"That man's a reprobate!"
My grandparents were New Deal Democrats.
Now, that used to be an entirely respectable thing to be ... or so I thought growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks back in the 50s and 60s, where Roosevelt's policies had brought electricity through the Rural Electrification Administration, which we knew as the REA, home of none other than Willie Wirehand, whom regular readers have already heard about from me.
When I headed off to Baylor University in Texas in the 70s, I met a lot of well-to-do people who thought that Roosevelt had been a communist and who didn't like him at all ... as well as a handful who thought that he hadn't been communist enough.
But my university years are a different story.
Back in the Ozarks, where everybody was Democrat or claimed to be or clammed up, admiration for Roosevelt was taken for granted. My grandfather had been elected to the Arkansas legislature as a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s, for a couple of terms, if I correctly recall what he told me. Nobody in our home county of Fulton had money back then, so he didn't get elected by taking out ads. He got the votes by walking throughout the county to every home on every dirt road in every little Ozark 'hollar' and shaking every single person's hand and remembering every name.
I wish that I knew more about that now, but as a kid, I only knew well the advantage of telling people that I was Henry Perryman's grandson.
"You're Henry Perryman's grandson?"
"Here, have a nickel."
My older brother Pat figured out more quickly than I did that this was a good scheme for getting money to buy candy, but he had more dignity than to beg, so he got me to do it.
"There's an old man we haven't asked yet," he'd whisper, nudging me.
So, I'd walk over and say, "Can I have a nickel?"
"A nickel? What do you want a nickel for?" the old fellow would ask.
Reluctant to part with a precious nickel, even for such a good cause, the old man would peer at me closely and then ask, "Whose little boy are you?"
Time for the magic words.
"I'm Henry Perryman's grandson."'
"You're Henry Perryman's grandson?" the old man would say, his hand already heading for his pocketbook.
And the nickel would appear ... like magic. Until my grandfather heard about this and put a thunderating, God-forbidding stop to it.
But grandfather's powers didn't extend to every man in the county. Raised as a Calvinist even if married to a baptist, grandfather knew that some folks were beyond redemption.
Like our newspaperman.
Grandfather's morning ritual included rising early enough to shave and have breakfast in time to get to the Arkansas Gazette as soon as it landed in the front yard -- or us boys would already have it and be reading the comics page and keeping the whole paper out of his hands until the schoolbus arrived.
On some stormy days, the paper might reach us late, especially if the deliveryman had to wrap each paper in plastic. One of those inclement times, the man showed up so late that we boys had already circumnavigated the mud puddles in our driveway and left for school. When we returned after 3:30, we discovered the pages spread out all over the floor and discolored enough to look like yellow journalism. Grandfather was nowhere to be seen.
"What happened to the newspaper?" I asked my grandmother.
"The deliveryman didn't wrap it in plastic and he threw it right into that big mud puddle," she told me. "Henry brought it in and threw it on the floor, and you know what he said?"
"Uh ..." I ventured, "thunderation?"
"No," Grandmother smiled. "He said, 'That man's a reprobate!'"
"A reprobate?" I echoed. "What's that?"
"Oh ... that's someone who's beyond salvation," she explained.
"Really?" I said, surprised by this new doctrine. "What did you say?"
"I said, 'Now, Henry.'"
"And what did Granpa say?"
"Nothing," she admitted, "but he smiled a little."
Which was gracious of him ... so perhaps that newspaperman managed to escape my grandfather's damnation through my grandmother's mediation -- a theology more Catholic than Calvinist, I reckon.
The Arkansas Gazette, however, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi, founded way back in 1819, ultimately met its demise, whether foreordained or simply not delivered.