Dec. 5, 2006: From Obituaries To Art To Apologies, It Was A Very Good Year

To quote one of my all-time favorite singers — Frank Sinatra — crooning one of my all-time favorite songs, “It Was a Very Good Year.” Indeed, it was.

The first thing I did every morning this past year was to check the obituaries and see if my name was listed. I am happy to report that it never appeared.

The most significant event for me in 2006 was to realize a lifelong dream to become a bona fide artist. Those who have seen my paintings say I am pretty good. I just blush and stammer “Aw, shucks,” but I must admit I am amazed at my progress. Thanks be to one Kristopher Meadows, my art teacher, who belies the old saw that “Those who can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” This guy is a phenomenal artist and a great instructor. Last year, I was in Iraq with Georgia’s 48th Brigade Combat Team, wondering when I was going to get mortared. This year, I was in an art studio with a group of women who made me feel a part of their group, and an art instructor who thinks I might have some talent. Life is good.

Speaking of Iraq, I made a trip over to UGA and apologized to journalism professor Conrad Fink for a public feud I instigated a few years back. After almost getting my fanny blown off during my short stay with the troops, I realized that Professor Fink had spent a lot more time covering the war in Vietnam than I had in Iraq. He deserves more respect than I gave him. Almost getting one’s fanny blown off seems to give one a clearer perspective on things. Plus, it was the right thing to do.

No question that it was a good year to write a column. With some meticulous planning and much malice aforethought, I managed at one time or the other to anger liberal weenies, Bible thumpers, flaggers, Atlanta blowhard boosters, racists — both black and white — loud-talking Yankee transplants, Georgia Tech supporters, President Peanut’s sycophants, hockey fans, almost any special interest group you can name, a gaggle of self-important politicians and even a few newspaper editors. My cup runneth over.

You, dear reader, made the year even better. At my request, you sent thousands of messages to the Georgia troops in Iraq. When I asked for questions to pose to the Muslim panel I convened this summer, you supplied some 500 responses. You also found time to send me compliments when I said something you liked, and more than a few brickbats when I didn’t.

A lot of people who we too often take for granted also helped make it a good year: The men and women in law enforcement who protect us from the bad guys and sometimes from ourselves. The unsung heroes who put out fires. The people who deliver our mail and our newspaper, who pick up our trash and provide us electricity. Those who volunteer at soup kitchens, visit shut-ins, sing in the choir Sunday after Sunday or repair homes and lives destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Schoolteachers, of which I have two in the family. The selfless souls in our military. Those who heal us, physically and spiritually. Those who feed us. Those who care about us when we least deserve it. Bless them all.

How about 2007? More columns. More paintings. And as is my long-standing custom, frequent visits to the exquisite little Georgia Sea Grill on St. Simons Island to devour large amounts of corn-fried shrimp. Also ahead is what I hope will be a memorable trip. In March, I am taking youngest grandson, Thomas, to Normandy to see firsthand what D-Day was all about. I want him to appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation — whose likes we shall not see again — and to understand that the freedoms we take for granted did not come cheaply. That is a lesson of which we all need to be reminded. And, yes, I will continue to peruse the obituaries on a daily basis. Assuming I don’t see my name, it should be another very good year.