Sunday, August 5, 2018

A Year Later

It's been a little over a year since we moved here and the "firsts" that came at me fast and furious have given way to a feeling of settling in and finding my comfort zone.  Last year we went to the Backyard BBQ and knew few people. This year we were working at the economic development booth with Mayor Sue. 

Attending city council meetings opened up doors to a lot avenues for community involvement and "getting to know you" opportunities. In between experiencing countless new life experiences I also joined a book club, a garden club, and the Lions Club.  I agreed to serve on the RSVP board; the pirate joined too as well as he joining the Salvation Army board. We both pushed for fundraising for the county GED program, with modest success. He joined American Legion and started attending two different morning prayer groups (at the Methodist Church and H.S. Smith Funeral Home). 

Change has loomed large over our household.  Don trucked forward with personal projects but overall for me it was a lot harder.  In recent  days I've thrown a bit of a pity party for myself as I struggled to put my old life behind me. Certain people in my immediate circle (yes, I actually made a circle of friends - no small feat at 70) will testify to that.   But I got through it and rediscovered, yet again, that life never, ever stands still. 

The thing that got me going in the right direction again was reactivating my daily prayer life. There's nothing like reconnecting with God's friendship to clear the cobwebs of confusion that can cloud the mind. Change is God's challenge to me to look forward, not backward. It's His challenge to me to keep the good memories of the past IN the past.  

Change is never easy, especially when it sneaks up on you. Today is certainly that kind of day. Today we learned, at church, that our much loved Fr. Jarek (our pastor of nine years) would not be returning to us now that his sabbatical is completed.  While we wish him well on the next path of his priesthood, we also know that our small Catholic community is in for a change.  Change will be harder for some than for others but it's our job as members of our parish community to help and support those who will have a hard time dealing with change.  It is also our job to welcome our new and young priest, Fr. Dominic, to the community since he was, no doubt, as surprised by the assignment as we were by the loss of Fr. Jarek. 

I've learned a lot about change this past year and I'm grateful to this man who had the wisdom to guide me back into my prayer life. It arrived just in time.

At this point now, California Girl will start appearing more intermittently.  The learning curve of small town living had peaked and I seemed to have landed in a comfort zone much to my liking.  The past is in the past and my present reality is finding a pace that is comfortable and keeps me moving forward and looking outward.  There will always be something for me to say and I won't be shy about sharing it here. You've all been so warm and kind since our arrival and that has made it very easy for me to find my place in the fabric of the community of Caruthersville.

Friday, August 3, 2018


Moving here
I was challenged
I was uncertain and anxious
People reached out
I reached back
Now I'm making a
Whole new life.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Hidden Beauty

Sometimes the words just don't come. That's when I turn to my camera. Have a nice week, everyone.

Monday, July 23, 2018


There are few things that make a Catholic more curious than who a new, incoming priest will be.  With Fr. Jarek, of Sacred Heart parish, going on sabbatical this year, after Easter, we knew two things.  We knew we would have substitute priests all summer and we didn’t know if Father Jarek, after 8 or 9 years, would actually be reassigned to us upon his return. It's not always easy being a Catholic parish in a southern rural community so, generally, change isn't welcomed.  It was difficult enough having to share Fr. Jarek with the church in New Madrid but having to share a potential unknown made it even more difficult.

In California, the sharing of a priest isn't at all typical.  It's not unheard of but it's definitely not typical. A higher population equals a higher number of Catholics through the state which means a higher number of priests, both homegrown and from elsewhere.  The numbers aren't nearly as high as those prior to the turbulent 60s and the winds of change 70s, but high enough that most parishes had their own priest(s). Not so in Missouri.

We Catholics, in Missouri, are either clustered in large urban centers or spread out over wide geographic areas.  It's also not unusual for a priest to cover two or more parishes.  I can think of at least one priest who covers five small parishes.  Needless to say, the man is spread thin.  But, the low number of priests in Missouri is not the topic here.  No, the topic this week is about what a Blessing they are.  In the last 12 weeks that Fr. Jarek has been absent (and YES, he is returning to us) we have been blessed with not one, not two, but three remarkable men of God.

Our first temporary priest was Fr. Samsom who was from elsewhere in Missouri via Haiti.  A man of infectious laughter and humor, his tri-lingual accent was a serious challenge to us.  But, despite his Creole French, Spanish, and English being at war with each other, in the few short eight weeks, he was with us, his English improved in leaps and bounds.  The key was getting him to slow down and certain parishioners weren't shy about showing him the way.  As a consequence, we heard stories of Haiti over many evening meals 2-3 nights a week.  We discovered Haitian history from the point of view of the Haitian people and found it quite at odds with what we might have grown up thinking.  We learned of missionary experiences in Africa and Venezuela, heard stories of language and custom encounters that were, to say the least, hair-raising.  And I'll never forget the night at Little Pizza Heaven when a woman who recognized his French-influenced accent, greeted him with a "bonjour".  Before our eyes, we watch them become temporary best friends, bound together as they were by a common language, something that none of us could offer him.

It's always a mystery who is going to be assigned when a priest goes elsewhere.  Our current priest, Fr. Dominic was another complete surprise.  Born in Nigeria and raised in St. Louis, his command of English is impeccable.  This isn't surprising since English is the national language of Nigeria.  Yes, there are many tribal languages but everyone speaks English. One very attentive 7-year-old said in Mass one Sunday, when he first heard him, that he could understand him.  Leave it to a 7-year-old to blurt it out in pure innocence and delight.  It was a sweet moment.  Though not as social a man as Fr. Samsom, Fr. Dominic is young (very young), friendly, and knows how to send a great message.  We Catholics like that.  It's important to not only hear the gospel of the day but also to hear a homily that connects the readings and gospel and shows their relevance to modern life.  We have the blessing of Fr. Dominic for a couple more weeks and I, for one, will be very tuned in to what this young man has to say.

This past weekend we were treated to our third blessing, Fr. Bill Spencer, a Franciscan missionary, both in the USA and internationally.  Anyone who might have spotted him around this weekend would have immediately recognized what he was as he wore the traditional brown robe, belt of rope, and sandals of a Franciscan Friar.  Think "Friar Tuck" - seriously - and you would have seen our man.  He grew up in NE Louisiana where, at the time, 1/10th of one percent of the population was Catholic.  Suffice it to say that growing up Catholic in northeast Louisiana at that time, was interesting.  Fr. Bill had already been scheduled to make a mission appeal at our parish so Fr. Dominic was elsewhere and we got a taste of where we fit into the role of a shepherd.  It isn't just the priests and higher-ups guiding their flocks; it is us, as well.  We are all called to be shepherds to each other and his homily from St. Paul clearly showed us the connection and the message.  It wasn't until the end that he slipped in his mission appeal and hoped we would be generous with this small opportunity to, for a moment, be a shepherd to the world.

I love it when a priest leaves us laughing.  Between sharing war stories about quitting smoking and not drinking coffee anymore, everyone acknowledged that Franciscans also make the best craft beers and ales around.  Conversation at donuts and coffee after Mass was lively and filled with laughter.  Fr. Bill fit my idea of a friar.  Not only did he remind me of Friar Tuck visually, he also reminded me of his heart - brave, true, and filled with humor - Characteristics I've always personally equated with Franciscans.

So, these past many weeks have been exciting for us.  We have been treated to stories of danger and suspense, thrills and chills, drama, history, and humorous stories of unexpected encounters and misunderstandings based on language confusion and lack of awareness of social customs.  It has been a lively and blessed time.  All that worry and fretting for nothing. Three men at bat. Three home runs  It's been a great summer but, we sure are excited to know that Fr. Jarek will be home soon.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bringing Our Sales Tax Home

When we moved to Caruthersville, it didn't take me long to start asking myself why there was so little industry here.  It wasn't absent in the surrounding area so beyond lack of community self-promotion, it was a puzzle.  One part of the puzzle was 'why on earth is the Wal-Mart building still standing empty after being vacant for 19 months?'.  After six months of attending City Council meetings followed by a change in city administration, I started to glean the answer.

Back home, a small sales tax increase was pointed at gaining one single objective.  The library tax comes to mind.  What once was a library of limited hours and employees, is now a thriving local library that is still going strong.  Here, we have a similar need but one that is much more vital - our need for clean and well-treated water.  C'ville is a small community with limited access to growth because of our inability to provide sufficient water to large commercial investors.  With the loss of the Wal-Mart, we lost a key source of funding for our community.  We also lost jobs and easy access to basic household goods.  Now shopping trips involve planning and extra gasoline output.What we don't think about is the higher sales tax we pay when we shop out of town, tax dollars that support another town's needs, not our own.

Caruthersville's current sales tax is 8.75%/ dollar spent. The four most used shopping areas near us are Kennett (8.975%), Blytheville, AR (10.5%), Dyersburg, TN (9.75%), and Hayti (9.47%).  The city's proposed 1/2 cent sales tax increase would raise our sales tax to 9.25%, an amount that is still lower than the areas immediately surrounding us.  

This tax increase isn't a frivolous one and involved months of discussion, looking at other options, and planning.  Our water and sewage departments are in difficult straits and it is only the talent, dedication, and creativity of its men in the plants and rendering ponds that keep things going. 

Many of you remember the tornado of 2006 that devastated our town.  The loss of utilities left many of you without electricity for weeks.  What we are facing now is a different sort of tornado; it is one fueled by the relentless winds of time.  The system is old and at service capacity.  If we ever hope to bring jobs and prosperity back to Caruthersville, we must repair, update, and expand our water capacity and its companion, waste water treatment. Water is the gold standard of any community. A community's survival rises and falls with its water capacity.  Coming from California where water wars are historic, on-going, and as hazardous as any Grand Theft Auto video, believe me, I know.  I've lived it.

A 1/2 cent sales tax equals only 1 penny for every two dollars spent.  You won't even notice it but the benefits to the community will be immense and very noticeable. Water equals security, jobs, and growth, something that I think we all deserve.

So, inform yourselves. Go to the city council meetings.  If you get off work at five, arrive late. No one cares if you are late. Read the minutes to the meeting which always appear in the following Wednesday paper.  Go to the open forum scheduled  at one of the following locations:

 July 19th, 6 p.m.
Information tour at the Industrial Park location.
Hot dogs and beverages will be served

July 26th, 6 p.m.
American Legion Post 88 on Truman Blvd. Paul Shaw and Richard Lee will be presenting the program.

August 2nd, 6 p.m.
Caruthersville Public library in the Baxter Theatre
Paul Shaw and Richard Lee will be presenting the program

August 3rd
Backyard BBQ Booth - Information and photo booth

August 6th, 6 p.m.
Tour of 3rd street water plant. Hot dogs and beverages served as well.

And last but not least  . . .

Read recent past issues of the Pemiscot Press.  The information there is detailed and informative. The coverage is also available on-line at

I cannot think of a single more vital need for our community than an improved water and waste management system.  We only have one water power plant.  This plan also includes the reactivation of the 3rd Street Plant.  If our current, Industrial Park Plant, ever went off-line, we would be in another tornado situation.  Please vote on August 7th and support the 1/2 cent sales tax increase.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Condition of Light

I've been thinking about light lately.  I remember, back home, there was a particular crossroad that had a certain quality of light from time to time that took my breath away.  Maybe it was an especially clean air day combined with a recently irrigated field.  I really don't know.  All I am sure of is that when I saw it, it was special. and for many years that crossroad was one of my happy places.  I had learned to watch for it. Light makes us feel safe.  We know exactly where we are.  We don't necessarily have a sense of direction that tells us where to go (yes, I'm raising my hand) but we can see what is around us including the slow movement of the sun as it points the way.

Darkness is a different matter. When a bird recently flew into the pool area at the local recreation center, I couldn't imagine how Nikki, the lifeguard, would show it the way out.  But the next work morning, Nikki located the bird.  Yes, it was still alive, having survived the weekend enclosed with no access to food.  She turned out all the interior lights and opened the side door to the dawning light. That scrap of light was all it took to orient the little guy and out he flew.  I  bet he was very hungry.

The night is a different matter.  I'm not afraid of darkness though I must admit that lightning makes me very uneasy.  Thunder and lightning was not a storm staple back home.  Oh, we had intermittent rumbles and flashes but nothing like here where the night can turn into an eerie sort of daylight that keeps coming at you in waves until the storm passes.

When I was a child, we drove cross country several times and my earliest memory is associated with desert night skies and blinking stars.  There is absolutely nothing so breathtaking for me as a desert sky on a moonless night.  The stars inhabit the sky like fireflies that never go out.  We didn't have fireflies where we moved from and I find this curious. 

 The Central Valley is agricultural as it is here. Lots of fireflies here but none there.  I can't chalk it up to dry and intense heat because my friend Sue, in Texas, has lots of fireflies.  I really have no idea. It's one of life's little mysteries.  But now, the June nights have become special to me like that particular crossroad back home and whenever I see a firefly, I have to smile. They are like a nighttime wink reminding me that life is always an exciting adventure and I sure won't argue with that.

I've had my share of adventures since landing here, some dramatic like climbing into a cotton picker and some quiet and close to the earth like the first time I discovered we had little brown frogs in our yard.  That was actually pretty cool for me and I would have loved sharing that moment with my grandsons.  They would have been wowed right along with their Gran'ma.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

I'm Back

Taking a couple of weeks off refreshed me.  Along the way, I had some interesting experiences and met some nice people.

Caruthersville has a surprisingly deep well of talent. Not only can we claim established artists, Gary Lucy and Pennie Brantley, we can also claim bragging rights to well-known comedian and actor, Cedric the Entertainer.  It doesn't take long, after meeting him, to realize that he is, certifiably, one of the good guys.

Someone else I met recently is a gentleman named Benny Bell.  I've always been partial to the dance arts and was glad when my son decided to study dance for a few years.  It's good to see Mr. Bell battling his way back from injuries. I hope to see you dancing again, though perhaps not quite so dramatically, and inspiring another generation of male dancers.
Alongside the artists, dancers, and actors, we also have a fair number of published writers.  Ann Stokes (born a slave) contributed to Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 10 written and compiled from 1936-1938.  One of our current City Councilmen, Josh Rittenberry, has written three books and is working on a fourth.  His books can be found on Smashwords. Our librarian, Teresa Tidwell, is in print.  You can find her on Amazon.  And I have a book of meditations through Blurb

We can also call R&B, Soul, and Jazz singer Donna Hightower our own singer/songwriter who recorded on the Decca and Capital labels.  Miss Hightower also had a successful career in Europe. She passed away in 2013.  Also in the music scene from Caruthersville is Reggie Young, a leading sessions musician who has recorded with Elvis, Herbie Mann, Dionne Warwick, and Johnny Cash, just to name a few.  At 81, Mr. Young is still making music in the Memphis area.

Also to be noted is the screenwriter, Wendell Mayes.  While not born in Caruthersville, he almost was since he was born in Hayti, right next door.  That is close enough to claim bragging rights.  His first writing credit was the Billy Wilder film, "The Spirit of St. Louis".  Not too shabby for a first film credit.  He also wrote, "Anatomy of a Murder" for which he received an Oscar nomination in 1960.  His name can be found on many notable and recognizable film titles including The Posidean Adventure (the original).  Mr. Mayes died in 1992.

And, finally, while not an entertainer, I had to include James Oliver, because I just think this is a really big deal.  Mr. Oliver (born in 1914) was a zoologist, herpetologist, and educator who served as director of the American Museum of Natural History - NYC, directed the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo) and was director of the New York Aquarium.  Mr. Oliver passed away in 1981.

While busying myself learning about C'villes many notable individuals from the past I also managed to finally get myself back upstairs.  Moving is hard work and for me, boring work.  Sorting, organizing, and tossing is a seriously boring business.  This is especially true because of the neverendingness of it. Yeah, I made up that word and told spellcheck to ignore it.  Anyway . . . fortunately, since moving here, shopping has slowed considerably.  My love of thrifting is pretty much a thing of the past and this makes the Pirate very happy.

I continue to learn that plans can be changed in an instant when a 100% chance of rain in pronounced (NOT predicted) and then turns into a piffle.  I've also learned that it's a good idea to call ahead to the produce businesses to make sure they are actually opened.  I've gone on produce trips twice now and both times left disappointed.  Thank you, rain, for delaying the bounty that is peaches and pears.

The best part of this little break, however, was my growing acquaintance with fireflies.  They have been stirring up a lot of desert night skies memories and I believe I'll be writing more about that next week.

A Year Later

It's been a little over a year since we moved here and the "firsts" that came at me fast and furious have given way to a feeli...