I like dogs. No, I love them. I love MY dogs anyway. I believe everyone should own at least one, but only if they have proper time and resources to devote to the dog. Because here’s the thing—even free dogs are NOT CHEAP!
A month ago, I was driving to Chatom as I do every Monday morning and when I hit a certain point on the Chatom-Bigbee Road, my phone lit up with multiple text messages from my daughter.
“There’s a black lab at the school. He’s real sweet.”
“Can I have him?”
“Some kids are scared of him and some are being mean to him.”
“Mama, are you getting these messages?”
“Hey. You aren’t answering, but I already talked to the office and they said I could have him.”
Insert eye roll here. I was well aware of the dog at the school. He had been there for days because there were multiple social media posts about him. By the time I got parked and had enough service to respond, she had sent more messages, assuring me that this dog was sweet and that he needed a good home. I finished my work in Chatom and went by the school. I was told of how my child loved the dog and had been in tears because no one had claimed it. Another eye roll.
I made arrangements to get the dog home and into the fence, which he immediately climbed over. We put a collar on him, bought him a bed, fed him and gave him a name. We took pictures and plastered them on social media BEGGING his rightful owners to step up. No, he wasn’t the average stray dog. I have never met a true stray that can fetch, sit and shake on command. The dog showed appreciation for his rescue by leaving the good home that he’d been given. I was frustrated; Tatum was heartbroken. I assured her that we had done everything possible to make him feel at home. She just knew he’d appreciate all that we’d done and stay and no one had claimed him. I secretly hoped that it was over…and the dog showed up again.
This time, I got him to the vet and had him fixed because all of my other pets are fixed and they don’t roam. I naturally and wrongfully assumed that this would be the case with “Leroy” and I was wrong! To show his gratitude for updating his shots and “fixing’ him, he left again. This time he was gone for 9 days. But last Tuesday night, he came back and he has stayed…so far. I don’t trust him.
So, Leroy the Labrador has a home right now, even if he is a most ungrateful member of the family. There is much research that indicates that owning a dog does beneficial things for a person’s health and mood. Those researchers never met a confused rescue dog who had to search for his home on his own. That particular dog caused elevated blood pressure and a decrease in good vibes. As I usually do, I am learning to accept the dog that I never wanted.
I have a reputation for rescuing strays. It has almost gotten me attacked by a mama coyote, but I tried! The pup that I tried to pick up was her pup! It has caused some lively debates with my husband, but an animal can’t help that his owner is not responsible. Once while on vacation, I rescued a dog in South Dakota and brought him home and he’s been grateful for five years. This Leroy dog will never be that grateful. Come to think of it, I don’t even think he was on the porch when I left for work this morning. Who knows? I sincerely home that he settles in and realizes that we do like him, albeit begrudgingly and that we want him to stay safe.
So, here’s to Leroy, our “free” dog, who has cost me quite a bit of money and sanity over the past month. May you live a long, healthy life somewhere in the vicinity of our home. My child doesn’t know it yet, but if Leroy sticks around, he will be in her senior portraits, a most unique souvenir of her high school experience.
The sign out front reads “Gainestown United Methodist Church, Established 1919,” however, Gainestown United Methodist Church is actually older than the sign states. The 1919 could possibly indicate when the congregation joined the United Methodist Church, but even that is up for debate. What the beautifully handwritten records do show is that a congregation was meeting and keeping active records as early as 1812. In 1812, the church was known as the “M.E. Church at Suggsville.” In 1817, it was called the “Methodist Church, Gainestown, Alabama.” It is unclear if the Gainesville and Suggsville were the same community at one time or if the congregation moved from nearby Suggsville to Gainestown.
The founder and first pastor of the Methodist congregation was Reverend Joshua Wilson. Wilson, a native of North Carolina and a Revolutionary War veteran, came to Gainestown around the year 1817. Wilson has been called the “founder” of Gainestown. Wilson’s son, Dr. Joshua Sanford Wilson had the antebellum home that is now called the Wilson-Finlay House built in 1846.
In 1854, a two-story church building was built. The top level was used as a masonic lodge and the lower level was used for worship services. For 57 years, the building served the needs of the people of the bustling town of Gainestown. In 1911, a tornado devastated Gainestown and destroyed the two-story structure, along with many other businesses. The congregation resolved to build the current church from salvaged materials of the first church building. It was built on the same plot of land, but the foundation was laid in a different place.
Seven generations of Terri Lancaster McLemore’s family have attended Gainestown UMC. The church is special to McLemore who has spent much time preserving the written history and cleaning the aging tombstones of the cemetery so that they can be read. The cemetery itself is unique. It is shaded by pines and cedars and contains many plots of families that lived, worked, played and worshipped in Gainestown. The age of the oldest grave is not known because it is believed, based on the evidence of uniformed imprints in the ground, that there are unmarked graves of Native Americans, slaves and others who lived in the community whose graves were not marked or have lost their markers to time. These indentions in the ground are consistent with the shape and size of a typical grave and are located in the back of the cemetery.
Nature has not always been kind to the quaint wooden structure with the “simple pretty” stained glass windows. Ninety-three years after the church was rebuilt from the rubble of a tornado’s aftermath, Hurricane Ivan roared into the Gulf and brought with it destruction that the area had not seen for decades. The church remained on its foundation this time, but not without significant damage. The 2004 storm caused heavy damage to the roof and to some of the interior furnishings. Again, the resolve of the Gainestown faithful rose to the challenge. A new roof, updated wiring, and carefully selected light fixtures were added. Even after repairs in the modern era, the simplistic nineteenth century vibe can still be felt in the building.
Dr. William S. Pitts wrote a hymn based on his travel through a river valley in Iowa in 1857. The stagecoach he was traveling on stopped to give passengers a moment to stretch and Pitts happened upon a valley near the Cedar River. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned a church in the valley and wrote the lyrics to “Church in the Wildwood.” Several years later, Pitts returned to the area to see a church being built on the spot that he had foreseen. Pitts never made it to Gainestown, Alabama, but his description of the little country church by the river rings true for the “Gainestown Church,” as iPhone maps have labeled it.
“Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale
How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning
To listen to the clear ringing bells
It's tones so sweetly are calling
Oh, come to the church in the vale.”
The congregation of Gainestown Methodist Church remains faithful. The body of believers meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at 11 a.m. Rev. E. C. Russell is the pastor. Homecoming services are hosted each October.
Two pieces of good news this week—Valentine’s Day is over and the chocolate has been marked down! No offense to anyone who laboriously counts down the days until the next Valentine’s Day, but it’s not for me. I do miss seeing my kids get excited about their school parties and watching as they carefully selected which Crocodile Hunter or Hannah Montana card that they would give each classmate. They were intentional in their selections of the wordings of those cards for their classmates. They likely didn’t know the meaning of the word or that they were being intentional.
Three middle school boys in Kansas were well aware of their intentionality last week. Eighth grader Tristan Valentine (the irony!) realized that the Valentine’s Day craze often causes females to compare themselves to others and question their worth. Valentine pitched an idea to two of his friends—let’s buy a pink carnation for all the girls and female teachers and staff members at Summit Trail Middle School in Olathe. The other boys decided that Tristan had a worthy idea and the three of them (and likely their very proud mamas) made it happen. No specifics were given about how the boys paid for the flowers, but they “used their own money and arranged the funding.” I still think some very proud mamas may have contributed.
The boys worked with the school administration to make sure that none of the 270 female students and 70 staff members were left out. Each flower had a note attached that read “Hope you feel special today.” The boys told few other than school administration and their parents of their plans and arrived to school early last Thursday with buckets of pink carnations. They placed themselves near the school’s entrance so that no one was left out. The images are worth the Google search. They are sweet and heartwarming, even to those of us who don’t care for Valentine’s Day.
When interviewed, Tristan Valentine said that he wanted every female in the school to feel “special and accepted” on a day that can evoke sadness and comparison. The smiling faces of 340 students, teachers and staff members proved that Valentine’s idea was successful. So successful that other middle school boys tried to buy flowers from the three boys to give to their own girlfriends.
Middle schoolers are usually not known for intentional, selfless acts. This is a period of life where individuals are typically self-absorbed and fickle in relationships. It’s good to be reminded that there are always exceptions to any standard and definitely to any stereotype. It’s good to know that parents somewhere are still teaching the importance of intentionality to their children. Intentionality is not innate in our nature. It requires reflection, purpose, action and practice.
Tristan Valentine reflected on the February 14 holiday well before the day arrived. He knew that the day came every year and he knew that it wasn’t always a good experience for girls. Continuing to reflect, Tristan began to see a purpose. The purpose was to remind each of the females at his school that they mattered. Next, he planned. He knew who he could count on to help him and he went to those two friends. Again, I am pretty sure some moms and dads got behind this idea and helped out.
Once the plan was decided, it was time to practice intentionality. This “practice” required transporting multiple buckets of carnations to the school and getting their early. I’ve taught middle schoolers—none of them want to be at school early. It required communication with school administration—again, something that no student really wants to do. The act of intentionality required interacting with girls that the boys didn’t know. It also involved the risk of offending or angering a middle school girl (not a pretty situation). The three sweethearts were determined to deliver smiles, so they did the difficult things.
A mother of a student who brought home a pink carnation stated, “In a time where kids are mean and don't take time to show a caring heart or hand, these three boys arranged to have a flower for every young lady in the school. What a sweet gesture to make sure every girl felt important." A sweet gesture indeed!
Be intentional! Make someone feel special today!
Since 2014, veterans have been gathering in Washington County for several days of hunting and fellowship. Many of these men drive great distances to gather at St. Stephens Historical Park and then to be led on hunts throughout the county.
Local musician Daniel MaHarrey and a host of volunteers are responsible for the annual gathering. Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures is not affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project. Rather it is a grassroots initiative that MaHarrey started after he had the opportunity to take a veteran hunting.
MaHarrey’s roots as a gospel singer and musician in his family group, The MaHarreys, provide him the privilege of traveling the country and meeting a variety of people through the years. Growing up in Washington County, MaHarrey became an outdoorsman and avid hunter. Several years ago, MaHarrey hosted a hunting television show in the Pursuit Channel called Crossroad Adventures. MaHarrey took his best friend’s brother who was a wounded veteran, on a hunt. Soon, Crossroad Adventures started hunting with veterans on the show. An idea was born when MaHarrey saw the comradery that exists when veterans come together.
A grassroots endeavor
The annual Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures hunt began in 2014. MaHarrey and his wife, Nancy do not receive a salary for their efforts. Instead, they invest all donations back into the program. This year fifteen men from six different states took part in the hunt. Knowledge of the event is spread through social media and word of mouth. Safety screenings are required for vets who want to participate. Volunteers are also trained on how to handle possible triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder in the event that a hunter experience the symptoms. The MaHarrey family works throughout the year to plan the event and train volunteers. Much networking is required with local landowners to plan the hunts as well.
There is no cost to the hunters who participate, WWAA assists with travel expenses so that veterans can have a unique hunting experience with their brothers.
“This is a life-changing event for the warriors and for the volunteers. The veterans get to fellowship with others who know and understand their struggles. They can’t find that just anywhere. The volunteers get to see firsthand how difficult life can be for those who have fought for our country. That changes them,” MaHarrey stated. Further expressing gratitude for the commitment of the volunteers, MaHarrey acknowledged, “Without them, this could not happen. Because of them, vets are coming together. They are sharing their experiences and some of them are finally beginning to heal emotionally from what they have endured.”
The St. Stephens Historical Park Commission works closely with Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. For four nights, warriors are provided lodging in the cabins at the park. The fire pits and swings that surround them are filled with the stories of the wounded—stories that many of the vets have never shared before. Friendships are forged amidst the brotherhood of soldiers. During the day, volunteers bring their trucks and take the warriors onto their land to hunt. Many have successful hunts, but not everyone leaves with a Washington County trophy buck. The things guaranteed are a few days away from one’s daily grind, fellowship with other veterans, comfortable lodging, good Southern cuisine and an appreciation banquet to honor their service. Going home with a cooler of deer meat and/ or horns to mount is a bonus.
A crowd gathered at the Chatom Community Center on Saturday, a cross-section of county residents and other patriots who believe in the cause of Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. The Chatom Police provided a blue light escort through the town to the festivities at the community center. Wayne Blackwell, President of the St. Stephens Historical Commission welcomed guests and Chatom Mayor Harold Crouch addressed the crowd. “Everything we have is a result of God and the American soldier,” Crouch stated. “These are the two reasons we exist.”
The MaHarreys band and Hailee Squires entertained the crowd. A live auction and a silent auction were conducted with proceeds going to Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures.
The soldiers present were given the opportunity to address the crowd who had gathered. Army vet David Johnson praised the volunteers and the organization. “Vets are often isolated, but this event brings us together. This event and the hard work of the volunteers puts a smile on my face.” Perry Aud made the trip from Pine Bluff, Ark. on backroads. Aud and MaHarrey befriended one another years ago when The MaHarreys performed at Aud’s church. Aud suffers from severe, debilitating PTSD symptoms that have kept him isolated in his home for many years. Paul MaHarrey, founder of The MaHarreys, stated that much prayer had brought Aud from the confines of his home in Arkansas to be with his brothers in Alabama. Aud admitted that there were times during his drive to Alabama that he wanted to turn and head back home, but there was something that he wanted more—to be with other men who understood the sacrifice. “It has been worth it. I am glad I’m here…and I’ll come back next year if you’ll have me.” The crowd applauded. It’s safe to say that Aud and his brothers will be welcomed back to Alabama next year.
How to be involved
Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/woundedwarrioroutdooradventures/.
Serendipity is defined as a “happy accident” or a “fluke.” While I don’t really like the terms “happy” and “accident” together, I have to agree that sometimes unplanned, unexpected things do bring joy. Such was the case of our dinner Friday night. Thanks to serendipity, we were aboard the Perdido Queen in the Mobile River.
The Perdido Queen paddleboat is a new tourist attraction for the Mobile Gulf Coast area. The Orange Beach based vessel was invited into the port of Mobile just three weeks ago following the permanent docking of the Gulf Coast Ducks. Social media has a way of introducing people to things and after seeing the ads and thinking about it, I sent the link to Mark.
Mark and I are quite different and he is not a planner. He works shifts and we try to eat lunch together one a week when he is off. Instead of our planned lunch on Friday, he bought the tickets on Thursday for the Friday night cruise. For him, that’s planning. We didn’t mind that it was dinner instead of lunch this week. We rushed down when I got off work and loaded the Perdido Queen.
The owner, captain and the captain’s wife (who served as waitress, bartender and photographer) were very friendly and personable. Each of them and another crew member did everything they could to make our voyage comfortable and memorable.
The 2.5 hour cruise included live music and dinner catered from one of Mobile’s signature restaurants, Dauphin’s. The views of the cityscape were beautiful and the river was calm. Being the nerds that we are, we turned the maps on our iPhones just to see exactly where we were on the river. This helped us take note of the river islands that we knew nothing about! The husband and wife duo on the top deck provided music that covered a range of styles and decades. It was a perfect soundtrack for the evening.
I am sure that later in the year when the days are longer and it’s not dark at boarding time, the cruise is perfect. I can imagine that the sunset on the river just adds to the ambience; however, our cruise was wonderful. Unless you travel the river, you may take the shipping industry for granted. As the paddleboat glided upriver, we realized the magnitude of the various shipyards in Mobile and witnessed their finest at work.
Alabama has now joined a laundry list of states who offer riverboat cruises. I see it as fitting for any large port city, but especially for one with a 300-plus year history. I still mourn the loss of the Gulf Coast Ducks because it was an affordable, educational excursion and great for entertaining out of town guests, but the Perdido Queen is impressive in its own right.
We definitely did not plan for our weekly lunch to turn into a dinner cruise, but I am glad that it did. We were able to support a new venture and the beauty is this—I get to share it with anyone who reads this column.
Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. So is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and likely some wedding anniversaries. I highly recommend making the reservation that will make someone’s day, even if they weren’t planning on cruising the river.
I am not one for surprises or changes of plans, but I am thankful for a little serendipity when it shows itself. As the river philosopher Mark Twain wrote, “Twenty years form mow you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Make the reservations and enjoy yourselves!
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.