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Reflections in the land of plenty - Greg Gelpi

Lawns were layered in a mixture of trash and debris in front of historic homes and churches.

Flower beds and shrubbery were trampled, and police, sheriff's deputies, state troopers and members of the military were everywhere, even patrolling the skies.

Barricades lined the streets as areas were cordoned off, restricting admittance to particular areas.

The cold bleak scene was reminiscent of a third world country, my girlfriend remarked.

In some areas a fresh layer of snow coated the ground, in this small Louisiana town of Natchitoches, named one of the top retirement communities in the country, a layer of half-eaten corn dogs, empty drink cups and a general disarray of trash laid instead.

But, the scene hadn't been like that only moments earlier.

Only moments prior, the quiet community reflected its quiet cozy nature as captured in the movie "Steel Magnolias." But, as quickly as thousands of Christmas festivalgoers could converge in the town of only a few thousand residents and the annual parade could stream through, the streets of Natchitoches (pronounced: Nac a dush) resembled the famous (or infamous) Bourbon Street of New Orleans.

Escaping the scene, one similar to something that would be depicted in a war-time novel, we stopped for a quick burger at a national chain and again found our mouths agape at a sign indicating that the joint wasn't including tomatoes on burgers.

The sign explained that the hurricane season destroyed much of the crop of tomatoes this year, resulting in low quality and high prices. It assured those craving the veggies that the fast food chain would again offer tomatoes as soon as prices and quality return to acceptable levels.

In an instant, the world we know, the world we come to expect and not even consider with a second thought, can change.

But, a fresh harvest of tomatoes will come, and street cleaners will wash away the remnants of festivalgoers.

Life will return to normal, and again thoughts of shortages and images of a third world country will fade into the distant crevices of our memories.

Still, the experiences left me wondering how far or, in these instances, how close are we to living under conditions such as those in countries we can't even pronounce, much less spell.

Obviously, we are nowhere near conditions of nations in which fresh water must be pumped from a community well and mal-nourishment is the norm, rather than the exception.

We must not deem ourselves above reproach, though, and incapable of experiencing such conditions.

Particularly in this season of giving and of giving thanks, we should turn such images into an opportunity to remember those who don't have as much as we do.

The mere fact that a hamburger without tomatoes sparked this column speaks loudly about the times and conditions in which I, and most of the members of my generation, have grown up.

Greg Gelpi covers education for the News Daily. He can be reached at ggelpi@news-daily.com or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 247.