Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"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.

"For candy."

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.


At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, I do vaguely recall our partnership in our funding efforts to obtain candy from the Ben Franklin store (now there's a story--today's modern security cameras have nothing over those old ladies at the Salem Ben Franklin circa early-1960s to mid-1970s. The "glare and stare" those women could give as one visually shopped still give me the shivers.).

Anyway, I seem to recall that I, being older, took the senior partner approach of mentoring the junior partner in the finer aspects of what some folks refer to as "begging" but that I prefer to define as "capital acquisition". Why those folks were merely investing in us and our casually mentioning grandpa's name only served to help identify us as entrepreneurs of character.

I can only say that your memory hasn't dimmed with age. Your recollection is indeed crystal clear.


At 8:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Pat, being as you're the banker in the family, I'll have to take your word for it that we weren't begging.

Capital acquisition.

Entrepreneurs of character.

Sounds good to me ... now, where did you invest all of those nickels -- I'll bet the returns are excellent by now.

As for my powers of recall ... well, yours are far better.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have the distinction of being the grandson of a prominent politician where I grew up. My grandfather was the circuit clerk for Autauga County, Alabama for 64+ years. There was a time when I was recognized by politicos and whatnots who knew my grandfather. He taught me enough about politics to realize I never wanted to enter it.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

GREAT story. I think I'll try the nickel scam, myself. ;o) You reprobate.

At 2:15 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Memoir is a world of scholarship unto itself.

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. It's amazing how small towns work. My now deceased uncle was the first white kid born on a particular western Arizona Indian reservation (don't remember which one) but when I was a kid we had car trouble in Parker. My dad was talking to the mechanic who asked what we were doing in town. Dad mentioned that we were visiting his sister, who was married to you-know-who and suddenly our car was bumped to the front of the line and fixed for free. My dad tried to pay the guy, but he wouldn't hear of it. We were kin to O.B.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gabe, everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line is a politician, willy-nilly. Thus, we two are, too.

Saur, who you callin' a reprobate? As my brother and grandad can attest, I am an entrepreneur of character. No, I did not say a character!

Jessica, I'm hoping for tenure on precisely that basis.

James, you got it right about small towns. Everybody is aware of you and what you're up to. A bit like being a foreigner here in Korea, so I fit in pretty well in this distant land...

Jeffery Hodges

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