In my last blog post, I forgot to add one of the funniest moments we’ve had in South Carolina. Our dear friends Irene and Tony, who live three doors away, were chagrined to find that a colony of bats had decided to nest under their eaves. Irene reported that she was sweeping up piles of bat poop every morning. Tony called a pest control company, but after an inspection, they were informed that since some of the bats were having pups, they were protected, and could not be bothered or removed. Suzanne and I felt terrible for poor Irene and Tony, and decided to suggest a means of making the bats’ stay at least financially advantageous for our friends…..
I also neglected to add a photo of Lynette Setzkorn’s sister Margene, Margene’s son Chad, daughter-in-law Mohana, and grandson Krishna. We had a nice visit with this beautiful family that we had first met last year.
On our trip, we often stop to let the puppies out for a walk. Interstate rest stops are preferred, to save time and because there is never an issue with low-hanging tree limbs, but we have often stopped along public streets in smaller towns. This is our Messages of Hope Tour rig at a rest stop, with Nellie and Rusty happily stretching their little legs…
I am often asked whether Suzanne drives the bus; many RV wives skip this opportunity, but My Lovely Bride enjoys driving our “big rig” (29 tons total, and about 62 feet long with the car attached), and is always ready to take over. Because of our size, the driving is pretty intense, and we normally don’t even listen to music while driving.
We stopped for a couple of nights in Auburn, a charming college town in eastern Alabama. I had to send a picture of War Eagle stadium (Auburn University) to our friends Judson and Donna Jo Emens in Tuscumbia, Alabama, who are hard core fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide, arch rivals of the Auburn Tigers. (As a matter of interest, ‘Bama’s mascot is Big Al, an elephant – during the 1930 Alabama-Ole Miss game, an Atlanta sports reporter wrote, “… the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” “Roll Tide”!!!
While in Auburn, we went on a hike through a park-like area adjacent to the campus. We saw a set of chin-up bars in the distance, and I said, looks like a Marine Corps ROTC O-course (“obstacle” course for civilians). Sure enough, here is a marker for the General Mundy Fitness Trail, named for General Carl Mundy, USMC, who served as a Marine for 42 years and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat in Vietnam. An Auburn grad, his last tour of duty was as Commandant of the Marine Corps; two of his children are Auburn graduates and Marine Corps officers. Gen. Mundy died in 2014. Semper fidelis.
We stayed in Chewacla State Park, Alabama, for two nights, and got some exercise on a hike, crossing this beautiful creek. This park, like many in the USA, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which during the Great Depression provided honorable, meaningful, HARD manual work for unemployed men who otherwise would have to rely on “the dole”. It is regrettable that today’s citizens would generally prefer to sit on their couches and watch TV rather than getting their hands dirty….. but back then, men didn’t wear “man buns” either…. (Complainers and Whiners please note: this is not a political comment… it is a personal social observation.)
One of the nice things about traveling in the South in an RV is the ability to camp beside a multitude of lakes and rivers with spectacular views. This shot was taken at a military campground on the edge of Lake Strom Thurmond. The lake is named for the legendary senior Democrat senator from South Carolina. Thurmond was a judge at the beginning of World War II. He resigned his seat on the bench shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and joined the US Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In the battle of Normandy following D-Day, June 6, 1944, he landed in a glider attached to the fabled 82nd Airborne, and was in combat against the German Army (the real Nazis). He earned 18 awards, including the Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Belgian Order of the Crown. He retired from the US Army Reserve as a Major General, and was one of the fiercest proponents for support of the US armed forces.
I took this photo on May 9, just before we departed Hilton Head. I am offering a prize to anyone who can identify where this was taken…. but you have to send me your photo of this location, with you in it (NOT PHOTOSHOPPED), to earn the prize! The first fully correct reply wins the prize.
So, after Auburn, we headed down to visit our wonderful friends Ingrid and Mike Honkala in Picayune, Mississippi. Ingrid and Suzanne are very spiritual. Mike and I are not quite on their level of spirituality. In fact, we like shooting guns. We are both retired Navy. Mike did some serious time with the SEALs, in the Navy’s Special Boat Units (SBU). SBU guys are hard core Special Operators who infiltrate and exfiltrate SEALs into and out of their mission areas, both in coastal and riverine operations. Those of you who think you might want to join this elite group of warriors should peruse their website, https://navyseals.com/ns-overview/navy-swcc-the-navys-elite-boat-warriors/. Please note that IF you qualify for training, after 22 weeks of “somewhat rigorous” training, you will have clocked 400 miles running and 100 miles swimming, performed 20,000 pushups, jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, eaten snakes, and fired over 170,000 rounds of ammunition… and gotten precious little sleep at night! Mike has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has a lot of deployment time in combat zones on contract. Here is Mike on the 200 yard range; and yes, HE CAN SHOOT! In fact, he trains law enforcement officers and regular citizens at his facility, the Mississippi Combat Training Academy, https://www.mctarange.com. I could not think of anyone more qualified than Mike Honkala to perform this critical training.
While getting to know Mike and Ingrid better, we had them over to the bus for dinner with another friend, Dr. Mike Pannell, PhD (in the red shirt). Mike works at the Stennis Space Center and is a brilliant guy who also has a coffee plantation in Costa Rica with another super friend of ours, Bill Bayer. See our blog post from Costa Rica from February 12, 2018 for details of their efforts in that beautiful country. Oh, and their coffee, Potenciana Cafe, is world class! See https://www.facebook.com/potencianacafe
Next stop, Slidell and Covington, Louisiana, to meet up with family and enjoy a delicious crawfish boil. My sister Karen and Debbie had loaded the table with crawfish, sides and desserts for my sister Lynn, Suzanne and me to enjoy. It was a feast!
If you’ve never eaten crawfish, they are very spicy, but delicious. You have to pick about 14 pounds of “mud bugs” to produce a pound of meat.
Suzanne is fitted out with protective gloves… and water rather than beer… you can tell that she isn’t from Louisiana!
We also had a chance to have an unforgettable gourmet dinner at Nicole and John Reilly’s gorgeous home in Covington. Nicole is an outstanding medium and John is the owner of several 24 hour fitness centers (He’s the man who introduced them to the South!). Our meal was exceptional, and their friendship even more cherished.
Our next stop was in New Roads, Louisiana, to visit a couple who had lost their son Kaleb in an ATV accident. Suzanne had given them a reading, and we wanted to stop and say hello when we were in Louisiana. They were a charming couple whose loss we fully understood. Kaleb showed us he is still right here with some stunning evidence during our get-together.
Our next stop was Natchez, Mississippi, where we visited Holy Family School, a small Catholic school where Irene and Tony’s daughter Carly had taught. We picked up some mementoes of Carly’s time at the school; she was a beloved volunteer there and will always be remembered for her warm smile and dedication to her kids. See www.carlyskidsfoundation.com for more information about how you can help with this worthy cause.
If you are ever in Vidalia, Louisiana, and in need of… well, almost anything…. I have a recommendation for you! Suzanne needed a piece of jewelry repaired, and we found this small shop where you can get jewelry, gifts, a fishing rod and reel, worms or suckers, and a U-Haul truck or trailer. Small town life is a bit different than big city life!