What Else Is Eating At Me

It’s time to get some things off my chest, and it ain’t going to be pleasant for either of us, I’m afraid.

After several kind and helpful replies to last week’s column, “How It Happened,” I decided to yell, “Damn the iceberg, full speed ahead,” and elaborate on what’s really to blame for my bad mood and frequent flight far and away to green forests, fast water and knee-deep silence.

Listen! Things are bad in west St. Mary Parish. Yeah, jump down my throat for saying that, oh great politicos and so-called civic leaders…just make sure you practice what you preach.

I know, it’s supposed to be my job to bring out the pom-poms and rah-rah-rah, go team, go. But everybody pretends everything’s hunky-dory. Well, wake up, friends and neighbors…it’s not. There’s one, possibly two businesses throwing in the towel right now, and they are just the latest in a long, long line in the mass exodus from this part of the parish.

By the way, what the devil happened to that committee the parish was supposed to create to look at the insane cost of permits and fees for construction in St. Mary Parish? Swept under the rug and thrown out with the rest of the trash, I imagine.

Look at your average governmental meetings. Kudos to the City of Franklin for taking a tremendous initiative in Christmas lighting, local events and also to our civic groups for doing the same. Franklin seems to be the only government and some citizens even trying to climb out of this deep, dark hole.

But elsewhere, it’s almost exclusively in-house agenda items that take up public meetings. From the lowliest local board on up to D.C. itself, all government has become impotent except in terms of servicing itself.

Admit it, every time you look up, somebody’s moving out. Am I wrong? No, you know it’s true. So very many people I know have either moved or are planning on moving. People retire and what do they do? They get the heck outta Dodge, that’s what. Don’t pretend you don’t see it, time and again. With the cost of property taxes in St. Mary Parish, can you blame them? It’s insane. Where’s a committee on property taxes?

What do we get for all those property and sales taxes? I’ll tell you what: A school system that closes schools, except that they close more on this end than the other end. And more taxes after that so they can build new schools! What else do we get? Garbage fees, light fees, higher water bills, worse streets and roads, lousy contractor service and, by the way, you have to drive to Patterson to pick up a cable modem.

What don’t we get? Businesses that are willing to invest in this community, to provide services and goods and entertainment and stuff that will keep our residents and our children here.

Nobody wants to admit it. That’s right, nobody. The people who should be making a difference act like everything’s cake and cordials around here, when it’s not.

Let’s stop mincing words. Let’s stop beating around the bush. Things are bad this side of the Calumet Cut. You get that? You can paint it anyway you want it, sugarcoat it time and time again, but the bottom line is undeniable, inarguable and painfully obvious.

There are those of us who are trying. I’m trying. I’m doing my best to build a wooden boat show and foster Tour du Teche in the hopes it will mean something to this end of the parish in the long run. Others are trying in other ways. They are few and far between. The rest either just give up or move out.

More than 5,000 people have left this city since the mid-1980s. Baldwin lost some 12 percent in a decade. St. Mary Parish as a whole only gained 1,150.

Just 1,150 in growth over a decade in the unincorporated areas? That doesn’t count for 5,000 from Franklin and 12 percent of Baldwin for sure. That’s not a sign of a thriving community.

Businesses are closing left and right and very, very few new ones are opening. Across west St. Mary whole neighborhoods have deteriorated to the point of needing to be bulldozed. Our kids leave and never come back. Whole family names have vanished from the phone book in the last 20 years.

Don’t give me a song and dance. Don’t recite any more excuses. Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear: We are in serious decline in this part of this once wonderful place to live.

I try. God knows I try. But you see, the little dictators in their little realms will ignore this column and these words, because they’ve learned to ignore everything…why? Because you won’t stand up for yourselves and say, “Hey! We’re sinking and we don’t have any lifeboats! Straighten up and fly right, ya bums, or you’re out!” Instead, you just keep putting the same ineffective, semi-comatose people back in charge of your destiny.

Yeah, I’ve been sitting here for over 20 years watching it all go to pot. Deny it if you want, delude yourself if that makes you feel better. But you think back on what this part of the parish was like in 1986 and compare it to today. It’s a shadowy reflection. A grim reminder of what we once were.

We’re all that’s left, and very, very few of us lift a finger to try to better this place. Well, don’t bother. It’s too late. The bells are tolling. I’m sick and tired of all the propaganda: This is such a great place. This is a natural wonderland. This is a historic community. Hell, I’m responsible for spouting and spreading half of that dribble myself. If this is such a great place why has the majority of the population gone and more are leaving every year?

Ask yourself that question out loud just to make sure you heard it right: Why has the majority of the population gone and more are leaving every year? Ask it again. And again. And again…

You can’t dress it up in a coat of many colors. You can’t spin it. You can’t jiggle the numbers and hope that every now and then even a blind hog finds a nut. All the press releases and adjectives in the world won’t hide the ugly truth.

We are in serious trouble in western St. Mary Parish. Anybody that doesn’t see that is completely, utterly blind.

So that’s what’s been eating at me, too, with big, yellow-stained teeth. I don’t know where we’ll be in west St. Mary in another 20 years. But I guarantee this: Unless we take hold of our own fates, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and hold ourselves and our officialdom responsible, it won’t be pretty.

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