In the South, everyone has a story. Every name is followed by a few sentences or paragraphs. No one is known by name alone.
It was perhaps the first thing I warned Tink when he moved here.
“Be careful what you say about anyone at church because you never know who’s related to who.”
I said it more as a reminder to me than a warning to him because he never says anything against anyone except for television characters, and toward them he issues any judgments or criticisms he has of human nature or personalities.
Still, it’s true because it’s a small country church where there are many crossings of bloodlines after generations of marrying the girl on the next farm over or the one on the pew across the aisle.
I’m still learning myself. One day over Sunday dinner, I asked Louise why a younger, married woman was crying over an older gentleman.
Louise looked stunned for a moment and said, “Because he’s her father.”
Different last names. I had no idea.
Many times, not only bloodlines, but stories overlap. It’s an ongoing puzzle of which story pieces fit together. One day, we were talking about former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley (one of my favorite people in the world), and I told about a story I wrote once as a young sports reporter about a star scholarship athlete, Cris Carpenter, and Dooley’s response while we were in Orlando for the Citrus Bowl.
A few months later, my first beloved sports editor, Phil Jackson, died. Now, Jackson was a colorful character, so when the newspaper asked for a quote, I had a vintage Jackson story to tell. Tink was reading the story to me while I cooked supper. Carpenter was also quoted.
“Remember the story I told you about the Citrus Bowl and Dooley? That’s the player.”
A light came on in his eyes. He loves the connections.
Jackson’s was a name that could be followed with pages, not just paragraphs of stories. I adored him. He stood for what he believed in, and he never backed down regardless of the lack of popularity that his view might have. For instance, he hated auto racing. He thought it was the most foolish waste of time, so he refused to assign coverage to it. But two things happened that forced him to send a reporter — me — to report races: A popular local track was filling the stands every Saturday night and a local driver, Bill Elliott, became NASCAR’s biggest sensation.
He still hated racing, but he was an honorable newspaperman, and he knew that Elliott and his family-owned and operated team were a story worth covering.
Elliott’s first sponsor was Coors beer at a time when it was not sold east of the Mississippi. Remember the premise of the runaway movie hit “Smoky and The Bandit”? So, Coors was a rarity in the South. Jackson hated racing but loved beer. The Elliotts loved racing but hated beer. None of them drank. Jackson, who loved his libations, would, several years later, just up and quit. But, at the time when Coors was making history with the Elliotts, Jackson liked beer.
He especially liked free beer.
Whenever I would go to the race shop, the wonderful Elliotts would load down my trunk with cases and I, a complete teetotaler myself, would dabble for a few minutes in an old family business — running alcohol. I would bring it back to Jackson, and his face would light up when I opened the trunk.
Now, one might make the argument that it was a breach of ethical journalism for Jackson to accept products from a subject of our news coverage. But in typical Jackson fashion, he kept it completely ethical.
He continued to hate racing and continued writing columns that berated it.
And that is a story of how stories overlap in the South.
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