Time for another round-up of Southern news you may not have seen. Let’s start off slow, with this item from the Chapel Hill (NC) Newspaper, back in February.
Arnold D. Rollins of Rt. 5 Box 372, Chapel Hill, reported a hit-and-run accident on Columbia St. and Rosemary St. at 11:30.
According to police reports, a pedestrian ran into the corner of Rollins’ tow truck. Rollins says he was heading north on Rosemary at about 20-25 mph when a boy jumped out of a car stopped at the intersection and ran into the fender of his truck.
Rollins said that the victim did not stop, but spun around, fell, and then hopped away from the accident.
No damage or injuries was [sic] reported.
I told you we do things differently down here.
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How about this tidbit, from the Marseilles of the South: The jury that acquitted Governor Edwards of Louisiana on fraud and racketeering charges stayed at the Avenue Plaza Hotel in New Orleans. When they checked out, according to the hotel’s owner, they took with them 24 towels, valued at $200.
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Next door in Mississippi, during archery season (which runs for about a month before the start of gun season) even the use of crossbows is forbidden. But last year 4’3″ Kenneth Hodge pointed out that the law has its, ah, drawbacks. Hodge’s arms are too short to draw a 28-inch arrow. Now, Mississippi has seldom been on the cutting edge of equal-opportunity legislation, but state representative Will Green Poindexter responded to Hodge’s complaint with a bill that would have allowed dwarfs to use crossbows. I don’t know if it passed or not, but I think it’s a great idea, and while they’re at it they ought to ask them to wear little green suits.
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And speaking of wildlife: the floods of 1986 in Jefferson County, Arkansas, were not without their silver lining. According to the Arkansas Times, one man whose home was submerged for a weekend strung a trotline across his front yard and caught more than three hundred fish.
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The same journal reported that a filling station near Sheridan, when chided about a sign that read “Mechnic on Duty,” changed it for one that said “Mechanick on Duty.” When told by a passing busybody that was wrong, too, its proprietor replaced it with one that read: “Broke Cars Fixed.”
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A Mississippi correspondent sends a marvelous advertisement for South Central Bell. “KEEP UP A SOUTHERN TRADITION,” the ad suggests. “VISIT WITH YOUR FOLKS THIS SATURDAY.” “Visiting is a favorite pastime in the South. Southerners love to talk.” Announcing cheap weekend rates for in-state calls, it goes on: “This Saturday, swap stories. Share a secret. Visit with your folks. It’s a custom worth keeping.” Amen to that, I say, but my man in Mississippi spells out the irony; “Who would have dreamed that the phone company—corporate America, technology itself—would become an institution keeping alive the Southern identity?”
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But I don’t know—can the South survive this: The Charlotte Observer reports that households in Orange County, North Carolina, home of your servant and the University of North Carolina, are more likely to subscribe to the New Yorker than households in New York City. And I have it on good authority that the mother-and-daughter country music singers Wynona and Naomi Judd are actually named Christine and Diane, respectively.
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Of course the big news of the past year has been the Jim and Tammy and Jerry and Jimmy imbroglio, which gave rise to a good deal of humor, most of it unprintable in a respectable magazine like this one. It shouldn’t be surprising that the best jokes, like their reverend subjects, came from our neck of the woods. To have sacrilege you first need orthodoxy, and anticlericalism is found in priest-ridden societies, not secular ones. A certain irreverence—or at least skepticism about institutional religion—is a Southern tradition as well-established as evangelical Protestantism itself In “Long-Haired Country Boy,” for example, Nashville’s Charlie Daniels makes it plain that he doesn’t doubt the literal truth of the Bible, but he quite explicitly doubts the bona fides of the TV preacher who “Wants me to send a donation / ‘Cause he’s worried about my soul.” And Ray Stevens swears that his song “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?” was written by Chet Atkins before the PTL scandal broke.
Combine Southerners’ inherited distrust of prelacy with trickle-down Aquarianism from the 60’s, and you get some truly bizarre results—like the local boogie-woogie man who bills himself as “the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, High Prophet of Polyester, Director of the First House of Polyester Worship and Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire and Our First Lady of the White Go-Go Boots Worldwide Love Ministries, Inc.” Would anybody from Scarsdale have the slightest idea what that is all about?
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Every time I start to wonder if the South is blanding out, I run across something like that—or this splendid story, sent my way by Laurie Hibbett of Nashville (whom regular readers will recall as a runner-up in our “Poetic Gems” competition of a while back).
Seems there was something of a parking problem last June in Estill Springs, Tennessee. It was caused by several thousand people who came to see the face of Jesus revealed on the side of a General Electric deep-freeze located on the front deck of Luther and Arlene Gardner’s mobile home. What local journalists took to calling “Jesus-on-a-freezer” appeared each night when the Gardners’ neighbor turned on his porch light, until said neighbor tired of devotees dropping film wrappers in his yard and removed the light. At last report, the Gardners were thinking about moving their home and their freezer to a new location and setting up their own light. (And people thought Flannery O’Connor made this stuff up.)
The Estill Springs apparition naturally occasioned jeers from secular humanists, of which even Middle Tennessee has a few. According to the Nashville Tennessean, one Audrey Campbell performed her song ‘Torch Light Jesus” to laughter and applause at the Unitarian Universalist First Church of Nashville. “Some people get the Shroud of Turin and some get a freezer,” she explained. “You make do with what you’ve got.” Ms. Campbell reportedly hoped to sign a recording contract.
Tennessean news editor Dolph Honicker poked fun, too. He claimed the face was that of either Willie Nelson or the Ayatollah Khomeini, and said he could also make out a large, slanted capital-letter N and the letters v r y or v k y—in either case, he admitted, a message that was Greek to him. But Honicker had the grace to observe that the Gardners were behaving admirably. At a time when everybody from Jim Bakker to a Unitarian folksinger is figuring how to make a buck off of simple faith, all the Gardners wanted was to share freely what they believed they had been given. No parking fees, or lemonade stand, or tee-shirts—just an invitation to come and marvel at this marvelous thing.
And, as Mrs. Hibbett wrote, “There is an awful sincerity about the lady who owns the freezer that makes it seem sinful to ridicule this small claim to fame, perhaps the nearest thing to achievement she’s ever had. We Bible Belters—and I do not use the phrase pejoratively—have a certain zaniness that goes with the territory. She’s nearer to me religiously than a whole heap of seminarians wining and cheesing up there at [the Episcopal seminary at] Sewanee.”
Luther Gardner, told of Ms. Campbell’s song about his freezer, said simply: “This is something from God. It’s not something for people to make fun of I’m sorry. It’s just not the right thing to do.” He’s right, of course—at least about our snottiness. And just think: if God really did manifest Himself on a major appliance—well, let’s just say that He has a puckish sense of humor I hadn’t suspected, and He isn’t making it easy for us smart alecks.