4-3 JM Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 13, 2004

If you have not done so, please read the letter to the editor directly above this column. It’s a letter more important to our community than any we’ve published in The Times, and one I almost hoped would follow our April Fool’s front-page story.

For those reading on the internet, the letter takes issue with a front-page story we ran April 1 quoting “Washington sources” who indicated a new interstate would be constructed through Marengo County using “electric bulldozers” that spread “recycled asphalt.”

In most cases, I don’t believe in the practice of writing responses to letters that take offense with our newspaper. If a reader disagrees with a column or news story, we welcome a letter explaining the reasons for the disagreement. Just this past week, a citizen did not like my portrayal of historical groups as compared to business owners. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of that letter as much as I appreciate the letter appearing in today’s paper.

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Though many letters, like the one above, take personal jabs at newspaper editors — maybe for reasons beyond the issue at hand — that’s not the purpose of this column. Rather, I firmly believe the letter paints a telling picture of Demopolis.

With a good quote book in hand, I’d like to offer you two thoughts on humor from prolific minds of the past.

According to E.B. White, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

And former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

Demopolis, more so than many would like to admit, needs to quit dissecting the fun out of life. Our history, seeded deep in a Napoleonic struggle to be something more than we are, dictates an air of conceit that has poisoned our olives and rotted our grapes.

Understand that one reader’s opinion does not necessarily represent Demopolis as a whole, even though the reader suggests: “I know the hearts and minds of [Demopolis] people and they don’t like to be joked with when it comes to major issues…”

If that’s the case, and I believe there to be truth in the comment, it verifies a Napoleonic complex that bans our capacity to smile and encumbers our chance for prosperity.

The interstate issue, really a moot point in this context, can serve a valuable purpose through the parody we published on April 1.

As of now, the Department of Transportation has no plans to construct an interstate through Demopolis, even though many — including me — have pushed for the project.

In the Napoleonic sense, that means we’ve failed. And in the Demopolis sense, there’s absolutely nothing funny about failure.

Talk about the taste of sour grapes. I don’t believe we’ve failed, as it relates to the interstate, at all. Four years ago (not 20) U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby began the first serious discussion on extending an interstate corridor from Montgomery to Meridian. More than 40 years ago, leaders first discussed widening U.S. Highway 80 — an altogether different project.

In November, eight miles of U.S. 80 will be four-laned. As for the interstate, Shelby has secured about $8 million to survey an interstate route.

Have we really failed?

Absolutely not.

Have we exposed our conceit by inventing a mistaken self-superiority?


Here’s the issue, and it has nothing to do with recycled asphalt or an interstate tunnel under the Tombigbee:

It wouldn’t hurt Demopolis one bit if we unbuttoned the chokeholds around our necks for a while. I’ve lived in six cities since becoming a journalist, and in the 18 months I’ve lived in this great town, my only wish is that we’d exchange our sporadic stuffiness for an occasional smile.

This city has great people who care about each other. The author of the above letter wouldn’t have taken the time to share her thoughts if she didn’t love Demopolis.

But consider those of us who haven’t been born in this city three times. We visit Demopolis and enjoy the friends we make — ask Andrew and Betsy Smith, the new owners of McDonald’s. Ask Jason Windham over at Holiday Cleaners. Ask me.

Though I’d never speak for another person, I can promise that Demopolis will never grow unless visitors become residents. And there’s nothing more a visitor wants to find than people who love their community for what it is.

If the lime rock poisons the olives and rots the grapes, don’t get stuck in the misery of perceived failure. Smile at the attempt and plant a row of pines.