Our Pearl Harbor

It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t going to write about it because everybody else in the world is going to do “where I was stories.” To get THAT out of the way, I was in Cape. Mother said something about a building on fire in New York. I looked at the TV and thought, just like I had when I first saw the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in flames on April 19, 1995, that it was a gas explosion. Soon, in both cases, we discovered a darker reason for the flames: terrorism.

The scramble to get home

I called Wife Lila in West Palm Beach and we shared our fears.

I hurried to a Cape gas station to fill up for a quick trip back to Florida. I wasn’t sure if gas was going to be available – or how much it was going to cost – for the return.

On the way south, I drove under an overpass near Nashville that had a massive American Flag hanging from it. I’ve never seen so many flags flying. I also noticed that drivers were more polite – they’d give you a wave to let you know it was OK to pull out and you’d acknowledge it in kind.

Where was the shared sacrifice?

Of course, that only lasted for a short while. Instead of experiencing the shared sacrifices of World War II, we were told to go shopping. Instead of cutting back on energy consumption, we demonstrated our patriotism by hanging “Support our Troops” magnetic ribbons on the back of gas-guzzling SUVs. Instead of drafting a cross-section of American society, putting everybody at risk, we had a volunteer army that meant it was unlikely that you had any literal skin in the game. Politicians like Rudy Giuliani whose sentences, according to Joe Biden, consist of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” wrapped themselves in the flag and rushed us into two wars for dubious reasons.

Osama Bin Laden, for the price of 19 airline tickets, managed to cripple our economy and made us give up freedoms and privacy. Mission accomplished.

Flags still thrill me

Still, as I travel across this great land, I’m still thrilled to see our Flag flying. These were taken at the North County Park, Overbey Farms outside Murray, Ky., the Jackson City Hall and a florist in Gastonia, NC. These are AMERICAN flags. They don’t belong to politicians and political parties and they should be used to unite, not divide us.

I Love Fish Camps

I spent a day and a half roaming around Gastonia, N.C., looking for familiar sights without finding many. Maybe being in the town for just under two years didn’t imprint many memories, or maybe the town really HAS changed. I couldn’t even find the two places we lived while we were there.

One thing I wanted to check out, though, was a fish camp. They were huge, barn-like affairs with long tables (and equally long lines of people waiting to get in). Huge quantities of seafood and other delicacies were served family-style and all-you-can-eat.

First fish camp so-so

I was told the one we used to frequent had changed hands several times, but another one was just down the road from it was recommended. I showed up and got a huge quantity of food, but it was nothing to write home about. It tended to the greasy side.

Long Creek Fish Fry

I was still in town at 2 o’clock, so I thought I’d give Long Creek Fish Fry a try for a late lunch. I ordered a shrimp/oyster combo and added a buck to get onion rings instead of another side.

I hadn’t expected to take any photos, but I just had to pull out my Droid smart phone to shoot the Before photo of my plate to send back to Wife Lila.  Sorry for the fuzzy pix.

The sad thing is that I ate so much that one more bite would have caused an unpleasant explosion, and I still had almost half a plate of oysters and shrimp left. I was tempted to stay another night so I could heat the leftovers in a hotel microwave.

Cost: about 20 bucks, including tip.


Funny how you look at things without seeing them. I was in the back yard when I asked Mother, “Aren’t those the same chairs we had in Advance?”

“Two of them were,” she confirmed.

Brother Mark in contemplation

I was pretty sure I have photos of those chairs in my grandparents’ yard when I was only a couple of years old. I couldn’t find them right away, but I did spot them in the Kingsway back yard in the summer of 1960.That means they’ve survived nearly three-quarters’ of a century of rain, snow, heat and cold with only the application of a little paint every decade or so.

We expect every season to be the last for the redbud tree in the right center of the photo, but it keeps coming back every spring.

Brother Mark, stretched out on a bench in contemplation, is trying to figure out what color he’s going to paint those chairs half a century later.

Maple is all grown up

That little maple tree sapling at the left side of the two photos is about 18 inches across now. I keep waiting for it to fall over and hit the house. That’s Brother David, Mother and my Grandmother Elsie Welch in the picture.

Funeral home chairs

I shifted my weight while typing this and was reminded that I’m sitting on what we call the “funeral home chairs.” It’s a set of wooden folding chairs that Mother said was used in a teen hangout in the basement of my grandfather’s liquor store in the Prather Building in Advance. There are five of them around the table I use as a work area in the basement when I’m in Cape. I have three or four in West Palm Beach.

If Mother is 90, that would make those chairs at least that old, because I can’t imagine my grandfather buying new chairs for a bunch of teenagers. I’d creak too, if I was that old.

In fact, now that I think of it, when I shifted my weight, I’m not sure if the sound was coming from the old chair or from me.

Travel update

Made it from Cape to Kentucky Lake to get Mother’s trailer set up for her to stay a few days. Tuesday night found me in Newport, TN. I got to see some beautiful mountain scenery going through the Smokies to the Winston-Salem area Wednesday to visit Don Gordon, a guy I worked with at The Missourian.

After a couple of hours of gabbing, I took off to see my old paper, The Gastonia Gazette. The first thing I discovered is that it’s been rebranded The Gaston Gazette. Then, I went to the corner where it should have been (and where the GPS said it was) and couldn’t find it. The shopping mall that used to be across the street was still there (but much larger), but no newspaper. The GPS gave me an alternative location. I pulled up to the building and thought it looked vaguely familiar, but the location felt wrong. It turns out there’s a Walgreens where my old paper was and this is a new joint. I’m not holding out much hope of finding much I can remember here.

Fire Engine at Capaha Park

The negative sleeve says “airport fire truck 6/12/67.” The Missourian didn’t have any stories about it for a couple days on either side of that date, so I assume it was just something I spotted and snapped off nine frames before moving on. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Looks like they might be practicing drafting water from the Capaha Park Lagoon, a common practice for rural fire departments without access to fire hydrants. The firefighters drop 10-foot lengths of hard suction hose with a strainer on the end into a pond or other water source, then use the engine’s pump to either fill the engine’s water tank or distribute it through smaller diameter hoses to fight the fire.

Water supply is critical

If the water source isn’t close to the fire, then the water has to be shuttled from the pond to the fire using a series of trucks. For long distances, two or more pumpers could be spaced out over a long run of hose to boost the pressure. That takes a LOT of hose and a lot of manpower. That’s one reason why rural volunteer fire departments were called “chimney savers.” By the time they could get to a fire, establish a water supply and a resupply, too often a chimney would be the only thing left standing. That’s not to criticize the firefighters who were putting their lives on the line; it was just a fact of life.

Even hydrants fail

Murphy’s Law works in town, too. These two Gastonia, N.C., firefighters are looking down the street for the surge of water that’s going to charge their hose. It never came. There was a problem with the nearest hydrant. By the time a supply line was laid from the next nearest hydrant, the house was a loss. You can tell from their expressions how frustrated they were.

Fire-related stories