Football

Andersonville Death Camp

Imagine a football stadium, maybe the bottom half of a two-decker. Cram 45,000 people into that arena, then lock the gates. Nobody can leave. Keep the people enclosed there for months, maybe a year. If anyone gets close to an outer wall of the compound, they have entered the Dead Zone and are immediately shot.

No one leaves.

Twenty-five acres total for thousands and thousands of God’s children crowded together. The only water available is a tiny, two-foot wide muddy rivulet that runs through the center of the newly formed camp. The stream serves as drinking water and sewer. Every day is worse than the day before. More men. More disease.

Nobody can leave.

Very little food is available for those within the walls of the stockade.

Nobody can leave.

Andersonville is a Prisoner of War camp. These are not, in spite of my metaphor, sports fans forced to live together in a confined space after a football game for a few hours or a few days, but United States soldiers being held captive in 1864. There’s not enough food or supplies for Southern troops, much less enemy combatants.

These prisoners are not criminals. They fought honorably.

Of the 45,000 imprisoned at Andersonville, 13,000 died. Within months. Dysentery. Starvation. Murder.

Through the years, I’ve often read about and seen at least one documentary concerning the Andersonville Prison. You can find videos on YouTube. I’ve wanted to visit there for the same reason I wanted to see a Nazi Concentration Camp—to be reminded of the horrors of war. I don’t ever want to be complacent about human atrocity. I want to be at least a small voice in the wilderness crying, “Stop. No. Enough.”

It’s strange how many Americans can tell you the names of Buchenwald and Auschwitz but who’ve never heard of Andersonville. It’s always easier to confess someone else’s sins.

I’m not a pacifist. But violence should be a last resort. There are codes of human decency, even during combat. I’d be glad to explain the Just War Theory to anyone who isn’t familiar with it. What happened at Andersonville was not just. It was evil, one of many immoral, criminal, foul results of the belief that some human beings are less human than others.

Attached to the Andersonville Prison site is a Prisoner of War museum. You can see both places in a single morning or an afternoon. But what you see there, I predict, will stay with you for a lifetime.

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Take My Breath Away

“The most completely lost of all days is that in which one has not laughed.” Nicolas Chamfort

Birthdays with a Zero in them are fine times for reflection. February 11, 2017, I turned 70.

I’ve enjoyed hundreds, thousands of moments that have taken my breath away. I’ve fallen in love and married. We’ve celebrated 44 anniversaries. I’ve watched the birth of two daughters. I baptized both of them.

I’ve been blessed to participate in the spiritual growth of many folks. I’ve helped alcoholics get sober. I’ve seen people whose lives were pure chaos find order, salvation and peace. I’ve watched rigid, self-righteous people discover grace. More importantly, I discovered grace for myself and for others.

In Mauritania, I got stuck in the Sahara Desert in a four-wheel drive vehicle. That might have taken my breath away but I found a small tent village and took a nap. You must have priorities!

I’ve watched Clemson win two National Championships in football. Exhilarating!

It’s a rush to hold a book you wrote that’s been published. I’ve had that privilege four times.

I survived two serious car wrecks, one with a fully loaded logging truck.

Sally and I were on a transatlantic flight when one of the plane’s engines blew. We heard it. No doubt about what had happened. Potentially breathtaking experience. Literally. When we landed, two dozen emergency vehicles followed our plane down the runway.

My two best friends died. Soul-crushing experiences. Even at their memorial services, we found ways to laugh.

I’ve listened to Ella Fitzgerald in concert. Magnificent.

I’ve seen Greg Maddux pitch. Incredible.

In Kenya, I’ve seen elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, and ostriches in their natural habitat. Wow!

On Folly Beach, South Carolina, I watched loggerhead turtles bursting from their brittle eggshells and clawing their way across the sandy beach into the Atlantic Ocean. Awe-inspiring.

With my grandson, Lake, we peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, then rafted on the Colorado River.

With my daughter, Julie, we watched whales and caught lobsters off the coast of Massachusetts. Incredible.

With my daughter, Jenna, my grandson Lake, and my wife Sally, we climbed to the top of Machu Picchu. Then, we hiked in the Amazon Rain Forest. Mindboggling experiences.

Two pieces of advice I got from Jerry and Jane Howington when I was a teenager: “Keep on keeping on” and “Hang in there.”

“I’m so excited. I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” The Pointer Sisters

Categories: Baseball, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Football, Humor, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

One Month in Connecticut, December 2016—Survived!

South Carolina friends asked me to keep them posted on my second winter sojourn into the great Frozen Northland, otherwise known as New England. It snowed again last night, about an inch where I live in the woods of Wilton, Connecticut. It’s not supposed to get above freezing for a week, with a low temperature predicted to be 9 degrees.

Wilton Baptist Church is the reason I’m here. There were 75 worshipers on Christmas Eve and 25 Christmas morning. Average attendance seems to be 35-45. The church is fully organized and functioning with different folks responsible for flowers, the Lord’s Supper, children’s choir, Sunday school classes, and other typical church activities. I’m impressed.

But, it’s a church, and there are always surprises. The congregation cannot support a full-time pastor without being creative. They own a manse (parsonage) where I am living, and they have made the difficult decision to sell it to help underwrite their salary expenses for the next three years. Property here is high, so that will provide a half-million dollars income ($500,000). Since I have been here, volunteers have been working day and night to paint and prepare the house to be sold for top market value.

Yesterday, our fine part-time secretary/administrative assistant told me she has a new fulltime job requiring her resignation here. Phooey. We will be sorry to lose her. She is a faithful and good worker, and we will need to replace her. Churches don’t just run themselves. People behind the scenes make organizations work.

Last week, the first Sunday of the New Year, a family of four joined the church. I’m having dinner with them tonight to talk about their faith journey. This is the fun part of being a pastor.

My friends want to know what kind of foolishness I’m up to with regard to sightseeing and traveling around the area. Facebook is the easiest way to participate in my over-sharing! I post too much there, I’m sure, but I enjoy the humor and the sometimes-lively discussion.

Sally flew up for our 44th anniversary and Christmas. The truth is we ate, slept and churched our way through the four or five days she was here. Oh, and we went to the movies to see LaLa Land, which we both liked. I was glad the Wilton folks got to meet Sally and she got to meet them.

I drove over to Boston to visit with Julie and Tom for two days and watched the Clemson-Ohio State game with them. Since I was a nervous wreck, I’m not sure that was exactly fun. But we won, so I’m going back over on Monday to watch the National Championship Game. Go Tigers!

Finally, I went into New York City. Because of poor planning, I went two days in a row. I had a ticket to see The Great Comet of 1812, a musical about a portion of War and Peace. The very next day, I had a ticket to Front Page starring Nathan Lane and John Goodman. Best part of either trip was a long subway ride to The Cloisters, a recreated Romanesque and Gothic showcase for Great Art. Not on most “must see” lists, but it has been my favorite thing in New York City so far.

 

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Missing Fuzzy

Seven years ago today, May 3, 2009, my best friend died. Fuzzy Thompson and I were roommates at Clemson. We were roommates after Clemson. After Sally and I were married, he ate more meals at our house than I can count. He was in our wedding. I spoke at his funeral.

Fuzzy spent Christmases with my family and went on vacation with us. We lived on the same side of town in Columbia, South Carolina, where his Orange Volkswagen Beetle with the “Fuzzy” license plate was ubiquitous. He threw at least three Big Parties annually—one during the Christmas season, one for the Super Bowl, and an end-of-school outdoor extravaganza known as the Porch Party. We had our last Porch Party after Fuzzy’s funeral. Actually, it was an important aspect of Fuzzy’s funeral.

I keep thinking I will write something longer, something funnier, something more substantial about Fuzzy sooner or later, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure why.

I’ve missed him even in New Hampshire. Memories there, too. He and I took a trip to New England one year at the peak of the fall leaf season. Sally taught school and didn’t take time off for all the destinations I wanted to see. So Fuzzy and I traveled together. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the beauty of the colorful mountainsides, then we’d argue about directions—turn right or left?

Fuzzy would have enjoyed many of my New England experiences this winter—especially the fine dining. Of course, he would have complained endlessly about other things. That, too, was part of his charm.

We traveled lots of miles together, literally and figuratively. Fuzzy went with my family to England, Scotland, and Wales one summer. We stayed six weeks, driving from London to Yorkshire to the Isle of Mull in Scotland and back again. When I wasn’t getting on Fuzzy’s nerves, my daughters were. Once, we stopped at a small museum in Wales and Fuzzy didn’t come inside with us. When we got back to the car, we realized we had locked him in. Apparently you can do that in English vehicles.

Sally and I celebrated her 40th birthday in Paris. Fuzzy was, of course, with us.

Fuzzy spent Christmases at the Aldridge’s for over thirty years. As a bachelor, he felt the need to cut some of the apron strings from his mother in Manning, South Carolina, so he started coming to our home in Batesburg on Christmas Eve. He helped me assemble play kitchens and bicycles and a hundred other toys for Jenna and Julie.

Together, Fuzzy and I went to the Holy Land, to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and a whole bundle of Clemson football games. We went to a John D. MacDonald/Travis McGee conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We chaperoned teenagers at a Young Life Camp in Colorado. Different events had different configurations. Ted Godfrey, Marty Kearse, Fuzzy and I shared season tickets to Clemson football games for over thirty years. The Wrights, the Shepherds, the Snellings, and other regulars tailgated with us in Tiger Town. Larry Abernathy, Fuzzy, and I took a baseball trip to the Northeast, seeing games in Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Camden Yards.

Not enough experiences. Not enough memories. Fuzzy died too young—at age 60. I still miss him, even in New Hampshire.

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Tonight’s Big Game

This is how sports fans think. (By the way, neither Jesus nor Buddha approved this message.)

Since Clemson plays Alabama tonight for the National Championship, I am in Big Game mode. Though I am not a superstitious person, I have certain clothes I have worn on each Game Day this season and we have a 14-0 record. Why take a chance? The socks are covered in tiger paws and the underwear is orange. The clothes, unlike those of seriously superstitious folks, are clean.

I traveled to Framingham, Massachusetts, to watch the game with my daughter Julie and my son-in-law Tom. This event is not to be watched alone in New Hampshire.

This morning, as always, I took a walk. As usual, I found money. Since I haven’t walked on these roads and in these parking lots in a while, the pickings were plentiful. Pennies here and there. A nickel. A couple of dimes.

28 cents, then,

33 cents, then, I began thinking like a sports fan. What if Clemson scored a point for every cent I found?

33 points? Not sure that was enough, I kept walking. 34, 35, 36 cents. 37, 38.

Ordinarily I love finding quarters and five-dollar bills. But I thought such gaudy numbers might invalidate my thesis.

Then I saw a dime. Perfect. 48 cents, 48 points. Sounds like enough to beat even Alabama.

That, for you sad souls who don’t follow sports, is how sports fans think!

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New York City: The Fourth Leg: July 2015

My grandson Lake, age 14, wasn’t so sure about going to New York City. He likes his familiar world of friends, soccer, soccer, and more soccer. One of my theories of childrearing is that adults are supposed to be smarter than kids. So far, so good.

Our itinerary called for us to come home from Boston to New York City to Washington, D.C. to Columbia, SC. Researching soccer venues for the relevant dates, I discovered that the New York Red Bulls were playing the New England Revolution in Harrison, New Jersey, a short subway ride from Times Square. So I bought the three of us, Jenna, Lake and me, tickets to the game. I didn’t care much about the game, except that I like most sports, but the decision gave Lake some buy-in to this leg of our trip. The journey to the stadium required a subway ride, which was also part of my agenda for a New York experience, so win-win.

The first 15 minutes in New York City were hairy. Jenna was driving and the traffic was, well, New York City traffic. Our hotel was near Times Square. After checking in, we walked there to catch the subway, and Lake was bowled over. Who wouldn’t be? A cowboy wearing a guitar and a jockey strap. Women wearing only body paint. Bright lights. Big city. Sensory overload. Tens of thousands of people.

We ate a very late lunch at Hard Rock Café which made Jenna happy. This was, after all, her vacation, too. Then, we had to catch a subway. The game was in New Jersey.

The home team won the game, but I learned Lake was pulling for the Revolution. Jenna and I didn’t care.

The next day we went to the observatory on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. Good way to see the city. We never made it to Central Park or the Statue of Liberty, for example, but we could had a panorama view of the entire city from that height.

We bought tickets to see the Lion King. The challenge had been which Broadway play would appeal to a 14-year-old boy. Lake liked it. I’m the one who slept through the first act.

In New York City, just walking down the street is a hoot. We went into soccer shops, cigar stores, shoe stores and, best of all, a random retailer that sold magnificent rock specimens—up to half a million dollars for a rock—and it wasn’t even a diamond. Beautiful, but I didn’t have that much money on me, so we just looked. We had supper and ate sushi with friends Chris and Bryan. We discovered Insomnia Cookies.

I think Lake will go back to New York City. Mission accomplished.

Tomorrow: Washington, D. C. The Fifth Leg of my summer excursions

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Boston: The Third Leg: July 2015

“Every teenager needs an adult friend.” That was a theme of Young Life, an organization that made a huge difference in my young adolescent life. Most kids get a pair of parents. Fortunately, both of mine were great. For good or ill, parents are the primary models for a young person’s life. Other adults come and go—teachers, coaches, youth ministers, even aunts and uncles. Few rise to the level of being close enough to teenagers to be major influences in their lives. One of the reasons gangs emerge is to fill the gap when there are no good adults stepping up to befriend teens during those turbulent years. I look back on my teenage years and am grateful for Jerry and Jane Howington and Uncle Tom and Aunt Mildred Hipps, four important adult friends and models for me.

During July, my oldest daughter Jenna and I drove her son Lake, my grandson, to Framingham (near Boston), Massachusetts, so he could spend a few days with his Aunt Julie and Uncle Tom, both of whom he adores. Sally did not go with us because, when Julie and Tom settled in Massachusetts, we decided to split our trips up so we would have more “touches” with them than if we always traveled there together. That’s worked out nicely. Also, on this trip, Jenna’s husband Thorne decided to fly up and spend a few days with us on the Boston portion of our adventure along the Northeast corridor.

Cooking and hanging out are generally the primary agenda when with Julie and Tom. On the trip up, Lake’s discovered the U.S. men’s soccer team was to play Haiti at Gillette Stadium (where the Patriots play) in Foxboro. Turned out to be a double header so we also saw Panama and Honduras, too. We ate a fine meal at the huge shopping mall attached to the stadium.

The next day, Lake and Julie made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. For dinner, Tom taught Lake how to shuck corn and Lake did it willingly. We went to the grocery store. How’s that for entertainment?

Board games are a big deal when Lake is with his aunt and uncle: Ticket to Ride and Apples to Apples.

Lake likes their cats: Athena and Magneto. Lake drives them nuts with the red laser pointer which the animals are glad to chase endlessly.

Hanging out.

The car trip (I always rent a car for long distances) from Columbia, SC to Framingham, MA takes 17 hours, driving through nine states (SC, NC, VA, MD, PA, WV, NY, CT, and MA) and the Shenandoah Valley. I think it was nine states and I’m sure it was the Shenandoah Valley. And I’m sure it was 17 hours. One way. Jenna and I split the driving.

Next Leg: New York City

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Scotland: The First Leg: June 2015

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Pastries in St. Andrews Scotland

An Anglophile is a person who likes England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I am an Anglophile   I’ve been lucky enough to fly to the British Isles at least a half-dozen times, staying as long as six weeks on one occasion. I return there whenever I can scrape together the money and an excuse.

The first international trip I took (that was not a group tour) was to London. We speak, more or less, the same language! My wife Sally and I did all the touristy things—Hampton Court, high tea at Harrods’s, pubs. My friend Fuzzy, who also made the trip, and I stood in a queue for three hours to get into Wimbledon. When we got to the entrance, we paid four pounds (six dollars) and fifteen minutes later, we were at Centre Court watching Chris Evert. In America, we would have been required to pay $2000 for the privilege of buying a ticket, then another $2000 for the ticket, and the seat would have been in the nose bleed section.

I love England and their values, their civility. I love their history which is, after all, our own history, up to a point—July 4,1776 precisely. I love their weather, at least when I’ve been there, which has never been in the dead of winter. I love their accents. I love the vistas and the quaint villages. I love their public transportation. I love their local shops. I love their pastries and cheeses. I’ve even been known to enjoy their peculiar peat-smoked whiskey.

My travels there included a six-week exchange with the Rev. Dr. Robin Routledge, a Baptist pastor in South Yorkshire. He and his family came to Columbia, SC, lived in our house, drove our car, and preached for Greenlawn Baptist Church for six weeks. We lived in his house, drove his car, and I preached at his church for six weeks. Jenna was about 17 and Julie age 9. We loved the experience.

Twice, I went to a continuing education conference at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Great weeks. Sally and Julie were with me for those trips. St. Andrews is the loveliest town in the world. One day, the director of the school informed us, “The Old Course will be open for strollers after dinner.” Can you imagine the Augusta National ever opening its hallowed gates to its neighbors so they could wander around the fairways? For free? Not in my lifetime.

For our thirtieth anniversary, Sally and I scheduled a week in Ireland. Randy and Diana Wright invited themselves to go with us and we gladly said, “Yes.” After all, it was our thirtieth anniversary, not our first.

Another year, Randy and I spent a week on the Isle of Iona, Scotland, for a retreat at one of the world’s thin places. A thin place is a location that seems to provide easier access to God, with not so thick a barrier, not as much stuff getting in the way between heaven and earth.

Peter May is a fine Scottish author who has written three mysteries (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen) about the Outer Hebrides, Scotland’s most westerly islands. His portrait of these remote, windswept, wet, dark islands fascinated me. I’d never been beyond the Inner Hebrides (Heh-breh-dees). I needed to be in Turkey this summer, and a bit of investigation showed it only cost $300 round-trip from Istanbul to Edinburgh. I bought the ticket and traveled solo on this portion of the trip.

The Outer Hebrides requires a lengthy ferry ride from Ullapool on the lonely northwestern coast of Scotland, a land of one-lane roads where sheep have the right of way. If two cars meet, one of them must pull to the side of the path so the other can pass. At the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie (a four star Bed and Breakfast isolated twenty-one miles from anywhere) I stayed in the room where Charlie Chaplain routinely vacationed. Because of the hotel’s isolation, it turned out to be supper, bed, and breakfast, which was fine since the dinner was six courses and exquisite, and the dining area overlooked a loch and small islands.

In the small restaurant, it was hard not to overhear the conversations of the other patrons, ten total, including a pair of newlyweds and an elderly couple. Later, I confirmed with the proprietor that the older woman has Alzheimer’s and her husband continues the tradition of bringing her to this beautiful retreat where they have been vacationing for decades.

The bookends of marriage.

Great food. Even breakfast was fine—haddock and poached egg over spinach with English style toast, coffee, etc. No haggis.

My stay on the island of Harris in the town of Stornoway was all I hoped it would be and shorter than I hoped it would be. The land tends toward bleak and spare, unlike the town itself which could easily be in a festive New England setting. I drove to see the Callanish Stones, another thin place and similar to Stonehenge, though not as popular because of its seclusion.

One of the reasons I travel is to get a feel for size. The distance between the Hebrides islands meant the ferry schedules were not going to allow me to lollygag as long as I wanted to, so I headed back to the mainland.

Found my way to St. Andrews. Ate cheese (from I. J. Mellis) and pastries (from Fisher and Donaldson). Visited Scone Palace and, of course, had a scone. Peacocks in the garden. Took a tour of a distillery that produces the rare Glenturret single malt Scotch.  Got off a secondary road and found a small village with a Pictish Stone–a Celtic Cross with the crucifixion on one side and creation on the other side.

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End of the first leg of my summer excursion. Second Leg was Turkey.

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My thoughts on the Confederate Flag recorded in Overcoming Adolescence, copyright 2011

One of those life-altering occasions occurred to me in college. I was a member of the Student Senate at Clemson University, and usually we debated such banal questions as whether or not the male Senators should wear a coat and tie to the meetings. Occasionally, to the chagrin of the Deans, we actually dealt with something of substance. In the late 1960’s overt racism was a larger fact of life on our conservative campus than drugs. In the Deep South, the Civil War, over 100 years in our past, still stirred far more emotion than World War II. The Second World War was history. The Civil War seemed like a current event. The Confederate Battle Flag was prominently and vigorously waved at our football and basketball games.

Someone put forth a motion in our Student Senate that flaunting the Confederate flag should not be allowed in our sports arenas. Ours was a newly integrated campus. I was against the motion. I was proud of my Dixie Heritage. I did not think of myself as a racist. I loved the Deep South. I loved our songs, our heroes, our food (grits, fatback, collards, barbeque, turnips, okra and cornbread), and the Rebel Yell (mine was louder than anybody’s). My accent, then and now, is deep-fried and smothered in red-eye gravy. I was and am about as Southern as a human can be!

But I was in college, getting a “liberal arts” education, and for the first time in my life, I was aware of a larger world. I had never been in school with a person of African heritage until I got to college. In my culture, we still used the “N” word casually.

A pretty Jewish coed sat beside me during the debate on the motion to ban the waving of the Confederate flag in the football stadium. She whispered to me, “Waving the Confederate flag in the face of a black person seems to me to be no different than waving a Nazi flag in my face.”

I had never thought about that! She was right. Period. I learned something that day. I voted for the resolution. I am pleased to say that Confederate flags are no longer waved at Clemson University on game day in the stadium.

Something shifted in me that day. I changed an old way of thinking. I grew up a bit.

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50th High School Reunion Reflections

50th High School Reunion Reflections

Marion D. Aldridge

Too many memories, not enough time. Even when your reunion planners schedule two events, there are still not enough hours. You can have quality conversation with three or four friends, but for everyone else, you give and get a handshake, a hug, and a “How are you doing?” Two minutes at most. It’s frustrating.

Rites of passage are usually for the young—Junior-Senior Prom, High School Graduation, even getting your driver’s license. But a 50th high school class reunion is a milestone like no other. Not all your friends made it this far.   Our class had 222 boys and girls walk out of Augusta’s Bell Auditorium after our graduation in 1965. We know of 41 deaths. Those of us who attended felt fortunate to be present.

Re-union. A powerful word, especially after fifty years.

Some people joined us for this reunion we haven’t seen in five decades. This was a Big One. Golden. Everyone has a different high school adventure. I talked to someone this morning who had 900 in his big city graduating class, and to another person yesterday with a small town senior class of only 50 students.

We all had different high school experiences. Some people focused on academics. Others on sports. Some were shy and others of us talked too much! None of that mattered much at this gathering. It was simply good to be together. I hope everyone else enjoyed the reunion weekend as much as I did.

“My heart is bound by memory’s chain

Within each room and hall,

Of my noble Alma Mater,

The fairest school of all.”

North Augusta High School Alma Mater

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