Bastion of faith
Old Town Pensacola
Reflected the past
For the future
Tragedy was no stranger to the wiregrass country of southeastern Alabama. On March I, 2007, a tornado ravaged the high school and community of Enterprise, killing nine people. This was the latest chapter–a murder, kidnapping, and seven-day standoff in Midland City.
It would be easy for people, who view at a distance, to let those TV newsclips define Midland City. Think Columbine, Pearl, and Newtown. Communities touched by tragedy often carry the stigma of it for years.
Amid the reports from the hostage scene this week, there were stories of residents holding candlelight vigils, cooking food for law enforcement officers, and leaving their porch lights on as a sign of hope. Kent–email@example.com
Local law enforcement and FBI exercised tremendous restraint. Five year old Ethan is alive and physically unharmed. He will carry mental scars forever. Charles Albert Poland Jr., the school bus driver, sacrified his life for Ethan and other busriders. Midland City is more than this tragedy. It’s a tight-knit small community of twenty-three hundred people near the larger community of Dothan. Midland City embodies all the good things of small-town America.
The life of Jimmy Lee Dykes is a mystery that continues to unfold. What drove him to take the final violent act? A friend and former neighbor stated–he liked to bet on dog races. He followed racing results faithfully and had, what he thought, was a system to beat the odds. His paranoia and distrust grew over the years.
Even decades before, according to neighbor, George Arnold, Dykes was, filled with rage against the federal government. …And blacks and Jews…He never felt afraid of him, even though Dykes used to carry a pistol in his waistband. If the government came for him, he always said he wouldn’t get taken alive. firstname.lastname@example.org The pistol and some marijuana plants got Dykes kicked out of government subsidized housing. He spent several years living in a truck.
Signs of trouble were there. Dykes thought the government and mafia conspired against his success at the dog tracks. He refused to sign up for disability and Social Security. He didn’t have a telephone because the government could use it to track him. There were run-ins with neighbors. He beat one woman’s dog to death with a pipe. A trespasser was met by Dykes brandishing and firing a weapon.
It was a tragedy of poverty mixed with paranoia. The bunker was rigged with explosives. Dykes was true to his word–didn’t plan to be taken alive. Secretly inserted fiber optic cameras revealed an even more agitated kidnapper. He requested the presence of a reporter to tell his story. It was obvious Dykes planned revenge on those who, in his mind, tortured him during his lifetime.
Could this have been prevented? Was Jimmy Lee Dykes just another mentally ill person that fell through the cracks? Would stricter firearm ownership laws have made a difference? People can’t be helped that don’t want to be helped. Many people harbor mistrust of government–they don’t necessarily commit violent acts. Mentally ill outpatients don’t always take their medications. There are no answers, only more questions. Two families were changed forever.
Feeling phlegmatic, or more accurately, lethargic, I made my way to the local Gas-N-Go for a cup of their special blend of coffee grown on a remote Caribbean island somewhere near Jamaica. My mental fog cleared enough to notice a neighbor of mine approaching. A neighbor, that I talked to, but didn’t particularly like, since our last conversation was about shifting paradigms, global cataclysms, or something similarly negative.
Why did all our conversations revert to gloom and doom? “All earthly efforts were meaningless, because eventually, we were all gonna’ die anyway.” After a few minutes, it was hard to keep from plunging over the cliff of hopelessness. I suggested purchasing gravity insurance. James, was not his real name, but what I called him. “James” was nicer than the obscene names that ran through my head. I tried my best to be civil by injecting some levity. “James, maybe we should get into Mars real-estate before Earth is uninhabitable?” James answered with a grunt. I took that to mean he wasn’t interested.
I didn’t know whether it was intentional, but James and his dog Bobo had similar personalities. The small black curly-haired creature terrorized the neighborhood when unleashed–which was all too frequent. He made the rounds, starting with my next-door neighbor’s cat food dishes. It wasn’t that he didn’t get fed at home–was more an act of dominance. On some days Bobo was approachable–other days he lashed out unexpectedly. Could dogs exhibit signs of schizophrenia? Most days, I avoided the schizophrenic devil-dog. Complaints were met with, “What, you mean you’re scared by this little thing?”
To keep from being swallowed-up in this vortex of negativity, it was best to avoid James, whenever possible. Future conversations should be strictly limited to simple greetings. “…Good Mornings and How Ya’ Doins?” Even weather conversations could get off track. “Meteorologists didn’t know any thing.” “They got paid for doing nothing.”
To make matters worse, James’s wife Sylvia, also, not her real name, was a hypochondriac. She subscribed to both, “Disease of the Month” and “Popular Diseases” magazines, whether they actually existed or not. She distrusted traditional medicine. There had never been, or would there ever be, a supplement, herbal remedy, or exotic foreign treatment she didn’t like. It was a strange combination of imagined illness, self-diagnosis, and treatment with self-administered placebos. Just talking to her made me feel bad.
Sylvia was thin with a ghostly white complexion–spent most of the day still clad in pajamas. She rarely came out in daylight hours. Hours were spent caring for dozens of houseplants in their sunroom. Her green thumb was legendary. A large crystal chandelier befitting the palace at Versailles hung down from their dining room ceiling. It was her most prized possession. Rita, her only daughter, was a carbon copy–with the same lily-white complexion and thin blonde hair. Their personalities were strangely similar–so much so, that I re-christened her, “Rita, Her Royal Redundancy.” Rita’s black and white cat, “Prince Fluffy,” aimlessly wandered throughout the neighborhood. Most neighborhood residents assumed he was a stray.
I was about to walk away unscathed when I heard a familiar voice. “Hey neighbor, you really need to work on those dandelions before they get out of control.” I replied feebly, “I know.” Wonder of wonders, Sylvia was pulling weeds in their front yard. “Hi Sylvia, you’re working hard today.” “Yes, I’m going to pay for it tonight when my bad back starts hurting.” She answered, but didn’t stop there. “Did you hear about the new treatment I’ve been getting from my therapist?” I hadn’t and really didn’t want to hear about it. It was too late–I was already being held captive. “You should try it, it’s done with tuning forks, suction cups, and dolomitic limestone–doesn’t hurt a bit.” ,
With expressive eyes
With gaping maw
Begged for food
Parent, stood nearby
In the mood
All was serene
Gentle winds blew
Not much to do
Out of the blue
Dad, I’m hungry
What’s for lunch?
Like, most families
It was always
One thing, or
I’m busy, go ask
Today is Ground Hog Day, also my Father’s birthday. He would have been ninety-eight today. Punxsutawney Phil has already seen his shadow–or not. …Come se, come sa…Meteorologically speaking, there’s six more weeks before the vernal equinox–more commonly known as the beginning of spring. Either way, Pennsylvanians can have their tradition.
My favorite furry prognosticator is the Woolly Bear Caterpillar. The caterpillar, or Woolly Worm, is the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, (Pyrrharctia Isabella). The caterpillar sports a furry coat that’s black on both ends with a brown band in the middle. He’s a handsome, well-dressed fellow, scurrying across busy streets every fall. He could really be a she, or both he and she. No matter, I’m not concerned with caterpillar gender issues. Many woolly worms get squished by passing cars. There are plenty more to replace the fallen.
Folklore holds, the amount of black, in relation to brown, predicts the severity of upcoming winters. The more black, more severe, more brown, the milder winter will be. Some Woolly Bears are either all black or all brown. Every fall, local folklorist Helen Wohlschlager, gave a winter prediction based on the lowly Woolly Bear caterpillar. Banner Elk, North Carolina holds an annual “Woolly Worm Festival” with caterpillar races. Sounds like a good time. Here’s to the Woolly Worm! Different strokes for different folks.
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