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‘Bayou Baseball Boy Makes It Big!’

In Bayou La Batre on August 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Brandon Cupp 2By Laney Payne

Brandon Cupp is a blue-eyed bayou soul with dreams of making it big and the talent to back it up.

The baby boy of four siblings and a sophomore at Alma Bryant High, Brandon is eager to get his voice heard in more ways than one. Not only does the 15-year-old know how to sing a tune, but he wants his voice to mean more than just karaoke skills for his community. A Coden native and now Bayou La Batre teen, Brandon is ready to shine.

“I want to make a name for Bayou La Batre; let people know that it’s not just all about shrimpin’. People see all the bad stuff here, but they need to see the talent,” said Brandon, donned in his navy Bryant baseball gear outside the local McDonald’s hang out.

Brandon and Chris Cupp

Brothers Brandon and Chris Cup play baseball on Alma Bryant team. (Photo by Laney Payne)

Upon meeting the 15-year-old baseball player, one doesn’t peg him as a vocalist. Ready to hit the dirt in his white baseball pants, Brandon leads with his baseball spirit. As the younger of two brothers on the Bryant team, he explains how much playing with his brother has meant to him.

“My brother, he’s my best friend, we do everything together. Sometimes in the middle of a game if he’s pitching bad, we’ll walk up and talk to each other behind our gloves. It’s just what we do, and it works. He’s always there for me,” explains Brandon.

But is hasn’t always been fun and baseball for this young man. At 13, Brandon and his family took just the essentials and started over. Now living in a bayou hotel with his family of four at his side, he says that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“The struggle has helped my singing. Whenever I get mad, I sing. Sometimes when things get too cramped, I go out and sing in the truck. I turn up the radio, and people even come out to listen and clap for me. It’s motivating and keeps me going,” Brandon said.

The close quarters, however, often turn into personal jam sessions that quickly involve the entire family.

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Brandon Cupp plans to catch big dreams. (Photo by Laney Payne)

“Brandon sings 24/7. He’s always singing something. Momma has to tell him to keep quiet when he’s in the shower. But, you can tell it helps her when he sings. It shows her that we are patient, and we aren’t worried about our situation. It keeps us all positive and keeps up going,” said older brother Chris as he pitched ball after ball to his brother in the summer heat.

Growing up a southern boy, Brandon has always favored country music. Looking up to artist Scotty McCreary, Brandon said he hopes to one day follow in his footsteps and become a star. Relating to the messages that lie within many country lyrics, Brandon said he always knew he’d sing country music himself one day.

“I like the message that life can get hard. But, if you work at it, you can pick yourself back up,” Brandon said.

The son of a Horizon ship painter and Ole Maria’s waitress, Brandon understands the value of hard work and is ready to pay his dues to get where he wants to go. By setting high goals and dreaming big, the baseball player/singer hopes to go far.

“My goal is to play college ball in Tennessee. Then, I’ll pitch for my Philly’s and sing country music,” Brandon said.

A favorite among the regular Ole Maria’s karaoke crowd, Brandon takes whatever chance he can to get his voice heard. Without a shy bone in his body and a contagious sense of confidence, he is ready to belt a tune whenever the moment allows.

“If I get nervous, I’ll shake my leg a little. But I love singing in front of people, especially my girlfriend. When they hear me, it motivates me to keep going,” said Brandon.

Thankful for his local listeners, Brandon explains how each and every individual has driven him to make it big one day.  “They want you to succeed, and they are all behind you. It feels good.”

From the corner of his hotel room home singing along to mp3’s to having a microphone in hand each and every karaoke night at Ole Maria’s as he waits to walk his mom home from work, Brandon dreams of success in the big leagues.  He is determined to make it not only for himself, but also for the community he calls home.

I asked Brandon how he felt about me writing something all about him. Without skipping a beat behind a thick smile and southern drawl, he replied, “Laney, I already got the title. Bayou Baseball Boy Makes It Big.”

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Bayou basket-making class weaves memories

In Bayou La Batre on August 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Laney Basket 6

By Laney Payne

Laney Basket 4With an eloquent southern draw, soft pink attire, and hands eager to help, Dorothy “Dot” Dowling, or “Mimi” to those who know her best, is far from a basket case.

However, on a July Friday, a group of women and young girls in Bayou La Batre gathered to learn the art of basket weaving from one of the craft’s finest.Laney Basket 3 With over 30 years of experience with basket weaving under her belt, Dowling loves teaching others an art form that is fading fast from today’s generation.

“Oh, I love it. I guess you could say I’m obsessed. When I’m weaving, I’m in hog heaven,” said Dowling.

And Dowling shared her little piece of heaven with the bayou through a lesson filled with “over and unders”, spokes, weavers and raw pleasure. Using all-natural reeds, sea grass, and time-tested methods, Dowling and her students got busy creating a piece of art as unique as the individuals doing the weaving.

“Glue, that’s what I call the “g” word. These are all natural, and each one is different. You couldn’t make two the same if you tried. I love that about it,” said Dowling.

While creating their first baskets, Mrs. Dot’s students quickly picked up the trade and were thrilled watching their baskets take form and come to life.

But baskets weren’t the only thing being woven together. Sitting on the edges of cafeteria tables in a small fellowship hall on a Friday morning, the women in Dowling’s class took time to invest in each other and weave relationships.

Laney Basket 1Ranging from young brunette JROTC members, sisters, grand-daughters, retired bus drivers with shiny pink nails, and even a boy in the mix, the students of Mrs. Dot’s class shared stories and laughs in between the “in and out’s” of weaving.

“I’ve seen people do it, but I never thought much about it,” said student Diane Collier.

Another student, Brianna John, said, “I’ve woven, but not like this!”

As the group put their finishing touches on their work, and Dowling made her final rounds answering each “Mimi, what’s next?” smiles and prideful looks were seen around the table.

As Dowling packed her bag with reeds and tools, she looked at me and said, “Laney, I hope they enjoyed that as much as I did.”

What Dowling doesn’t realize is the lasting impact her investment made here and the lasting impact she continues to make on me as her grateful granddaughter.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Ten

In Bayou La Batre on August 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Laney Week 10 2A Bayou Thank You

By Laney C. Payne

As a 10-week resident of the small coastal town of Bayou La Batre, I would like to say thank you to the place that has allowed me to call it “home.”

Surprisingly, this took no time at all. From the common “Hey, how are ya’” that often goes overlooked to the gentle waves from shipbuilders and shrimpers, I want to express how much these simple gestures have taken me in and made my transition from visitor to neighbor such a smooth journey.

Although known by most as “that girl from Auburn,” I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of the folks I’ve had the honor ofLaney Week 10 1 speaking with this summer. You have allowed me to learn about myself, test my preconceived limitations, conquer many fears, hear my calling, test the waters, overcome many obstacles, and get back in touch with the simple things we often forget in the day-to-day rush that is modern life.

Thank you for the memories made at Ole’ Maria’s famous karaoke nights with the “Dauphin Island Sweetheart” and the late night drives out to “Lightning Point” to check the day’s catch. Thank you for the conversations at the drawbridge and the best bread pudding in the Gulf region at Von’s Market.

Thank you for the laughs shared with friends at Hemley Road Church of Christ and for the stories from Mr. Gordy. Thank you for the time spent in Craig’s ’85 Chevy unloading case after case of bananas for the hard-working souls of the crab shacks and the figs from “Chim Boy” and the crew.

Thank you for the haircuts at Kay Leves De Salon by Haley and the complimentary banana pudding at the Lighthouse. Thank you for the evening drives with Mrs. Ollie and the humor of the barefoot bayou kids during Sunday breakfast. Thank you for Mr. Roosevelt’s wisdom and Mrs. Daphne German’s drive.

Thank you for the citizens speaking their mind at a Monday night city hall work session and the civic leadership helping to create change. Thank you for the blue-eyed baseball boy trying to make it big in a small town. Thank you for the colorful options at the Bayou Shirt Shop and the friends made feeding birds in the Greer’s parking lot.

Laney 4Thank you for the Dauphin Island beach bound soundtracks and the sweet serenades from the bayou’s own Hank Williams. Thank you for the crickets and coastal sounds that have put me to sleep and for teaching me how to really shuck an oyster in my “Bayou Reeboks.” For all this and much more I am thankful.

As I began my Living Democracy journey just 10 weeks ago, I set out to define “community.” Before my time here, I thought community was simply the town you grew up in or the place you call home. I didn’t grasp the idea of what it means to “be” community, to pick each other up after everything has told you to stay down and grow together as neighbors and family.

Sitting here now, I know community is family. It is getting engaged, seeing what needs to be done, and simply doing it. One of my favorite bayou residents, Craig Clary, has taught me, “find a need, fill it.”

That is exactly what this small town has done. No longer is Bayou La Batre “three strikes you’re out.” From Ivan, Katrina and the oil spill, this circle of neighbors has rebuilt the place that I now call home. Seen within the eyes of each worker enjoying a break on the picnic tables outside seafood shacks and the hard steel men of Horizon’s or Steiner’s, Bayou La Batre is back and here to stay.

From my time in the bayou, I have learned what it takes to get involved, and that is not much. It’s just something you simply do because it’s what’s right;Laney Week 10 3 taking civic responsibility for not only yourself but for your community as well.

It is finding a way to get your own voice heard and finding ways to utilize your passions for the betterment of others. Civic engagement goes far beyond service.  It is an active way of life, holding yourself accountable for the happenings within your streets and finding ways to knock down boundaries and get back to the “neighborhood” lifestyle, a way in which being a good neighbor goes far beyond lending a cup of sugar.

I will take all of this with me as I continue on my educational path and find myself immersed in a new community in my near future. I challenge each of you to try just a piece of what I set out to find during my ten-week Living Democracy experience. Stop a neighbor and say hello, invest in a stranger, and slow down.  You might just be surprised at what you may find.

Bayou La Batre, please know that I will be forever grateful for being your own “that girl from Auburn” this summer.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Nine

In Bayou La Batre on August 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm

grand bay lodgeMasons of Lodge No. 767 form ‘family’ that serves community

By Laney C. Payne

Grand Bay Lodge No. 767 F. &. A.M is a secret society with open doors to the community they serve and love. Celebrating their 100year anniversary this past April, Lodge No. 767 is an organization of motivated men proud to be a brotherhood of service-driven individuals.

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Lodge hosts monthly community breakfast. (Photo by Laney Payne)

“From the bottom of my heart, I tell you it’s second to Christianity. If you find yourself a good Christian and a good Mason, you got yourself a mighty fine man,” said Mosspoint Mill retiree and 33rd degree Mason Butch McKeithes.

Founded on the basis of moral standards, mutual understanding and the belief in a brotherhood where all men are created equal, the Masons of Grand Bay aim to serve their community in whatever way they are needed. To these men, the brotherhood goes deeper than memberships and meetings: it’s family.

“It’s hard to keep up with what we do. We keep the lights on at the service station, we help the ball teams, we take care of our own. This is family here,” said McKeithes.

What seems like an average one-story brick building with simple lettering on the side to most is the meeting ground for the Masons in this small coastal community. Over a southern meal of sausage, grits and eggs at the lodge’s monthly community breakfast, I learned first-hand about the love this group of men has for the place they each call home. Although previously intimidated by the mystery that often follows the Mason name, I found myself immediately at ease within the wood-paneled walls of the lodge filled with the small town humble heroes who are the Freemasons of No. 767.

Laney Masons 2

Blaze Everette

“We aren’t better than anyone else. We just pride ourselves on making a good man better. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” said southern Choctaw County native Mason Blaze Everette.

Everette, an eight-year member and past Worshipful Master, lives and breathes Masonry. With a wedding band on one hand and his Worshipful Master ring on the other, Everette said he enjoys teaching others what it means to be a part of the Freemason family.

“From John Hancock on one side and Grover Cleveland on the other, we have always been Masons. I always knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Everette.

J.D. Barrow Laney

J.D. Barrow

Involved in everything from child identification programs to helping the local Alma Bryant High School volleyball teams and serving as a local hurricane refuge site, Lodge No.767 never ceases to keep the community moving towards a sunnier Grand Bay.

“My favorite thing we do is hand out Constitutions to the youth here. I love seeing their faces when we teach them what it means to be an American. It’s something they need to be proud of and now a days, they don’t know enough about their roots,” explained Everette.

But their work doesn’t stop there. The Masons of Lodge No. 767 make sure each veteran headstone in the community is honored with wreathes each year and commit themselves to education and serving their neighbors.

Outside of community service, Masons offer opportunities to individuals of all ages. Whether you serve as an Eastern Star for women, Rainbow Girls for youth, or the DeMolay Association for young men, everyone can find a way to get involved in Freemasonry. However, membership takes time, dedication and even a strict investigative period before one can claim the name of Mason.

Butch Masons by Laney

Butch McKeithes

“You have to really work your rear end off, but it’s something real special,” explained McKeithes.

McKeithes, a past Worshipful Master, has climbed his way to 33rd degree Mason, a venture that makes up only one half of one percent of all Masons in the world.

“You gotta’ be a good type person, and people have been so kind to help me get here. I don’t even think I’m worthy of all that,” said McKeithes, proudly wearing his red, white, and blue Mason ball cap.

I have found the Masons of Lodge No. 767 far from what I expected to find behind their heavy wooden doors. After I was greeted with sweet southern hospitality and a plate of grits, the men of 767 showed me they are there for each other and for the community they call family.

The motto of the Masons is 2b1ASK1, or “To be one, ask one.” With just a few simple questions, you may be surprised at the kind, down-to-earth and service-driven individuals you will find.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Eight

In Bayou La Batre on July 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm
Oysters 6 Laney

Students wade into Gulf waters to learn about oyster farming techniques from Auburn University’s Dr. Bill Walton.

Experience with oysters holds pearls of wisdom

By Laney Payne

If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.

Oysters 3 Laney

A handful of baby oysters.

As a 23-year-old psychology major at Auburn University, never in my life did I think I’d be in “Bayou Reeboks” oyster farming alongside the field’s best.  But, as a Living Democracy Fellow working in Bayou La Batre this summer, I’ve learned firsthand about the heart and soul of this coastal community.

Two months ago, I thought oysters were the slimy goodness that came on the half shell smothered in cocktail sauce. Never once did I think I’d be chest-deep in the waters that grow the delicacy. Under the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, Auburn University’s aquaculture extension specialist, and Scott Rikard, Auburn University’s aquaculture nursery manager, I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn the walk and talk of the oyster business.

I have learned about everything from triploids to Shellfish Aquaculture Review Boards to plot acreages to screening silos. After hearing about the amazing anatomy of oysters and how special upweller tubs can serve as temporary growing stations, I can now add a piece of oyster experience to my resume. In this process of discovery, I have grown to respect the individuals who live their life at the mercy of the tides.

BLB Oyster 1

Laney Payne puts screens in silos for upweller site.

Unlike the wooden desks of my usual Auburn classroom, the classroom here is held more than a mile offshore in the cool coastal waters underneath the beaming sun. With my back against the aluminum railing tucked inside a bright orange life vest, I took in the beautiful Alabama waters that support the families who shared the boat as we headed out to the “farm”.

Without a John Deere tractor in sight, the oyster farm Dr. Walton is helping to develop nourishes a variety of oysters of all shapes in sizes. From Australian long lines to off-bottom cages, the oysters develop organically in their natural habitat with the help of people invested in seeing their “crop” flourish.

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Worker assembles oyster cages.

The oysters we see on our plates atop saltines are just the final stage in a long line of work known by the oyster farming crew. At the Auburn nursery, the oyster farming business begins even before the babies exist. They spawn each oyster on site and create their own oyster “seed”. From there, the babies take a trip from tub to tub to soak in the freshly pumped and filtered seawater for nutrients and oxygen. As each oyster develops, they are moved to a larger mesh screen and eventually taken out to the true “farm” stage in the wild. There they will stay until it is harvest time.

Oystering is much more than just a way of life for many of the people along Alabama’s coast. It’s a family tradition, and it’s in their blood. Whether it be through Auburn’s nursery or from the local wild waters of the Gulf, the oystermen are here to stay in the bayou in spite of the many troubles that have given them every reason to leave.

Through my oyster adventure, I have found myself drawing connections between this sea creature and restaurant delicacy to the people I have come to connect with and love. When just a microscopic animal, oysters swim in search of the “taste” of other oyster shells to attach to and make their “home”. The way they see it, if someone (an oyster in this case) has survived and flourished there, they can too. This process is called “spat-on-shell” to the people who know the industry. To the rest of us, it is simple safety in numbers.

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Participants in class grade oysters for aging.

The people of the bayou are much like the “spat-on-shell” oysters themselves. With every odd against them — Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill — they have survived. By sticking together, close to family roots and tradition, the people here will thrive.

As a 23-year-old psychology student, I never knew my journey would lead me to the realm of “oyster farming”, but I am blessed that it did. By doing something I have never done, I am receiving things that I have never known. This Auburn-turned-bayou woman is watching her harvest flourish and blessed to be on the journey that is Living Democracy.