I took the red-eye Tuesday night. I can sleep anywhere, anytime. But I’ve got to tell you, this trip took the starch out of me!
The reason I was taking this trip was to have the opportunity to introduce myself to my new command: the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Their headquarters is in New Orleans. However, due to Hurricane Katrina they have temporarily relocated at the Atlanta Naval Air Station in Marietta, Georgia. Thus, my sojourn to the Deep South.
This is also an opportunity for me to provide ministry to the Marines who have been displaced while helping rescue others. They are fully engaged in recovery throughout the Gulf region, but particularly New Orleans.
I boarded the Delta Airlines flight in Sacramento fully prepared to sleep all the way to Atlanta. There was a loud group of folks returning from some raucous affair, but that didn’t even faze me. I was asleep before the plane lifted off. I woke about two hours into the flight, munched on some airline snacks, drank a cup of Coke (This IS an Atlanta-based airline!), and went back to sleep.
We arrived ahead of schedule, so by the time I picked up my luggage and obtained my rental car, it was seven-thirty in the morning. I drove north toward Marietta going right through the heart of downtown Atlanta just ahead of the morning commute traffic. I was hungry so pulled in to a Waffle House. It was about now that I was feeling as though a truck had run me over. My brain was in the buzz mode. I slumped into a booth. The waitress came over and said, “Can I get you some coffee, sweetie?” Coffee? You bet! Bring it on. So after a ham & cheese omelet with a side order of grits and butter, plus a waffle, all washed down with copious amounts of hot coffee, I felt like I might make it till noon.
You’ve got to love the Southern way of talking. A few years ago I was on a military trip to Memphis. I stopped to wander around a Cracker Barrel store (If you’ve never been in one of these, you haven’t lived!) looking to pick up some small gift for the family. I saw a pink T-shirt with silver sequins spelling out the letters GRITS across the front. There was a matching hat to go with it. Below the letters was written the meaning of this acronym: Girls Raised in the South. This I absolutely had to get for my Texas born-and-raised mother.
I’ll never forget my Grandmother Roots. She spent her whole life in East Texas. During her visits when I was a little boy, she’d sit on the couch, glance in my direction, and with a big smile, say, “Chahles Rahbuht, cum’ohn ovuh an’ sidohn Grandmamma’s kneh.” Translation: Charles Robert, come on over and sit on Grandmother’s knee.” Of course I would do as she asked, whereupon she would plant one of her big, wet kisses on my face. You gotta love it!
Today, I had lunch with my friend, Joe Harden. He lives in Marietta very near the base. We go back to 1969 when we were both Marine recruits in San Diego. He figured, correctly, that I would want to have Southern cooking. We ate fried chicken and hush puppies, fried okra, creamed corn, all the while reminiscing about our early days in the Marines.
On Monday I will be visiting our 4th MAW Marines in New Orleans who are involved in the on-going recovery efforts.
Even though these Marines have been relocated with their families, many losing all their earthly goods, their attitude is nothing less than an inspiration to me. I spoke with one sergeant and his wife who were on base picking up some items for their family of four. This man is originally from Columbia. After coming to the United States, he joined the Marine Corps, married his Puerto Rican-born wife, and began a life together. They saved their money to buy their first home. Last year they found a house in Slidell, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. In July they bought a brand new living room set. They haven’t even made their first payment yet. It’s all gone now. He’s waiting to go back to see if there is anything salvageable. But their attitude is great! They and their two young sons are healthy and safe. The boys are registered in school and they’re now in a new apartment in Marietta. No hint of discontent. No complaining. They’re just moving on with life.
The American spirit is indomitable. It’s truly refreshing.
I’ll share more next week.