A few odds and ends that need catching up on

Published 12:06 am Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Friday, I wrote of the sad loss of the nation’s First Lady of Road Beautification, Lady Bird Johnson, and today, among other things, I am writing on Mississippi’s First Lady of Anti-Littering, Pat Fordice.

Both women got something very right that so many of the rest of us get so very wrong: The need for beauty and cleanliness along our roads and byways. Lady Bird battled litter, but she was better known for her advocacy of wildflowers along roads and removing billboards from them. Pat Fordice was known for her strong advocacy of putting an end to littering.

Many people laughed at and panned Pat Fordice’s “I’m not your mama” ads aimed at persuading people to stop littering. I suspect most of those who so derided her were confirmed and committed litterers and champions of ugliness.

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I found the ads amusing, but I also admired the woman for her chutzpah in taking on litterers in that manner and was saddened when I stopped seeing the ads. More people need to have her guts and boldly stand up against the forces of trash and ugliness.

In my personal opinion, she was a much better person than her ex-husband, the former governor. In their case, she really was the “better half.”

Now on another note of sadness, but not because I particularly like the man, in fact I have long despised him.

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana apparently has been caught with his pants down, literally. It would be easy to sneer and gloat over this man who made such a career out of championing his version of family values, values he obviously didn’t uphold in his own life, but that would be to do so at the expense of his wife and children and the women whom he used, all victims of his behavior.

I actually even feel sorry for the man, because it has been my observation over more than 30 years in the newspaper business that men who use prostitutes do so habitually and do so virtually their whole adult life, and not just once or occasionally as some “Johns” want you to believe. I am sure there are some exceptions to that rule, maybe even many, but that has not been my observation from discussions with police officers and others familiar with prostitution.

I have to wonder, from the quotes from an interview of Vitter’s wife in an earlier story where she compared herself to Lorena Bobbit, if she didn’t know something was going on at the time she talked with the reporter. If so, how very, very sad.

To move on, The Clarion-Ledger carried a story Friday about at least one person in Ridgeland who bemoaned his “loss” of freedom because that city has passed a smoking ban in restaurants and other public places and he isn’t allowed to pollute the air and poison his fellow citizens with his cigarette smoke.

This whiner claimed that by passing the smoking ban Ridgeland has completely destroyed American freedom. To quote one of my favorite literary characters, “Bah, humbug,” and in this case, I think those two words fit the situation exactly.

I sure wish Picayune, better yet Pearl River County and best of all, the whole state, would pass bans on smoking in restaurants and other public places.

Those of us who do not smoke don’t add stinking poison to the air others have to breathe and we see no reason why someone else should have what they call a “right” to stink up our surroundings and poison our lungs.

I can not, in writing about Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Fordice, fail to mention another person who has added to the beauty of our roads in Mississippi, the late Agriculture Commissioner Jim Buck Ross.

Today, on most roads leading into the state, several miles on either side of the road are planted to southern magnolia trees, the state’s tree and flower. I don’t know how many years ago it was, but I believe it was in the early 1970s, that Ross persuaded the Mississippi Legislature to pass a law supporting that effort.

As I recall the law, private sponsors for the plantings are gathered and they pay for the initial trees that are put along the road or highway. We here in Pearl River County have a testimony to that effort every time we head south on Interstate 59, or come back north from a visit to Louisiana.

Unfortunately, the trees take a battering along the highway and damaged or dead trees have to be replaced frequently. Those that manage to get large enough, though, are glorious, especially during the blooming season.

Many people I have talked with seem to think magnolias naturally are relatively small trees. They are not. They grow tall in the forests. I have seen them in the woods as a hunter and fisherman and I used to count and estimate their board feet when I cruised timber around Natchez for a lumber company after I came out of the Marine Corps.

I have to admit they are better admired as individual trees in yards and fields where they can spread their tops and their large, sweet-smelling blooms are much more obvious.

I knew Jim Buck Ross, and he could aggravate you sometimes, even often times, as a politician, but he did have some good ideas and these “avenues of magnolias” are one of them.