Don’t let life harden your heart.
Don’t let life harden your heart.
The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.
While sitting here is the Mississippi Delta, memories come back of days of old when the summers were long, hot, humid and slow. Growing up here, as with anywhere, you just get used to the weather and anything else the region has to offer. One of the many things that Mississippi is known for is its population and size of mosquitoes. If you were not from the area; if the high temperatures and humidity did not leave you utterly miserable, the mosquitoes would surely do the trick. No idea how we survived as children but not only did we survive, we thrived and had the best summers ever. Trust me, it was not all as miserable as it might sound or be portrayed. Here are a couple of things that I recall from when I was growing up in the Delta: parades (marching bands were huge down here), football (was and still is very popular … high school football that is …), snowballs/snowcones, ice cream trucks, watermelon, festivals (catfish, craw-fish, hot tamale), cousins, bicycles, church and mercy me … barbecue!
Now here is one that we might not be too proud of but hey, we are all still here to live and to tell about it. In the late evenings, when the sun would have ebbed and cooled its scorch of the land, a distinct sound of the city’s attempt to abate the mosquito population could be heard in almost every neighborhood. It was-the ‘skeeter truck. This was a pick up truck that was out-rigged with a motor that would spray a white cloud of foggy spray up and down the neighborhood streets. Children would run outside to play, run, and ride bikes in the fog and wave at the driver who usually had his window and returning the wave. Children would wave at this driver in the same manner they would wave at the driver of the ice cream truck. My parents did not allowed us to run and ride up and down the streets or be out after dusk dark, except when the cousins would visit. I suppose there was safety in numbers or they did not want us to run their grass down by riding bikes around the house in a circle as if the circus had come to town. However, we would be sitting outside in our yard when the truck would come by and we would just sit there like stone statues watching a parade… inhaling fumes and carrying on like this was normal; and for us it was.
What I am not sure of is whether or not DDT had been outlawed by then. Even so, it is just not good to sit in any chemicals at any time!! Yet, I lived to tell the story/memory.
Westmoreland State Park, Virginia
Since we are still under self-quarantine, stay at home orders, I am traveling through places we have visited before and would like to visit again. We visited this state park one Saturday after taking a leisurely drive along back roads of the Potomac River. Since it is my goal to stay in every state park in the state of Virginia, this visit does not count towards that adventure. It was my plan to make this park my first stay of the camping season and to actually stay in a cabin this time. Being campers we mostly tent camp, which -by the way is not as ancient and primitive as it use to be. But since the Spring in Virginia can be quite unpredictable with rains, winds and temperatures; a cabin or camper is the most stable way to ‘stay’ in the park in early Spring and late Fall.
This park has some of the best views of the Potomac. While some cabins are secluded in wooded areas, there are many that are overlooking the Potomac with screen porches and this is what I am hoping to capture whenever we get a chance to stay. This park also boasts an olympic-sized pool and beach! It is not a large park but it packs a mighty punch. There are a couple of beaches with one of the beaches being at the end of a mile long trail –downhill. This small beach is called Fossil Beach and is known for ‘sharks teeth’. You will find people walking and searching for them constantly. The beach is also accessible via kayak. The walk down to the beach is not bad unless you carry a lot of stuff with you and have to lug it back up. Trust me, if I can make down there, almost anyone can!! And I lived to tell the story.
There are plenty of trails of varying degrees and an overlook at Turkey Run trail which also intersects with the trail to the beach. Fossil Beach is not a large beach. The main beach is accessible by vehicle and has plenty of parking but do suspect it could get crowded sometimes. Where there is sand and water, Virginians will play all day. There are picnic tables and some trees for a break from the sun, kayak rentals, boat dock, eatery, a picnic shelter over the Potomac and a group cabin –all right there on the beach. I did see people walking to the beach from a cabin. Just be aware that the descent down to this beach is steep and most people drive it.
On this day, we hiked and walked, and sat overlooking the spans of the Potomac River while observing the wildlife. This is a great spot to bird watch if you are into it. I listened and tried to figure out what birds were there by their songs/call. The visitor’s center over looks the Potomac as well and is located on the ridge above the cliffs. There is a really nice play-park for children. This park is shaded and has plenty of picnic areas and is close to the bathrooms. It is also walking distance from the cabins that are overlooking the river.
When this park is re-opened, I plan to hike, walk, swim, picnic, read, blog, sit by a fire, smile at the sunrise, enjoy the laughter and glee of children and families and enjoy the company of my husband of 30 years. Interestingly whenever we camp, he becomes the chef mostly. But if there is electricity, there is always that favorite small appliance called … crock pot or slow cooker.
Soggy Southern Comfort
While visiting my parents, in the wonderful Deep South of the Mississippi Delta, the idea of what to prepare for dinner was hanging in the air as thick as the humidity itself. Hmmm …
Me: Liver & Onions?
Mom: No. Your dad won’t eat that.
Me: Cabbage & Chicken?
Mom: Nah. I really don’t want any chicken. Tired of it.
Me: Ham & Potatoes?
Mom: No. The ham you are referring to has gone bad and needs to be thrown out.
Mom: Ah! I know what I want. Buttermilk & Cornbread. We eat that all the time.
Me: Ok. Great. Dinner mystery is solved. I will have a bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch, thank you.
Where did this soggy concoction come from? From my father’s experience he provided the following story …
Our family was not rich and there were a lot of mouths to feed. It was 13 of us and our parents were tenant farmers living out on Zimbro Plantation that was owned by Mr. Smith. We raised cows for milking and we would sell milk and milk products like butter. We always had milk and we always had butter. My mom would make a huge pan of cornbread and we would pour that fresh buttermilk over the cornbread and then pour some sugar, molasses, honey or Brer Rabbit Syrup over it if we had any because the buttermilk can have a bitter aftertaste.
Initially my mind rejected the idea of crispy cornbread and cold buttermilk. But after hearing my father explain this part of his journey, I was intrigued. I am just going to have to try a bowl of this southern fare before heading back to Virginia. Stay tuned, for I am sure there will be a follow up for this one that will include pictures and an explanation of Brer Rabbit Syrup!
Anthony Ray Hinton’s Memoir –
The Sun Does Shine:
For three decades, an innocent man sat on death row in a 5′ by 7′ cell. Not only did he sit there in solitary confinement, he was approximately 30′ from where more than 50 men were executed. Hinton, would move from unbelief to anger, when he decided that he was not going to speak to anyone, sort of a shut down. But because of a still small voice of compassion that was ushered in by his mother, Mr. Hinton could not let the sobbing man in the cell next him lie broken in spirit and not reach out to help him. A man also on death row.
Almost 15 years later, hope would come. An attorney by the name of Bryan Stephenson with EJI (Equal Justice Initiative), agreed to take on Mr. Hinton’s case. It would take another 15 years for him to be exonerated. A life interrupted for 30 years. A journey that was filled with emotional and mental torture. This was not an easy read for me for many reasons. When I started listening to this book I knew two things: he was innocent and he was from Alabama. I grew up in Mississippi. I was born in 1986. He was convicted in 1985. Surely, by the time I was born, this type of racism, lack of compassion and dangerous thinking was not still among us. My friends, I am afraid, it was and still is in many places the world over -to be looked at and treated worse than cattle being led to slaughter. To be in a position of authority and to be a coward and filled with little regard for the sanctity of human life, is a life full of sadness and dishonor.
From 1985-2015, the world has moved ahead in many ways especially technologically. Life nor death stops for anyone, including Mr. Hinton’s mother. But how, did he come out of such an institution, bruised but not broken? What kind of resilience carried him through such a painful tormented journey. His life was stripped away from him as he knew it but Anthony Ray Hinton decided that he simply had a choice to make.
“Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many as Lester had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Compassion was a choice”.Anthony Hinton, The Sun Does Shine
Still, I believe that as dark and trying as his days were, he managed to add more value to the lives of others and himself than the average man filled with liberty and freedom for an entire lifetime. The body can often be constrained and confined but the mind is free to roam the universe. And having books can make it all the more sweeter. Mr. Hinton read books and inspired others to read them and for a time he held a book club -while on death row. This I am sure helped to ease the minds of many who were left to contemplate death every single day -especially if the person was innocent. Mr. Hinton’s mind took him to visit the Queen of England, to marry and divorce and even play at Wimbledon. In the midst of tragedy and despair, I am sure these thoughts were of a welcomed reprieve from the current circumstances. To stay in the state of mind that encompassed bitterness and anger would allow the grounds of unforgiveness to fester. In an interview, Mr. Hinton stated, “My mother raised me to forgive and I have a God who forgives”.
Accused and convicted of murder, his life imbued kindness, love, forgiveness, and compassion because he chose; he decided that that was of most value to others. This is a must read for anyone. I have tried not to tell you too many details as I do not want to ruin it for you. I can also go on into a diatribe of the justice system and racism and prison system and even death row, but that will prove of little, if any significant change from this post. Each of these items can bear a post and discussion all of their own. For the sake of this post, I would like to call your attention to the infrastructure of Mr. Hinton’s life may that have helped him when all seemed lost. First and foremost, I believe, was his belief in Almighty God, it was also the values that were instilled in him at an early age by his mother. The friendship of friend, Lester, who always came to visit no matter what was going on. Lester was there when Mr. Hinton was convicted and released. His boisterous sense of humor; sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Finally, his character, he did not quit on life or his fellow men. He was able to change the hearts of many and allowed himself to transformed as well. A man of integrity, not willing to take a plea that would certainly spare his life but would like him sitting under the umbrella of guilt.
You, like I was, perhaps trying to figure out the title to his book and its meaning. Per Mr. Hinton, “For 30 years the sun did not shine, I never saw much or any of it aside from being let outside a few minutes a day, in a cage”. Upon being outside when he was release, Mr. Hinton looked up and simply stated, “The Sun Still Shines”.
On May 19, 2019 Anthony Ray Hinton was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by St. Bonaventure University in New York.