Our Thanksgiving trip south took us through the Harbor Tunnel in the Crab Cake Capitol of the World, Baltimore, Maryland (aka Bodymore, Murderland), and Washington D.C.

On the drive past D.C., the Washington Monument was slightly visible on the horizon. On the way back we were so close to it that we could almost count its bricks. As we drove through the area at a snail’s pace, I told Denene that I hoped the bumper-to-bumper barely moving traffic traveling in the opposite direction would ease up before our return trip. It did not.

By the way, in July of this year, the murder rate in Washington D.C. was up approximately 50%. Included in the 90 murdered at the midway part of the year was 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson, who was shot and killed in a quintuple shooting in Northeast D.C

Then came Northern Virginia where traffic moves at snail’s pace on a good day. But hey, the Commonwealth still boasts it’s for lovers. Tell that to the families of the victims killed in a state that can claim one of the highest murder rates in the country, per capita. In fact, in the 1990s, Richmond found its way to being ranked number two in the nation. As far back as 2012, there was a a 1 in 23 chance of being the victim of a crime if you lived in the city of Fredericksburg, Va.

I remember having to step across blood-soaked sidewalks to question suspects and witnesses in one Richmond housing complex. In fact, to simply question a man who had information about a stolen tractor trailer, well, we went in deep—several police officers and a K-9 unit just to be certain I’d make it to the front door and back. And that was in the middle of the day on a weekday. Weekends were worse, especially at night.

Anyway, next came our wonderful visit with family members. This Thanksgiving was the first opportunity in a long, long time that Denene and I had been together with all members of our immediate families. And, as many of you know, we have a lot to be thankful for this year.

While in the south we were reminded of things we’d left behind, such as cotton fields that stretched as far as the eyes could see.

And there were the BBQ restaurants featuring buffets piled high with black-eyed peas and stewed tomatoes, pigs feet and fatback, chicken livers, collard greens, homemade rolls and biscuits, and gallons of sweet tea.

On Thanksgiving day, among many other dishes, we feasted on smoked and fried turkey, corn fresh from the family farm, sweet potato casserole, country ham, and even homemade corn pudding, and a delicious chocolate chess pie baked by our daughter Ellen.

Since I’m not able to handle a lot of movement due to my failing and extremely painful hip joint (surgery is scheduled for January 3rd), my mother-in-law’s home was the center of all activity. My brother and his wife and Ellen and her family all visited with us there, in addition to Denene’s brothers’ families that now include several little ones (I received my very first lesson on how to make homemade “Slime” from a cute 7-year-old).

I cannot begin describe the intense warmness I felt in my heart when I saw both my mother-in-law and our daughter, two people who’ve faced terrific battles with cancer over the past year. And to have them prepare food for us and to see their smiles and to hear their laughter was nothing short of the miracle for which we’d all prayed.

Then came the time for our trip to end so we loaded the vehicle and made our way back through Richmond and Washington and Baltimore. The weather during the drive back was  not at all good. Raindrops the size of garden peas pelted and drilled at our vehicle the entire trip. Visibility was poor and for well over two solid hours we crawled along at no more than 20 mph.
There was a sea of brake lights in front and sea of headlights to the rear.

But we made it home safely. We even made it through Richmond, D.C., and Baltimore without seeing the first sign of gunfire.

Not a single bullet hole in our vehicle.

 

 

Morning parade.

Smiling faces.

Squealing children.

Marching bands.

Turkey.

Pumpkin pie.

Eggnog.

Football.

Pistol. Badge. Vest.

Kiss the kids, please.

And save a drumstick for me.

I’m almost home.

 

Family.

Traveling.

Traffic.

Bumper-to-bumper.

Smiling faces.

Squealing children.

Grandma’s cooking.

Turkey.

Yams.

Pumpkin pie.

Crackling fire.

Football.

Kevlar. Radios. Sirens.

Kiss the kids, please.

And save a drumstick for me.

I’m almost home.

 

Drunk drivers.

Speeding drivers.

Texting drivers.

Careless drivers.

Aggressive drivers.

Sleepy drivers.

Depressed drivers.

Distracted drivers.

Reckless drivers.

Road rage.

Horrible crash.

An entire family,

Gone.

 

Tangled metal.

Little ones.

Mother and father.

Teddy bear.

A doll.

A plastic truck, too.

Those poor children.

They’ll never go home again.

Yes, save a drumstick.

Hug our kids.

Tell them I love them.

I’ll be home,

Later.

 

10-4.

Send the coroner.

Five victims.

No rush.

I’ll stand by.

Nothing I can do.

Those poor children.

No turkey.

No pumpkin pie.

No football.

Never again.

They were almost home.

Almost home …

 

Have fun, stay safe, and remember our veterans, the men and women who make the sacrifices that make it possible for us to enjoy this and all holidays. And please, especially remember the vets, police officers, and other victims of horrifying life-altering events who’re suffering from PTSD. Those sudden backyard booms and bangs of home fireworks are instant triggers for many, me included. What’s fun for some is devastating for others.

So, without further ado … The Oak Ridge Boys and Colors.

“Now I’ve seen people treat her like she was some old rag, clueless to the human sacrifice.

But you’ll always find a mother, a widow, a child, a sister or a brother with a carefully folded teardrop in their eyes.”

“Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.” ~ June 14, 1777, Second Continental Congress resolution.

And now, the Oak Ridge Boys …

“Through the rain, through the sun, these colors never run.”

Merry Christmas, everyone! And, as you sit down to dinner tonight with your family, remember that, according to this fun holiday tune by legendary Oak Ridge Boys, it’s Uncle Luther who makes the best stuffing …

 

Candies, cakes, and eggnog.

Turkey, ham, and stuffing.

Pumpkin pie.

My favorite.

Family, friends, and sleeping dog on hearth.

Fireplace crackles.

Cedar logs sizzle.

Cookies and milk.

Laughter, giggles, and squeals.

Stockings and gifts.

Silent wishes and happy, hopeful dreams.

Home.

Wish I was there.

Pepper spray, handcuffs, and puking drunks.

Radios, shotguns, and TASERS.

Spouses abused.

Battered.

Black eyes and broken bones.

Not their fault.

Dealers, robbers, and sad, pitiful kids.

No toys.

Lots of drugs.

Crack pipes burning.

No place to sleep.

No food, no heat.

Gunshots and stabbings.

Car crashes and suicides.

Crying, bleeding, and dying.

Ambulances, hospitals, and morgues.

Home.

Glad I have one.

Aren’t you?


Please remember the many police officers, fire crews, rescue workers, hospital staff, and all others who work to keep us safe during the holidays.

And, thanks so much to each of you who’ve helped our daughter’s battle with cancer through donations, prayers, gifts, and healing thoughts. She’s quite ill, her hair is now gone, and the pain she endures daily is intense, but her sweet smile still lights up a room, and my heart. 

Ellen, prior to receiving chemo.

Here’s how you, too, can help Ellen (our daughter). I cannot begin to stress the importance of each and every dollar. No donation is too small. Click here to help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys are the best and I don’t know how we’d make it through this without you!

 

A Child in Need

The call—a child in need of services.

What I found was a child in need of love.

His house, held together by random lengths of mismatched clapboard-siding, sat at the end of a hard-packed red clay path. Shreds of tar-paper and rusted tin covered most of a rain-blackened plywood roof. Four spray-painted cinder-blocks served as a front stoop.

The front door had no knob or lock. Just a curved metal handle, worn slick from years of pulling and pushing. A brick propped against its bottom held the door closed. Someone, I’m not sure who, “locked it” when they left.

I knocked.

“Come in,” a little voice said.

It was just days before Christmas and there was no tree.

No presents.

There was no food.

No running water.

No cabinets. No stove.

No refrigerator. No beds.

No drywall. No insulation.

Just bare studs and rafters.

A small dented and soot-caked kerosene heater fought a losing battle against a cold December evening. Two milk jugs used for holding fuel sat near the splintered front door. Both empty. The heater’s gauge rested at one notch above E. The weak orange flame would soon fade away. The temperature outside was 20, and dropping.

A tattered blanket and two patchwork quilts. Threadbare and slick from wear.

No winter coats. No hats, nor gloves.

Dirty window panes.

One missing, replaced by a square of cardboard.

Dish towel curtains.

A hardware store calendar, two years old.

A cooler with no lid.

Mom, passed out on the floor.

A bottle of bourbon, its contents long gone.

A pipe for crack.

“Mama says daddy will come home … someday.”

A dog. All ribs and backbone.

The floor, bare.

No rugs, no toys. ­

A table.

Two chairs.

A book.

Some paper.

The boy, writing.

Cigarettes.

A saucer for ashes, overflowing with discarded butts.

A deck of ragged playing cards.

Roaches. Up, down, there and here.

Mouse. Unafraid.

A squalling baby.

The bugs, they’re there, too.

The stench.

A tin lard bucket in the corner.

A checkered cloth on top.

A half-empty roll of Scotts.

The only bathroom indoors.

“You writing a letter?”

A nod.

“To your Dad?”

“No, to Santa.”

“Mind if I have look?”

He held it up for me to see.

“Your handwriting is very nice.”

A smile.

Dear Santa,

Don’t worry about the bicycle I asked for.

Or the Tonka trucks and new coat.

And I don’t even like video games anymore.

Or DVD’s and toy trains.

I’m too big for those things now.

‘Sides, some men came and took the TV. Said Mama couldn’t pay for it no more. The ‘lectric neither.

What I’d really like is a warm blanket for my brother. He needs some milk too. And some medicine to make his fever go away. And could you help my Mom some? She needs to stop drinking and smoking. I wish you could make those men leave her alone too. They get all lickered up and hit her and do things to her that make her cry. Maybe you could bring my mom a coat for Christmas this year. She don’t have one and she gets cold when she walks down the street to get her cigarettes and that other stuff she smokes. And if you don’t mind too much could you bring my daddy something to eat. He don’t never have no money. And if you see God while you’re up there flying around please tell him to say hi to my baby sister. And ask him to tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t make Mama wake up and take her to the hospital. If you can do all that, don’t worry about bringing me nothing. That stuff will do just fine.

Your friend,

Jimmy Lee Bailey

Jimmy Lee Bailey was definitely in need of some love. And when Christmas morning rolled around he got his Tonka trucks, a bicycle, and a new coat. He also enjoyed a nice meal before moving to his new home. All courtesy of the guys who patrolled the graveyard shift.

It's our anniversary: If it ain't broke... don't break it, again

January 14th is a date I’ll never forget. Six years ago today, on our wedding anniversary, is the day Denene broke her leg. And boy did she ever do it right. Broken in three places. Surgery. Plates, pins, and screws. Lots of physical therapy, a wheelchair and crutches, and a blue cast. Believe me, it broke my heart to see her like that.

Well, January 14th has rolled around again and all is well, and I’m going to be watching every step she takes today. No more slip ups!

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to take a peek at just a few of the many places we’ve been over the years. And you know what…we’ve done some traveling! Lots of hiking, walking, climbing, paddling, driving, flying, and boating to get to some of these spots. Shoot, we’ve even stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

How about you? Recognize any of these sights?

Pacific Coast Hwy/Big Sur.

Washington State, overlooking the San Juan Islands. We found the spot by parking the car and taking a walk through some pretty dense woods. What a pleasant surprise when we reached this clearing.

The bridge to Mt. St. Helens.

Somewhere in the thick of the Cascades in Washington State. Another hike. A very looonnngggg hike.

Boston skyline.

Sydney, Australia

Hearst Castle swimming pool. San Simeon, California.

Okay, you know where this was taken, right…

Grand Canyon during a cross country RV trip.

Somewhere in Arizona.

Heading south on Hwy 1 from San Jose, California.

Jockey’s Ridge, N.C.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Santa Barbara, California.

Sunset in Capitola, California (Think Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS).

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Tybee Island, Ga., with a hurricane passing by just off the coast.

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St. Augustine, Fl.

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A greeter at the Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Ga.

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Aboard the deck of a Mighty Midget – Mare Island, Ca.

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Cliffside, near San Francisco.

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Somewhere we shouldn’t have been. And far, far too close!

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On an island, enjoying the sunset…

I truly cherish every day of our time together, and here’s to many more years of joy.

Happy Anniversary, Denene!

We wore swim caps to celebrate the new year

The Guinness world record for the largest gathering of people wearing swim caps was set in July of 2011, in Japan. The number was 546. Well, Denene and I were part of a group of people who crushed that number. That’s right (doing a little dance now) we toppled the former record when 2049 swim-cap-wearing folks stormed the beach beside the pier at Tybee Island, Ga. The rest, as they say, is now history, and we have the paperwork (and swim caps) to prove it. That’s right, Denene and I are listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

What kind of people show up on a holiday weekend to break a world record? Probably not the average Joe, or Jane…

Bringing up the rear were…

The horn sounded and we’d done it. A new record was set and…

It was time for the Polar Plunge. The water temperature was a mild 55 degrees, with air temps hovering in the mid-70’s. Not very polar-like, but everyone had a blast.

Even a sergeant from the Massachusetts State Police drove down to take the plunge, in uniform.

Now, as promised…Denene and I wearing our swim caps. Another one for the record books.

Maybe I’ll wear the cap at the next WPA. Who knows?

Until then…Happy New Year!

 

 

The case of the midnight prowler

A few years ago our Christmas vacation took an odd and unexpected twist. First, we left fairly warm temperatures and sunny skies in coastal Georgia so we could spend some time at our house in North Carolina (near Mayberry, of course). Well, who would’ve expected that we’d be slammed with a pretty powerful winter storm, the same storm system that crippled much of the east coast. And who would’ve figured we’d have unexpected guests show up a little after midnight on our first night there.

Here’s what brought the middle-of-the-night guests to our snow-covered abode.

The snow was coming down quite heavily, and not only did it knock power out for several days, it placed a tremendous burden on the branches of several newly-planted evergreens in the backyard. The weight of the wet snow caused a few of the young trees to bend until their tops rested on the already white ground. And me, not wanting to lose either of those precious Deodar (Himalayan) Cedars, suited up and braved the cold and blowing snow to lend them a hand with their fight for survival. Sounds brave, but what I actually did was simply slip on a jacket, boots, and gloves, and venture out into the moonless night to shake the snow from their narrow branches (not so heroic after all, huh?).

Since I was already outside I also decided to clear a “restroom” spot for the family poodle, and I brushed several inches of snow from the satellite dish. Then, with my chores complete, I headed back inside where I sat near the toasty-warm fireplace to work on an in-progress writing project (thankfully, we had a generator, the only one in our neighborhood).

*I’m a late-night writer, which may account for the many errors seen on this blog.

Anyway, I settled into a comfortable chair with my laptop and was deep into my work when the doorbell began to ring, quite relentlessly.

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Remember, this was well after midnight during a heavy snowstorm when the roads were nearly impassible (our N.C. house was well into the depths of the county, situated in a lakeside community). Of course, my background immediately sent my cop-brain into overdrive. I began to think the worse.

 

Okay, it was late and I was really tired…

But, having lived the life of a trained observer and teacher of police officer safety and survival, I reverted back to my many years of training and did what any hyper-alert police officer would’ve done…I slowly and carefully peeked outside through the blinds to see who, or what, was ringing my bell so late at night.

I was surprised to see not one, but two snow-covered police vehicles idling in my driveway. I was also a little stunned to see that the officers had my house and yard brightly illuminated with their spotlights and takedown lights. AND they’d taken tactical positions around the house. The only thing missing was the bullhorn and the hostage negotiation team.

My first thought…hide the eggnog and rum cake. Second thought…put on something other than sleepwear. Third thought…Well, there was no third thought. I simply opened the door and stepped outside, in shorts, t-shirt, and with ten bare toes. It was around 25 degrees, so I slipped my hands into my pockets for a little warmth, leaving my toes to fend for themselves.

One of the officers, the one in charge, decided to approach me, cautiously. It was at this point when I realized they were awfully serious about something. A second officer—backup—walked up with his hand resting on his sidearm. I noticed the thumb break on his holster had been unsnapped.

His other hand gripped a can of pepperspray.

Very nice, polite officers. Both of them. Red-faced, buzz-cut, and full of “ready-for-any-and-all-action.” They were all about the business at hand.

Now, you tell me how you think the deputies handled this situation. Were their methods and questions appropriate? Did they ask enough questions? Too many? Were they safety-conscious? Anything wrong? Everything right? Here’s the basic conversation (questioning).

Officer #1 (speaking to me) – “Evening, sir. Wonder if you could tell me what you’re doing here?”

Me – “I live here.”

#1 – “But this house is vacant.”

Me – “No, I live here, but we have a home in another state as well. We’re back and forth between the two.”

#1 – “How long have you lived in this house?”

Me – “Two years, or so.”

#1 – “How long have you been here, on this trip?”

Me – “Since last week.”

#1 – “Who owns the house?”

Me – “I do. Would you like to see some ID?”

#1 – “No, that’s not necessary at this point.”

Officer #2  abruptly chimed in. “You’re not black.”

Amazed at his uncanny investigative/observation skills, I smiled, and then said, “No, I’m not.”

#2 – “You been outside tonight?” (Remember, I’d been out tending to the trees and to the doggy restroom, therefore, the yard was loaded with footprints in the snow).

Me – “I have.” (I explained).

#2 – “Someone called and said a black guy wearing a hoodie was walking around your house peeping in the windows. You seen anyone?”

Me – “No.” Tip…providing more information than what you’re asked can sometimes be the beginning of an all new black and white striped wardrobe.

#2 to #1 – “She must have seen him (a nod toward me) outside and thought it was someone else.” By the way, his use of the pronoun “she” let me know that it was one of my female neighbors who’d made the call to the sheriff’s office.

#1 uses his portable to call dispatch – “I’m talking to the homeowner. This is his house but he lives out of state and is in town here for a while. Everything’s 10-4.”

#1 to me – “Sorry we bothered you, but we have to check these things out. Have a good night.”

Me to #1 and #2 – “Thanks for coming out. Makes me feel good knowing you respond to these type of calls, especially since we’re not around all the time.” (I didn’t bother to tell him about our alarm system and the across-the-street neighbors who watched and checked the place like Pinkerton guards).

#1 and #2 in unison – “No problem.”

Me, again – “Sure you wouldn’t you like to see some ID?”

#1 – “No, we trust you. Have a good night, now.”

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And with head-nods and waves they turned their backs to me and walked to their patrol vehicles, leaving me standing barefoot on the front porch as they drove away. Shivering, with my hands still inside my pockets, I watched their taillights disappear around the curve.

The deputies, while extremely polite, left me with a few questions bouncing around inside my head. Anyone have an idea what those questions could be?

Would you have handled the call differently? If so, how?