Sometimes prayers get answered in the best way possible

Parents have differing ambitions for their children, one supposes. Everyone wants their kids to be happy, to live fulfilling lives and to avoid the mistakes that they themselves have made.

However, one also harbors the suspicion that those with more temporal aspirations for their offspring – riches, marrying “up,” political ambitions – are more likely to keep such objectives to themselves, their spouses or a tight-knit group of friends who think along the same lines.

My hopes for my six children have always been the same: good health, happiness and holiness (I like alliteration). That’s been my prayer for each of them every night. If they can achieve a modicum of those three, their lives will be rich beyond measure.

For daughter No. 3, who I will refer to as Caroline, since that’s her name, my prayers have already been answered many times over. Not only is she a happy young lady and goes to church on her own, but she has overcome a host of early health issues that left her life in jeopardy from the moment she was born.

Caroline was diagnosed with a congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation before she was born. Because she was a twin, there was no chance of doctors performing surgery while she was still in the womb. The congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation, or CCAM, prevented one of the lobes in her right lung from developing, leaving it instead a mass incapable of functioning like normal lung tissue.

Daughter No. 3 in action earlier this year. And, yes, she will exact revenge upon me for using this photo.

Fortunately, she was delivered at one of the best hospitals in the Southeast, the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. Within moments of her birth, she was whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit. Almost immediately, because the CCAM was preventing her from getting necessary oxygen, she was placed on a frightening piece of equipment that provided extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, called an ECMO machine.

ECMO is a heart-lung bypass that oxygenates the blood. It is described as “advanced life support technique used for patients with life-threatening problems.” It is used “only when all of the standard treatments for those problems have already been tried.”

The goal is to support the patient while doctors try to treat the underlying issue. Unfortunately, the longer a newborn is on ECMO, the greater the chances of bleeding in the brain, which can cause brain damage or even death.

My then-wife, having given birth to twins by caesarian, was recuperating and understandably unable to visit Caroline in the hours after her birth. I was able to see my daughter within an hour after she’d been born, and she was already hooked up to the very large machine, with oxygenated blood being circulated into her body through a cannulae in her neck. Standing there alone, with just a nurse monitoring her, as machines beeped and blinked over my tiny baby was very sobering experience.

Even more difficult was what occurred a short time later, when a nurse asked if I had a priest I wanted to call. She knew we were Catholic and that if things didn’t look good for Caroline that we would want her baptized immediately. I said yes, and made the call.

The priest showed up a short time later and not only baptized my hours-old daughter, but also gave her extreme unction, better known as last rites. Caroline had been born at 1:01 p.m. and I distinctly remember more than once praying that she make it until at least midnight, so that no would think she had been a stillborn. It’s odd what one dwells on in times of crisis.

My mother had flown out from California and my ex-wife’s parents were on hand, as well. As excited as everyone was about the second baby, who I’ll call Abby, since that’s her name, there was a definite sense of foreboding as we watched little Caroline struggling while hooked up to the ECMO.

We would visit her regularly, and I was there one day by myself when she opened her eyes for what I believe was the first time. She was looking directly at me. I have no idea if she could focus on me or even knew of my presence, but it was a positive development. It was on that day that she was able to grip my finger with her tiny hand for the first time.

However, attempts to take her off ECMO weren’t progressing. Because of the danger of brain bleeds, the maximum time a newborn is allowed on the machine is three weeks. As we passed the two-week mark, Caroline’s compromised lungs still were unable to take the strain of her breathing on her own. Doctors had removed the mass, but each time they tried to take her off the machine, she wasn’t able to get enough oxygen into her bloodstream on her own and would have to go back on ECMO.

Walking outside the hospital one late spring day, I distinctly remember asking my mom if we would have to look into organ donation. She said we should wait and see what happened.

As the third and final week of Caroline on the machine came to a close, things were not looking particularly good. But just as we were preparing for the worst, Caroline’s lungs improved enough that doctors were able to remove her from the heart-lung bypass and she was able to breathe on her own. It seemed like a last-minute reprieve.

There were more challenges ahead. Did she have brain damage from her extended stay on the ECMO? (no, fortunately); she had had so many surgeries that she had become addicted to morphine, which she had to be weaned from; she would spend more than three months in the neonatal intensive care unit before she could come home and join her twin and older sister and brother, and she needed physical therapy because her neck muscles hadn’t developed, leaving her unable to hold her head up, because she had had to lay in the same position on the heart-lung transplant machine for three weeks.

Why do I write this today? Last night Caroline attended her high school cross country team’s annual banquet. The girl born without the middle lobe on her right lung spent the last five years running cross country, and another four years running track.

She wasn’t the fastest, but she worked hard, didn’t complain and developed a love for a sport she will likely enjoy her entire life. Ironically, it was eight years yesterday that she went for her first run, with her stepmother – my wife – who took her and her sisters out for a jog to introduce them to the sport.

Over the past few years of attending my daughter’s cross country races I’ve seen parents yell at their children for not finishing as well as the parent would have liked. I’ve seen parents say how disappointed they were with their kid’s performance, turn their backs on them, walk away from them and even make them cry.

Me? I was grateful for every time Caroline got out there and ran. She made some wonderful friends, was part of a good team and learned lessons that will serve her well through life. Many a time as she ran past me I thought back to that spring when all I wanted was for her to live to the next day, or to open her eyes just once so she could see me.

Needless to say, many times over the past five years I’ve thanked God for giving me the chance to see my daughter run, and last night, when she walked up and received her school letter from her coach, culminating years of hard work, I said another prayer of thanks that she has come so far.

She is a good person with a good heart, as are all of her siblings.

It is said that we often don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it. Having nearly lost a daughter at birth, I’ve long recognized and appreciated what I have with my children.

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The ‘Man in Black’ stands tall over California capital city

Near the California state capital in downtown Sacramento is a striking 15-story mural of music legend Johnny Cash.

The mural was completed earlier this year by graphic artist Shepard Fairey, who is best known for the “Hope” poster supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

It shows Cash looking toward Folsom State Prison, site of one of his most famous performances, and the subject of one of Cash’s greatest songs, Folsom Prison Blues.

The mural is both a tribute to Cash and recognizes his passion for prison reform.

Cash mural in downtown Sacramento, with more of the surrounding area, for context.

Cash staged close to 30 prison concerts over a 20-year period and two albums were based on those performances: “Live at Folsom Prison” and “Live at San Quentin,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Fairey is also an advocate for prison reform, and did the mural in the hope that it would “ignite a conversation around the need for incarceration reform,” he told the publication.

The mural is based on a print Fairey produced in 2016. It is Fairey’s largest in California and his most “most technically ambitious mural ever.”

Remembering one of 10 million, 100 hundred years later

One hundred years ago today Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr. was killed in fighting on the Western Front. Sadly, he died just one day before the end of the Great War.

Even sadder, given the confusion of war, his family did not find out for some time afterward, so they initially believed he had survived the terrible conflict that claimed 10 million lives.

Ravenel was from a rural community in Sumter County, S.C. He was described as a “brave soldier” and it was noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.”

That he was brave is indicated by the fact that he was killed on final full day of the war. With German allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire already having surrendered, rumors were rampant by early November 1918 that an armistice was imminent. Many soldiers on both sides were understandably content to do their best to just keep out of harm’s way.

Still, high-ranking officers in the rear continued to send men forward, many times only to add to their own personal accolades, resulting in needless deaths in the war’s final hours.

Ravenel, a member of the American Expeditionary Force’s 316th Machine Gun Battalion, was killed near Verdun, France. Verdun had seen some of the worst fighting of the war, and in the history of warfare, in 1916, and the area remained a hot zone throughout the remainder of the conflict.

An after-action report by 2nd Lieutenant Herbert R. Stender, who served under Ravenel, recounted the details regarding latter’s death.

According Stender’s Nov. 14, 1918, report, at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 10 he was ordered to gather a detail of two noncommissioned officers and four privates from his platoon and patrol an area up to the limit of the territory held by the 324th Infantry, then return with his information before dark.

Stender’s detail left a short while later and after about a mile came across the “dead body of Corporal Burgess of ‘B’ Company,” he wrote. “I then realized that something was wrong because Corporal Burgess’ death was caused by machine gun bullets and not by a sniper.”

Stender and his men proceeded cautiously in the same direction and was within 200 yards of Bois de Chabotte when Stender heard “cries of some distress.”

“… to my surprise and sorrow, I found Captain Ravenel of ‘B’ Company. He had been shot through the leg with machine gun bullets and his leg was broken,” Stender wrote.

“He recognized me at once and requested me to take him away before the Boche (Germans) could return and get him,” Stender continued. “I called my patrol to the spot and we fixed the Captain as comfortably as possible.

“The Captain cautioned us to keep down and to get away as soon as possible because the woods in front of us were infested with machine guns and that the Boche would open up on us right away.”

Stender’s patrol then proceeded to bring Ravenel back to the American lines, but Ravenel died en route.

Stender added that the task of recovering Ravenel’s body in was an arduous one: “… we had to go through a swamp covered with shell holes and enemy wire (and the) patrol was under heavy artillery and machine gun fire the whole time while they were returning …”

Ravenel’s body wasn’t returned to the US for nearly three years, when he was interred in the family burial plot at the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, SC, in the summer of 1921.

Ravenel was one of several World War I casualties from South Carolina whose remains were returned to the Palmetto State on Aug. 5, 1921, according to a newspaper account.

The others included Private Williams D. Wells, of Greenville, killed on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed; Private Oscar Camp, Gaffney; Private James M. Lynn, Rock Hill; Private Henry K. Brown, Saluda; Private Jesse J. Moore, Westminster; Private Richard Williams, Jefferson; and Private L.T. Dickson, Kings Creek.

It would be nice to be able to write that Ravenel and the tens of thousands of other U.S. troops who gave their lives in World War I died for a worthwhile cause.

Given that World War II, with all its accompanying horrors, would be spawned from the carnage of the Great War, though, it’s hard to believe much good came from the First World War.

And today, the centennial of World War I has largely gone unnoticed in the United States, from the war’s beginnings in Europe to U.S. involvement in 1917 to its last days in November 1918.

We plod merrily along, glutting ourselves with consumer goods, social media minutiae and pointless political squabbling, oblivious to the hardship and sacrifice of 1914-18. Meanwhile,

In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row

As they have for a full century now.

(Top: Gravestone of Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr., in Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery, Stateburg, SC.)

How a Reconstruction president got his own road in the South

Laurens, S.C., is a typical small Southern town. Its mills are closed, the Columbia, Newberry and Laurens Railroad is now part of a major transportation company and the last bank with its headquarters in the community relocated nearly a decade ago.

But there’s no denying its history. Even though it has a population of around 9,000, the town can claim two South Carolina governors, a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Secretary of the Navy. It also produced at least two Confederate congressmen and several signers of the S.C. Ordinance of Secession.

That latter bit is what makes the sign on a main street heading into town rather striking: “President Andrew Johnson Memorial Highway”.

Johnson, of course, served as the 17th president of the United States. Of particular note to denizens of Laurens and other Southerners, he was president during the first part of Reconstruction (1865-69), when Radical Republicans in Congress did their best to stick it to the South for the War Between the States.

At first glance, naming a road in the heart of South Carolina after a Reconstruction president seems akin to, oh, labeling the section of road between the German cities of Stuttgart and Munich the “Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau Memorial Autobahn”.

It should be noted that Johnson was by no means aligned with the Radical Republicans. He favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. Unfortunately, his plans did not give protection to former slaves. He went so far as to veto the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to former slaves, and got crosswise with the Republican-dominated Congress.

Andrew Johnson, with a face only a mother, but not a prospective mother-in-law, could love.

He was impeached by the House of Representatives and escaped conviction and removal from office by a single vote in the Senate. Without Congressional support, he accomplished little during his four years in office.

So why does Johnson, generally considered one of the worst, if not the worst president in U.S. history, and the man in charge of the Federal government directly after it defeated the Southern Confederacy, have a highway named for him in the South Carolina Upstate?

It turns out that Johnson, a native of North Carolina, operated a tailor shop in Laurens in the mid-1820s. He even courted a local “blue-eyed beauty,” a lass named Sarah Ward.

Johnson wanted to marry Ward, but according to legend, Ward’s widowed mother didn’t think a tailor was suitable for her daughter and nixed the match.

Once Johnson realized he had no chance of winning Ward’s hand, he returned first to Raleigh, N.C., where he’d been born, then moved west to Tennessee.

It was in Tennessee that he would eventually serve in the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and as governor before becoming Abraham Lincoln’s vice president for six weeks, until Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, thrusting Johnson into the presidency.

A resolution designating a stretch of road through Laurens as the “President Andrew Johnson Memorial Highway,” recognizing both his time in the town and his service to the people of the United States, was passed by the S.C. General Assembly in 2000.

Alas, I was unable to find any roads named for the widow Ward or any of her kin during my time in Laurens.

Graniteville, S.C.: The original Southern mill town

You wouldn’t know it driving through the dusty streets of Graniteville, S.C., but the small community was at one time a cutting-edge region for economic development.

Today, the unincorporated area has a population of about 2,500 individuals, down sharply from a half century ago. For 150 years, Graniteville, about 10 miles east of Augusta, Ga., was a textile center. It was, in fact, the original Southern mill village, beginning in the mid-1840s.

Graniteville’s place as a textile hub was finally done in by the movement of jobs to foreign countries and a tragic train accident in 2005 in which poisonous chlorine gas was released following a collision, killing nine residents and injuring another 250.

While area does have a tire plant, there’s definitely a feeling Graniteville’s best days are behind it. Yet there remains plenty of interest in the hamlet.

Among the appealing features of Graniteville are more than two dozen original mill houses, built in the late 1840s.

The Gothic Revival wood-frame homes, survivors of 100 built more than a decade before the War Between the States, are considerably more stylish than the clapboard mill houses familiar throughout many Southern cities and towns.

The homes feature Gothic vertical board-and-batten siding with a steeply-pitched front gables. They were built with decorative scalloped barge boards, which can still be seen on many of the remaining houses.

Shuttered mill in Graniteville, S.C.

Graniteville was the work of William Gregg (1800-67), an orphan who parlayed a successful career as a jeweler into a textile fortune.

Gregg had been a part owner of a cotton mill in Edgefield District in the mid-1830s, one of several mills that existed in the state at this time. But these ventures tended to be undercapitalized and prone to failure.

Gregg decided to embark on a serious study of the industry, venturing north in 1844 to inspect textile mills in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Gregg’s travels convinced him that with proper planning and supervision textile production could be managed successfully in the Palmetto State, according to research done by Lisa Pfueller Davidson for the National Park Service.

Gregg understood the state was “wasting its potential by shipping raw cotton to the North and buying back finished goods at exorbitant prices,” according to Davidson, who added that Gregg believed that viable textile mills in the state would diversify the state’s cotton-reliant economy and provide jobs for poor whites.

Between 1845 and 1849 Gregg supervised the construction of a mile-long power canal, a mill building and a schoolhouse, in addition to the mill houses.

The mill was furnished with state-of-the-art technology for spinning and weaving, and went into operation in 1849. The financial success of the enterprise prompted the development of other, similar mills elsewhere in the South.

While Graniteville’s mills went into decline as jobs began shifting overseas in the 1980s and ‘90s, the final nail in the coffin came after the operation was acquired by Avondale Mills in 1996, when a Norfolk Southern train carrying chlorine gas, sodium hydroxide and cresol went through a misaligned switch, then collided with a second, parked train.

Several of the cars derailed and one carrying chlorine gas ruptured, releasing about 60 tons of the gas. Of the nine people killed as a result of collision, six were Avondale employees.

The following year, Avondale’s CEO announced his company was ceasing operation, closing mills across four states. He cited the crash as the primary reason for the company’s failure.

It proved a sad ending to a long, remarkable run for the Graniteville operation.

Still, it’s impressive to consider that the mill William Gregg started before the California Gold Rush survived into the 21st century, providing jobs and textiles for more than 160 years.

(Top: One of few remaining original houses built for mill workers around 1850.)

Florida fisherman hooks, lands jumbo grouper

Spend any time talking salt water fishing and you quickly become aware of the “big ‘uns,” those deep-water behemoths that are the stuff of legends but almost never end up on the end of your line.

Earlier this month Brandon Lee Van Horn of Panama City, Fla., was finally able to stop dreaming and start bragging.

The longtime commercial fisherman, who began fishing on his grandfather’s charter boat at age 8, landed a 330-pound Warsaw grouper on Oct. 1. He caught the monster in 375 feet of water after a 25-minute fight to bring it to the surface.

“You have no idea how much that fish means to me,” he told the Panama City News Herald. “I will probably never catch another one that big ever again.”

Van Horn, who fishes for a “little bit of everything,” mostly seeks out smaller species like vermillion snapper. Bigger fish such as Warsaw groupers can be difficult to land because they often break off or straighten out hooks once they’ve taken the bait, he told the paper.

Warsaw groupers are among the biggest fish found in the Gulf of Mexico, growing up to eight feet in length and nearly 600 pounds. Van Horn missed the Florida state record by more than 100 pounds, to a 436-pound giant caught in 1985 off Destin, but he was still pretty pleased with his day.

“I will probably never, ever catch one in my life this big ever again,” he said. “Definitely a fish of a lifetime.”

(Top: Brandon Lee Van Horn shows off his 330-pound Warsaw grouper in Panama City, Fla.)

Flea Bite Creek – short on fleas, big on other critters

Even in an area where the streams and bodies of water have names such as Squirrel Creek, Four Hole Swamp and Smoke Pond, the name Flea Bite Creek stands out.

It’s difficult to determine how long ago the creek got its unusual name, which seems a bit of a misnomer today as there are few, if any, fleas along its banks. But given the sandy soil found in the area, near Cameron, S.C., in Calhoun County, less than an hour south of Columbia, it’s possible the irritating parasites once inhabited the locale in abundance.

Standing on a bridge over Flea Bite Creek, with a view of algae-covered water, thick cypress trees and a great deal of brush along the banks, it would seem a more appropriate name for the stream would be “Snake Bite Creek.”

Another possibility is “Gator Gulch.”

But back 250 years ago when the region was being settled it’s likely nearly every lake, river and swamp in South Carolina was filled with snakes, venomous and otherwise, meaning this sluggish stretch of water wouldn’t have stood out had it been host to cottonmouths, copperheads or king snakes.

Not only that, there’s something to be said for a foe one can see, and avoid, even if it’s a six-foot snake, rather than one the size of sesame seed that jumps in an unpredictable manner.