655: Andersonville, GA

This tiny town was the site of a Civil War prison camp for captured Union Soldiers. Near the close of the war, it was every bit as horrible as German concentration camps. The death toll from starvation and disease was high, and the commemorative grave stones stand shoulder to shoulder, marking trench-style graves. There are stories of those who worked to relieve the suffering there in those last bleak years of the Civil War in the devastated South. The Union states who had soldiers die here erected monuments to their memory in the early 1900’s.

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The monument from the state of Wisconsin to commemorate fallen Union soldiers from that State who died and are buried at Andersonville.

Since then, this has become a National Historic Site in commemoration of Prisoners of War, with a museum on site, and a National Military Cemetery. It is less than an hour off Interstate 75 on the vacation trek to Florida, and can be seen in a few hours. It is worth the visit. Admission is free.

The neighboring village of Andersonville also has a small museum of Civil War artifacts, including uniforms of the armies and regiments, both Confederate and Union. This Confederate Drummer Boy uniform is one of only two like it known to exist. The little museum asks a small donation to view.

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649: College Pathways

You didn’t kiss me when I left.

I traveled two and a half hours over two-lane roads to arrive at this University, where I will spend six days a week this summer working on a research project, attending class, conducting research, and returning to my youth as a responsibility-free college student.

Except…. I’m not. I am not a college student, even though I feel very much the same as the teenager that I was then. The outside does not match the inside, and hasn’t done so for at least the last thirty-five years. Inside, though, inside – that’s pretty much the same person that walked the shaded footpaths at the University of Georgia, Athens in the late 1970’s. But this is Georgia Southern University, Statesboro in 2018, and the silver sparkles in my hair aren’t glitter, and I didn’t add them on purpose just for the wow factor, either.

The sidewalks don’t seem to be as shady as I remember they were, and the South Georgia sun is hot on my neck and shoulders, making me grateful for the travel size sunscreen I slathered on the back of my neck and the cheap sunglasses I’m wearing. Heck, everything I’m wearing is cheap. I visited Goodwill today for a pair of closed toe shoes and another pair of jeans, instead of the old lady teacher clothes I brought with me fully intending to wear while I am here. I probably will wear them, even though they make me stick out from the fresh-faced millennials like the sore thumb that I am.

The trees and shrubs that have been planted along these university walkways have been strictly pruned – this far you may grow and blossom, and no further. The flowerbeds contain lush profusion, all the way up to the edge, where a military haircut neatly ends the clipped foliage like an invisible force field. The expanses of mulched bed beneath the evenly spaced young trees are flawless. No weed seed would dare sprout to mar the unblemished field of uniformly aged, dusty grey-brown chips.

There is remarkably little human detritus to be seen, either, in the twelve minutes it takes me to purposefully walk from the student residence apartment I have been allotted to the imposing brick stateliness of the College of Engineering building. The paver blocks (two shapes, three colors) that make up the walkway I’m on were meticulously laid in a deliberately decorative pattern that required a concrete saw’s precise cuts to match up the paver blocks’ disparate shapes and colors at the edges to produce this ornate and ordinary walkway that borders this ordinary and unimportant side road.

I imagine the thoughts of the stonemason laboring in Georgia’s heat and humidity as he cut, set, and fit these walkway pavers so precisely that so few people will see and use. Perhaps he was missing his wife, like I am missing my husband. And then, why am I so sure that the person was a he? I chide myself on my thoughtless sexism. Probably was a he, though.

It occurs to me, after two days of College of Engineering workshop sessions and research laboratory tours, that these men (and most of them are men) are a lot like professional athletes. They come to work every day and pursue their own very narrow interests, playing at deriving better numbers in the same way a professional athlete seeks to shave a place value off their previous best number. Their projects have impressive sounding names (my brother and I christened one of our backyard forts “The Impregnable Kingdom of Fuller,” even though the rain later proved it not to be). Some of those research projects are probably going to be useful (some day), and maybe even affordable (one day quite some time after that). At least, unlike the athlete or the stonemason who paved the pathway to their building, they mostly work on improving their numbers inside in the air conditioning.

I am here at this university this long hot summer to narrow my own far-flung interests down to an Engineering research project on renewable energy, to construct a prototype, and to derive some numbers of my own that I can take back to my impoverished school district to perhaps ignite some youngsters who can dream and maybe believe that the world does not end at the county line the way their lives have shown them, repeatedly, is true. Perhaps some of them might then set their sights on achieving better numbers in air-conditioned comfort, instead of trying to win the professional athlete lottery against their own genetics, or instead of simply opting to labor outdoors in the hot sun, which they all know is a possibility, however unwelcome.

First, though, they have to believe such a future exists, that it isn’t just another fairy tale like the stuff they see on the TV screen and in the movies which they all know is just make-believe, of course. Then they have to believe it is possible, seeing beyond the effort it will cost and the money they don’t have. Then, the biggest stretch of faith of all, they have to believe they maybe, just maybe, they could do it themselves, instead of watching someone else do it who had more than they had to go on. Faith isn’t easy, and changing your beliefs isn’t encouraged, where they come from.

648: Philosophy of Relationships, Blackberry Style

There is plenty of time while picking blackberries on the side of a dusty red dirt Georgia road on a hot, humid, and sunny June day to entertain philosophical thoughts. The task itself is repetitive, though fairly exacting, so that the mind is mostly free to pursue other pursuits while the hands are engaged.

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When you see a blackberry on the bramble that you desire to pluck, you must first weigh the relative possibilities of achieving it versus the potential difficulties, for example, its position nestled within the thorny brambles that protect it. This is very much like that first full look at that gorgeous guy or girl that spikes your blood pressure and makes your eyes dilate. Once you determine the difficulty level for that particular berry is surmountable, you must grasp the berry gently, or all you will be left with is a red-purple stain on your fingers, as blackberries are very tender and easily crushed. Another person’s feelings are often just that tender, especially at first, when you don’t know their triggers and tender subjects.

If you can grasp the object of your desire gently enough not to crush it, then comes the process of bringing it to the basket. Its defenses will snag you in this retrieval effort, and you cannot allow yourself to react harshly or instinctively, jerking back when you feel the bite and sting of the bramble’s thorns, or they will merely dig deeper, drawing blood. You must negotiate with them, twisting, turning, maneuvering gently, always gently as you draw the succulent berry closer. This is the intricate relationship dance as each of you come to know the other, drawing out old splinters and working through the unpacking of old baggage, which each of us brings with us to every relationship.

Once you have the berry free of its entanglements, you can add it to your basket to take home. Marry it – claim this person as yours, and pledge yourself to it, heart and soul.

When your berry basket is filled, you can take the result of your time and effort home to your significant other. If they recognize what you have offered to them, your time and effort, along with the tangible sweetness of the berries, you are blessed in the relationship department fully as much as you were blessed in the berry picking endeavor.

647: Marriage of Berries

We woke early, and my husband asked if I wanted breakfast, and if so, what I might like: eggs, bacon, grits? This is his gift to me, the preparing of the food, and I understand that. I do not want food, because he will prepare it, we will sit and consume it, and he will rise from the table, content in his gift, and leave the room with its littered table, soiled counters and sink filled with the dirty dishes for me to attend to. The food sours in my stomach as I clean the dishes, the counters and the table.

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After the kitchen is clean again, so it will not attract nasty bugs in the heat and humidity that is Georgia, I gather my baskets and leave my house in the township. I drive several miles to the dirt road where my family, and the family of my family that was before my own family, used to live. This is the place I identify as the place where I grew up (even though I didn’t), and I know that this place is where the wild blueberries and the succulent blackberries grow thickly on the raised shoulders alongside the deeply carved and smoothed red dirt road.  Every summer when school was freshly let out for the heat and humidity, my family would come from the place where were living this time, and join with the family that always lived here on the red dirt road. I would take a pail or a pan and I would leave the house and trek to the dusty shoulders of the dirt road to harvest the bounty that only the birds appreciated when I was not there to claim my share.

Today, in my sixtieth decade, I harvest my share of the bird’s bounty while the day is yet cool, filling my baskets before the sun can sink its claws into the back of my neck. I am careful where I put my feet, my dad’s called warning from fifty years ago ringing in my ears, “Watch out for snakes.” The snakes come to these berry bushes, seeking their own bounty from the birds that also feast there. I must also watch for the ruffled, raised heaps of sand that signal the nest of the imported fire ants, aliens long established here, and also familiar from my youth.

I carefully pick only the ripest berries for my baskets, indiscriminately co-mingling the firm shiny round blue-black orbs of the blueberries, and the misshapen black purple softness of the blackberries, staining my fingers with their red-purple juice. When the baskets are nearly full and the sun has bitten my neck, I return to my home and show my offering to my husband, asking if I should freeze them for later or make a cobbler now. He chooses now.

I empty the berries into a large basin and run the cold water over them, watching the bits of chaff rise with the water. I fetch the large baking dish and use my fingers to oil the bottom and sides with Moroccan olive oil, and then I dust it with sugar, so the berries don’t stick. In handfuls, I sieve the succulent berries from their rinse and fill the dish with gleaming purple richness. I have more berries than the dish will hold. I select a plastic, zip-lock bag for the berries I will save for later. And then I sigh with annoyance, put the bag away, and pull out two shallow bowls to use all of the berries today, as instructed.

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I arrange pats of soft butter atop the gleaming berries, add brown sugar, dustings of ginger and cinnamon. In a bowl I whip with a wire whisk the thin sweet batter than will sink down between the berries and rise up between them with the heat of baking, binding them together, even though they are of two different breeds, two different kinds. A marriage of berries, bound together.

When the cobblers are done, I take them from the hot oven to cool, and the cooling batter pulls away from the marriage of berries, leaving visible cracks between them. These are spaces for the freezing cold ice cream to fill, a coldness that will be served with the still-warm cobbler, a temporary patch in the marriage that will keep them together a little longer, until they are completely consumed, leaving nothing but the dirty bowls for me to wash and put into the dish drainer to dry, and then to put away.

I say I will go again tomorrow to pick more berries for later, but we both know that I won’t.

604: Slavery in modern times

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Not all Civil War monuments celebrate slavery – many memorialize the Americans who served and died, whose relatives raised the money to erect a memorial in their honor, as a remembrance of lives lost in armed conflict. There is nothing stopping others (whose views and memories are different) from raising the funds and erecting new memorials that reflect their differing views. There is room to coexist.

I come from that part of the USA that has a unique history. We are the only American citizens to suffer defeat in armed combat – if you don’t count the recent military “actions” that were never rightfully called a war, even though Americans also fought and died there in armed conflict, too.

Georgia (and her Confederate sisters) was defeated. Yankees still to this day call what we did in those times as “treason,” although no Southerner calls what we did (honorably seceding from the federal union), treason. Many southerners fought that war for state’s rights, since many (most) southerners were not wealthy enough to even own slaves – what we are continually told (lectured) was the sole cause of that conflict. If the North thought the South committed treason when they seceded, perhaps freeing the slaves was not the sole reason they fought, either. Especially considering that when they freed the slaves, they did not promote them to equal status even in their own self-righteous northern homelands. Even into the 1960’s, a white boarding house owner in Green Bay, Wisconsin (among other northern states) was not allowed, by law, to rent a room to a colored man, even if he *was* a team member of the Green Bay Packers that they were all ostensibly so proud of.

My Wisconsin-born husband tells me gleefully about when the other sports fans disdainfully referred to his Green Bay Packer fans as “cheeseheads,” and how they  took that slur and made it a point of pride for the Packer nation. And he completely and willfully ignores how the term “Rebel” came to be a point of pride for oppressed Southerners during the very long years of Reconstruction that the entire region suffered under the hands of rapacious Yankees and the low-life Southern-born who sucked up to them, and who should have been raised better. Blacks like to claim that the repercussions of slavery still resonate today – and that, to a large extent, is still true for Southern people of whatever skin color.

LEGAL slavery ended in the USA as a result of the defeat of the Confederacy – and states’ rights died there, too. Slavery in modern times is primarily economic (overlooking the recent horrific actions of the Islamic State). Modern slaves are those people who, through economic need, are forced to submit to providing their labor for less than a living wage. I’ve been hearing a lot (from liberals, primarily) about how illegal aliens are beneficial to the USA economy and their illegal status should be overlooked and forgiven because they take the jobs no American citizen will take.

Well, DUH.

What do you think the South’s primary reason for importing forced labor (slaves) into the cotton and tobacco fields (labor-intensive cash crops) was, idjits? They were imported to perform necessary work that few free Americans would take, because the work was not worth the wages. That legal slavery wasn’t a whole lot different from the sharecropping that white and black Americans did, and it wasn’t much different from laying those railroad tracks across the West that the Asians did, and it wasn’t much different from the coal mining that the Irish immigrants and poor whites did. It was economic slavery. And now, in your enlightened liberal minds (ha!), you want to PROMOTE economic slavery for a whole new crop of human beings who happen to be primarily Hispanic.

Yeah right – we can be SOOOOOO proud of our self-righteous humanitarian progress in the USA, can’t we?

579: The dumbing down of America

My brand spanking new hubs has obtained a job managing one of two employment agencies in our tiny south Georgia town. I have taught high school and middle school (some) for 26 years in Georgia (all over the state). What he is reporting is a confirmation of what I have been observing for decades.

Employment agencies offer their services free to job seekers. Companies contract with them to vet their potential employees, but the company ultimately gets the final say in any hiring, and the employment agency gets a finder’s fee for vetting candidates on behalf of the employing company.

As part of the candidate process, there is a drug screening, an employment application and interview, and a screening employability skills exam. Sort of a very low-level SAT. VERY low level. The questions include: how many inches are in three yards. How many is a half dozen. What is 50% of 150. Plus other similar mind-blowing, difficult, major league, scholarly questions. Most applicants (teens to adults) fail the screening exam.

I have taught high school in my state for 26 years. His results absolutely do not surprise me. And we are getting worse, not getting better- I do not care WHAT the government pundits are telling you about improving test scores.

Our schools took out career/life classes like shop and home economics. They replaced them with curriculum that presupposes all of our students are headed off to college. Yeah, right. The governor of Georgia just released his new “mission goals” for Georgia schools. It includes the statement that ALL Georgia students will earn college or career credit before they complete high school. “•Every child in Georgia will earn college and/or career credit before they graduate high school.” Yeah, right.

Our school’s students get multiple, multiple chances to complete work, including retaking major tests. Try that in real life – unlimited do-overs. Only GOD is that kind. And, as a teacher, I am forbidden by my school administration to assign a score of zero when a student turns in nothing for an  assignment. I have to assign them points of credit – for NOTHING. Last time I checked, breathing was not an academic activity.

What I am allowed to teach in the courses I am employed to teach is mandated by the state government. I cannot teach reading to a child who cannot read. LITERALLY, not my job. I am teaching pre-Engineering. ONLY. Even though I am also state certified in English, grades 6-12.

I try. Invoking the overarching academic goal of literacy skills, I  require my students to write reflection essays in MLA format over their Engineering assignments. I have high school students who cannot write ONE correct and complete sentence, much less a coherent essay. Some cannot even to this day capitalize their first and last NAMES on a paper. I wish I was lying. And this, from native speakers of English. Our Spanish native speaking kids are blowing the American-born kids out of the water. Let’s not even discuss the MATH. I have taught how to figure the square yardage needed to replace the carpet in a room EIGHT SEPARATE TIMES, and still have high school students in the class who cannot compute it correctly. Carpet sellers, you may freely rook customers in south Georgia, because they have no clue you are going to cheat them. Have at it.

And the beauty of this? The government, and most parents, will tell you it is the teacher’s fault, all of it.

Yeah, right.

4 more years.

4 more years.

My mantra.

567: Travel Deals

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I have been subscribing to a travel website for years now that I would like to share. It is free to subscribe to travelzoo.com’s weekly e-mail posting of what they consider to be the Top Twenty travel deals that they found by canvassing hundreds and hundreds of travel companies world-wide. The weekly post arrives via e-mail every Wednesday, and highlights twenty or more local and/or international travel deals that are often astonishingly inexpensive.

To be fair, often they are at times during the year when I cannot travel, being a schoolteacher – travel companies tempt travelers to travel at non-peak times with extra good discounts, and usually, those are times when I am tied to my job and can’t go. However, if it is a time when I can go, the deals are spectacular!

I have booked and traveled with Travelzoo’s recommended deals several times over the last few years and I have been thoroughly pleased with each trip.Often the trip packages offered through the site’s recommended agencies include airfare, accommodation, taxes, fees and excursions, and some are all-inclusive resorts that include entertainment, sports and all you can eat and drink into the bargain.

To sign up for the free weekly e-mail and see the great travel deals yourself, go to http://www.travelzoo.com and register for free. They have departments of the company located in various parts of the world, so there are e-mail deal packages especially for people who live in Europe, or in the USA/Canada, or in Asia, for example. They also offer local deals for you based on your identified zip code, which means for me that I see extra travel and entertainment deals in the southeastern USA, and in Atlanta, Georgia, especially.

Have fun planning your next exotic (and cost-conscious) destination!