I know many of you are waiting to read about what I’ve been doing for the last week and a half since I left Cindy’s. Until I got here in South Carolina, I didn’t have Internet access. Instead of writing two stories, one for each state, I decided to combine them into one story even though it’s long. When I travel, even though I might not have Internet service, if possible from my phone if I can get wifi, I try to at least update the Travel Map tab with my location.
I posted a photo album with all of the pictures I have taken in Georgia and South Carolina.There are lots of pictures of the fire departments and their equipment.
I have spent many hours writing this story and inserting photos. There was a time during writing this story when I had a computer hiccup, really operator error when I went back a screen and some info and photos were not updated and it all disappeared before I could save what I posted. I lost about 30 minutes of writing and photos in this story so I had to try and remember what I wrote. I hope you can tell from reading the story how much I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip so far and my time with all of the fire departments. Their hospitality is more than I could have ever imagined or expected. I know they are sincere in their appreciation and gratitude. They make me feel very loved and special.
Thursday morning, May 15th, I went to leave Cindy’s house, and the battery in my camper was dead, which was strange since the battery is only a year old. Cindy’s boyfriend Byron used his battery charger and I started my way north towards Georgia. I haven’t had any battery problems since then, thankfully. I looked at the map and decided to take the back roads rather than the Interstate. It was about 100 miles and a pretty direct route on Highway 301 straight into Jesup, Georgia. It took a couple of hours, and as I drove there were beautiful wildflowers growing in the medians and grassy areas on the side of the road.
When I arrived in Jesup, I called Madray Springs Fire Chief Ashley Dent and let him know that I arrived safely. He gave me directions to the Wayne County Fire Chief’s office so I could stop and meet Chief Keith Wright who I have spoken with many times on the phone during the past year. I donated to his department and several others in his county. It was nice to finally meet Chief Wright. While I visited with him, Chief Sloan who I also had not met, but I donated to his department too, stopped by to meet me, as did Chief Duncan and his wife Joy who came to visit me last year when they came to get some equipment I helped them purchase. It was great to visit with all of them and they thanked me again for helping them purchase much needed equipment. They made me feel very welcome and said for me to stop by for a visit whenever I could.
After visiting with them for a few hours, I headed east to see my friends in Ludowici which is about 11 or so miles away. When I arrived in Ludowici I went directly to the Long County Library to meet Cathy who works at the Library. I donated money to this library, as well as the Ludowici Fire and Police Departments. I had called Cathy to make sure she was at the library before I started to drive there. When she saw my camper she came out to meet me. It was nice to put a face and name together. Cathy and her quilting club made a beautiful quilt for me last year in thanks for the donation to the library. I’ve used that quilt many times in the past year, it’s great when I take naps and I also have it in my camper on this trip. They named the quilt Always Thankful. Cathy showed me the children’s corner of the library which was created with some of the funds I donated. There was a man and his son using the computer and books and it touched my heart to see them having fun and learning together. We talked about the authors we love and Debbie Macomber is at the top of the list for many of us. In addition to being a wonderful author, I know from personal experience that she is an extremely kind and caring person as well.
While at the library, I called Fire Chief Truman to let him know I was in town. He and Aaron who was one of the firefighters who came down to meet me last year came to the library to say hi. Chief Truman called Police Chief Steiner and asked him to come meet me too. I had donated to the fire and police departments but had not met the police chief. When they arrived I got the warmest welcome and hugs. I also got to meet one of the newer police officers named Avery who was wearing one of the bulletproof vests and radios that I purchased for their department. Avery gave me a big hug and said thank you. I have to tell you it really touches my heart to see the impact a donation in any amount can make to these departments where the funding in their budgets is so limited. I also met several of the board members for the library.
We were all standing around talking about things and events, etc. and I mentioned that I attended the local Relay For Life event where I live. Cathy told me that the Long County/Ludowici Relay For Life event was that night and I got invited to participate. I told them I would gladly walk as a survivor. I said that Chief Wright had found a place for me to park my camper about 10 miles from Ludowici, but I might not be able to drive back later that night for the event. They all said that someone could come get me, then Chief Steiner said that I could park next to the police station, they would plug in my camper to their building and Avery would drive me to the high school for the event. That sounded great to me. I was made to feel so welcome. So, Avery drove me to the Relay and I signed up and walked around before the event and then walked the survivor lap. I saw several firefighters and also the city clerk Tina was there and she greeted me and introduced me to others.
This Relay does something different than I have seen at other Relays. They have something called a Thunder Lap. Motorcycle club members pay a fee which is an event fundraiser. The motorcycles get to ride three laps around the track with their lights on while participants line the track cheering. Tina introduced me to her father Leland, and he invited me to ride on the back of his Harley during the Thunder Lap. It was so very cool and I really enjoyed it. Tina took some pictures which was a challenge since it was dark and we were moving when we passed her.
I stayed at the Relay for several hours and then when it was time for me to leave, I was offered a ride on the fire truck to get me back to the police department.Believe it or not, this was my first ever ride on a fire truck. I’ve ridden in patrol cars many times, when I lived in Texas I used to ride patrol frequently with the police department. I loved it and I also learned quite a bit from the officers such as what to watch out for, how to spot suspicious situations, etc. But riding on a fire truck… this was a first. I spent the night in my camper at the police station, and the next morning said goodbye to everyone and met up with Fire Chief Ashley Dent.
I followed Chief Dent to his station in Madray Springs and my camper was parked behind his fire station where I camped for the next 3 days. Odum Fire Chief Kevin Altman who is also a member of the Madray Springs Fire Department was there. I met both of these chiefs, and Chief Truman, last year when they came to visit me. Several other firefighters came by the station and I was introduced to them. Everyone made me feel so welcome and they were glad I came to visit. They told me stories about some of the recent calls they had. One really touched my heart and I felt so sad for this lady. She had bought a mobile home and spent over a year having it fixed up. She had just finished the repairs, made her last payment on Thursday, and on Friday there was an electrical fire and the house burned beyond repair. She had no insurance. Very sad.
Chief Dent told me that in the past few weeks the department that I bought the diving masks for used them to search for people in lakes, unfortunately the people drowned and did not survive. But the rescue workers were able to communicate with the command center because of these new dive masks which permitted conversations between the rescue workers and command post. Both Chiefs Dent and Altman gave me tours of their fire stations.
As I got a tour of the Madray Springs and Odum fire stations and fire trucks, the chiefs showed me the items they purchased with the funds I donated and let me know how much it means to them. One of the firefighters told me later on that hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t mention my name and that they are glad they have this piece of equipment or bunker gear. It really touches my heart. I didn’t donate funds to get recognition, I wanted these departments to have the equipment they need to protect themselves and to help others when they are on calls. They also showed me what they made themselves to save money, and the great deals they got buying equipment on various sites such as Ebay. I can tell how much pride these departments have for their departments and it shows in many ways.
One of the items they purchased is a foam compression unit so they can put out fires when there are no fire hydrants. Instead of spending money on a dummy to use for training, they taped old hoses together to make one.
A few hours after I arrived on Saturday, Chief Dent’s wife Lindsay and others cooked a late lunch, I offered to help but they wouldn’t let me. We had a delicious meal of fajitas and mexican rice. Lindsay was due to have a baby boy who would be named Murphy any day, we kept expecting it to happen at any moment.
The training room at the fire station has a kitchen and area with tables to eat. They also have a television and sofas. Chief Dent said to make myself at home and said instead of me sleeping in the camper that I could stay in their day/training room. So, I made myself at home and slept inside. This room has no windows, it’s very quiet and pretty dark. I don’t remember ever sleeping somewhere so quiet, not even in my apartment.
Sunday morning, Chief Altman and his wife Kathy, Chief Dent and his wife Lindsay, Randy a firefighter and his wife, and several other firefighters came and cooked breakfast and we all ate together and talked. We shared stories and lots of laughs, it was a great time. Afterwards, they left and I took a shower and read. Later that day, Chief Dent came by to visit, we kept waiting for a call from Lindsay that Murphy was ready to come into the world, but it didn’t happen. Chief Dent (Ashley) told me that later that evening they are having a cookout and that several firefighters and their family are coming over to meet me. Again, they would not let me help with anything. I enjoyed talking with everyone and getting to hear stories and making new friends with the firefighters and their families.
On Sunday night, I got to finally meet Patty Pritchett. She is the lady in the We Need Boots video who is pretending her cat is in a tree. I have talked with Patty on the phone, and she sent me a very funny video of her filling in at a relatives wedding recently. Patty and her husband Gene catch alligators and relocate them when they are creating problems in certain areas. She recently got some year old baby gators and she brought one to the station so we could hold it and have the experience of a baby gator. At first I was hesitant to touch it, but I decided to do it. There was a rubberband keeping it’s mouth closed so it wouldn’t bite. It felt really cool to the touch, no body heat. It was soft and smooth and really interesting to hold. Even the children were able to touch and hold it. The baby gator is about 12 inches long. We all had a really nice evening together and there were leftovers for us to have for another meal.
Ashley said that on Monday night they are having a dinner for me at a restaurant named Sybil’s in Jesup and that he invited the departments that I donated to so they could come meet me in person. I also invited the owner of Safe Hollow Animal Sanctuary and the Long County Library that I donated to so they could join us. We knew that not everyone would be able to attend but those who could would do so. We were now hoping that Murphy would not make his arrival into the world until Tuesday and that there would not be any fire calls during the dinner. Some of the departments drove their fire trucks to dinner just in case they got a call.
Sybil’s has a buffet at dinner so everyone was able to eat what they wanted. We had a good time and I got to meet so many new people and I felt so much pride and joy when I heard how much it means to them that someone cares about them and what they do. That someone cares and someone that didn’t even know them bought them equipment. I thanked them all for their kind words and I thanked them for their service to their communities, and for making me feel like I am a part of their firefighting family. I know the sacrifices they make to their family and friends because of their dedication to the fire department and I let them know it. There are pictures of everyone at this dinner in my photo album. Here is a photo of all of the firefighters with me.
One of the Madray Springs firefighters I met is named Richard. He is definitely a miracle and inspiration to everyone he meets. He gave me one of his special t-shirts. It has the fire department logo and it has a Mr. Potato Head in the center. He said it’s the first toy he remembers as a child. The number 62 is the original number he was assigned as a firefighter. The shirts says HB Firefighter. It stands for Half Blind firefighter. Richard had a brain tumor and had extensive brain surgery which resulted in the loss of his left eye. I think it was the county fire department that wanted to not let him be a firefighter due to the loss of his left eye. However, the state and department allowed him to keep his certification and he is a valued and important member of the Madray Springs fire department. I feel very special because he had two t-shirts made for me in my size. I will cherish these shirts and wear them proudly like I do all of my fire department t-shirts.
Monday evening while we were all sitting in the fire station Chief Dent showed me a poster they had made of me standing next to their fire truck, he said they are going to frame it and hang it on the wall. I had no idea when we took pictures the day I arrived that one would become a poster. I told him if he let me know I would have combed my hair and tried to look better. The bulletin boards in Madray Springs and Odum fire departments had the newspaper articles posted from when they came to visit me last year. I couldn’t believe a year later they still had them on the bulletin boards. It really touched my heart.
When I was at the Madray Springs fire department I saw the decals of the letters MSVFD sitting on a table and noticed that they are on the departments air tanks and several pieces of equipment. I asked Chief Dent if he could put it on Molly and he said certainly. So before I left the station on my visit in May when I was heading north to South Carolina, he put it on her. I display it proudly. The first lettering was black, then he put a slightly smaller decal of royal blue letters over it. I don’t know if it shows in the pictures, but it’s royal blue lettering outlined in black. As I traveled, periodically I would be asked what MSVFD means and I would proudly tell about what I call ‘my firefighters,” the volunteer firefighters and the job they do and their needs. It’s Molly’s tattoo from Chief Dent. MSVFD stands for Madray Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
On Tuesday morning, Ashley took Lindsay to the hospital because sometime that day Murphy was going to make his entrance into the world. His almost 7 year old brother Renley was excited to be a big brother and he had a shirt with a firefighter that says Big Brother Renley on it. A few of the firefighters have children and there are lots of toy firetrucks at the fire department which were constantly being played with by the boys. The fire department seems a great place for them to learn and play. Murphy was born late afternoon, he weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces. This photo was taken just after he was born.
I left on Tuesday morning and headed north towards New Prospect Fire Department in Inman, South Carolina, to see Chief Caruso, his wife Pam, the firefighters there, and also David the owner of Lake Bowen Auto. I looked at the map and was deciding whether to take back roads for the 300 mile trip to South Carolina, or if I should take the Interstates which would not be as scenic but would be an easier drive for me and probably take less time than going through all the small towns on back roads where speed limits change frequently.
I also knew that since I got to Cindy’s that my rooftop air conditioner unit didn’t seem to be cooling my camper like it did last year. It’s only about 18 months old, but I haven’t used it for a year. I knew that if I took the Interstate that there would be RV repair places and I wanted to have it checked. I also knew that if I took the Interstate I would not have to be using my abdominal muscles as much by braking and steering. I stopped a few miles before Savannah at Gore’s RV and they were able to fit me in to check my air conditioner. After testing it for 4 hours, it was determined that the problem was most likely the thermostat was not working properly. So, they called Dometic to order a new thermostat. Dometic said it would take 2 or 3 days for us to get the part. I asked to speak to the representative and I explained that this unit is 18 months old, that when it was 3 months old it had to be replaced because the freon leaked out. I also told them I was passing through and didn’t plan on coming back this way and that it’s 90 degrees out and I have health issues. I asked her to check with her supervisor to see if they would make an exception and send it overnight. It took a while but she came back on the phone and said they would make an exception this one time for me. So, I left the RV place and drove down the street and stayed overnight in the parking lot at a Love’s gas station and truckstop.
I got up Wednesday morning and went back to the RV dealer and they plugged in my camper while we waited for the part to arrive. I was hurting a bit, so at 9:30 a.m. I took some medicine and laid down on my sofa and took a nap. About 11:00 a.m. there was a knock on my door that the part arrived. So the technician installed it, checked to make sure it was working, and then as he was putting the parts and knobs back together, one of the knobs broke. He had to find another one and he tried to screw it in and it broke again. There were no others to be found. They had to call Dometic and have one sent and it would be about a week before it arrived. Thankfully, the technician was able to find a way to fit the part together so it would work and I said I would be back in a few weeks to have the new part installed. So far, so good. The air conditioning is working and the knob is still in one piece which is a great thing.
So, about 1:00 p.m. I called Chief Caruso in South Carolina and told him I’m headed his way. I think I had about 265 miles to drive. I was feeling pretty good. I think the medicine and extra rest and nap worked wonders. I was able to drive the entire way, I stopped for gas or breaks periodically.
When I was about 45 minutes away, I called Chief Caruso for directions and I started the last leg of my journey. I was glad I was able to drive the entire distance in one day. The last 50 or so miles was a bit more challenging, but I wanted to do it. Just after I pulled out of the rest area to start the last hour’s drive, my check engine light came on again. I’m guessing Molly knew we were getting close to David’s mechanic shop which is near the New Prospect Fire Station. This is where we got the engine checked last year, he checked and everything showed the engine was working okay and David reset the error code. During the past year the check engine light comes on once in a while, it’s always the same message and we don’t know why since it drives okay.
I arrived at the New Prospect Fire Station on Wednesday, May 21st, about 6:00 p.m. and was warmly greeted by Chief Caruso. After we got my camper plugged in behind the fire station and made sure the air conditioner and everything was working, we went out for pizza. It tasted great, the only thing I had eaten that day was left over chicken and potato salad from the cookout Sunday night. After dinner, Chief Caruso went home since it was late and we both had long days. I relaxed in the camper and read a book until I fell asleep.
Thursday I got up and came into the station to say hi to the Chief and he introduced me to more of the firefighters. We went to see David at Lake Bowen Auto and left the camper there for him to check it out to see why the check engine light came on again just to be sure nothing was wrong. We agreed to meet him at lunchtime and we all went to Applebee’s for lunch. David said without replacing the plug and wire he couldn’t tell if that was the problem or if it was something else. Since all the wires and plugs were changed about 16 months and 15,000 miles ago we didn’t know if that was the problem, he thought it could also be a fuel injector that was going bad. He said that he could add some type of cleaner to see if it would clean the fuel injectors and maybe it would solve the problem. So, we agreed that we would try that first and if it didn’t solve the problem, I could have it checked later on if necessary. It seems the error message is always for the same thing, something to the effect cylinder 8 is misfiring. However, it still runs smoothly. I like to get things checked out in hopes of preventing me having problems later on.
Chief Caruso took me on a drive through his service area, some of which is very rural, and like the departments in Georgia has areas that do not have fire hydrants so their tanker trucks are extremely important. The North Carolina border is near the border of his service area and we drove a few miles through North Carolina and then came back into South Carolina. Chief Caruso also pointed out several dangerous intersections, where despite having the largest stop signs I have ever seen, people do not stop. They go straight through the intersections causing fatal accidents. He said they have used the rescue struts they bought with the funds I donated several times to stabilize a car so they could get the people out of it without injuring firefighters or the passengers.
We came back to the fire station and I relaxed and read a book in the camper while Chief Caruso worked in his office. I was made to feel so very welcome here too. Chief Caruso told me to make myself at home. I could use the kitchen, washers and dryers, shower, whatever I needed. Thursday night they had a cookout at the fire station in my honor. It was great, hamburgers and hotdogs, baked beans, coleslaw, etc. Many of the firefighters and their families came and we got to visit. I also got to meet the Chief’s wife Pam who I have spoken with many times on the phone. We were glad to finally meet in person. She gives great hugs and has really kind eyes. It seemed that everyone had a great time visiting and eating.
Chief Worthy from the Pacolet Fire Department came to meet me and thank me for the donation to his department. His service area has a section of a river that was opened to the public for kayaking, and the county did not give his department funding to prepare them in case they had to do water rescues. The money I donated to his department allowed them to get a small boat, two kayaks, and to have their department members trained in water rescue. He told me that it has come in handy and that they appreciate what I did for them. I told him it was my pleasure. Again, it touched my heart that I was able to help his department and that he made time to drive about 30 miles to meet me and let me know.
After we ate dinner and were thoroughly full from the great cookout and ice cream for dessert, Chief Caruso stood in front of the room and asked me to come stand next to him. He introduced me to everyone in case there was someone I hadn’t met yet. He thanked me for the donations to his department and he presented me with another department t-shirt, a department patch, and one of their metal official firefighter badges with an eagle on top. Oh my goodness, what a surprise! I feel so honored and proud to have these items. I thanked everyone for the wonderful gathering and making me feel like a part of their department, and for their service to the community. I put the patch and badge on the wall inside my camper with other items I proudly display and see when I’m in my camper.
Friday morning was time to relax. Chief Caruso was busy in the early morning, so I washed the throw rugs in my camper that were clean until the RV repair men tracked dirt all over them going in and out of the camper. Chief Caruso and his wife Pam took the day off of work and we went out for lunch and had nachos, and then they drove to Spartanburg so I could go to Costco and buy some Jelly Belly’s in the large containers. It was really kind of them to drive all the way down there for me. I was going to go on my way south when I left, but this saved me a stop and I really appreciated it. I really don’t need to eat so many Jelly Belly’s but they are great to snack on when I’m reading or need to get rid of the taste of my medicine. I got started eating them when I got a sample at Costco before Easter.
Chief and Pam dropped me at the camper and went home to take care of some things they needed to do. I read, took medicine, and a short nap. They came to get me later on and we went out to dinner at a local restaurant that was really nice and had great food. While we were there, it started to rain. It looked like out one side of the building it was raining hard, and in the front of the building it didn’t look like it was raining. Also, the sun was out during this rain shower.
Saturday morning, May 24th, I woke up at 8:00 a.m. when the alarm went off and I decided to go back to sleep since I have nothing planned. I got up about 10:00 a.m. and washed my sheets and read my book. About noon, I decided to write the stories about my visits with the library and firefighters, that’s what I wrote in this story.
Sunday, May 25th, The firefighters on duty this morning cooked breakfast and invited me to join them. I have quite a bit of abdominal pain this morning for some reason, so I took my medicine and rested until about noon when my friends Barbara and Iris got here. They live in Monroe, North Carolina, and drove down to visit me, it was about a 2 hour drive for them. We had lunch together and had a nice time catching up on life. They kindly stopped at the grocery store so I could buy some food to get me through the next few days. I will stop at the grocery when I leave here so I can stock up on food to keep me fed for the week or so I am at the campground.
Chief Caruso and his wife Pam brought me to their house for dinner before I left and we had a really nice visit. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here with the Chief, Pam, and all of the firefighters. Their hospitality was warm and friendly and sincere, and it touched my heart deeply.
By the way, the plastic latch on the back door of my camper cracked while I was here and a year or so ago I bought another one to have in case anything ever happened to the latch. I like to keep a few spare parts around in case they are needed. I know that plastic parts deteriorate over time and since Molly is a 1998 camper parts become brittle and break. Thankfully, I had the replacement part, and one of the firefighters on duty today named Paul said he could replace the part for me even though one part was rivets, not screws like on the other part that it connects to. Paul has an auto body shop and said he would gladly replace the latches for me. Another blessing and sign that God is taking care of me and my travels. In thanks to Chief Caruso and all of the firefighters, I made 3 double batches of my brownies for the. I know they all enjoyed eating them.
It’s hard to believe that I have been away for about two and a half weeks already. At first it seemed that it was a long time, but it was only a week. Now, it’s over 2 weeks. I keep getting asked where I am going next and I didn’t really have anything planned. I decided that I don’t want to go further north, that even though I want to go farther away, like Texas and to be in Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta in early October, that I probably should stay in the southeast.
I looked at the map last night and I saw some Corps of Engineer parks about 75 miles southwest of here and I decided to go there to camp for several days or a week. I’m hoping that they have some campsites that are not reserved. If not, there are lots of state parks in South Carolina and maybe they have available sites. I really like staying in Corps of Engineer parks, they are almost always on lakes.
Then when I move on, I will go back east through South Carolina into Georgia again and find places to camp there. Chiefs Dent and Altman and the firefighters want me to come back and visit with them again and I said I would as long as my health permits. I also have to stop at the RV place and get the part replaced and it’s about an hour or so from their departments. I also want to visit with Ashley and Lindsay and meet Murphy who will be a few weeks old by then and I’m guessing they will let me hold him.
Well, that’s about it for now. I don’t know when I will write more or when I will have Internet again. Where the Corps of Engineer Parks are located seems to be in a pretty remote area so I may not even have phone service. When I was in Madray Springs, my Sprint phone service was roaming the entire time. It seems to be working here in South Carolina.
It’s been great visiting with everyone and meeting new friends at these fire departments. They have been making sure that I am well fed and that I have everything I need. Healthwise, I’m doing very well. My appetite has been good, better than it was when I was home. I’m resting and taking my medicine when I need to. I’m about 800 miles from home right now and so far so good. Yes, there are days that are more painful and challenging. I just stay put, take my medicine, and relax. There are other days where I have good energy and hardly any pain. I’m no different than anyone else with health issues. I try to stay positive and make the best of every day.