What price, this sacrifice?

It has been sometime since my last post. I have been compelled to write today because I was prompted by a message from a cousin. With the COVID-19 virus that has interrupted our routines, she has been giving virtual Sunday School lessons for her class. The lesson she shared yesterday spoke of the sacrifice of loved ones lost in war.

Memorial Day reminds us each year at this time to pay tribute to those in uniform who never came back home. Many of us, many family and friends have been touched by the loss of someone in uniform. For some, multiple family members have given their life in the service of their country.

This is the story of one of my family members. My great-uncle, Jesse Lawrence Caston was born on April 20, 1893. He was the eldest child to Joseph and Elizabeth Caston. He grew up in a mill village in the shadow of the Pepperton Cotton Mill. As a young man, he would later join other residents of the mill village as an employee of the cotton mill serving as a laborer/machinist. The guns of August would herald in the beginning of a World War in 1914. Within three years, the United States would be brought into the war, and soon hundreds of thousands of men would be called up to serve.

He registered with the draft board on June 5, 1917. The local draft board selected him for service and on April 2, 1918, PVT Jesse L. Caston, service number 1,933,313, reported for duty at Camp Gordon, Ga. He trained as an infantryman until June 8 and then embarked on the USS Susquehana on June 22 as a member of Company G, 148th Infantry, 37th Division.

On August 19, the 37th Division, along with three other American divisions, was attached to the Belgian, French 6th and British 2nd Armies in support of the allied offensives in Flanders. This major offensive was known as the Ypres-Lys Operation. The 148th Infantry fought in Recicourt and Avocourt for three strenuous months until the allied victory had been won.

The price of that victory was high. My uncle was one of those soldiers who paid that price. Through the ancestry and genealogical research done by another cousin, a glimpse into his sacrifice is revealed from his service/death card.

Caston, Jesse L. 1,933,313 Pvt

Engagements: North-west of Verdun

Wounds received in action: Wounded severely about Oct 17/18

Served overseas from June 22/18 to October 22/18

Died of broncho pneumonia on Oct 22, 1918.

My great-grandparents received the notice from the War Department on Saturday, Nov. 16, announcing the death of their son. Te dispatch went on to say that Pvt Caston died on October 22, from gas and pneumonia.

I cannot fathom the sorrow that they must have felt that day. The Armistice had been signed and announced just five days earlier on November 11th. I can only think that they were happy that the war was over and Jesse would be home soon. That was not to be. The family would have to revisit their sorrow almost three years later when his body was finally brought home by the War Department.

At what price was his sacrifice? A young man’s life taken away. He would never have the love of a wife. He would never feel the joy of watching his children play. The mill lost a hard worker. The community lost a good man with potential to bring so much to the community. His mother and father lost their oldest son. His siblings lost their big brother. His family lost forever a piece of their hearts.

It is why I tell his story and why I will continue to tell his story from now on so my children and my children’s children will remember his sacrifice. I am chilled to think that he lay on his death bed in a Red Cross hospital in Warwickshire, England with no family around him, only to hope that he was tended softly by caring nurses. In his last breath, I am sure he knew that he was loved by his family. I pray his spirit sees that he will continue to be remembered and honored not only on Memorial Day, but everyday.


Today is my mama’s birthday. Many would say she would have been 95 today, she is 95 today, but she is celebrating in heaven. I may not get to celebrate with her in body today, but I will celebrate today with her in spirit and remembrance.

I remember sitting on the edge of the tub with a skinned up knee. Mama reached into the medicine cabinet above the sink and pulled out a bottle of ST 37 and some cotton balls and soothed the scrape with her gentle touch.

I remember the smell of bacon traveling down the hall and finding its way into my room signaling that breakfast was almost ready and I need to get up and get ready for school.

I remember her tears when she was told that one of her sons had been killed in an accident.

I remember my baptism and looking out from the baptism pool and seeing her sitting in the pews beaming with pride.

I remember her driving the Vista Cruiser taking neighborhood children across town to elementary school.

I remember her smiles when family had gathered together for Christmas.

I remember her wanting one last hug on the porch as I got in my car and left for my first day of college.

I remember her loading the washing machine, unloading the dryer and folding clothes and asking what I had learned in school today and did I want a snack.

I remember her sitting poised and proud with other families as they watched their sons and daughters receive their commissions on a parade field.

I remember my last day of jump school at Fort Benning, mama saw me and said, “I looked up and wondered if that was my boy jumping out of that airplane!”

I remember her telling me that she would not be the only woman in my life anymore, but she would always be the first.

I remember the open arms always given to a son who may have stumbled a few times.

I remember having lunch one day and pulling out the chair next to me so we could sit side by side, only to have her move across the table so she could look straight into my face.

I remember her cuddling my newborn daughter. Her eyes revealed the words in her heart.

I remember the love in your eyes the last day that I saw you.

I remember saying goodbye to you for the last time. Almost a year ago now. I remember you every day, not just today on your birthday. I still talk to you, but I miss hearing your voice. You continue to live in the hearts, minds and souls of everyone you touched. I’m sure you welcomed Aunt Angie and Bonnie with big hugs in heaven.

We will always remember.

Happy Birthday Mama.


A Note from Santa

This time of the year triggers many memories when I hearken back to my childhood. This year is different. This is the first Christmas in my life that I will not hear my mother’s voice wish me a “Merry Christmas Chipper!” This year, the avalanche of memories rushing through head remind me of how very fortunate I have been in this life.
Being a member of the over 50 crowd, I have gone through many Christmas days. I was a lucky young lad when Santa made his rounds. One year, my little brother and I woke up to matching sets of cowboy gear. Clad with our cowboy hats and six-guns, we struck a fine pose next to the Christmas tree that year.

Chip Christmas186
Another time, Santa brought us a fine set of G.I. olive drab fatigues, complete with a beret and a wooden M-1 rifle. We blended in well when our mother took our picture next to the tanks next door at the National Guard Armory.
G.I. Joe’s, BB guns, footballs, baseball gloves, bicycles and other exciting toys to bring Christmas joy to little boys. All the neighborhood girls and boys would be out in the yards soon on Christmas day, playing with their newfound gizmos and gadgets from Santa’s visit. One of my childhood neighbors and friends once mentioned on a Facebook post that we lived an idyllic childhood in our little hometown. His words ring true to me as well, I think of the old TV show, “Leave it to Beaver”, when I think back to my childhood.

Chip Christmas185
During the 1960’s, many animated Christmas shows were broadcast for the first time on TV. One of my favorites that I remember was “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. During one Christmas season, I made special mention of Rudolf when I was writing my letter to Santa Clause. I remember dutifully writing my letter and asking Santa to bring Rudolf with him on his visit this year. Living in the Deep South, many of our Christmas days were bright and sunny and there would have been no need for Rudolph to light the way. My mother took our letters and said she would mail them off to Santa Clause.
When Christmas day came, my little brother and I dashed into the living room that morning and waded in to the bounty from Santa. A G.I. Joe with an orange scuba suit with an underwater sea sled, a football, cowboy boots, boy, I was all set! My mother came in, watched the festive free-for-all, and smiled as we looked at amazement at each new gift from Santa. She briefly interrupted me and pointed up at the top of our Christmas tree. She said, “Look! You got a note from Santa Clause!” I looked up at the top of the tree and I saw a piece of notebook paper taped to one of the branches. My mother brought it down and we sat down and read it together,
Dear Chip,
I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas! I wanted to let you know that I received your letter and I brought Rudolph with me on my trip this year. Merry Christmas!
Love, Santa Clause
I looked at my mother and said “WOW! Santa Clause wrote me a letter and brought Rudolph!” The joy in a little boy’s heart was expressed on his face as he gazed up into his mother’s eyes. I took the letter and put it in a special box where I kept the “stuff’ I collected. Years later as a teenager, as I was going through my special box, I read the letter again. Penned in a beautiful cursive script, the letter brought as much joy to me then as when I first saw it. My mother had the most wonderful handwriting I have ever seen. Of course, my opinion is biased, but I think many of her friends and family would agree that her cards and letters were a fine example of cursive writing. Unfortunately, over the course of time, that particular letter has disappeared from the many mementos that I have collected over the years, but its meaning is one of the foremost memories in my heart. I was so blessed as a child to receive many toys and gifts from Santa and my family, but I think the most precious gift of all was the gift of a mother’s love. The most meaningful gift I received that Christmas was not found under the tree, but written on a piece of paper. A gift that followed me all of my life and continues to live in my heart and soul. I was blessed to share 54 wonderful Christmas seasons with my mother, but I miss her today. Her unwavering faith and love inspired me while she was here. Now that she is in heaven, her memory will follow me for my lifetime and I will always remember my note from Santa.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Edna's Pics174

Daddy, Lewis and Me

Happy Father’s Day!

Kitchen Table Diary

For as long as I remember, our family always received the morning paper. I remember my father sitting at the kitchen table drinking his first cup of coffee and reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. My mother would be in the kitchen making her magical concoctions for breakfast. My younger brother and I would make our entrance with sleepy eyes and quiet mouths, wondering what was in store for the school day. We began to perk up as soon as we took in some of our mother’s offerings at the table. Our father would acknowledge our presence with a forceful, “Good Morning!” as he briefly lowered his paper. He would return to reading as we filled our bellies with biscuits, bacon and eggs. This was our morning ritual. When we finished our breakfast, we might read a bit too from the discarded sections that Daddy had already read. Then Daddy would be…

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Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the small city of Dahlonega, Georgia lays the recently renamed University of North Georgia. A recent conversation with an old friend, classmate and mentor rekindled many memories of my college alma mater.

When I enrolled back in the fall of 1980, it was named North Georgia College, or affectionately known as “NGC”. The colleges sub-title was The Senior Military College of Georgia and it remains so today. It has also been referred to as one of Georgia’s best kept secrets. I frankly did not know much about it when I was in high school until I began looking for colleges with ROTC programs. My dream was to earn a commission and serve as an officer. I had initially set my sights on the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, but I did not make the cut during the congressional selection process. I was accepted to other well-known military schools like The Citadel in South Carolina and VMI, the Virginia Military Institute and I was accepted to North Georgia College. North Georgia had been suggested by a friend of my father who had been a former officer. Although my father was footing the bill, he said I could go anywhere I wanted but that NGC would be in-state tuition and I would be closer to home. I chose NGC. That decision was one of the best decisions of my life.

NGC’s unique dynamic of a military academy style regimen for ROTC students, a robust co-ed non-military student body and a burgeoning enrollment of commuters made for an experience and campus like no other. NGC’s orientation for all students was a program called “Intro” which was conducted in the summer for a few days for new freshmen to become familiarized with the campus and the other incoming students. My first roommate and I met there and we talked about our cars and such. I had a maroon Mustang and he had a white Camaro. We also talked about our next adventure that would be coming up when the school year started in September, Freshman Orientation for ROTC students or as it was affectionately known, “Frog Week.”

Reporting to the campus that first day of Frog Week, small groups of “hair bags” were marched into the town of Dahlonega just off campus, where they would have their first meeting with “Woody’s” barber shop. We would all receive a nice “buzz cut” and march back to campus to draw our uniforms and then the fun would really begin. “Frog Week” was an intense period of military training, physical fitness and team building. A condensed version of basic training, if you will, designed to get us a jumpstart on our military routine. One of the focal points of our training and really the focal point of the campus was the “Drill Field.” The “Drill Field” was a large, open parade ground in the center of the campus. During “Frog Week”, we spent many hours marching and performing close order drill. At 5:00 p.m. on that first day, we “Frogs” participated in our first Retreat Ceremony. The Retreat Ceremony is a time-honored military tradition of paying respect and lowering the colors. As our cadre of upper classmen bellowed out the drill commands, we stood at parade rest as we listened to the bugle call of Retreat echo across the campus, immediately bringing all movement to a halt. As that melody waned, the distinctive shot of a pack howitzer thundered over the campus. A ceremonial gun modified to fire a blank shell, the pack howitzer was carefully tended by the cadet OD (Officer of the Day). The next command to present arms was given in harmony with the bugle call, “To the Colors”. At that point, a sense of pride welled up in my throat; goose bumps were raised on the back of my freshly shaved head and I knew this was the right place, this was where I wanted to be, and this place would forever be a part of me.

Many of my classmates and I would go on to have four wonderful years at “NGC”. We would join fraternities and sororities, we would join military organizations on campus, we would live, laugh and love and sometimes cry. Somewhere in all the mix, we would earn enough credits to attain a degree. We would find husbands and wives or just find ourselves. We would transform from young high school students to young men and women ready to engage in the world. Some of us would become officers in the military. Some of us would become teachers and nurses. Some of us would become Doctors, Lawyers and business men and women. We would all be taking a part of “NGC” with us. My “NGC” may be a little different than my other classmates. Each of our “NGC’s” will be unique to each one of us, but we would all share common threads that had developed in us over the years we were there together. It was a special intangible essence that made “NGC” not just a school to get a degree, but a transformational experience that goes with us all of our lives.

The college’s Corp of Cadets was something special and from all accounts it remains so today. I would go so far to say that it was and is one of our state’s treasures. One could also say that it was a national treasure, producing some of the finest officers to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. It is my wish that the Corps of Cadets continues to be strongly supported and celebrated. Someone once said that the only constant is change. As my old school consolidates with other schools and changes her name, I hope that the change is positive and forward with a continued commitment to the Corps of Cadets and all it represents.

Today’s students of The University of North Georgia, or “UNG”, will have their own unique experiences. It is my hope and, indeed my prayer that 30 years from now, the alumni of “UNG” will share that same reverence that my classmates and I hold today. It is my hope that the core traditions that have served this school so nobly in the past will continue to serve her and her students in the future.Image

My Tribute to Mama

Happy Birthday Mama,
Thank You

My Mother’s birthday is coming up on September 28th and I would like to honor her in a special way this year. I want to share her life story and what she has meant to me.
She has been called by many names. She has been called Mary, Edna, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Daniel, “Miss Edna” and “Teetnin”. It has been my good fortune to call her Mama.
She grew up in “Pepperton”, a small mill village east of Jackson during the Depression. Their bank accounts were not large, but their hearts and souls were full of love. She saw the advent of the indoor bathroom and can remember drinking a “3 cent’er” soft drink. She used to enjoy going to her Grandmother’s home and playing in the country and savoring the offerings from the fruit trees. She enjoyed playing with dolls as a little girl and swimming at the pool at Indian Springs. When she was a young teenager, she and three of her friends pooled their money and bought an old convertible “ Model A” or “Model T”, I cannot remember exactly which one. Mama had the distinct privilege of being the driver because she was the only one who knew how at the time.
Very soon, she would catch the eye of a handsome young man, Carl Kelly. In the course of their courtship, they fell in love and married. They began a new life together. He, as a soldier and she, an Army wife.
Life on army posts in those days could be challenging. I can remember mama telling me of having to go out in the snow and chopping wood for their stove and drawing water from a well pump.
Mama would soon be stricken with rheumatic fever. She would be restricted to bed rest. It was at that time that she came home to Jackson so my grandmother “Bon Bon” could help care for her. Their young sons would stay at Ft. Lewis with their father where he was helped out with the boys by some army wives. Then fate would strike again. The Korean War started up and Carl was to be called overseas.
He brought the boys back to Jackson. He then bid a tearful farewell to mama and boarded a train back to Ft. Lewis. This would be the last time that she would ever see him. Carl was killed in Korea and regaled as a war hero, as was so eloquently detailed in an article in this paper some time ago. Highway 16 running east out of Jackson was named in his honor.
A new phase of life would begin for mama and her three boys. Thru the pain and the grieving, she found an inner strength and courage to forge on with life. She had come full circle, having left Jackson as a young teenage girl, living the life of a soldier’s wife at different points on the compass, and now returning to Jackson as a young woman, a mother and a widow.
She and her boys took up residence in the Deraney apartments. She also worked for her Uncle Ralph, who had a store there in town. She also forged some lifelong friendships while living in the apartments, friendships still strong to this day. This was a period of transition. Mama would begin dating again and would meet a man from Griffin, Ed Daniel, my father. They would be married in the National Guard armory in Jackson. Right across the street would be their new home, etched out of a field where an old farm once stood. Mama had bore three sons and would soon give life to another two, me and my little brother Joe.

Mama is one of the wisest people I have known. As a young child, she taught me about manners and courtesy. I still have memorized the little phrase she repeated over and over, “Yes m’am, No m’am, Thank you m’am, Please.” It is these little memories that make mama, that make all of our mothers, so special.
I was in the second grade when tragedy would once again visit my mother. My older brother Timmy was killed in a traffic accident in California. This was my first real life lesson about grief and loss. Many years later, my brother Pat was also killed in a traffic accident. Yet, my mother displayed profound courage in working thru her grief and anguish. By watching her example, I came to understand that one could rebound and engage life again with a positive attitude and a strong relationship with God. As I continued to grow, I would learn other lessons on life from mama’s example about dignity, character, compassion, courage, courtesy, respect and a reverence of God and love.

One of the most enjoyable benefits of living under Miss Edna’s roof was her cooking. Whether having a wholesome breakfast of eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast before school, or having mama’s oven BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes on a cool fall evening, it was all good. But it was also comforting, both physiologically and emotionally. A good meal shared by family imparts a sense of home and belonging. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting down to the dinner table enjoying one of mama’s meals.
When I’m feeling low or down about something, I look to my mother’s example to boost my morale and pick myself up. She is my hero and she will be forever. My soul is enriched every time I speak to her and hear her voice. Many times I wish I lived in Jackson once again so I could see her every day.
Those of us of faith no doubt wonder what it will be like when we are finally called to heaven. For me, in my own dreams, I do not see pearly gates and lands of milk and honey. My vision of heaven is that of a little boy of about 10, clad in blue jeans and T-shirt running across a field of grass in the bright sunshine. I’m running towards my house. Standing on the back porch is my mama. I reach my mama and fall into her arms with an embrace. When I realize that dream, I will know that I have made it to heaven.
I thank God daily for blessing me and my brothers with our mother.
Thank You and Happy Birthday Mama.
I Love You,

Politics from the Living Room Floor

There was a time when I remember all of the news in our house was delivered by our daily newspaper in the morning and by Walter Cronkite at night on our black and white TV. I can remember my Daddy hunched over the ottoman having a tall glass of cornbread and buttermilk, eyes and ears fixed on Walter. As I lay on the living room floor, I drifted back and forth from Mrs. Weaver’s homework to the Daddy and Walter show. As I was learning Mrs. Weaver’s English lessons of the day, I was also gaining an education about politics and about my father’s reaction to the political realities of that time.

It was the 1970’s. Our country had been fighting a war thousands of miles away for almost 10 years. Much of the country had grown weary of this protracted enterprise and people were ready for our boys to come home. My mama had endured the anxiety of having two sons serve over there, and by the grace of God, they came home. One of those boys carried internal scars from that war until the day he died.

Musicians were being busted for drugs, soap operas were the rage for the American housewife, civil wars were going on in Africa, natural disasters were killing people around the world, the Middle East was wracked with strife and Politicians were trying to convince the American people that their way was the best way. There were Democrats and there were Republicans. The Democrats were the champions of social and cultural change. The Republicans were projecting a state of steadiness, order and deliberation.

Yesterday, we had the newspaper, channels 2,5 and 11(ABC,CBS,NBC) doing a short local news blurb between soap operas and then you had the nightly national  news around 6:30 in the evening. Politicians could be more deliberate in what they were going to say and have more time to plan their interaction with the media and the public. They seemed to be able to set the pace and set the agenda.

Then, in 1974, the game changed. The Watergate scandal brought down a President and the political pill everyone swallowed over the news at night seemed to be sour and sometimes bitter. Dad was still watching Walter, mumbling and groaning with each new spoonful of cornbread and buttermilk and I was still scratching my head over English.

Today, we are in a new ballgame, or are we? We are fighting wars thousands of miles away from home. Although the causes are more clear and personal, we would love for our sons and daughters to come home.  Musicians and movie stars are still being busted for drugs. They just canceled a couple of soap operas  because the American housewife is going out to work more these days. Civil wars are still happening in Africa and natural disasters continue to kill and wreak havoc all over the world.

The Middle East is still wracked with strife and violence, maybe even a little more so these days and yes, Politicians are still trying to convince the American people that their way is the best way.

But today, we have more players in the game. We still have our old gold standard newspaper, but Walter is gone. Today he has a lot of company. We still have the standards ABC, CBS and NBC, but we also have cable news today. CNN, MSNBC,FOX,CNBC,C-SPAN. Each one trying get a larger slice of the American ear. But that’s not all, we also have a relatively new invention called the internet. Every morning when we are settling in to work, between the coffee and donuts or yogurt and juice, we turn on this box on our desk and we have a whole new medium vying for a slice of our attention. MSN, YAHOO and others add to our daily diet of news and politics.

The Democrats, well, they are still the champions of social and cultural change. The Republicans want stability, steadiness, order and fiscal restraint. But today, they all have to be quicker and faster in their game because there are many more players in the game trying to get the spotlight.

Today, when I get home from work, we have supper and then my daughter has to do her homework. She is torn between math fractions and Nintendo DS. Her mother tells her to get busy as she flips through a myriad of cable channels. I get up and go back into the kitchen and open up the newspaper, relishing the silence and solemnity.  My mind drifts back to those days in the living room floor.

I miss my daddy, I miss Walter. Some cornbread and buttermilk sure would be good right now.Image