It’s a tough crowd, this assembly of silver-haired Southern gentry. But David Pollick surveys his audience coolly, flashes a megawatt smile, and says something you might not expect to a room full of well-heeled college alums: “Anyone who would aspire to be a college president is a lunatic.” No doubt some have wondered about the sanity of Dr. Pollick, the 12th president of Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), who arrived at the school in 2004. Last year, he and the board of trustees decided sports had become too prominent at the private liberal arts college – a controversial stance in a state where people still revere Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, even though he died nearly a quarter century ago.
The war in Iraq may be a half a world away, but in the age of the Internet it’s as close as the flip of a video switch – making it in many ways the most intimate war in history. Using video technology and the Worldwide Web, soldiers are tying into the most private moments back home – weddings, funerals, birthdays. Today’s soldier doesn’t have to wait for a box of brownies: He can see his 4-year-old proudly making them. Some innovative couples have used the technology to get married, renew vows, or choose an insurance carrier. A father saw his daughter learn to tie her shoes. A brother said goodbye to his dying sister. The age of the interlinked war is raising profound questions: Does it boost the morale of soldiers or add to longings for home and divert attention from the task at hand?
Tall reeds line the banks of the Alabama River, swaying lazily in the dark water’s eddies as the wild tenor of crickets and cicadas dips and soars through the October stillness. Fat water moccasins sun themselves on cracked red clay as long-legged egrets snatch greedily from a school of water beetles skimming the surface. A fish jumps once, then twice. A man laughs once, then again as he joins a handful of people boarding the ferry. All God’s creatures are free in Gee’s Bend.
From her perch high atop the factory floor, she pulls red and white stripes through her hands over and over, being careful to keep the seams neat and tidy. Always a perfectionist, she is even more prudent here. This isn’t just any flag – it’s Old Glory. And this isn’t just any version – it’s an interment flag to drape a veteran’s coffin, one last embrace from a grateful country.
Contrails of sweat arc through the air as a football player slams his opponent into the wall, the momentum carrying him over the four-foot barrier and nearly into the nacho-laden laps of a family of four. Fans leap to their feet and pump their fists to a chorus of “Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof!” With a triumphant grin, the airborne player vaults over the wall and plants his feet firmly back on the green Astroturf as a parade of silver-clad women shimmies into the end zone. Football is the main event on this Friday night, though religion is a definite subtext – with a Bible giveaway, a Christian concert, and, controversially, football players wearing jerseys with biblical references.
The smell of fried catfish wafts across the wide front porch, up to the beadboard ceiling and then down, past the white clapboard walls and out beyond the cracked sidewalk to 30th Street. At the edge of the porch sits a gaggle of girls, swinging their feet in rhythm with the steady buzz — 15-year-old Ken Davis is getting a haircut, and on a Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do, this is the height of entertainment.