As a writer, one of the things I’ve discovered in pounding out words is the joy associated with such. Not all of my writing has elicited positive response. Thirty years ago I composed a simple newspaper editorial, criticizing a select group of folks in Homer, Alaska. Homer is the town where Tom Bodette of Motel 6 fame once lived. The pop singer Jewel also comes from there.
Anyway, the residents I wrote about were enjoying themselves at taxpayer expense. They were accepting public assistance (welfare and food stamps) with no intention of ever working. I received my information from a friend that worked for welfare fraud. This state employee mentioned that Homer was ripe with welfare recipients. She said that most of them didn’t want to work.
I was besieged with negative response from several angry people. The mayor of Homer said I was trying to tarnish the town’s good image. A local radio station begged me for an interview. Two television stations wanted the same. One man went so far as to offer a one-way fishing trip in Kachemak Bay.
One of my favorite songs is, “Michael – Row the Boat Ashore”. The lyrics have special meaning in more ways than one. There’s something gratifying about getting back on ground safely whether it be in boat or plane. I generally whisper “Hallelujah” whenever a trip over.
That Homer resident’s thinly veiled threat was perhaps the worst response I’ve ever had. Let me tell you about a couple of positive ones.
Several months ago I wrote a story about two class photos. One segment of the article dealt with mom’s 1945 Vernon, Alabama 8th grade class. Another part related to my 3rd grade class photograph taken in 1963, and subsequent search for former classmates.
I’m happy to report that I was able to reconnect with several people, most recently Glenda (Dennis) Turner. Glenda and her husband Robert still live in Selma, Alabama. They raised three children and operate a successful business; Al’s Towing & Recovery.
I first met Glenda in 1st grade where our teacher was Mrs. Doris Harris. It turns out Glenda’s family plus mine attended Selmont Baptist Church. That goes back to pre-school days. Glenda brought me up to speed on present day Selma, including our old school, ‘Southside’. It was a pleasure chatting with her. We’re now Facebook friends. Who would’ve ever dreamed of something called Facebook in 1963!
I did not believe I’d get the same response regarding mom’s class. Her group picture was taken in 1945. That would make surviving students well in their golden years. How wrong I was! First of all I discovered one of the students in that shot is Howard Reeves. The late Mr. Reeves was “The Lamar Democrat” owner and publisher. He’s also founder of a newspaper column titled, “Off The Wall”, having written a book by the same title. Howard’s wife Carolyn and daughter Renee saw this class snapshot for the first time when I submitted it. They were elated to say the least.
Last Saturday I received a surprise phone call from Wyman May in Iowa. Mr. May told me he was in mom’s class. The man is a healthy 84. Wyman identified several unknown faces. With excitement I jotted down their names. In the front row of that old photo – to the far right – is a relative of mine, Elwanda (Wanda) Hankins-Logan. Wanda grew up to be a most terrific writer. I’ve tried my best to emulate her style. Robert Hankins is also in the shot. I recall my father mentioning Robert’s name.
Turns out Wyman’s older sibling Lucille was best friends with mom’s sister Cazaree. I never had a chance to meet Cazaree as she died from Leukemia at 21. On another sad note, I learned Wyman’s dad was the person driving my Uncle James Columbus Hankins to the hospital July 31, 1941 after a tragic accident. J.C. as family called him was seriously burned in a fire. He eventually succumbed to his injuries.
I wrote about this event some time ago. Wyman said his dad witnessed the incident as did my father. It evidently left deep scars in both. Neither would discuss it afterwards. Dad’s brother was only 10. Grandma Hankins gave me J.C.’s little pocket knife to remember him by. Before Wyman and I said goodbye, we promised to stay in touch. He’s been most helpful in putting the finishing touches on this piece.
Writing has brought many blessings my direction including some chastisement. I’ll never stop pumping out thoughts and opinions regardless of the response. With that said, I doubt you’ll ever find me saying another word about Homer welfare recipients.
That stranger’s offer of a one-way fishing trip was more than enough warning!