McCollum’s Column: A flood of memories from the past

My intentions for the next several months have been to furnish some throwbacks and “blasts from the past” from experiences and old columns in commemorating my 50 years in the newspaper industry.

 

I expected a measure, calm and recollection, not for the floodgates to open.

It was a jolt when I saw a news reporter in Orange, Texas, standing in the middle of a flooded street, one that I’m pretty sure I have traveled many times.

My first job as a sports reporter was for The Orange Leader, which is right on the Sabine River on the southeastern Texas-Louisiana border. It is part of the Golden Triangle of Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange.

Wow … the flashbacks of my old stomping grounds being under water. And the scenes were just as jolting from Bridge City, which is also in Orange County. It is bordered by both the Neches River and Cow Bayou. When I worked in the area, you had to cross one of three bridges to get into town, hence the name.

The Rainbow Bridge, which crosses the Neches, is the tallest bridge in Texas with a vertical clearance of 177 feet, which was built to allow the tallest ship in the U.S. Navy to cross under it. Levingston Shipbuilding in Orange, across the street from our newspaper office back in the day, was the largest builder of ocean vessels for the Navy in World War II and remained a major industry years afterward.

You’re driving along marshy land in Bridge City when suddenly the Rainbow Bridge appears and it’s like your going up a steep roller coaster . It’s initially scary on a sunny day. You ought to try in in inclement weather.

Thursday, I saw flooding video from Vidor, Texas, which is between Orange and Beaumont on I-10, and the town was evacuated. I watched the joy of Vidor ending one of the longest high school football losing streaks in Texas history in its stadium. Another time, it’s also where I witnessed the haunting nature of my first cross-burning, just outside the stadium.

Then, about a half-hour to the east and across another tall bridge is Lake Charles, La., where I was first introduced to McNeese State football, and now had its own share of flooding.

I-10, the interstate I traveled to so many games and activities, looked like a lake.

When I first arrived in Orange, the newspaper required every reporter to have a “hurricane kit,” (boots, raincoat, flashlight, essential items). I never used mine. I’m glad I didn’t.

I’ve also been to Houston enough to grasp the impact of flooding there, some of it along the very spots I traveled for Southland Conference Media Day in July.

What a flashback. So many memories of people, places, events and sites from my fledgling days as a reporter. I thought about people and schools that I haven’t thought about in many years.

Seeing the horrific flooding and devastation brought me back to the present.

Strangely, I felt really bad and really good. Bad for obvious reasons in a tragic situation most commonly referred to as unprecedented and unlike anything folks had seen before.

The good was watching how plain, ordinary good folks were coming to the aid of each other, neighbors and strangers alike, without regard for race, religion status or political affiliation. When I worked in the area, I knew a lot of plain, ordinary, good folks. It was comforting to know that there still are.

We are all together on the same planet, trying to figure out how to live, work and survive at each other.

It’s a shame it took a tragedy of this nature to refocus our priorities and reaffirm what it means to be a neighbor in a climate of hate.

During my days in southeast Texas, I saw a lot of heroics. What I have seen in the last few days surpasses that on many levels.

 

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