Today I decided to go off course. When I found out my Army Band Director was one and a half hours away, I asked the crew what they all wanted to do. Carl, Debbie, Flo and Rita all said they wanted to go with me so we jumped in the car and off we went.

Our house has a beautiful view and we had looked at the bridge but we had never crossed it. Well, today our drive took us left across the bridge towards Gulfport, Mississippi. We got to see houses on these huge columns and water everywhere. As we were driving we saw a sign that said Swamp Tours. We all said we would stop there on our way back. The drive was beautiful but one thing about Louisiana – the signs for streets just aren’t anywhere. Thank God for GPS and no U-turns again today.

We got to Gulfport and the first thing we see is the beach and white sand. We were all happy. We pulled into the Armed Forces Retirement Center, got our badges and headed to meet Diana, a Navy veteran sister who is friends with Bernice Goldstein known to us band members as Goldie. I was excited to see her as I knew I was coming for all our sisters who couldn’t go and visit. Our Women’s Army Band has a very strong bond and when one is sick we all care. She told me she was trying to get strong because she wants to come and direct the band even if it’s a little. She raised her arms to show me she could direct.

We talked about Quilts of Honor and she was so happy to meet the QOH crew. She kept thanking us for what we do. When it was time to go, we took many pictures. She is so frail and it did make me cry when we walked away which I never do but Goldie is a fighter – she has that Army spirit just like her band. The whole crew walked up to her, took her hand and said what an honor it was to meet her. Goldie replied, “I’m honored to meet you.” We all said what a gift we got to be able to do this.

The Armed Forces Retirement Center was beautiful. I can’t say enough how big and clean it was. They have a park, beach, walking trail and a chapel and their own exchange. It was amazing. The sad thing is that there are 501 veterans who live there, both men and women. They don’t have any organizations making them lap quilts, wheelchair bags or anything homemade. Many don’t even get visitors. One veteran was on a walker with a seat and he had a stash of candy. He handed it out to all the ladies as we walked by but wouldn’t give one to Carl.

We drove out of there right across the road to the beach. The girls had to put their feet in the water and walk in the sand. Carl and I were the smart ones – we left our shoes on. Carl found the shell of a stingray and was scaring Flo with it. Rita had to be the first one in the water. Sometimes it’s like I have 6 kids but it’s always fun and never a dull moment. The sand was so white, the water wasn’t very clear and the girls said it was cold. There wasn’t anyone on the beach – if it was California, it would be packed.

We left there and decided to go do the Swamp Tour. It was so great! We saw wild boar, alligators, egrets, gray heron, turtles and raccoons. The bayou was beautiful and seeing homes on the water was really cool. The swamp was spooky but fun and our guide, Jules, was cool and let us take many pictures. Rita had to have a picture with an alligator and she went the extra mile and got down to the alligator’s level. Now if I would have done that, I couldn’t have gotten back up. It was a great funny photo.

We ended our day at Wally World for toilet paper – pretty critical when you run out with 8 people and 5 bathrooms. We had dinner and as I write this, they are all around the table talking and laughing and telling about their day.

I will say an extra prayer tonight for those close to my heart that they know I am thinking of you. We will be in New Orleans tomorrow and am sure we will have more adventures so stay tuned. . . . . . . .

God bless,
Gail