At the end of each year, I give my critics a chance to fire away at the stuff I’ve written during the year. I follow the next week with another column letting my fans pour on their praise. Finally, I take a whanky-jawed look at the prospects for next year.
I ticked off readers from the hardy Northland when I wrote a column on the custom in Brasstown, N.C., of lowering a caged possum from a tree limb to mark the arrival of the New Year.
I observed: “A possum is much safer in that box than he is trying to get across I-95 ahead of that SUV with Yankee plates.”
“What utter nonsense and garbage!” wrote a reader from Anderson. “It’s one thing to reference a Southerner and a Northerner, but was it really necessary to call us Yankees? Am I highly offended? You can bet your Redneck mentality – absolutely yes.”
A reader from Aiken agreed, but in a more generous tone.
“It’s somewhat funny when some Southern redneck writes something in the Aiken Standard’s ‘Talk Back’ section, because it shows their ignorance. I chalk up that sort of writing to ‘You can’t fix stupid,’ so might as well get a chuckle out of it. You, sir, should be well above all of that. You seem very intelligent and seem to have had a good career that you have enjoyed working at. The comment you wrote just lowered yourself in my eyes and, I have no doubts, several other ‘Yankee’s’ who read your articles. You have even offended a few Southern born-and-raised individuals that seem to enjoy us ‘Yankee’s’ living here in the South among them.”
Another reader threw the “L” word at me for drifting too far to the left:
“I’ve always enjoyed your columns, but I’ve lately noticed a creeping menace in them – Liberalism.” The offending column questioned the accuracy of the statement, “Gun-control won’t curb violence,” and concluded: “I hope we never come to the day when an American president can say ‘The United States invaded Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there,’ and then be pelted with raw eggs by honest citizens who think they know better.”
Such sentiments, my critic charged, “are offensive to those of us who believe otherwise and are tired of hearing this stuff from the mainstream media.” He concluded: “I respect your beliefs, but please stick to columns about your linthead youth, and subjects like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”
Less egregious was the mistake I made in placing Bobby Thomson’s epic “shot heard round the world” in the year 1950.
“I join your many readers who will correct you on the year of the above,” wrote a baseball fan. “It was not 1950 but rather 1951. I made the largest sports bet of my life on the Dodgers and listened to every minute of the broadcast. I was stationed in Puerto Rico in the Air Force, and know it was one year after the Korean Conflict began in 1950; also the year I graduated from your Alma Mater” (a reference, I assume, to Leavelle McCampbell High School in Graniteville).
He was right. The Philadelphia Phillies won the National League pennant in 1950; the Giants won it in 1951, when Thomson’s ninth-inning homer clinched the playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Both lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
I expected some negative feedback when I took issue with the renowned Stephen Hawking on the question of whether the universe could have self-started without God. I would be greatly depressed should I find that to be true, I wrote.
I quoted Galileo’s statement that the universe is like “a book that can be comprehended only through the language of mathematics,” and “its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures.”
In my next-to-last paragraph, I wrote, “Just wondering what the scientific formula is for consciousness. Or for love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control.”
One reader responded: “I just don’t think you can get to the conclusions in your column today with the logic that you imply. Consider other world views than those of Abrahamist religions. Nor would acknowledging the nonexistence of ‘God’ be cause for depression. Adherence to that concept is, in my view, unnecessary to the qualities in your penultimate paragraph.”
My column on Paula Deen and her use of the “n” word stirred up several comments. Wrote one lady from North Carolina:
“I am a 59-year-old white woman. Your column is usually harmless, and I usually consider your escapades with Miss Peggy and dogs, etc., to be a pleasant enough read.
However, when I read that maybe Southerners of her vintage and yours didn’t know how ‘hurtful those epithets could be,’ I almost spit out my coffee. Really? I was raised in Baltimore in a very middle-class family ... My parents were not crazy hippies or liberals; far from it. ... But even in the ’60s, in my home and public school, we were taught in no uncertain terms that the ‘n word’ was entirely unacceptable, period.”
Another reader offered “one little nitpicky comment” about the column: “You say that a country kid down South would not know what else to call his dark-skinned neighbor. My family and most, if not all, in my community used the word ‘colored.’”
And then there was this comment on the recent column about snake-handling and the First Amendment:
“The snakes recovered from the Tabernacle Church [in Tennessee] were likely very ill, as it is common practice among snake handlers to dehydrate, malnourish and overcrowd their captives. Surely it deserves an inch or two of attention, on a four-column piece, that animal abuse is not protected under the first amendment?”
An esteemed colleague once gave me a one-size-fits-all rejoinder that H.L. Mencken used to use when he wanted to reply to criticism without arguing: “Sir, you may be right.”
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.