Me? A Good Ol’ Boy?
Until last weekend, never had I felt, since leaving New Orleans for the Army, that I belonged. As political seer Walter Mills told the WFMD radio audience Friday night, I have finally become a Frederick good ol’ boy, although a member of the liberal branch. I’ll explain.
Those years in Washington, swimming among the political and social strata, were spent as an outside observer, whether working as a journalist at the moment or not. Aside from the Johnson White House, I maintained membership in few non-professional groups before moving here.
Since I began practicing my trade shortly after arriving in Frederick, the feeling continued. In the event this is not a place that opens wide its inner doors to new arrivals. Nearly 23 years ago, even more so. I understood.
Most folks tend to forget Maryland is as much southern as next-door Virginia and even more so than neighboring West Virginia. Only Yankee bayonets prevented Washington from being completely surrounded by the Confederacy; the Civil War’s first blood was shed in Baltimore, we are told.
This county retained a Southern personality long after it had been lost because of the great World War II migration that converted the National Capitol itself into its present hybrid form.
When I first came to Washington, from the Berlin Airlift, the city abounded with cafeterias that specialized in grits and greens. Boarding houses divided by sex provided the primary housing, enabling parents and other folks back home to feel their young were somehow watched over.
In 1983’s winter, Frederick city and county were approximately half their present population. The old ways remained intact. Walking downtown was to be greeted with smiles and salutations. Otherwise doors and fence gates stayed locked, awaiting some indication the newcomer had something to contribute that would make him a worthwhile addition to the community.
This was very Southern, I understood.
My emergence as a public figure, the following Thanksgiving Friday, caused not a ripple. But those first News-Post columns dealt with the delights in living here. Nobody disagreed but few paid attention.
Not until unwittingly I entered the political wars did people begin to notice my existence and not in a positive sense, it seemed. Praising then-commissioners President Galen Clagett put me in the middle of feuds and machinations I had no way of knowing existed.
Becoming controversial guaranteed my assuming a pariah role. There were some who avoided me simply because they didn’t want to get involved in whatever spitting contest was going on, sparked by the column.
Of course, when they were involved and on the opposite side, they frequently wanted me fired, barred and apparently all traces of my having ever existed purged.
Not for the first time in my public lives did I find myself assiduously courted, cajoled and the target of sometime not so subtle offers of pleasures and treasures that could be mine, if only I assumed the correct stance. When I failed to conform, then naturally there came attempts to get me fired.
When it finally happened nearly 20 years down the line, my departure from the newspaper had little to do with outside pressure. It was a family matter, as best I understood.
Suddenly and unexpectedly robbed of my identity in the community, I started working on my memoirs. The daily promenades with Pushkin provided the real revelation.
Faces I didn’t know smiled. I was enveloped in warmth from total strangers; even those mildly hostile before appeared to reach out. In scores of ways, Frederick folks let me know they cared.
Exactly why the decision to accept Publisher-Editor John Ashbury’s invitation to write for TheTentacle.com, I cannot say. Working out the Friday spot on WFMD radio naturally followed. Then came Publisher Myron Randall’s invitation to write for Sunday’s Frederick News-Post.
But things were not the same.
Writing here enables me to tackle subjects more thoroughly than the cost of newsprint could ever permit. Moreover, while John Ashbury is a staunch conservative, he allows contributors their personal views: taking great pride in editing only for grammar – and spelling.
Returning to the professional caring of the paper’s Lee Permenter was welcome and the reaction Pushki and I receive on the street make us know we had been missed. And that’s always nice.
But returning to radio really provided the difference; a reality that suddenly dawned on me last weekend.
Riding the wave of WFMD morning host Bob Miller’s astonishing and well-deserved popularity put me in touch with aspects of the community I’d never known before. People, who previously had recognized me with their eyes and turned away, now do everything but literally slap my back. And sometimes even that.
Bob’s to blame. His incredibly warm personality envelops me every Friday morning (about 8:40 a.m.). Our exchanges are so much at variance with the News-Post picture’s baleful smile. His response to my reactions to movies and plays turns what might have been “entertainment news” into a time that other people find entertaining. Me too.
Things get better.
When he first mentioned that he would welcome my presence on his Christmas Cash for Kids radiothon, I immediately agreed without understanding what a rich reward lay in store – for me.
Arising Thursday to start his morning show was more familiar than I could have hoped; it reminded me of the early television show I did in TV’s early days. Not surprisingly Mr. Miller was up and running from the first tick of his scheduled time, although he touches not coffee; I can’t imagine.
For nearly five hours that day I was a part of what just might be Frederick’s ultimate party, as men, women, children and possibly billy goats – they could have been among the numerous anonymous contributors – phoned and brought in pledges, checks and cash. The radio station’s back door opened and closed at a rate more befitting a busy saloon.
Mount. Airy’s Allan Brown popped in at the top of the show and stayed into mid-morning; he was only slightly ahead of Debbie Williams, a lady to be found in the middle of many things good in Frederick. There were other volunteers, manning the phones and keeping track of the impressively generous flow.
Before Bob yielded the air to syndicated Dr. Laura, the grand total reached $42,000 – money distributed by the Salvation Army to children and their families facing a bleak and forlorn Christmas.
But as I left, my Friday bud let me know he had dire hopes of bringing in last year’s total: $80,000. It was a rocky economic season for some households, he knew, and there was all that local dough pumped south, to help the hurricanes’ victims.
At any rate, Bob vowed to stay the course; management had allowed him to preempt all programs except Rush Limbaugh’s. And he did Friday.
When son Roy and I got into the car that night, headed for dinner, contributions topped $80,000. Blaine Young went on the air to celebrate Frederick’s most famous barber; Walter Mills had worked a list of his fellow good ol’ boys. They came through with $11,000 for the kids. This year’s donations had topped 2004’s.
My son and I drove up Grove Hill and joined the happy tumult. I went because I wanted to echo Blaine’s words of praise for Bob Miller. Roy came along and wound up donating money to the cause. We both ate knockout “sendovers” from Eileen’s Dutch’s Daughter.
During that visit Walter actually quoted me when he announced I was another good ol’ boy: Standing in the midst of all those guys and Debbie, too, I suddenly sensed that I belonged.
Nothing changed the following morning when I returned to do Blaine Young’s Frederick Forum. Even callers opposed to my views on Bill Clinton and Iraq came across as accepting while disagreeing. Missing was the anger I had heard consistently before.
Taking nothing away from Blaine, I blame Bob Miller for people understanding I’m not always the grouch; he deserves even greater credit for generating an atmosphere that invited the overwhelming participation, which resulted in the Salvation Army’s Major Paul Egan taking away nearly $111,000, to cheer up Christmas.
Indeed, as I said at the start, I’m proud to be part of Walter Mills’ good ol’ boys who generously shared their good fortunes on Bob Miller’s Christmas Cash for Kids crusade. We can diverge politically while merging totally on how we feel about Frederick.
You can join us with help for families this Christmas. Contributions are being accepted until Saturday at WFMD: 301-663-4181 or 301-694-9363.