Return of the Native and Year End Reflections
- story by j.a.guido, photos courtesy the Guido family archives
During the three-hour drive “home” to Natchez on Christmas morning, I had lot of time to think about my 2015 year of change. While I was ready to retire from the hotel corporate world and move out of New Orleans, both were huge steps. And on top of those transitions, I made a decision to open a retail store, fulfilling a dream I’d had for years.
Fortunately, all three ended up being fabulous decisions. I really have not looked back, and that is the nicest part of it all. If anything, I sometimes think I could have done it sooner. So during the drive up to Natchez, I thought a lot about the year and how much I love living full time in the Bay.
Just driving to Natchez to spend Christmas with family was hard for me. I didn’t want to leave the beauty of the Bay, the people here and my comfortable cottage on the lane. Yet, on the way, I traveled beautiful roads through lovely country. I especially enjoyed the part through the Homochitto National Forest with its towering green pine trees on old Highway 98.
Did you know that the Homochitto National Forest is just one of six National Forests in our state? 189,000 acres have been preserved for our enjoyment, with 265 miles of hiking and biking trails and 2000 acres of lakes and ponds. The closest national forest to the coast is DeSoto. A nice New Year’s goal for 2016 for me will be to visit a few of the national forest areas in our own state.
On the drive, I also contemplated how fast the year had gone. For all of you younger people, know that as you age, a year does really fly by. It is also true that you wake up many mornings saying to yourself, “Whose hands are these with all these wrinkles?” So value your youth. Work hard, play hard, and take the time to include play in your life with those you love; it is important. I used to make the time to join family for ski fun each year in Aspen and Vail, even as I climbed the corporate ladder. Take the time to do this.
On the last hour of drives to Natchez, I always turn to thoughts of my father and how much I miss seeing him on visits home. As I passed open pastures thoughts turned to flying with my dad. He flew all over the state in single-engine planes from our home base in Natchez, and took me along with him on many of these trips.
Over the years, I gathered many wonderful memories of landing in pastures over barbed wire fences as Dad traveled to look at land to develop or met with investor friends. So I learned early on to love our beautiful state from high up, even as we flew around our famous Mississippi thunderstorms. Somehow when flying with George I was never worried. Of course my father was my hero and could do no wrong.
Over this holiday visit home to Natchez, in reading his autobiography notes, I learned that his first building mentor was an older builder based in Gulfport. I loved learning this fact and now that I live on the coast I plan to contact his mentor’s family.
I also discovered when reading his journals that he stood up to the Klan in our area when they pulled up all his lot stakes for a development in Louisiana. My Father strongly believed in building housing for everyone regardless of income level or race. Sometimes his feelings on this were not popular. He built very nice trailer parks with good roads, lighting, and playgrounds during his career, as well as affordable housing and high-end subdivisions in the Natchez area. I remember asking him one day about the trailer development and why he fooled with it. I never forgot his reply: “Honey, everyone deserves a nice place to call home, no matter what their economic situation.”
I guess my thoughts turn to Dad’s life at each year’s end because it helps me to measure my life against how he lived his life. A truly ageless man, he taught me so much. He had courage to live his convictions, but he always listened to both sides. He always had young and old friends from different backgrounds. He welcomed newcomers and he never met a stranger. He loved his family deeply, even while pushing us to new limits. He always took the time to listen to people and their problems and tried to help and encourage them. He kept his love for his hometown and his state and his country until the day he left us. Dad did his best to leave it all a better place for his children and grandchildren. What better example could I have had in this journey of life?
As I pull into the driveway of Mother’s home in Natchez, I feel good. He is still here with me pushing me to do the right thing, and providing a model for how to do it. Maybe I will take those flying lessons in 2016!
Cheers to all of you for a New Year filled with love, good intentions, enjoyable work, fun, and open minds to all the world holds! And God bless this dear place and people by the Bay that I have come to love and truly call home.