When 2000 finally ended, I had by then had my fill of the final year of the 20th century.
My mother died last September. I cant imagine what it is like to be more profoundly and deeply grieved. I told my minister that it felt like someone had just turned up the dial on gravity, crushing me down with some unseen weight. If it got any worse, I suppose I would have just collapsed.
After all that, though, we tried to be upbeat about 2001. It certainly will be better than 2000! we said.
So much for that little bundle of hope. If 2000 was infected with grief, 2001 was worse. For all of us.
My elementary school music teacher, Evelyn Anderson, passed away in January. Not enough teachers realize the profound effect they can have on kids. Miss Evelyn certainly made a wonderful impression on me, with a sunny demeanor that she imparted to her students and carried throughout her long life.
Another great one departed when Harold Ace Elliott passed away. A full-blown war hero - from World War II to Korea to Vietnam - Elliott made his mark on Columbia County as chief deputy during the first years of the late Sheriff Otis Hensleys tenure.
Before his final battle with cancer, Aces last public fight also was a losing one against the reopening of the Grovetown race track. An irony: The owner of that track, George Bryan, also battled cancer this year but so far is winning.
Losing a similar fight, unfortunately, was Capt. Butch Cliett. By the time Ace took over as chief deputy, Butch was already a veteran in the Columbia County Sheriffs Office. He survived the administrations of five sheriffs, but couldnt beat the cancer that also took his brother and fellow deputy Tony a few years earlier.
Can somebody please send a memo to Sheriff Clay Whittle and the other cigarette-smoking law enforcement officers in Columbia County? We havent lost a single cop to bullets; please quit killing yourselves with cigarettes.
Much of the tragedy of Butchs loss was his relative youth. But old age didnt make it any easier to bear the deaths of Lula Murray, my childhood caretaker; John William Holden, my wifes grandfather; or my own grandfather, Lloyd Paschal.
Lula was just the kindest woman in the world, from the early years when I had to cut my own switch for a whipping I deserved, to the final years when she still served as an usher at First Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Bill Holden was an honest-to-God gentleman; Wimpy Chambers, who lost his own wife recently, still remembers Mr. Holden teaching him to rewire a lamp when he was just a kid.
And my granddaddy. Well. At his funeral, one of his Sunday school students said he wouldnt at all be ashamed to have a picture of Mr. Lloyd on the wall right next to a picture of Jesus Christ.
Even with all these deaths, of friends and relatives, there are plenty of people who have it as bad, or worse. District Attorney Danny Craig, whose mother died about the same time as mine, nearly lost his daughter Sarah - shes still comatose - and his grandmother passed away recently.
All over our country, too, families are still in anguish over the deaths of family members from the worst acts of terrorism in history. The horror of those attacks makes me feel like a fool to complain about a single loss, as personal as it may be. But it also lets me know we have a certain kinship in grief, and as a nation we have found at least 3,000 more reasons to come together than to collapse and fall apart.
So 2000 was bad, and 2001 turned out to be much worse. Whether idiot or optimist, I contend that next year will be better.
It has to be. Gravity just cant get any stronger.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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