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The Long Drive

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

The Long Drive

This is a story about one of my adventures. I call it "The Long Drive" because that it what is was, among other things. I drove alone for forty-eight hours over two weeks time, covering three thousand miles.

My aviation business of fourteen years had gone kaput in the Spring of 2009. The last few years had been intensely stressful. I needed to think and to unwind. A quiet long drive solo is great for being alone with your thoughts. But where to go?

I perused a map of the Southeastern United States and noticed I had friends and family scattered about, most of whom I had promised to one day visit. I took a magic marker and traced a route from where I lived in Orlando that would take me to South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and back. Then I set out on my journey.

2009 CADILLAC CTS SPORT - My Wheels for the Long Drive

2009 CADILLAC CTS SPORT - My Wheels for the Long Drive

Columbia, South Carolina

I decided to visit my most wild and crazy friend first. It would take seven hours to cover the 433 miles to Columbia, South Carolina.

I drove past Daytona Beach, that party town of a half million souls famed for its hard-packed beach on which you can drive; Spring Break; Bike Week; and the Daytona 500.

I drove through Jacksonville, the largest city by area in America, home to 1.3 million, and a major military and civilian seaport.

I drove around Savannah, that unusual place known for beautiful historic architecture and unique atmosphere, home to 348,000.

North and South Carolina separated in 1729. Carolina means Charles land in Latin. The Carolinas are named for King Charles of England.

South Carolina was one of the original thirteen states and the first to secede from the Union, precipitating the Civil War. From the American War of Independence to the Civil War, Negro slaves brought in to work fields of rice and indigo outnumbered the original Anglo settlers.

South Carolina was decimated during Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864. Sherman took 62,000 Yankee troops on a rampage, employing a "scorched earth" policy to destroy everything of value. They burned crops, homes, and any buildings in their path; killed livestock; and tore up railroad tracks.

Located in the center of South Carolina is Columbia, the state capital and largest city. It was burned to the ground by General Sherman.

Columbia is named for Christopher Columbus and is today home to 768,000, the majority of whom are Southern Baptists. It is noted for warm weather, a comfortable lifestyle, low cost-of-living, and a good economy. It was here in the pine dotted sandhills that I spent the night with my old friend, Lendon Weisner III.





Lendon Weisner III

Lendon Weisner buys cars from people and at estate sales. He fixes them up and sells them, making substantial profits. He took me downtown Columbia for some excellent barbecue.

Lendon Weisner and I became good buddies when we sold cars together in the early 1980s. He had once been a preacher. We worked at the largest volume Buick store in the world at the time, Orange Buick in Orlando.

Out of the 35 salesmen (and one woman), I will humbly confess to selling the most cars, but Lendon made the highest profit per car. He thought I was crazy to do all the work required to sell and deliver over 20 cars every month. He would sell eight and make just as much in commissions. Lendon broke the record for selling one car for $3500 more than the sticker price. Keep in mind, the sticker was right there in plain view.

I didn't have the heart to do it the Weisner way, which involved "putting them under the ether." The saying was "he would put the hat on his own grandma." The Weisner way was quite unusual. Other salesmen asked people if they would like to purchase the car. Lendon Weisner told them, "Sign that contract, fool!" It was great amusement to sit outside Lendon's office and listen to him. If a customer said, "I'm going to go think about it," Lendon would shout at them, "No you are not! You are going to sit there until you sign that contract!"

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Lendon Weisner was wounded in the head in Vietnam. This left him so hard of hearing that he talks extremely loud. I was once in quiet bar having an afternoon cocktail when I struck up a conversation with the also-suited gentleman next to me. He sold cars, too, and he knew Lendon. I was amazed at the coincidence and said, "So you know Lendon Weisner?" He turned and shouted at the top of his voice, "DO I KNOW LENDON!?"



Ken Carnegie

Ken Carnegie worked for me over a number of years as a top-flight aircraft mechanic. We became good friends, stayed in touch, and I went to see him at his home 103 miles north of Columbia in Anderson, SC.

Ken was with me at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Daytona the afternoon I broke the all time record for consuming alcohol. My business had just gone under and we started drinking away the blues after lunch at the outdoor pool bar. I noticed a sign that read "All Time Record: 35 Drinks." After I put away 39, it was nine in the evening and I still had enough left to win the Karaoke contest with a soulful rendition of "Knights in White Satin," and to go bungee jumping for the first and only time in my life.

Ken Carnegie served several tours of combat duty in the United States Army, beginning with Desert Storm. When he left my company, it was because he was recruited by Blackwater to defend its transport planes and helicopters in flight in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work is fraught with danger, but the pay is extraordinary.

I caught Ken at home in Anderson, SC, on leave from these missions, and we had a wonderful visit. We had dinner outside on the patio of a restaurant on Lake Hartwell.

Ken owns two lovely homes, one on the lakefront. A bunch of his fine friends came over, and we played cards into the night. One of them had been working at the BMW plant for fifteen years. BMW selected nearby Greer, SC, to invest $2.2 billion in because it is a non-union area. The plant employs around 10,000 people. Ken's friend said he loves his job, loves the plant, and has no use for unions.



Anderson, South Carolina & Greenville, South Carolina

Anderson, South Carolina is a city of about 81,000, considered part of the Greenville-Spartanburg Metropolitan Area (population 1.2 million). The original settlers of the area were Scots-Irish farmers come down from Virginny and Pennsylvania.

Anderson was the first city in the United States to have continuous electric power. It sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte, which are 260 miles apart.

Greenville is 25 miles away from Anderson. For 200 years, gold and precious gemstones, including rubies and emeralds, have been mined in the Greenville area.

Greenville was once in Cherokee Territory, but the Cherokee fought on the losing side of the American Revolution with the British and lost this corner of South Carolina by treaty in 1776.

Michelin, Honeywell, 3M, General Electric, Caterpillar, and Lockheed Martin are the major employers. Shoeless Joe Jackson was from Greenville, as was Jesse Jackson, and the actors Joanne Woodward and Bo Hopkins.



Thomasville, North Carolina

Thomasville, North Carolina, home to 21,000 souls, lies 168 miles northeast of Anderson.

I drove through the heart of Charlotte, the 2nd largest banking center in America, trailing only New York City. Named after Queen Consort Charlotte, the city and its suburbs boast 2.4 million residents.

Thomasville is well known for manufacturing furniture and is the home of the World's Largest Chair. Thomasville is in the Piedmont Triad—home to 1.6 million people—and close to Winston-Salem.

In the 1940s, six out of ten citizens in Winston-Salem worked either for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company or Hanes Textiles. Wachovia Bank and Krispy Kreme were both founded there. Howard Cosell, Maya Angelou, and Mark Grace all hailed from Winston-Salem.

North Carolina is our tenth most populous state, long known for tobacco and cotton. It is one of the original 13 English Colonies, and the last state to secede of the Southern Confederacy.

North Carolina has prospered in the past few decades. A Right-to-Work State, it is consistently ranked among the best 2 or 3 states for business in America.





Mike Herrera

Miguel Herrera is who brought me to Thomasville. "Mike" was the sound technician in my band, White Summer, for about five years back in the 1980s. When you are on the road you develop tight bonds.

The Family Herrera escaped from Castro's Cuba in the early sixties. Mom and Pop came to America with nothing except their five children. They settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before retiring to Miami. That got a little busy so they decided to live out their days in North Carolina. Eventually, three of their children followed them there—Darlene, Aaron and Mike.

I originally met the Herrera Family in Ann Arbor. My band had a gig there for a week, and Mike's parents insisted the whole group stay with them instead of in a hotel. They are lovely people.

Mike Herrera is an audio-visual wizard who has installed entertainment systems in homes of the ultra-rich around the Western Hemisphere. Mike most recently worked building the new $600 million Google plant (Lenoir Data Center). One of his sons is a special forces sniper posted first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan.

Mike's mother is a wonderful painter. His sister, Karen, is a marvelous singer. Her Motown group is the house band at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood, Florida. Brother Rafael makes television commercials, and we have discussed forging a partnership to produce film documentaries.





David & Johnnie Hennessee

My cousin David Hennessee left our hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan decades ago and settled in Kingsport, Tennessee. Both of his parents, heavy smokers, died in their sixties. David tragically lost his 18-year-old son Tommy in a car crash on an icy road a few years back. Tommy Hennessee was a precious boy.

In Kingsport, David met and married a wonderful and pretty gal, Johnnie. She is a Southern Belle and they are church-going people. Together, they operate a gold shop in the local mall.

I had not seen David, a few years my junior, in a long time until I went to see him on this trip. I got to meet Johnnie's daughter Heather East, age 18 at the time. Both Heather and Johnnie are avid readers, so that gave us some common ground. Like me, Johnnie loves history. David likes his Bible, as well as gold and guns. Tears welled up in his eyes as we said our goodbyes. That meant a lot to me.



East Tennessee

My 200 mile drive to Kingsport was through the Appalachian Mountains, and they are breathtakingly beautiful. On the way I passed through Boone, NC, population 17,000, named of course, for the great pioneer Daniel Boone.

Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City form the Tri-Cities Area of the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee. The area is home to around a half million people.

From Kingsport I was to traverse the entire state of Tennessee—440 miles—traveling westward to the Mississippi River. After the first 277 miles, I stopped in Nashville for a few days, where I have several relatives. On my way there I drove right through Knoxville, a fine city of over a million souls that was the original capital of the state and is the proud home of the University of Tennessee "Volunteers."

Tennessee is where my Daddy was born and lived until he was ten. The Family Watkins moved to Michigan in 1945, seven children in tow.

In 1768, Tennessee was described as a "howling wilderness." One year later it was dotted with cabins built by settlers come over the mountains from North Carolina. One of those became the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier, who also fathered 18 children.

The Cherokees massacred some of the first settlers, scalping and burning women and children. This made John Sevier a vengeful Indian fighter. His enraged band of mountain men ran down the Cherokees by 1793, and the land was made safe for peaceful living.

Tennessee became the Sixteenth of the United States in 1796. Within fifteen years, the population had boomed to over 200,000. The "over-mountain" men and women loved a good fight; violent family feuds were not uncommon. Both sexes enjoyed chaws of tobacco and kegs of "white lightning" or "moonshine" if you will.

The settlers of Tennessee liked to "put down that hoe and dance" at "hoe-downs." Favorite pastimes included horse racing, cock-fighting, wrestling, hunting, shooting, and gambling. At the same time, religious revivals where folks would "kick up their heels" were a ubiquitous feature of the social landscape.



Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee. It is known as Music City USA since it is the "Home of Country Music" and the Grand Ole Opry. The greater metropolitan area has 1.7 million residents. It is named for Revolutionary War hero Francis Nash.

Nashville was one of the most prosperous cities in the Old South before the Civil War. It sat in a strategic location, was a railroad center, and boasted a fine port on the Cumberland River. It was the first southern capital to fall to the Yankee Army.

After the war, Nashville rose from the ashes to regain its prominence. Still today, it is one of the more rapidly growing metropolises in America. Nashville has long springs and autumns, which are great for everybody except allergy sufferers.

20,000 people work in the music industry, second only to New York. But 94,000 people work for Nashville's largest industry: health care.

Nashville is known as the "Athens of the South" for its 24 colleges and classical architecture. It is sometimes called the Buckle of the Bible Belt. Several Protestant denominations are headquartered and have seminaries in Nashville. The Christian music industry is based there. Nashville boasts 700 churches.





Cliff & Carla Retief

Cliff and Carla Retief are my third cousins and both are medical doctors. I spent a night with them in their magnificent new Nashville home.

Carla Retief is my father's cousin's daughter, originally from Clarksburg, Tennessee. She is a dermatological surgeon whose clients include some stars of Country Music.

Cliff Retief was a professional tennis player from South Africa in his younger days. He is now a Podiatric Surgeon who specializes in the treatment of diabetic foot disease. They met as students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

I left the Retief household on the south side of Nashville in the affluent Brentwood suburb and traveled to the north side of town to visit my cousin Ralph Watkins for a couple days.



Ralph Watkins

Ralph Watkins was born in 1945, to my Dad's older brother Ray. Ray Watkins was an inventor and a Nashville studio session player on steel guitar. Uncle Ray also hand-built beautiful resonator guitars (dobros) called "Raybros." Uncle Ray passed away a few years ago.

Cousin Ralph was my manager in Little League and Babe Ruth baseball. When I was a teenager, he was the only relative I had who let my band practice in his living room.

Ralph lived in Benton Heights, Michigan, which was a town full of hillbillies. No kidding—ten thousand people lived in this suburb of Benton Harbor and ALL of them were from families that had migrated north to work in factories after the cotton went bad down South in the 1940s.

Ralph Watkins left Benton Harbor in 1979. He sold his TV repair shop in Michigan and used the proceeds to set up the same business in Nashville. I spent quite a bit of time with him down there in the 1980s, but hadn't been to Nashville in 20 years before the Long Drive.

Ralph had seen some sorrowful days. Besides losing his father, a son and a grandson had also passed away. His little brother Ray Allen died of a heroin overdose in 1985 at 31 years old. That was the first time I was a pall bearer. I saw Ray a couple weeks before he died in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he lived. He came out to see my band play there, and sat at a table right up front, dead center, by himself. At one point, I looked from behind my drum kit, and he was sobbing.

Ralph had been the victim of an armed home invasion a few years before I went to see him. The robbers had hit him so hard with the butt of a handgun that it broke his jaw and other facial bones.

Cousin Ralph invited me into his home, which sat on a ridge overlooking Happy Valley, just outside Nashville. There were only a few other homes on his road, and he had a huge picture window that offered a lovely view of wooded hills. We sat in lounge chairs all of one afternoon catching up on family lore and telling each other jokes. It was a wonderful visit. But he also shared with me that he felt the Watkins Family looked down on him and his children like they weren't good enough for the rest of us. I certainly never felt that way about them.

Though Ralph was in great spirits and seemingly good health when I saw him, a couple months later he developed serious stomach pains. At the hospital, he was told he had terminal liver cancer and would only live a few months. I think he died ten days later. He was 63. How grateful I am that I spent those days with Ralph.







West Tennessee

Thus began one of the best parts of my Long Drive as I left Nashville and headed west 173 miles to see an old friend in Dyersburg, Tennessee. But I did not choose a straight route. There were quite a few places I wanted to see on the way.

Half of my family came from West Tennessee and I had spent several summers there as a boy. It had been forty years since I had been in the area and I wanted to see if I recognized any of it. My Grandmother's family goes way back around these parts. Ollie (Scates) Watkins was a saint and a prophetess.

My first stop was Hurricane Mills. My grandfather, Ray Watkins, used to take me fishing at the waterfall in the 1960s when all that was there was a Plantation House, and a little General Store with Post Office. Country singer Loretta Lynn later bought the burg, and the 3500 acres that surround it.

I drove through little Lobelville, where I worked one summer at my Dad and Uncle Ray's toolbox factory. When I reached Linden, I turned west on Highway 100. It was on this road, the stretch before Perryville, where I stayed several summers with Pap and Mamaw Watkins. I must have driven by their old homestead but it passed unrecognized by me, though I sure looked for it.

Ray "Pap" Watkins had left Michigan after he retired. He bought a place on 350 acres of wooded hills with two creeks running through it that you can drink out of—which we did.

My grandpa kept a sidearm. One day we stood on a bridge on Highway 100 overlooking one of his creeks. As we peered down we saw a water moccasin sunning itself on a rock. In the blink of an eye my Grandpa whipped out his pistol and shot the snake through the head and put the revolver back in its holster. It was like something out of the Old West. I was amazed that he could, seemingly without aiming, shoot that Cottonmouth through the head at maybe 50 feet in one shot.

Pap had a little cabinet making shop next to the house, where he built furniture and sometimes someone would pull off the road and buy a piece or two. He loved working with his hands; with wood. On occasion we would go down to courthouse and watch the old men whittle wood. Chert was discovered on Pap's land that was valuable for road building, and before long there were dump trucks rolling out of his hills all day.

Soon I came to the mighty Tennessee River, on which Pap used to take me fishing for Stripers in a tiny rowboat. I drove through Parsons, where we would get the mail, and then on to Chesterfield, where my father was born—in a house with a dirt floor where if it rained it rained on you through cracks in the roof. My Father was born without a name. The family called him Bobby until he was four when they let him pick his own name. He chose James.

I stopped in Lexington—the place my Dad calls his hometown—for some of its legendary barbecue. From there I drove north to Clarksburg, where Cousin Carla is from and whereas a toddler, I once spent a few days. I still remember it well. I heard a noise in the middle of the night and asked my dad, "What is that?" He informed me it was just chickens under the house.

I drove up to the pretty little town of Huntingdon, and then west to Humboldt where my aunt, uncle, and cousin Ken Frederick lived for many years. I drove through Jackson, the main city of this area, which has undoubtedly fallen on hard times. Then I pressed on to my destination, Dyersburg, where 17,000 people live.









David Wheeler

David Wheeler played bass guitar in my first professional rock band; in the original lineup of White Summer. Our connections ran deeper than that. We were close friends who had attended elementary school together, and his father, Bud "the Deacon" Wheeler played guitar for a long time in the same country band as my Uncle Ray "the Professor" Watkins—the Pioneer Rhythm Boys. They toured in the 1950s, and had their own radio show. I cherish the tapes I have of those shows.

David Wheeler was a superb bassist, and he lay down wonderful tracks on the first White Summer album in 1976. A few years later, he left the band because he ran off with his 15-year-old cousin and his uncle swore to kill him. Thus, David and Laura disappeared together and I did not see David again for many years.

I know now that they hid in Taos, New Mexico; got married and had children. Why Taos I do not know; maybe because nobody would have thought to look for them there. At some later juncture, his beloved wife committed suicide, which left David shaken to the core.

David's mother had left Benton Harbor and moved to Dyersburg and all five of her children eventually joined her there. I had a wonderful time visiting David. We went to a Mississippi River gambling boat nearby at Caruthersville, Missouri—my mother's hometown to which I had never been before. My Mother and my Father grew up 100 miles from each other but never met until after both of their families left the South in the 1940s and moved to Michigan.



The Bootheel of Missouri

I left Dyersburg and crossed Ol' Man River—the Mighty Mississippi—the river that bifurcates the United States, and entered the State of Missouri. I explored Caruthersville, a town of seven thousand, which was separated from Tennessee until a bridge was built in 1976—the first one to ever cross the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois to Memphis.

I drove west through Hayti, a town of 3,000. As a teenager, my Mom was named the Queen of Hayti. I went through Senath, where 2,000 folks live. My Grandpa Watkins grew up there until he struck out on his own at 13. Grandpa Watkins was born (1898) in nearby Kennett, a city of eleven thousand. He died in 1972. Sheryl Crow is from Kennett, so don't say the American Dream is not still alive and well all across this great land.

I checked out Steele, MO, a town of two thousand, where my mom's mom was born Pearl Mollett in 1915. I cruised around little Hornersville, a town of 600, the home of the Coleman Clan, which includes my half-brother Tony and sisters Lisa and Debbie.

This was my first visit to both Pemiscot (liquid mud) County, where my maternal Grandmother is from; and right next door to Dunklin County, where my paternal Grandfather is from. There had no inkling each other existed when they lived in the Bootheel of Missouri.

The Bootheel of Missouri is so named because on a map it resembles the heel of a boot. It was described 100 years ago as "a flood plain full of bears and panthers and copperhead snakes, so it ain't safe for civilized people to stay there overnight even." The Bootheel developed a well-deserved reputation for remoteness and lawlessness; moonshining and bootlegging; rice and cotton.

Missouri became the 24th State in 1821. The Indian word "Missouri" means "people with big canoes." When it became a state the men there were mostly trappers, prospectors, fortune hunters, renegades, and pettifoggers. Street brawls were common and no one went outdoors without knives and pistols on display. The bugs and humidity were too overwhelming for most folks.

The Bootheel was hit hard by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812. Towns and forests were flattened, rivers parted like the Red Sea, and the tremors were felt all the way to Virginia.





Hot Springs, Arkansas

From the Bootheel of Missouri, I drove southbound around Memphis (which is in the extreme southwestern corner of Tennessee). Memphis was long the largest metropolis of its state, though it has been overtaken as of late by Nashville. The area boasts 1.3 million residents. Tourists come to Memphis to see the birthplace of the Blues—Beale Street—and the home of Elvis Presley Graceland.

I was on my way to Arkansas to see old family friends "Tank" Barker and his brother "Neil the Nose;" as well as my cousin Sharon June Watkins and her partner Jeannette.

Arkansas is covered with lakes, rivers, and forests. It is prone to intense thunderstorms and tornadoes. Along the Mississippi River, which forms the eastern boundary of the state, cotton has long been king. Arkansas is also known for poultry, eggs, hogs, soybeans, rice, and catfish farming. It is the home of Tyson Foods and Walmart.

I drove past Little Rock, the capital and largest city of Arkansas, located in the center of the state. About 877,000 live in the Little Rock area. I was headed to the fabled town of Hot Springs, home to only 39,000 people but larger than life in our national folklore.

Hot Springs is a spa town because of the million gallons a day that flow out of its 47 natural springs at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. It was first explored in 1673 by Father Marquette, the same man who founded my hometown in Michigan. The Yankees pillaged and burned Hot Springs in 1863, leaving it nearly deserted.

During the early 20th century, Hot Springs was known for hosting major league baseball spring training camps. Teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox brought their teams to Hot Springs to get the players in shape for the coming season. Babe Ruth could be seen walking the streets, visiting the bath spas, and gambling at the nearby horse track.

Hot Springs suffered a horrific fire in 1913 that nearly burnt down the whole town. Money from gangsters helped rebuild the city and in return crime syndicates were allowed to run illegal and legal gambling operations. Ten major casinos were open for business in Hot Springs from the 1920s through the 1940s. Prostitution was openly advertised in the newspaper.

In 1967, the gambling was closed down by the new Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. Only Oaklawn Park, a thoroughbred horse racing track south of downtown that opened in 1904, was granted a license. It is the only remaining gambling establishment in Hot Springs.

Tourists love to visit the eight historic bathhouses, each well over 100 years old, of Bathhouse Row. Two are still operating and one has been converted into a museum. Several downtown hotels and a hospital also use the natural thermal waters.









Tank Barker

Clyde "Tank" Barker has been a family friend since before I was born. He got his nickname from being a fantastic fist-fighter who was as hard to stop as an army tank. He lived on country road outside Benton Harbor when I first met him, a couple miles from my house. His five boys and one daughter became good friends of mine. His daughter Susan is the first girl I ever kissed, and my first girlfriend—in the sixth grade. The oldest son Dennis was killed last year in New Hampshire in a motorcycle accident.

I hadn't seen Tank in the decades since he left Benton Harbor to relocate to Hot Springs until he suddenly showed up for the first time ever at the Watkins Family Reunion in 2008. He had arrived in Hot Springs relatively poor in the 1970s but become rich with a used car lot, especially by selling recycled telephone company vans.

When I was a young feller, Tank took a shine to me. He was the first person to tell me I had a fine voice and he gave me guitar lessons. At the Family Reunion, he said, "Why don't you come on down to Hot Springs to see me?" I had never been there.

I spent several days at Tank's home. It is easy to find. It is the one with a half mile long white fence. I intended to stay one night, but we were having such a hoot and holler that when he asked me to stay longer I did.

People treated Tank like a celebrity around Hot Springs. One night, we went to a country & western nightclub where I met a man who was from Greenville, Mississippi. One of my old bass players I had lost track of, Donnie Brown is from there. The man not only knew Donnie but told me Donnie had moved back to Greenville, and he had just seen him two weeks before.

Tank's brother Neil "the Nose" Barker was once married to my momma. I spent a day with him at the horse track—the first time I had ever been to a horse racing track. Neil lived in a rundown old trailer park with another brother of his right across the street from Oaklawn Park but I've heard he has since struck it rich somehow and moved into a mansion.

My cousin Sharon June left Benton Harbor in the 1970s after a two day marriage that she says convinced her she is a lesbian. She has been with her partner Jeanette for 40 years. I spent a day with them, and we had a big ole time. Now they are both chronically ill.

Sharon June and I had always been very close until last year. She was an avid reader of my Hubs, but she got angry over my articles in HubPages about the Homosexual Movement and the Homosexual Agenda. She knew how I felt about it before the Hubs were published. I always accepted her in spite of her worldview because I love her. But I guess that is not a two way street.

Sadly, both Cousin Sharon June Watkins and family friend Tank Barker have both since pass on.








I left Hot Springs headed east, to begin the over 1,000 mile ride back to Orlando. I had one stop left, to see my Uncle Willie Frederick in Hackleburg, Alabama. That was 350 miles away.

I drove through Stuttgart, Arkansas (population 10,000), a city that calls itself the "rice and duck capital of the world." It is home to the world's largest rice miller, Riceland Foods. I think I have some distant relatives there.

I crossed the Mississippi River at Helena into the State of Mississippi. I was now in the "Mississippi Delta," the "Home of the Blues." Helena has a population of 6,000, is 68 percent black, and the birthplace of Conway Twitty—my Mother's favorite singer.

I went through Oxford where 14,000 people live among the campus of "Ole Miss," the University of Mississippi. I cruised through Pontotoc, home to 6,000 people among whom are relatives on my mom's side named Lassiter that I've not met. Then I toured Tupelo, a city of 35,000 and the birthplace of Elvis the Pelvis. Before long, I crossed into Alabama.

Mississippi became the 20th State in 1817. Around 1800, not much was there except some Creek Indians, varmints, and piney woods. But the future State of Mississippi had the best land in America to grow cotton, with a sultry, damp, year-round growing season. It was in the midst of that cotton patch that the new state capital arose in 1820, Jackson.

Mississippi grew from 31,000 people in 1810 to 75,000 in 1820 to 131,000 in 1830. Nearly all these folks were of British stock and most were Baptists. "The cultural divide was between rich and poor more than between black and white," to quote historian Walter A. McDougall.

According to McDougall, "Poor whites and slaves both worked the soil with their hands and made their own yokes, furniture, spinning wheels, and musical instruments. They shared folk tales, tall tales, ballads, and spirituals, creating that mix of English, Scots-Irish, and African moods and rhythms that in time produced Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley alike."




Alabama became the 22nd State in 1819. About the year 1800, hardly any whites were in Alabama except in a few little rustic settlements around Mobile Bay, populated by Spaniards, Brits, and traitors.

Alabama is an Indian word for "thicket-clearers." After Andrew Jackson defeated the Red Stick Indians in 1814 at Horseshoe Bend, a treaty was signed that granted half the land in Alabama to white settlers.

The pioneers came mostly from Tennessee and Georgia—128,000 in just five years. They were mostly yeoman farmers who lived on wild game and corn—corn grits, corn fritters, corncakes, cornbread, and cornpone. There were very few slaves; some farmers had one or two. Most everybody wore homemade clothes or animal skins. The only law and order was your own musket.

Huntsville, Alabama was where the suddenly and amazingly wealthy congregated. By 1818, it was written that "Huntsville featured 260 brick three-story houses of better construction than those in Baltimore or Philadelphia."

This was to be my first visit to Hackleburg, population 1,400, the hometown of country singer Sonny James. But its name had been in family folklore all my life because several men from that little town had married into my family after coming north to Michigan.





Uncle Willie Frederick

My Uncle Willie Fredrick was married for around fifty years to my Dad's older sister Rue, who was known to all as Aunt Cherry. Uncle Willie showed me what a real man was when my Aunt Cherry had a severe stroke and spent the last 14 years of her life flat on her back, unable to move anything but her head. Uncle Willie lovingly cared for her that entire time all by himself, though insurance would have hired professional help. She didn't want strangers in the house, and neither did he.

I went to see them in their Michigan home a couple years before she finally succumbed. There was a picture on the coffee table of their three sons next to the couch where Aunt Cherry lay. It was made when the boys were young men and I leaned over and told her, "Aunt Cherry, you sure had three handsome sons." She could only whisper but she said, "I had four handsome sons," as she looked me straight in the eye.

Uncle Willie winters these days in Hackleburg with his sister Lovie and her husband, unless he is in Sebastian, Florida with his son Ken, who is married to my sister Lisa. Ken and Lisa began their romance at our family reunion. Shades of Jeff Foxworthy!

I spent the night with Uncle Willie, Sister Lovie, and her husband Walter Jaggers, whom I did not think I knew. Boy was I surprised!

As I sat down to visit with these fine folks I came to find out that Walter and Lovie Jaggers had lived in my hometown long ago. They knew me as a boy because Walter was Pastor Jaggers of a Baptist Church I had attended many times. He had personally picked up my little half-brother and sisters (the Colemans) and driven them to church countless occasions (I didn't live with them). Then I found out he is the uncle to Kerry Jaggers, who was married to my beloved cousin Kathy Baker Jaggers. Kathy was like a sister to me. She died a few years ago at 46 of cervical cancer.

The next day was Sunday, and I went to church with them. Pastor Jaggers had been coaxed out of retirement by a little congregation way out in the country that had no preacher. The 20 or 30 souls there were all over 70. One of them said to me, "It's nice to see some young people come to our church."

Uncle Willie has since gone to see the Lord.



The Long Way Home

The last leg of the Long Drive was 658 miles. It took me through Birmingham, population 1.1 million, home to a quarter of Alabama's people. Birmingham is one of few major southern cities not founded until after the Civil War (1871). It came to be the industrial center of the South; famous for mining, iron, and steel. Its original settlers were from Birmingham, England.

I drove right through the heart of the state capital, Montgomery, where 375,000 make their home. I went through Columbus, Georgia (population 450,000), the home of Fort Benning. The last major cities in Georgia on my route were Albany (population 77,000), and Valdosta (population 140,000).

My drive across Georgia was to come in the middle of the night, past midnight. From my map, I decided on a shortcut down the two-lane US 82 through Dawson. This proved to be the most deserted road I have ever been on in the dark. It was pitch black out in the country between towns.

So I am zipping along at a high rate of speed that I won't specify; no other cars are within sight. Suddenly a mountain lion runs right in front of me, and it is killed. I had never seen a mountain lion before. It must have weighed over 150 pounds. I kept going, with my fender hanging off the car, rubbing gently on my right front tire.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

Lisa---I certainly meant no offense. I thought it was common knowledge about your mother's suicide. How has what I wrote affected your life? Well, I am glad to hear from you. Your father and I go way, way back, and I love him like my own brother.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

word55~ You are quite welcome. I appreciate you reading about my Long Drive. It was quite a journey and one I would love to repeat. I hope you write about your trip, too. Interesting that you started out in Chicago---where I live now---and wrote from Apopka---near where I was living when I joined HubPages and wrote this piece.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

sunilkunnoth2012---Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. I appreciate your warm words of praise. I would love to visit India. I doubt I will have the wherewithal to do so, but it would truly be a life-changing experience I am sure.

Lisa on June 05, 2015:

Not really sure how to respond to you saying my mother committed suicide when I have never even been told the story of what happened. She died when I was 8 yrs old. You should really consider how the things you say for the world to see will truly affect someone's life.

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on July 25, 2014:

It's coincidental, I'm on 1/2 of my long drive right now. I happen to be in Apopka, Fla. (near Orlando) from Chicago. I'll be moving on later. A long drive, listening to the beautiful thrashing of music will rejuvenate any soul. Thanks for sharing JAW :-)

Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on July 24, 2014:

It is amazing. You have beautifully presented your story with some interesting photos. I love travel and liked your article so well. I request you to make a trip to India which is so diverse with the richness of its culture, practice of different religions, lakes, sea, mountains and a lot more. It will give you a wonderful experience. I think you can publish a book on this great journey. All the best.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 03, 2012:

martellawintek— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 13, 2012:

Dolores Monet— I love a long car trip.

Why, thank you for the compliment about my mama. She is still a looker at 77! :)

I appreciate the visit and your kind comments. It is always a pleasure to "see" you.


Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on September 10, 2012:

Hi James - whoo, nothing like a road trip. It's been way too long for me. Isn't it amazing how you can get in a car and see how our beautiful country changes in a half days drive!

1) Your mother is so beautiful!

2) I can't believe you drank that much, it's a wonder you didn't go into alcohol poisoning.

3) Rattlesnakes get that big! Holy cow!

4) Mountain lions get that big? Holy cow!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 07, 2012:

Alastar Packer— Thank you, my friend. In many ways this is a sad world.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on September 06, 2012:

So sorry to hear of Sharon's premature passing, James. Smoking can be one of the hardest addictions in the world to quit. Be over to read your latest today and add link!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 06, 2012:

Alastar Packer— Welcome back, brother. I am so glad you enjoyed this journey enough to take it thrice. I am honored to hear this. What better compliment could this Hub receive than that? Thank you! :D

I DO have awesome friends and relatives. Though I am sad to report that my cousin Sharon that I visited in Hot Springs died a couple months ago of cancer. A smoker of course. She was 65.

I will be thrilled if you provide a link from your story to this one! And I will come over and read your story later today. I appreciate it!


Alastar Packer from North Carolina on September 04, 2012:

Came back by to go over and found myself enjoying the trip so much for what...the third time, that i read almost every word again. You have some awesome friends and relatives there, James. Oh, this is a good time to ask something. Hope you don't mind but i mentioned at the conclusion to the hub On the Track of the N.C. Mountain Lions about your experience in Georgia. If you give the okay will gladly place a link to the story here. Believe the kind of readers the story attracts would enjoy it- and my friend there are a lot of them.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 04, 2012:

gottabegod— Welcome to HubPages!!

I am glad you came by to read one of my articles. I look forward to reading your writings soon.

Yes, I drove through Alabama alright. It is good to hear that we have some things in common. I surely appreciate your blessings, as well as the voted up, interesting, and awesome! :D

Thank you for the visit.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 04, 2012:

Alastar Packer— Thank you for the kind words, brother. I appreciate this nice note from you.

gottabegod on September 03, 2012:

After I saw that you were following my hubs, I decided to read one of yours. This is the one I picked! I must say, it was extremely interesting & educational, too! I wondered if you were going to travel through Alabama - you saved that one to near the last! You must guess that's my state! After hearing you talk about your relatives, I felt right at home with you, LOL! I think I will be one of your 3k+ followers!

Voted up, interesting & awesome!

God bless!

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on September 02, 2012:

One of my fave first person hubs anywhere, James. Hope some of the followers enjoy it as much.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 11, 2012:

quicksand— I apologize if I made this Hub too long, my friend. You have given me a great idea I think: a film documentary of the Long Drive! That would be fun to make and to see.

Thank you for reading my story and for your correspondence. It is always a distinct pleasure to hear from you. :D


quicksand on August 04, 2012:

Wow James, that was a long and exhaustive drive indeed! T'was like watching a movie. I could hear the engines whirr in-between events that you have spoken of. How about making a movie out of it?

Cheers. :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on July 25, 2012:

xanzacow— Thank you for the kind compliments! I am glad you find this article to be very interesting. I might have picked up some tidbits during my travels but I love to research and did quite a bit before I left to learn about the places for which I was destined.

Well, I appreciate this visitation from you. I will soon return the favor. Thank you for making your presence known. :)

Cynthia from North Myrtle Beach, SC on July 19, 2012:

Terrific hub! I live in SC and I never knew the meaning of the word Carolina. I alays thought it was named after somebody's wife or daughter. Very interesting. Did you learn all of these tidbits while on your journey?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 28, 2012:

pstraubie48— Thank you for taking the time to read my Hub about the Long Drive. I gained far more from it than I had hoped for. I did, as you observed, use the time for reflection. It was an interesting journey, to be sure. I appreciate your kind comments. Good to hear from you. :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 22, 2012:

Most of the places you visited I have visited and some have lived in. What an interesting journey. I appreciated especially your candor. I hope it proved to be a time to reflect and that you gained from it that which you were seeking.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 30, 2012:

girishpuri— Welcome to the HubPages Community! I look forward to reading some of your Hubs, which I will do ASAP.

I am glad you enjoyed the journey with me. Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comments. And you are quite welcome. :)

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on May 22, 2012:

James, i really enjoyed your article, places and long drive, i felt as if i am sitting next to you, i am seriously thinking many of my friends have complaints to me, you journey has inspired me to do the same, thanks

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 16, 2012:

Ugly Honest— Thank you for reading my Hub. I am well pleased to meet another aficionado of religion and politics. Welcome to the HubPages Community!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 15, 2012:

drpastorcarlotta— You are quite welcome, Doctor Pastor. I have missed you too. Thank you for reading my story. I surely appreciate your blessings. :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 14, 2012:

Randy Godwin— Hello there! Thank you very much for taking the time to come over and read my Hub about the Long Drive. I can attest that mountain lions do indeed exist in Georgia.

I am glad you enjoyed my Hub. I appreciate you saying so and giving me the thumbs up.

It is always good to hear from you. God Bless.


Ugly Honest from Within the New York/DC Megalopolis on May 13, 2012:

Love Driving Cross-Country .... Learned some things here !!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 11, 2012:

dmop— I am well pleased to have made your acquaintance here on HubPages. From reading your profile page it appears we have many similar interests.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I very much appreciate your gracious compliments, the voted up, and you hitting all the "right" buttons for me.

The Long Drive was oodles of fun, to be sure. I also love to travel. You go ahead and write about your trip to Slaughter Beach and I will look forward to reading about it.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 11, 2012:

Peggy W— Hello there! It is great to "see" you here. Always a pleasure.

The Long Drive truly was a wonderful experience. If I could, I would do it again! I am glad that you found my telling of it to be interesting. :-)

Thanks for the kind compliment about my mama. Road trips are indeed much fun. I have been blessed to have been on a lot of them in my day.

I appreciate the birthday wishes, as well as the voted up, useful, and interesting. I have a few other Hubs about my travels. One I like in particular is called "Lake Michigan Circle Tour."

Pastor Dr Carlotta Boles from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC on May 09, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your travels anf family. I have missed you!!!!!!!!! God Bless you, always!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on May 08, 2012:

Hello James. The folks you mention are so familiar to me, as if I already knew much about them before you described them.

People ARE the same all over, it seems. Many of the places you mention are familiar to me already, like the folks who spend their lives there.

I dated a girl from Dawson, Georgia one time and you are right, there are some lonely places in the area. I'm astonished at your unexpected meeting with the panther, though.

Even though I've seen perhaps a dozen of them during my lifetime, the wildlife "experts" claim there hasn't been any of the beautiful creatures actually documented to exist in Georgia. LOL! What do we know?

Enjoyed and rated up, as always!


dmop from Cambridge City, IN on May 07, 2012:

What a wonderful story. It felt like a roller coaster with a commentator announcing information about the destinations as we passed by them. I bet that trip was a lot of fun. I know I love to travel and see different places. I once just pointed to the map not looking and headed to the destination. The closest place to where I pointed was Slaughter Beach, Delaware. It was a very odd trip I may write about sometime. Very good story, I gave it votes across the board.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 07, 2012:

Hi James,

What a wonderful long drive through interesting places related to where relatives and friends of yours live and/or lived. The bits of history worked into the travelogue made it even more interesting. I agree with you in that hubs like this will be a lasting legacy. Your mother was a beautiful young woman! Aren't road trips fun! Hope you get to go on more someday. Hope that things have improved for you and wishing you a belated Happy Birthday! Up, interesting and useful votes.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 12, 2012:

Derdriu— You are quite welcome, my dear. I surely am grateful for the voted up + all. :D

I appreciate you taking the time to come over and read about my Long Drive. I enjoyed your fine remarks and relished your kind compliments.

I can assure you that the mountain lions are real alright. That was a shocking episode. Something I never expected.

I am well pleased that you responded so positively to my article. Your words warmed the cockles of my heart. Thank you for brightening up my day!

Faithfully Yours,


Derdriu on April 05, 2012:

James, What an action-packed, image-laden, thought-filled recounting of your "long drive"! In particular, I appreciate the cultural and historical information which you share along with the family history and "pretty pictures" in each of your stops. For instance, it's fascinating to read about the origins of state names and about the courage of each state's inhabitants in surviving catastrophe, be it earthquakes, floods or wars.

Additionally, I find the episode and the picture with the mountain lion particularly interesting and intriguing. In Virginia, many researchers and scholars maintain that the mountain lion cannot be found any more in the wild even though there are many reported sightings by mountain people, both those in humble cabins and in posh mansions. It looks like that's not the case in Georgia.

Thank you for sharing, voted up + all, of course.

Respectfully, Derdriu

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 29, 2012:

Slice— That is absolutely amazing! Thank you ever much for letting me know that you have a Rabro. In what part of the country do you reside? Just curious.

I appreciate the visit and your cool comments. :D

Slice on March 28, 2012:

What an interesting story. I happen to own one of your Uncle Ray's dobros and it is a fine instrument...after reading this I will have a greater fondness for it's attributes.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 09, 2012:

itakins— Thank you!!! Thank you very much!! :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 09, 2012:

phdast7— It was great! I am glad you came along and enjoyed the ride with me. I appreciate your kind compliments.

You know, I agree with you that our writings on HubPages do form a legacy of sorts for our loved ones. Lord knows my days are numbered. Have been since before I was born. :)

I encourage you to do that book on your grandmother's poetry/paintings. And go ahead and compile something on my Polish grandfather's sculpture.

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful remarks, Theresa. Thank you for coming to see my Hub. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.


itakins from Irl on March 09, 2012:

Great trip James -I hope you gained enormously from it.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 09, 2012:

Skye— I am so glad you came over to read about the Long Drive. It is good to hear that you enjoyed my writeup about it. And yes, God has long watched out for me and blessed me, Sister.

I appreciate this visitation and your warm words. Thank you for the high praise indeed of my photographs. And thank you even more for the love and blessings.

God Bless You!


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 08, 2012:

agreenworld— Thank you very much for taking the time to read my very long article. I am grateful for your lovely remarks, which are a blessing to me. You clearly discerned objective insights that I had not observed myself.

I apologize for taking so long to respond. I have been really into writing my book these last two weeks—a sudden burst of motivation and creative energy that I feel I must take advantage of when it blows in, from whence I do not know.

Yes, life can be confusing, frustrating, and embarrassing. Taking a break to reflect and ponder is valuable and refreshing.

You are absolutely right that I have been blessed with wonderful gifts, and a host of family and friends that I love who love me. How enriching this makes life!

I am glad you enjoyed my Hub. Your warm words resonate in my heart. Thanks again and God Bless You.

James :-)

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on March 07, 2012:

James - What a great drive you took. You passed through places where I have family - Georgia, where I and my three sons and their families live, South Carolina, Alabama. And what a great, open, inclusive, sad, joyous, and wonderful Hub.

I learned a lot. It made me think about what I have and haven't written for my family and friends....I have written a good bit, but there is more I need to put down on paper.

It made me more determined than ever to finish the book on my grandmother's poetry/paintings...and maybe even do some sort of compilation on my Polish grandfather's sculpture. Theirs is a legacy I want to preserve for my children and grandchildren.

To some extent, I think our work on HP is part of our legacy to our families. Blessings. Theresa

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 04, 2012:

stars439— The aviation business was a formidable challenge, as you said, my brother. I started it with just me and three mechanics, one of whom was my son. He is a certified jet aircraft technician.

Twelve years later we had 150 people and 70,000 square feet of hangar space; with revenues of over $50M a year. I loved the work of running the entire operation.

Thank you for your compliments about my momma. :D

I cannot claim to be brave, my friend. Courage is something of which I am afraid I am in short supply. But I will humbly accept having—as you described me—love, passion, and truth. Not as much "honor" as I'd like to have but a goodly amount. I do love everybody I know. I have been blessed beyond belief.

Thank you for the ongoing love, blessings, and encouragement you have given me. You are truly what a Christian Brother should be. I love you, my friend. God Bless You.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 04, 2012:

donnaisabella— Alrighty. I will keep that in mind, Sister. Thanks for getting back to me.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 04, 2012:

MonetteforJack— You are quite welcome my dear! I appreciate you taking the time to read my long Hub. Thank you so much for your warm words and blessings. :-)

I have not been to Branson, though I hear that is a beautiful part of the country.

Now, I haven't been to Pickwick Lake but it is very close to the area my paternal family is from. My grandpa used to take me fishing on Kentucky Lake, the next lake north of Pickwick on the Tennessee River. So I have been in that same water. Well, not the same water. Isn't it so that if you stand in a river forever, you will never have the same water run past you twice?

Anyway, I digress. :D

I really enjoyed reading your kind comments.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 04, 2012:

Flightkeeper— Hello there! Thank you for the compliments. Yes, it is true that, as you say, this trip brought me "a lot of joy and comfort in that time of stress."

I could not agree more with your assessment, "the journey is really what counts and all the friends and family that you meet and love on that journey."

You are quite discerning.

I appreciate this visit and your fine remarks.

Skye on March 03, 2012:

Brother WOW what a beautiful journey you took. Your pictures are divine. Your friends are very special. I do hope that your Spirit was refreshed in the Love of Christ. I have a feeling it was indeed. I enjoyed your journey. The last leg with the lion wow that was a whopper. God is watching over you brother! Blessings to you and yours James. I love ya your sista in Christ.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 03, 2012:

Kebennett1— Well, I'll be! I am so happy to see you visited my Hub. It has been a long time. And we used to be such friends. :-)

Thank you for letting me know you came along on the Long Drive. I am grateful for your lovely laudations. God Bless.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 03, 2012:

CMerritt— Hey Chris! It is great to "see" you here, my friend. I am glad you enjoyed the journey with me.

I do love my friends in the HubPages Community. I especially appreciate your friendship, brother. As always, I thank you ever much for the voted up and awesome.

I am thankful for the visit and your warm words. God Bless You.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 03, 2012:

SanneL— I am well pleased that you joined me on this journey. For me, it was a trip for a lifetime. I appreciate you mentioning that you like my pictures.

Thank you so much for your gracious comments. And you are most welcome. :-)


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 03, 2012:

htodd— You are quite welcome. Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

Kieran Gracie— You are quite welcome, my friend. I am sorry I rambled on so long in this Hub. I do appreciate your indulgence and patience. Thank you for your awesome accolades. The Long Drive was indeed an "odyssey."

Your warm words have warmed my heart. I am grateful to you for your gracious comments. :)


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

Sueswan— Thank you! Thank you very much! :-)


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

b. Malin— You are quite welcome. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my LONG article about my long drive. I am so glad that you enjoyed the journey with me. I always enjoy hearing from you. :)


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

fedemenzed— Welcome to the HubPages Community! I look forward to reading your writings.

I am glad you enjoyed this journey. It was wonderful for me to experience. Good luck on your trip to the United States!

Thank you for the kind compliments. And you are quite welcome. :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

lilyfly— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

Rick Davis— Sorry it took so long to answer. I have been away from HubPages for a week. I had to force myself to concentrate on getting my book done or I'll never finish it.

My great-grandfather was a sharecropper right near Hayti. His name was Andrew Jackson Mollett and he lived in a shack with dirt floor and tree stumps for chairs. His daughter was my grandma Pearl Mollett. I will ask my mom if she knew your kin down there. I wrote down their names.

I know what you mean, brother. We used to leave our doors open too with only a screen door and leave the keys in the ignition of our car all night too.

Thank you very much for your prayers, my friend. God Bless You!

Dawn A. Harden from CT-USA on March 01, 2012:

Not only do I hope you were able to clear your head but I hope you are finding happiness. Sometimes we have to journey a different path to discover what we had already.

Self-doubt, dissatisfaction, self-imposed restrictions, feeling you let yourself down for a business that did not work the way you wanted it to.

Whatever the case, I am sure you took that trip for many other reasons not stated in your article. Good. Those things you can work on without giving testimonial to the world.

What I like most about your article is that it was real.

Many do not want to give up any of themselves for fear of becoming too vulnerable. Life us vulnerable. We are all exposed to some extent. But we can all move forward.

Taking stock in what you have helps you see where you are going. You have good friends, family and a career that many vie for. What wonderful gifts you have.

Now, after such a wonderful trip, I really hope you took a moment, sat down, held on to the memories and relish the possibilities. You are just getting started.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on February 29, 2012:

Dear James : What a nice long drive that was. The aviation bussiness had to be quite a formidable challenge. Not easy work at all, and such great responsibilities.And The picture of your mother is lovely. Your friends, and family are lovely, and they all have , and possess fascinating lives. You have done so well in life, and have helped a lot of people in many very important ways. You have much to be proud of, and have accomplished so much, and have done it all, and still kept love, Christianity, and brotherhood, and love for all good sisters in your heart. You are a very brave man. Somewhere in the Bible, I cannot remember where, it says God loves the brave.

People, and souls of courage, love, passion, truth, and honor,are fun to love, and you have these traits.

God Bless You Precious heart, and dear brother as your sweet, and loving family, and friends are always in the hearts of God's angels.

Isabella Mukanda from Fort Myers on February 29, 2012:

Brother James, yes, I do have ideas from the ones I have watched and I watch a lot of them. I have even made efforts and some scripts to come up with some of mine when I have felt really confident I could do it. I hope that answers your question.

MonetteforJack from Tuckerton, NJ on February 28, 2012:

Aww ... this is sweet! Sir James, thank you for sharing bits of history about the places and your family. My husband and I want to see Missouri someday and are considering the Branson parts for retirement. I've been to the Pickwick Lake, Tennessee in 2009 and I do love it there! We will be going back there, soon.

By the way, I truly feel for your cousin Ralph, since my side of the family is simlar to his. Even though it is all under the bridge, things are never the same again with my relatives.

I would like to go on and on, but I know you have many more drives to go :) I wish you many joys in your drives. God bless you, Sir James and may you be in good health with Holy Angels to keep you company :)

Flightkeeper from The East Coast on February 28, 2012:

Hi James, your long drive is a great mix of travelog and storytelling. Meeting your friends and family again must have given you a lot of joy and comfort in that time of stress. I think you instinctively know that the journey is really what counts and all the friends and family that you meet and love on that journey.

Kebennett1 from San Bernardino County, California on February 27, 2012:

Hello my old friend! What an amazing Journey! I love that it was so filled with State and town information but most of all was the personal heartfelt biographical information. You are still an awesome writer!

Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on February 27, 2012:

Hi James, that was a fun read. I enjoyed it. That was a trip you will have with you for a lifetime. It is amazing how much I know about you. That is why I feel as if I already knew you for years now. You have shared so much, and I have appreciated getting to know you. You have developed a family here on hubpages to add to your list.

Up and awesome as always...


SanneL from Sweden on February 27, 2012:

Wow, this is truly a trip of the lifetime, and I'm so glad you brought me with you! I enjoyed immensely traveling the long journey and meeting all these fascinating friends and family of yours. Your pictures are wonderful as well. James - Thank you for the ride!

htodd from United States on February 26, 2012:

That is great drive...Thanks for the nice hub

Kieran Gracie on February 26, 2012:

James, this is a truly amazing Hub! Or should I say 'book'! Apart from the pleasure the actual drive surely gave you (and us) I think that you must have really enjoyed planning it. The anticipation of such a journey is often as good as the trip itself, I think. But I immersed myself in this odyssey and enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

Sueswan on February 26, 2012:

Hi James,

The ride was long but very enjoyable.

Voted up up and away!

Take Care

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 25, 2012:

alocsin— Thank you for the voted up and interesting. I appreciate this visitation from you!

I have tried to put a map on this page. I went to MapQuest and created a map of my Long Drive, which I then emailed to myself and posted on my FaceBook.

I tried to put the Map in a photo capsule (it won't let me save it as a picture); as a video (HubPages doesn't recognize the link to MapQuest); as a link (it will save the link but you would have to click on the link to see the map, it does not show up otherwise). Frustrated! Help me Mr Wizard!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 24, 2012:

Jackie Lynnley— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 24, 2012:

ezswimmer— Hello. I am glad you always enjoy my work. I don't recognize your handle. This article is rather personal. And you are right that it could be considered a Short Chapter rather than a Long Drive.

As you say, "The journey is the reward."

Thank you for your kind comments. God Bless You.


b. Malin on February 24, 2012:

This was such a Fun Hub to read James, and of course very Educational. It was a Long Drive, but you made Everything so Interesting... I felt like I was right there Enjoying it as well...So Thanks for a Great Road Trip...Let's do it again!

fedemenzed from United Kingdom on February 24, 2012:

What a fantastic journey. I'm planning a huge road trip through the United States for next year- This article's come in very handy!

Thanks a lot, great article.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 23, 2012:

donnaisabella— Hello, Sister! You are quite welcome. I appreciate this visitation from you. Thank you for the high praise indeed!

I know it is a long Hub but the Long Drive was indeed a lovely experience for me. I am glad you enjoyed coming along to meet my friends and family, and that you felt it was worth the price of admission. :)

I would very much like to move into making film documentaries. If I get that together, I will let you know. You have some ideas along those lines?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 23, 2012:

Angela Blair— Hello, Sis!

I am well pleased that enjoyed this Hub so, and my family pictures as well. These memories are dear to me.

I can think of nothing better than to "spend time with old friends and cherished relatives," as you say, and "and revisit all the people that made [our] lives special."

I appreciate your warm words and I thank you for visiting these places with me.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 23, 2012:

Tamarajo— You are most welcome. I am glad you enjoyed the journey. I agree with you that I have been blessed with an interesting life. And I am thankful for it.

You didn't want to meet the snake and the lion?! :-)

I hope you do take a road trip like this some day. I love to see my people number one, but also the landscapes, homes, commercial enterprises, animals, et al.

Thank you for reading my story. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 23, 2012:

Moonchild60— You are quite welcome, my friend. It is great to hear from you again. I hope to rejoin us soon here on HubPages with regularity.

I understand that you've got to do what you've got to do, especially for something as paramount in import as your son's education, and that particularly when you are homeschooling.

Tennessee is an absolutely beautiful place. It has far more pretty places than I showed in this Hub; places I have been to but not on this trip.

I did need some time away. And this trip worked out beautifully for me. Yes, that sunset over Lake Hartwell is quite gorgeous.

Thank you for your lovely comments. I appreciate the visitation. :D

Lillian K. Staats from Wasilla, Alaska on