Shrimp & Dog Days Of Summer
An Excerpt from John Cowart’s Journal:
1992 to 2002
John W. Cowart
Note: Glog mentioned in these pages is a manuscript for a novel I was working on at the time.
Thursday, July 23, 1992:
Good thing our confidence is in God -- no check arrived today.
The one letter in today's mail was a notice from the university telling us that Ginny's financial aid has been cut by $1,000 per semester!
The notice did offer her a student job so she can work to make up the difference.
I called Curtis to see if he can put some spurs to the publisher and either break loose my check or at least get them to tell why the book is not satisfactory so I can then do whatever else they want and finally get my check. -- Lord, but I hate to have to crawl and beg in order to get hold of money I've already earned.
One minor triumph: Curtis mentioned that he needed an address for Amy Grant, a religious singer, and that he'd not been able to locate her; within ten minutes, I phoned the newspaper and the reference library and was able to call him back with the address -- he was amazed. He'd been trying to get a lead on this for weeks. It's not for nothing that I've worked around reference sources for years.
Again, Ginny served what appeared to be the very last food in the house; but she scrounged another ten dollars from here and there, and made a trip to the grocery store for some eggs to mix with the five pounds of flour she has left to make pancakes for us to eat over the weekend.
Here's another triumph: about midnight, Patricia and I went shrimping and netted the most shrimp we've ever caught!
In about four hours, we netted over five pounds -- headed!
Gin woke up when we returned about 4 a.m. and sat talking with me as I headed the shrimp (If you pull the shrimp's head off while it is still alive, the vein of guts pulls out right along with the head; but if you wait too long to head them, then the vein just breaks off and has to be removed by splitting the shrimp). We talked about worship and shrimp:
Many that we caught were large white shrimp -- one of God's most beautiful creations. The shrimp's design reflects perfect function. The legs and swimeretts allow the creature to move by either swimming through the water or walking along the bottom. The shrimp's antenna jut from beneath its mouth so it can locate food. It's horns prick an attacker. Its ability to snap backwards at terrific speed when danger threatens is a wonder. Eyes on stalks give the shrimp flexible vision to see food underneath or approaching fish from above.
Here's an oddity: Every shrimp carries a rock around with it!
That's right. The shrimp carries a small rock in a tiny pouch located beneath its antenna. The rock rests on a bed of fine hairs, and apparently as the shrimp moves, the rock shifts right and left, up and down, to act as a sort of gyroscope to keep the shrimp level while swimming!
God made shrimp for everything to eat and enjoy: birds snap them from the water; fish relish them; Shrimp eat each other; crabs feast on them -- And Ginny plans to fry them with onion rings! Um! Um!
Therefore, the Lord created shrimp as one of His most prolific creatures. The ocean swarms with shrimp; the estuaries abound with them; the rivers support great schools of shrimp...
Boy! Our God sure knows what He's doing!
No engineering committee could possibly improve on the shrimp's design. This tiny creature reveals the Glory of God better than any human cathedral; his design and function so perfectly match that anyone really looking at a shrimp MUST stand in awe of its Creator and offer praise.
Their anatomy makes me realize that their Creator designed a masterpiece of art. Casting a net to catch them challenges me. The rightness of casting a net so each sinker splashes at the same time making a white coronet crowning the water brings me great pleasure. The sight of shrimp in the net, their eyes shining orange and red, and the sound of shrimp snapping to escape capture, thrills me. The taste of shrimp delights me...
In case you haven't guessed, I like shrimp.
Wednesday, August 5, 1992:
A major John Cowart Triumph:
For the past two nights, I have dug through encyclopedia articles, dictionaries and biology books trying to uncover a word.
When I was a freshman at Florida State University in 1957, my anthropology professor, Dr. G. Hale Smith, displayed a collection of bones in his office. He said that certain male animals such as dogs, otter and whales have an actual bone in their penis...
There is a name for such a bone
What is that name?
I want Glog to find such a bone in the fossil beds.
Well, I searched every book I could think of on Sunday night.
Monday night, I enlisted Ginny to help and we searched every kind of reference to locate the name of that bone.
The Encyclopedia Britannica lists no information under "Whale Dicks".
A shameful lack.
Altogether I have invested between five and six hours in searching for this one word.
Then this morning when I awoke and blundered out in a stupor at six a.m., I flopped bleary-eyed in my chair waiting for coffee to perk and BACULUM sprang into my mind.
Of course it's not in a regular dictionary but it is in my handy-dandy 1894 edition of Cassell's Latin Dictionary:
Baculum means a stick, staff or shepherd's staff -- a walking-stick -- which is precisely why I wanted Glog to find one among the fossil bones!
Ginny thinks I'm crazy to get so happy over finding a word at 6 a.m. and poor Donald thought we were both insane when he came out and found us laughing and hugging and dancing in joy over finding a word...
Ginny now positively has enough solid evidence to have me committed if she wishes...
Oh, well. Joy is where you find it.
I worked all day on Glog getting him to see the rainbow and adding to his theological prospective.
Unfortunately, as I worked on his religion, I denied my own.
Hazel called and arranged to buy new school shoes for Patricia; and Donald broke the lawnmower as he tried to cut out grass.
Donald asked my help in fixing the mower and I snapped at him.
And Patricia bounced in excited about her new shoes and I screamed at her and shook my finger in her face, squelching her joy and, I think, scaring Bethany -- because I was working on Glog's relationship with God instead of my own.
Shame. Shame. Shame.
What good does it do to write about faith, if my work becomes addictive to the point that I alienate the people I love best?
I worry that if I don't work well and successfully, we won't eat. But it's sin to dabble with my own interests at the expense of my family.
Who the hell needs a Christian grump?
Eve's ride left her at Boles School and Gin and I had to drive 37 miles in rush hour traffic to get her.
I went shrimping at 3 a.m. (Thursday) just for my own pleasure -- as well as to stock up food in the freezer.
The mail brought no check or no word from either agent or publisher. Lord, what should I do?
Thursday, August 6, 1992:
Worked on Glog, finishing the cliff incident and beginning his acquiring a sail and approaching the power plant.
A zoologist from the Jacksonville Zoo returned my call and confirmed the information about the baculum; during the course of the day, three different zoologists called me with information. Apparently, my question sparked interest in the Zoo office and gave rise to much discussion among the staff and they outdid each other in researching the baculum.
Also, I talked with a lady at the Mandarin Holiday Marina concerning various types of sailboat: the dentist will own a 34-foot Downeaster cutter rigged with Rolofurling.
And Mike came over and I interviewed him concerning fishing trawler net rigging and engines.
Eve won a SUPERIOR rating in flag camp and will receive a Blue Ribbon for her efforts tomorrow. For devotions tonight, she demonstrated her routine with butterflys, flutters and quick counts. These flag movements go with her dance steps and she's very graceful at it.
Eve's flag is a five-foot silver pole with a banner of serrated red, white and blue in the general shape of a broad triangle.
While Patricia was at Betty's, Betty and her step-dad got into a big fight and Pat called asking Gin to come pick her up. Pat was very upset about this fuss.
Friday, August 7, 1992:
After a good sleep, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and went shrimping alone again; Donald and Pat were supposed to go but they were too sleepy.
I caught more than ever before -- Thanks be to God!
Both yesterday and this morning, I sort of obeyed an odd scripture.
I've been concerned about our rowdy neighbors who throw things at us etc. and as I've prayed about this problem, the verse that kept occurring to me was the one that says if your enemy is hungry, give him food.
So, when I've returned from shrimping, I walked over to their gate and called one of them out asking them to bring a pan -- which I filled with fresh shrimp. Same as we are eating.
They don't know what to make of this weird behavior.
Yesterday, the lady asked me to see which house I lived in; I don't think she believed that I live across the street.
Since this is real kinky stuff -- and quiet possibly dangerous -- I have not mentioned it to Ginny, but Donald saw me give away a big pan full of shrimp this morning. I quoted the scripture to him.
However my benevolence to the heathen is not all altruistic -- ever de-head a whole icechest full of shrimp?
A real Christian would head the shrimp first then give.
Let the bastards head 'em themselves.
The lady asked me about fish so I promised to save any I net from now on. I caught a trout, a flounder and three good-sized mullet but I threw them back. But I'll save them for the neighbors from now on.
One fun thing:
Both Thursday and today, while I've been shrimping, a monster huge bird -- possibly a heron or something of that sort -- has come to watch me work. Mr. Heron stands on the dock ramp behind me and when I net a little yellowtail, I toss it to him. Well, Thursday, he watched but would fly away whenever I tossed the fish. Then sneak back and eat it later.
But this morning when he saw me setting out my equipment and bait, he flew right nearby and squawked a greeting. Then he'd stay when I tossed a fish toward him and eat it on the spot.
I've made a friend.
I had the impression that he was looking for me this morning.
God, but I love to shrimp and hang around the waterfront. Thank you for the bounty you've spread before me. Truly I am harvesting a crop I never planted. Your bounty sustains us.
Eric came over to visit Donald and they went back to spend the night at Eric's house-- which is the same house on Evergreen Avenue where my Aunt Grace, Mame's sister, lived back with I was a pre-school child.
Eve won three blue ribbons for Superior three flag routines at Flag Camp. Also, since they did not collect the money for her uniforms, she came home with the $35 which she'd borrowed from Jennifer -- and by acclimation, we all said to hell with prudence and used it to buy a Chinese carry-out meal and feasted.
Saturday, August 8, 1992:
Eve and Patricia traveled to Daytona Beach with the church youth group. Eve got stung by a jellyfish and the tide got her Walkman radio. Patricia collected razorclam shells and a beautiful sand-dollar…
Barbara White called inviting us to lunch at Sonny's Bar-B-Que. .. She brought us several bags of girl's clothes. Gin sorted these quickly and placed them with four or five bags of treasures we've gathered from the house this week and we drove them up to the prison thrift store…
Fred and John arrived from Maryland: Fred driving his Jeep; John, his pickup truck -- our drive runneth over.
We all spent the evening talking catch-up, church and computers.
Sunday, August 9, 1992:
All seven of us worshiped at Good Shepherd.
Pastor Dannals preached on faith and doubt. He said sin begins as an attitude before it becomes an action. The holy skeptic doubts with hope; the cynic doubts without hope. The opposite of sin is virtue. The opposite of faith is not doubt; The opposite of faith is fear.
We ate two bowls of shrimp for lunch.
Fred & John rigged a computer modem for Donald and they tapped into a bulletin board.
We repaired the nets for shrimping.
Monday, August 10, 1992:
Woke everyone at 4 a.m. to go shrimping--
Everyone but Ginny that is; she's smarter than the rest of us.
One of the most pleasant sights I've ever seen in my life was seeing five of my children gathered on the dock working together busy as beavers, each one intent on the job at hand; three casting nets with the other two picking up shrimp. It was a scene right out of Norman Rockwell.
Unfortunately, even though the tide was right, we didn't catch many shrimp! God knew I wanted to show off my skill as a shrimp catcher to Fred & John; He sent most of His shrimp to safety.
Home for breakfast at 9 a.m. then Donald, Fred & John zipped off to the JU computer lab and to shop at Regency Mall.
Gin drove off to pay the past due balance on the electric bill while Eve and Pat lay in our bedroom listening to records and napping.
Mike & Jennifer came over for supper and the whole family -- all nine of us -- gathered on the back porch to feast on shrimp. Mike brought beer and climbed on the roof to dance for a while.
The kids broke out the fireworks and danced to the light of sparklers in the yard. I crashed to sleep early then got up at 1:30 a.m. to shrimp alone till 9 a.m. to catch tomorrow's supper. Unfortunately, I had no bait; so I tried to use grits in nylon sock bags to see if the shrimp would take it.
Shrimp are Yankees; they won’t eat grits.
I only caught a handful.
That big bird came back to sit on the dock with me and we enjoyed a magnificent summer night of stars, radio music, water and stars.
Tuesday, August 11, 1992:
I ended up begging from my children again.
I called a family conference after breakfast and explained our situation to Fred & John -- no income since April, catching shrimp enough for one meal at a time for the past two or three weeks, etc.
Fred immediately bought me five pounds of shrimp meal and John Immediately offered to take Ginny grocery shopping.
Fred took my car out and filled the tank with gas.
I hate to beg from my children -- but thank God everyone of them has always come through with support immediately when they see I am in need.
When Jennifer came over to go to the museum with us, she brought several bags of groceries out of her own pantry.
Jennifer, Donald, Patricia, Eve, John, Fred & I went to the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History. Back when I wrote a letter to Lite 96.1 FM Radio, the manager mailed me eight tickets to the museum and I saved them for this occasion.
We played with physics exhibits and viewed artifacts brought up from the Maple Leaf, a yankee ship which our troops sank in the St Johns River back during the war.
River mud sealed the wreck from air preserving even delicate items such as cloth, leather and even newspaper fragments which can still be read along with pistols, rifles, swords and the everyday personal items of the soldiers.
After the museum, we strolled along the Riverwalk to view the Jacksonville skyline -- then home for supper.
Jennifer took Fred & John out for a drive over the Dames Point Bridge and to chat alone for a few hours.
Pat & I drove down to shrimp but the dock overflowed with people.
However, we returned home and brought Eve and Donald and Gin back to the river with us just to see a magnificent lightening storm far off at the horizon. We sat on a rock and watched the storm flash in the west while in the east a nearly full moon rose in the east.
The sight was just so beautiful that Pat and I had to share it with the others in the family.
Since I could not shrimp and I was already dressed in my ragged shrimping uniform, I took the five pound bag of shrimp meal that Fred bought and made up stocking bags of bait -- a ghastly smelly operation ladling ground fish parts, mostly guts, and sand into the toe of an old stocking, knotting the toe twice and cutting between the knots to make a new bag.
Jennifer returned the guys at midnight and we all watched a video, an enriching cultural classic named Cannibal Women Of The Avocado Jungle!
Wednesday, August 12, 1992:
After showing off his laptop computer to me for a while, Johnny took Ginny out and bought a carfull of groceries for the family.
We picked up Eric and drove to Mike & Jennifer's house for a pool party in the apartment complex's spa and pool.
M&J grilled a hamburger lunch then we all retired to the pool for several hours of horseplay, squirt guns, swimming and lounging.
It was so wonderful to see all six of my children having fun and enjoying eachother's company.
Later, M&J bar-b-qued chicken and we feasted till 10 p.m. before driving home and settling to computerize and talk.
Gin PASSED her government test with a 98 in math and a 69 in English giving her eligibility for a GS5 or GS7 job. She is officially on the register with a possibility of earning more money than we've seen in years!
The announcement was in the mail when we arrived home.
Still no check or word from my agent or the publisher.
As Ginny & I sat on the porch talking after midnight, a humming bird visited some of Gin's potted flowers -- It amazed us because we neither one had ever seen one at night before.
Here's another amazing thing -- we saw a moonbow! the first I've ever seen. The moon will be full tomorrow so it is especially strong and it shown through misty rain clouds dispersing all colors of the spectrum below the moon and whisps of cloud -- a lovely and enchanting sight.
Leaving Eve, her three brothers and Eric to play computer games, Gin & I retired to our bedroom… and fell asleep in a loving tangle.
Having the immediate pressure of food for tomorrow and gas to move the car in the tank -- having those pressures removed suddenly is a powerful aphrodisiac.
We have lived under terrible stress recently but the work goes on -- although I didn't work at all today.
Thursday, August 13, 1992:
I woke all the stalwart young men at 6 a.m. and took them bleary-eyed down to the blood bank. The Cowart family donated five pints of blood, crediting it to the Good Shepherd Church account.
Then we drove Eric to work and came home where the boys crashed -- "like bodies sprawled across a battlefield," Ginny says.
The guys planned to go shoot guns with Mike but he never showed up.
Late in the evening we went shrimping at the Blockhouse Creek Bridge on Broward Road and later at the boat ramp. Fred used his new six-foot net and bagged a bundle of shrimp.
Friday, August 14, 1992:
Breakfast at the zoo with everyone.
Donald's computer broke and the guys tried to fix it.
Jennifer joined us for supper bringing Kotex for the girls; I did not have money to buy any and hesitated to ask Fred or John for money for this.
John & I talked late and long about God and life till about 4 a.m.
Saturday, August 15, 1992:
Donald and the guys drove off searching for computer parts.
Ginny fried shrimp and onion rings for lunch.
Guys departed for Maryland; the rest of us collapsed.
Gin & I drove to Library for Glog research & videos.
Fred & John's visit started with my having 16¢ in my pocket. During the course of the week they bought me a tank of gas, tobacco and groceries as well as many computer trinkets for Donald.
Sunday, August 16, 1992:
All crashed and burned today reading, napping or watching videos.
Grace Caldwell, Joe's sister, called yesterday saying he is in worse shape. Now they have inserted a tube into his nose to feed him because he was getting food into his lungs. The facial cancers have returned also.
I intended to go see him but I chose not to; the gas gauge rides on one forth and I know Gin has to drive to the Library tomorrow and to a meeting Tuesday and to UNF on Thursday and I have no money to replace any gas we use as things stand now.
Tried shrimping for necessary food. Another group was at the dock and I could not get a place so I tried by the bridge again and caught few.
The old saying is right: NECESSITY IS A MOTHER!
Saturday, August 22, 1992:
While the girls went to a movie (FernGully) at the Florida Theater, Gin and I spent three intense hours researching maps of Maryland's Eastern Shore, tidewater Virginia & Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant at the main library.
When we returned home, weather reports indicate Hurricane Andrew continues to approach Florida. Usually hurricanes either pass below Florida and hit Central America or turn north as they near our coast but we may be hit by this one.
Therefore Gin & I withdrew our last penny from the bank and gassed up the car and bought $40 worth of non-perishable groceries: powdered milk, canned chili, corned beef hash, canned vegies, dry soup mix, macaroni, that sort of stuff.
If the hurricane approaches Jacksonville, we may well have to evacuate since we live within three blocks of the river on a small island twx the Ribault, Trout and St. John's rivers.
In order to increase our food supply so we would not be tempted to cut into the emergency rations, I woke Donald and he and I went shrimping at 3:30 a.m. for food. Returned home at 8 a.m (Sunday). I am a food-gatherer in a high-tech society.
Sunday, August 23, 1992:
After cleaning shrimp and washing nets, I showered and began studying some Amstrad Computer systems stuff sent me by Betty Benson, a lady who calls ME for computer advise!
Donald and Gin have reviewed this material and we decided that my best bet is to invest about $250 of the prayer book money into my writing business by upgrading my Amstrad rather than buying a second-hand computer of a more standard brand.
We discussed computer options till 2 p.m. when we broke for breakfast.
(Incidentally, computer jargon has taken control of my kids' speech: the other night while we watched a National Geographic tv special about sheep and shepherds in the Mojave Desert, Donald and Eve were fascinated with how the sheep dogs herded the flock of 2,000 sheep here and there. The kids said the dogs "interfaced" with the sheep!)
Patricia went off swimming with Bethany.
We picked her up and drove to Hazel's to bum more food.
Since last night, Hurricane Andrew's wind strength increased from 90 miles an hour to 150 mph! It appears headed straight for Miami and if it does not turn north on touching land and come up the coast, we may see few effects from it.
This morning as we worked on computer stuff, Gin & I prayed for people we know about who lie in the direct path of the hurricane. OH, yesterday, we invited several beach-dwellers and Barbara White to our house if they have to evacuate first.
Monday, August 24, 1992:
Gin off to the first Class of her Senior Year.
Donald off to JU for the day; Eve to Stanton for orientation; Patricia went to James Weldon Johnson for orientation...
We got up early to watch hurricane news on tv before any of them went off. Andrew came in at Homestead with winds up to 168 mph. About a million people evacuated Miami.
I spent much of the day -- too much of the day -- watching hurricane coverage on tv. The storm whacked Miami, then moved across to Naples and into the Gulf in less than four hours.
Andrew destroyed many homes, killed several people (death count can't be made till bodies under debris are uncovered), wrecked businesses, cut off power, contaminated water supplies and made life generally miserable for thousands of people.
Tuesday, August 25, 1992:
First day of school for the girls.
I sat in a stupor in my chair for most of the day. I did read a couple of hundred pages of James A. Mitchner's Chesapeake.
Hurricane Andrew now threatens the Louisiana coast.
Wednesday, August 26, 1992:
Andrew hit Morgan City, La., about 4 a.m. with sustained winds of 140 miles an hour and gusts over 160.
Two high school gyms where about three thousand people had taken refuge had the roofs blown off. Many injured. Going to such a place must be a hell worse than the storm itself.
TV coverage is extensive but they don't know what the damage is while the storm is still going on.
Judging from the damage we see on TV, we'd be dead if this storm had hit Jacksonville because we don't have money buy gas to evacuate anywhere and this house certainly would not stand.
Ginny has just enough gas to get to school and back today. If a check does not come in, she will not be able to attend class on Friday. Girls need various school fees. Donald wants $300 of the money I owe him before school starts for him. No sign of the publisher’s check in yesterday's mail -- probably too early to reasonably expect it from Clapp's Friday call. After all the money's only been due me since June.
That means shrimping for food again tonight for me.
John W. Cowart, famous chef, cooked supper again tonight using my one and only recipe:
TAKE WHAT YOU GOT AND MIX IT TOGETHER.
Tonight's potato salad consisted of boiled potatoes mixed with a can of tuna fish, a can of mushrooms, a can of cream of chicken soup, peeled shrimp (of course), a squirt of mustard, a spoonful of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of garlic salt -- good as always.
Here's an odd news tidbit:
During the hurricane, the University of Miami Research Center was destroyed; 40 baboons and 300 monkeys escaped and now roam through the debris and refugees.
These animals were being used in AIDS research and are infected!
How's that for icing on the cake?
Looks like the war with Iraq will start up again soon; we should have stomped them the first time. Never let an enemy get up to hit you.
Thursday, August 27, 1992:
Off to the shrimp pond for food again at 6:30 a.m. Shrimped, headed and cleaned up till 11 a.m. -- caught a meal.
While I was there a guy came up with a nine-foot monofilament net. In four casts he caught as many as I did in four hours... he was using them for fishbait...
Worked on Glog from 11 a.m. till 6 p.m. Finished the chapter about him being in the barge on Taylor’s Island.
Still no check in today's mail. Was it easier to hope when the promise was more vague?
At supper, Patricia said at school today she read about Noah's wife.
"You know, Joan of Arc".
After supper Gin and I sat on the back porch and talked about her school requirements for graduation, about computers, about my progress on Glog, about hurricanes, and about family….
I want to be a hero.
I want Ginny to admire me …
But I'm a spear-carrier in this comic opera of life.
I've never done anything heroic and I feel disappointed when my wife doesn't regard me as the greatest thing on wheels. An unreasonable expectation -- why in the world should she?
Anyhow, I ended up the day feeling ashamed of my impotency, ashamed of my degradation, ashamed of my self.
What a looser...
And he wants to be a hero...
What a whimp...
Thursday, August 26, 1993:
I taught Eve how to clean the fish she'd caught. O the fun of the great outdoors! We finally got home at 6 a.m., just in time to get Patricia off to school. Eve crashed and I wish I could have. Not to be.
In searing humid heat (Hurricane Emily sits off the coast) Donald & Gin walked to the bank and mailed the phone payment. Then I took the bus up to Dunn Avenue to pay the light bill. The JEA clerk apparently is a Christian.
"God will provide," she assured me.
"That's what they tell me," I replied.
"He will provide your needs, she said, "But you got more wants than needs."
God's idea of my needs and my idea of my needs seem to be two different things, I said.
She laughed and said, "You got nothing to worry about."
"That's nice to know," I said.
With the last 60¢ in the world, I waited for over an hour in sweltering heat for a bus to come bear me home.
No calls from Curtis. No calls from William. And the only letter was a notice from FCCJ saying Ginny is not qualified for their job of giving prospective freshmen entrance tests, i.e., handing out paper forms.
So, we rejoiced. Joking with Eve, Donald and Pat, we cooked supper and the girls baked a cake from Hazele's goodies and we watched tv together.
When Pat had come in from school, she brought a startling piece of art work she'd done in art class-- a piece the teachers had asked her to put away and not show other students. Just a glance at this drawing and I thought, "My God, something awful has happened to this man!" Pat's pen and ink drawing of Christ crucified shows his shoulder dislocated, his arms stretched, his feet twisted -- He looks like an accident victim after a truck hit Him, Pat obviously has listened carefully to our Easter presentations of the crucifixion and preserved details in her art. She talked with me about how the conventional pictures of Calvary appear glossy, muted, phony and how she wanted to portray the awfulness. I felt flabbergasted and awed at her insights and talents. I encouraged her to conform enough in art class to pass the course but to maintain her own integrity and individuality. I think Patricia is a world-class treasure!
Tonight as we dined on shrimp with noodles (thank God for Hazele!) Eve and Donald discussed JU classes and registration:
Eve mentioned she'd signed up for freshman Physical Science, Donald, ever the pure scientist, disparaged the "easy" course.
"Why did you sign up for that?" he demanded. "You don't need Physical Science. That's the science for dummies. That's the one they give to basketball players so they can pass a required science course. Why don't you sign up for physics, biology or chemistry; you aren't interest in physical science!"
"No, I'm not," Eve replied, "But I am interested in basketball players! So that’s the course I'm taking!"
We all watched Christian TV, Trinity Broadcasting System, for the first time tonight because we happened to be flipping through the channels to see what was on and chanced across a talk show -- lavish gaudy baskets of plastic flowers all over; people glittering with big gold rings, watches, tie tacks, neck chains; gushy women; well-dressed, loud-tied, piggy men; syrup sweet tones of voice -- but worst of all:
Many of the ideas being advanced were anti-Christian!!!
Social and cultural customs were being treated as necessary for the Kingdom of God. The salvation-by-works ethic, anti-black prejudice, abortion bias, tithing, prosperity messages, republican politics, I-got-mine-screw-you-Jack thinking prevailed in program after program!
It was loathsome!
Only two programs in about four hours of watching were not repulsive: a piano-player, a Liberachy(sp??) clone, who played secular music was ok; and a Life-Of-Christ video actually carried the Kerygma. I was shocked. …
We plan … next week when all kids are back in school -- unless the hurricane strikes first. Oh, we did spend some time today making hurricane survival plans. Donald and Eve will return home bringing any JU foreign students or Yankees with no area homes who need shelter... We'll feed 'em pouches (surplus military Ready To Eat meals from the mission).
Friday, August 27, 1993:
This morning, William came by from Circle of Love and drove me down to the mission to pick up some food supplies. they appear to be on short rations themselves and while I could get plenty of Twinkies and pouch meals, it was a pretty bleak haul. After delivering the stuff home, William and I had a long talk about his future in the mission. He needs a few dollars each week for sodas, cigarettes, etc -- no more than $20 a week -- and prays for a church to sponsor his work. LORD, HEAR OUR PRAYER. I yearn to be able to sponsor him in this the most effective and the most thankless of Christian ministries. I purpose in my heart to do so as soon as possible.
Jennifer came over and bought me a pouch of tobacco (I was out altogether this morning). She took Gin to the Save-A-Lot to the tune of $30 to supplement the utterly bland stuff I picked out of the mission storage shed stuff. When poor Ginny was straightening around all this bounty, she poured some mission rice into her storage canister only to discover that bugs infested the addition; she tried to pick most of them out but there were so many the whole container had to be thrown out.
When Patricia got home and found we had some food, she immediately invited Melinda and Tina over for a slumber party and they gorged on Twinkies & popcorn. It was a strain having extra children in the house but I was happy Pat could do it. She's been so good about doing without for so long.
TV News sounded the alarm about Hurricane Emily moving straight toward Jacksonville So Gin & I spent the evening planning what measures we have to take if the storm does. We surveyed the house (I'd asked Mr. Barlow, our landlord, about the strength of the beams the other day) and decided to reinforce our bedroom with file drawers and mattresses if the whole family has to take refuge there. We made up lists of what we would need in case it passes and Eve & Donald go to college on Tuesday, of what we'd need if the family tries to weather the storm in our home, and what we'd need if we are forced to evacuate altogether to a public shelter.
Tuesday, August 30, 1994:
This evening I borrowed the van from church and used it to move Eve and Donald's stuff to Jacksonville University. Also helped move several other kids into the dorm and picked up more kids and their stuff from the airport.
After I got the kids moved in, I decided to use the van to go shrimping at the place off the downtown River Walk where I caught so many with David last year.
It was after midnight when I was free to go and downtown I discovered the Main Street bridge was closed for repairs so I used the Acosta. On a street corner near the bridge approach a black man waved me down; poor bastard was trying to get home in Southside and no busses run that late. In spite of all the recent news of car jacking and muggings, I decided to drive him home. I feel acutely aware of how hard life is without wheels and I also wondered if this good deed might be the reason God allowed me to borrow the church van. But I drove the man home without any strong witness to him and without incident. I drove back to the shrimping spot...
A pox upon all yankee carpetbaggers! The bastards have posted no shrimping signs all along the boat landing area! Blocking the best spot to shrimp in Jacksonville. A pox upon them.
I decided to see if perhaps the Northbank River Walk might do for shrimping and crossed to the other side of the St. Johns. No signs posted but nobody out there shrimping either.
I saw a police car parked on Water Street and decided to ask the officer. He gave me directions to a spot near the fire boat dock where many people shrimp. Then he asked, "Say, what is that written on the side of your van?"
I said, "it says CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD".
The policeman jumped from his patrol car as though I'd stuck him with an electric cattle prod; I mean he popped straight up out of that car.
"I've been sitting here all night thinking about God," he said, "and I've got some questions I want to ask you."
The man seemed starved to know about God. He had a Bible in his car and had been marking it as he tried to reconcile the horrors of pimps and prostitutes and drug dealers and child abusers he confronts every night with the message of forgiveness he reads in God's Word.
We'd talked for almost an hour when his radio gave a call -- a shooting on Davis Street. He dashed for the car yelling to me, "You stay right here till I get back; I've got more questions." He squealed away siren blasting and blue lights flashing.
He returned shortly and our conversation about God's forgiveness and the sureness of salvation resumed.
Again the radio called him -- domestic disturbance. Again he ordered me to wait.
He came back to the same spot by the river behind the old jail and again we talked about forgiveness but this time we talked not about how God could forgive all those bad guys the officer meets every night but about the wonder that He can forgive those of us who are not outright criminals. I pointed him to the scripture about the Pharisee and the Publican -- God be merciful to me a sinner -- and to the words where Jesus says he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
While the policeman questioned about how God could forgive the pimps, prostitutes and street scum, he'd apparently never related God's forgiveness to his own sins. It seemed to open a whole new world of thought to him.
The radio called him again at about 4 a.m. and I had to leave without having even wet my nets.
So, when I got to my own shrimp dock near home I decided to try for an hour before daylight drove whatever few shrimp there might be away to deep water -- in an hour and a half, I caught and headed as many shrimp as I usually get in a whole night's casting! Large shrimp. Fine ones. Swarms of them every cast... Do you suppose God's hand was somewhere in this?
Busy day. Up at 4. Made journal entries. Walked Gin to her bus. Bought a roast for supper.
Called the magazine editor: we discussed the earthquake article and the possibility of my writing a monthly historical column for them.
Called several book stores to track down a copy of T. Frederick Davis' History of Duval County.
Called Barbara and asked her to pick up a copy from San Marco Books and bring it to me.
The regional manager of Blockbuster Videos, called asking for help with Titanic materials to promote release of the movie video next week. I promised to send him xerox copies of one of my Titanic articles. If I'd been thinking, I may have made some money out of this commercial venture; but I was thinking in terms of a tract for witnessing to Christ (he plans to give out a couple of hundred copies of my article with the video promotion) so I did not even ask for payment.
Barbara brought the Davis book and we ate lunch at China Beach. After she left I put on the roast to cook and researched historical events associated with the earthquake. Barbara lost her house key and had to return for it.
Picked up Ginny, had supper. After watching a little tv, we sat on out deck for a couple of hours talking and watching three blossoms on our night-blooming Ceres open till midnight -- a wonderful evening, the best part of our day.
Up and to work at 4 a.m. Walked Ginny to bus at 7: we were late but the bus driver saw her walking from about two blocks away and waited at the corner for her -- they always wait for pretty girls.
Hazel and Bobby came by at 9 to give me a new wooden box. I dashed to the bus at 9:30 and arrived at the library at 10.
Spent a delightful day hunched over a microfilm machine with a magnifying glass held to my nose trying to read hundred-year-old fine print which would have been difficult to read the day it was printed.
I discovered the source material for two incidents to go with the 1886 earthquake to expand the article as the editor wanted.
More importantly, I remembered that ten or 15 years ago I'd once seen some crumbling bound volumes of old magazines in the stacks. I traced these down to where they'd been moved in the basement to see just how old they are... They are copies that back to the early 1800s -- and each one contains magnificent engravings of newsworthy events of the time!!!
I found a Sept 11, 1888, cover illustrating the yellow fever epidemic: I am so excited by these. I plan to use them to illustrate any future historical articles if the magazine accepts my proposal for a regular historical column.
As I entered the library this morning I ran into Patricia. She has registered at FCCJ and is taking seven hours this semester. It was nice to see her. She works processing books for the library and Ty works there also. I went to lunch with them at Jacksonville Landing.
Patricia took a huge bound volume upstairs and xeroxed engravings for me on a quality copier reserved for staff use only. I'm delighted!
Met Ginny at 4:30 (she was late and I fussed at her for keeping me waiting while she fooled around with that lame-duck job) but we soon made up and rode the bus home together. Ate supper and watched football.
There was a phone message for Michael Galleon on our answering machine. He's the young artist I met by chance months ago while going through the trash in front of his house. He and his wife saw me rummaging in their garbage, took pity, and invited me in for coffee. I saw a few of his paintings. They impressed me as top quality. I got one of his cards and called a friend with the Riverside Fine Arts Association about his work. Loraine told me she would have John Bunker, former curator of both the Jax Museum of Contemporary Art and of the Cummer Gallery, call this young artist to see if his work made the grade for an exhibit. Mr. Bunker called my answering machine thinking it was Michael Galleon's so I relayed the message... Nothing may come of this or perhaps it will give the artist the break he needs to advance his career. I certainly hope so...
Because of my being a catalyst in all this (unknown to all parties directly concerned) perhaps I can now think of myself as JOHN COWART, PATRON OF THE ARTS. But because my roll is so insignificant that title is a trifle vain; however, maybe I can realistically identify myself as an art elf.
NOTE: Riverside Fine Arts did sponsor a show of the young man’s paintings. He never did have any idea that it was the tramp rummaging in his garbage can that he had been kind to, who had contacted them in the first place.
Friday, August 27, 1999 (While visiting Ginny’s parents in Accokeek, Maryland):
I woke at my usual 4 a.m., dressed and went outside to smoke (Their rule is NO smoking within 50 feet of the house). The rain has cleared and the day beautiful. I walked down a rural road and paused beside a culvert filled with rushing babbling water. At daylight I woke Ginny and we walked down to Piscataway Creek, a tributary of the Potomac. Accokeek lies directly across the Potomac from George Washington's Mount Vernon home.
Ground fog clung to the slow-moving water, the stillness unbroken except when rafts of wild geese took off or landed with loud honking. We strolled out onto a dock and watched three muskrats busy among the water lilies. As we walked back to the house, we paused often to examine various wild plants and to watch pileated woodpeckers and gold finches gathering their morning repast.
Back in Jack and Alva's garden, for the first time in years, I saw a hummingbird probing for nectar amid tall purple flowers.
Later, while Jack took Alva to a doctor's appointment, Cathy drove Ginny and me to a church thrift store where I bought a coffee mug from South Dakota and Ginny bought one from Florida.
Later, we toured the garden with Jack who told me about building a cold-frame/ hot house from sliding glass doors salvaged from torn-down buildings.
That night, Jack fixed one of the VCRs and we showed them the video we had made of our home and garden when we borrowed Beth's camcorder.
Saturday, August 28, 1999:
After our morning walks, Alva drove us to a large community thrift store where I bought a grotesque Mexican statue of a dead dog.
In the afternoon we attended a community picnic sponsored by some civic group Jack and Alva are active in. We ate pot-luck covered dish suppers with plenty of burgess made from vegetable protein (the community is very health-food conscious, fanatically so).
We all enjoyed a free boat ride out on the Potomac for a close-up view of Mount Vernon.
After the picnic and boat ride There was a drawing for door prizes and as a joke every prize winner received a tomato (the area has experiences a bumper crop of tomatoes and everyone has too many to eat, sell or can; gardens overflow with them, hundreds left to rot on the ground). This caused a great deal of laughter as the tomato prizes were awarded to supplement the other prizes: bottles of wine, movie passes, hand-woven baskets, etc.
The highpoint of the event was when the judge drew the ticket stub of a five-year-old boy whose win thrilled him. He dashed forward to the girls handing out tomatoes and snatched his, clutching it to his bosom and dashing back to show his mother without waiting to get the real prize! The judge and his mother wisely decided to pass on to drawing another ticket stub so they would not spoil the little boy's sense of triumph in winning his very own tomato.
The entire event reflected authentic rural Americana. A Norman Rockwell painting. People gathered at a park for a picnic where their only ties are that they all reside in the same community. Little else in common.
This was held at a colonial replica farm sponsored by the community. The private water-front park I visit every morning is community owned and maintained by residents with no government involvement.
Saturday, August 26, 2000:
For vacation fun Gin & I rode an early bus down to Five Points and ate breakfast at Hardy's then walked home visiting yard sales along the way. We gleaned many treasures including a small ashtray made out of a 1942 brass artillery shell, an hour glass, a picture frame, several books, a batch of kitchen utensils, and a statue of a Dutch Boy which I think is salt-cast.
Back home we floated in out clean new pool; then Ginny read a murder mystery while I repaired my office chair and did a few odd minor chores.
My but we enjoyed the true companionship of ignoring eachother as we each did exactly what we wanted.
Among the chores I did was to fix an old whistle I've had for ages. It is shaped like an ornate brass key. Karen, a secretary at the office, collects keys and I fixed this up for her. Took about an hour or 90 minutes. When I finished I inscribed a tag...
It was the oddest thing. Karen is a very fearful person and worries about being attacked (with good reason; some strange street people drop by often when she works alone in the office).
In my devotions I have recently finished the book of Numbers and I felt compelled to write on Karen's key tag:
Keep it with you at all times; when you blow the whistle, help will surely come.... Numbers 10: 1-10.
In ancient times God ordered His people to make two silver trumpets. They were to be blown in some celebrations of thanksgiving; but He promised His aid if the trumpets were ever blown in alarm.
Now I have no idea if my words to Karen are prophetic, but I felt assured as I wrote them that they were true...
Am I now become a wizard making magic whistles???
What a kinky thing to do.
Eve called in tears this afternoon. She had signed on too late at work and did not get paid Friday as she expected. They will not pay her till September 6th so her landlord gave her an eviction notice because she is now 21 days behind in her rent (I believe this is an intimidation tactic; I don't think a Florida landlord can legally evict a tenant till the rent is three months late). Another teacher, a stranger to Eve, gave her a ride home yesterday and when she asked why Eve was so down in the dumps and found out about her situation, the lady turned into a Food Lion and bought Eve a week's groceries on the spot!
Gin & I consulted and scraped together $100 to lend Eve (our vacation money I've been squirreling away for months). We are vacationing now just as we wish so this is no great hardship on us. But I have asked Eve to pay it back by November 6th so we can rent that cabin in Georgia for our planned anniversary trip.
On my advise, Eve also called her pastor and he can give her $150 and a referral to some agency for rental assistance. So things are looking up a bit for her. Besides, tomorrow she interviews for that youth minister's job at St. Luke's Episcopal... Lord, please give her grace.
Sunday, August 27, 2000:
Bishop Jecko spoke at church this morning. He’s officiating at the services as part of his yearly visitation to the parish. At my invitation he also attended our Adult Bible Class and appeared to enjoy Wes' teaching. When the class looked to run long and Wes still had a couple of points to make, he began to cut it short. But Bishop Jecko said, “Go ahead and finish your lesson. They aren’t about to start without me”.
After church, Gin & I again visited the estate sale on Acosta Street which we'd been to yesterday; we have been debating the wisdom of buying two bedside tables and a hassock which caught my fancy. But again, we chose to buy a few kitchen items only because of the expense ($55) of the furniture and the hassle we'd have transporting it home without a car.
After brunch Ginny lay around reading and spending time alone in her office while I moved dirt. I raised two flower beds in the back yard and tore out some termite-riddled garden logs in front and raised a hours-long flower bed. Took lots of dirt.
Gin came out later and transplanted some impatiens and roses into the new beds. We worked till it got too dark to see what we were doing.
Jennifer came by bringing us a pool vacuum and hose and taking the $100 and some odds and ends to Eve.
Helped Barbara move from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m. Brought home another car load of books, pictures and goodies. Barbara took us to supper at Famous Amos then took Ginny grocery shopping at Publix.
Tuesday, August 27, 2002 Through Friday, August 30th:
These days were devoted to helping Barbara move, to helping Eve get organized for her trip to London, and helping Jennifer & Pat get off for a trip to Atlanta. I don’t remember what Gin & I did for ourselves… On Friday, Eve finally boarded her plane at 3 in the afternoon; and Jennifer and Pat caught their flight at 7 that same evening. So I spent the day driving to and from the airport. Ginny and I had use of Jennifer’s Nissan Xteria for the weekend, but that involved going to Jennifer’s house three times a day to take care of her yapping dogs, poor neurotic little things. But eventually they stopped cowering beneath the sofa and let me feed them.
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