December 31 had come marking Phyl and my 53rd anniversary. Jan. 1, 2008, we started our 54th year together. Throughout those many years we faced dire situations. Once at the top of our game we went busted when a fire wiped out our business. Another time things were going well when a wet / dry election virtually put us out of business. Despite setbacks, we always bounced back. After Hurricane Rita did extensive damage in 2005 to our home we rebuilt better than ever. We were sitting pretty and loved our place that had been our home for 35 years. It had taken us a couple of years after the storm but on this 2008 New Year’s Day we couldn’t have been happier. The previous couple of years we had lost our mothers and were now the older generation but we were in good health, comfortable and had enough beans in the cupboard to see us through our time.

We were blind-sided. We never expected what the New Year would bring. It started well enough. Phyl and I counted our blessings; the children and grandkids were, for the most part, doing alright. In February we were blessed with our first great granddaughter Delilah. Even though we have never seen her the few pictures we have been sent show a beautiful child with her mother Jenna’s good looks. Delilah, born in Massachusetts, has an older brother, 7-year-old Nate, separated by many miles we have only seen three times. He’s extremely bright, very athletic and loves to compete.

When the New Year arrived a whirlwind Democratic primary election cycle was in progress topping all those I’d lived through before and seldom produced a dull moment. Our little part of Texas, for the first time in many years, brought national candidates (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) to rally votes, first for the caucus process in March and then for votes in the November General Election. Former President Bill Clinton visited twice, as well as Obama, also Michelle Obama addressed a packed Jefferson Theater. Hillary, my choice for United States president, was the last to arrive in the area. She held a large rally at the airport. At her side were Hollywood stars Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and other highly visible political figures. Those two weeks in February marked the most intensive national politicking in East Texas in all of my years of following politics.

Regardless of which of the candidates won the primary it would be historical. The first woman or the first Black would emerge as the nominee. Obama had to buck against tremendous odds. Besides being black, a reason Orange County didn’t give him a majority in the primary or general election, he was bucking the powerful Clinton machine. In one of the best campaigns ever run Obama, who is uniquely qualified and exceptionally bright with the cool confidence of a surgeon, beat the odds by defeating the former First Lady.

On Nov. 2, by a landslide vote against Sen. McCain, he became the first black person to be elected president of the United States. This was another significant and historical event I was blessed to have witnessed. My background would never have allowed me to assume that I would live to see a black man as leader of the free world, Commander-In-Chief of the United States. I would never have dreamed it but this man is different. It’s like he was destined. He and his people’s time has come. President Obama will face tremendous odds; a country in deep recession, two wars, a national debt that has doubled, and a deficit that doesn’t seem to have a cap. He has promised the country change. My prayers are for he and the country to succeed.

I stayed glued to the telly during the Olympics and watched U.S. citizen Michael Phelps become the greatest athlete ever by winning eight gold medals. Dr. Michael Debakey, heart surgeon, who invented a host of devises, including by-pass surgery, died at age 99. A fellow Louisiana man from Lake Charles and one of my biggest heroes.

Hurricane season brought one storm after another to the Gulf of Mexico. In two weeks time we were forced to evacuate or face two storms. First Gustav, on Labor Day, brought only a little rain, then on Sept. 13, Hurricane Ike came ashore at Galveston. The storm, 450 miles wide, resulted in a storm surge up to nearly 20 feet in some places, caused much loss, expense and grief. It was the third costliest storm in U.S. history. Orange County was hit especially hard. I’ll never forget the sight of house after house, across the length of the lawn, with possessions piled 10 feet high on the curb.
The little town Phyl and I had known for over 50 years, Bridge City, where we raised our family was devastated. Few homes or businesses remained intact. The comfortable place we enjoyed when the year began turned into stress. The home we had so carefully remodeled to face our latter years was left with the prospect of starting all over. It’s far worse than Rita’s awful damage. So bad that it’s hard to put in words except to say total devastation. We got hit at every place we owned and were not insured for what has been called “flood” by insurance companies but was actually a storm surge. We’re rebuilding, using the beans we had in the cupboard. Ironically, 2008 is the year that the Bridge City Chamber, back in January, named me “Citizen of the Year.” I didn’t do too good on my watch and the city was left in one hell of a shape for our son Mark, the incoming president of the Chamber of Commerce. It even snowed on Dec. 11. The snow was the first since a little fell in 1989. Back in 1973, a bunch came down. Before Ike we had pictures of our kids pet skunk playing in the snow.

Many of our friends who we watched raise their families, care for their grandkids and help make our community better have left and are not coming back. Our friends of many years, Joyce and Kenneth Young have sold their home of 56 years also the Carl Reed’s, Ray Leleux’s and hundreds of others have moved away, the rest live in FEMA trailers.

My dad coined the area “Jewel of the Gulf Coast” and it was living up to the name. Before Ike came every available lot had construction going up. People desired to make our little community their home; the business climate was one of the best in the county.

To rebuild the town must take a drastic turn, a new look and time. The city, schools and property owners all have a bullet to bite. Oh yes, the unforgettable 2008 is one for the history books.

On Jan. 1, 2009, Phyl and I embarked on our 55th year of marriage. Who knows what it will bring. We have about seen it all. Lot’s of work and putting lives back together still lies ahead. Even though we’re beyond the productive years we were when we went belly-up before we will be just fine. Our newspapers are popular, our health is holding up and we are thankful for family and friends. I know at our age we can expect to bury some of our friends. Our prayers now are for our friend Cal Broussard who I fear is hanging onto a short rope.

On May 16, our granddaughter Amber will become a medical doctor. That does our heart well. It’s been a long, hard haul for her but her grandmother and I are extremely proud of her dedication and accomplishment. When she graduated from the University of Texas I thought that was something. Back in the Bridge City school days her being Dr. Dunn seemed as impossible as a Black man becoming president of the United States.

God, we thank you for our entire family. Our love, best wishes and a Happy New Year to everyone.