the rest of one’s life.
    · Getting the tree installed in the stand (including the time spent sawing off the bottom, bit by bit, to make it fit the stand and clear the ceiling) - 3 ½ hours.
    · Searching for another tree after getting carried away with the above - five hours.
    · Filling empty spaces with the straggly and uneven branches one has lopped off - one hour.
    · Finding and buying another tree to replace the one that was overly lopped - two hours (by this time the entire process has become tedious and one couldn’t care less what the tree looks like).
    · Overwhelmed by disgust and grabbing whatever looks fairly green and leafy after spending two hours searching the lot - five seconds.
    · Finding tree decorations stored in a place one just knows would be convenient to find come the jolly Christmas season - four days.
    · Untangling Christmas tree lights - two weeks (who or what gets into those boxes and creates all those tangles?).
    · Testing and getting all the strings to burn - never (one just gives up, tosses all of them in the trash, and buys new ones).
    · Testing and getting the new ones to burn - four hours.
    · Hanging the silver icicles - endless hours if supervised by your columnist’s mother and 15 seconds when not supervised by her).
    · Replacing bulbs to keep all the lights burning throughout the season - 18 hours.
    · Being optimistic that one can find the burned out bulb - four hours (this can run concurrently with hunting the burned-out bulbs).
    · Re-hanging fallen ornaments throughout the season - two hours (one finally forgets picking them up and pretends it’s a new decorating custom to have them scattered about on the floor).
    · Vacuuming up broken ornaments and fallen silver icicles - 4 ½ hours.
    · Wondering why one does this to one’s self every year - eight hours (this can run concurrently with vacuuming, picking up, and replacing ornaments).
    · Chunking the whole thing (lights, ornaments, the works) out the door as soon as Christmas is over (or maybe before) - eight seconds.
    · Vacuuming and picking up tree needles - eight months.
    · Removing silver icicles from the lawn and shrubbery - 13 months.
    · Vowing never again to put up a tree - eight months (can run concurrently from when ornaments began to fall until picking up the last needle from the carpet).

    Your ol’ columnist has always heard it said that if one doesn’t put up a Christmas tree, bad luck is certain to follow all through the coming year. He shudders to think considering all the above (taken from his own experiences) at the risks he would be taking by not having a Christmas tree.

    So if you’ll pardon your ol’ columnist, he’s off to the woods to search out a tree.

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