There’s nothing better than good discussion

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 19, 2004

The first response came in the form of a private e-mail sent by someone I have considered a friend since moving to Demopolis. The second call came from a relative stranger. Another 20 or 25 responses followed.

As much as I’d love to spend the next few paragraphs ranting at state government for further delaying the expansion of U.S. Highway 80, I assume a follow-up to last week’s column is all but mandatory.

One week ago, I wrote about a few personal experiences since my move to Demopolis two years ago. In many ways, becoming more than just another tax-paying resident is a tough chore in this city — as it is in most small towns. My perception, if you will, is that long-time residents of Demopolis struggle to get beyond the mandatory Southern politeness with new people who move to this city.

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By offering such an opinion, readers must know that I understood the consequences. I knew — and hoped — there would be rebuttals to my thoughts. I even knew some of the close friends I have made here would be disappointed and have a good laugh at my expense around the other hometown folks.

More than anything, I simply wanted to create a dialogue, and a dialogue is what I got.

One person expressed disappointment that I would combine an opinion on cliques with city government and the office of mayor. That person, a friend, was accurate. Since moving to Demopolis, one of the kindest groups of people have been the folks up at City Hall. The mayor and council had no point being part of the discussion. At the same time, we’re getting a new mayor in a few months, and it sure wouldn’t hurt for our next city leader to understand how “outsiders” feel.

Another person called and told me I had it all wrong. This person, a great supporter of what we’ve done at the paper over the past two years, said he was personally disappointed in me and that such a column hurts our city’s efforts to bring new industries to town.

Soon after, a local leader called and thanked me for writing the column.

“It’s about time,” this person said. “This city needed to hear that.”

Another person called at least twice inviting me over for dinner, and expressing embarrassment for a city that apparently has gotten away from welcome baskets and extended hands.

The experiences over this past week could go on and on. A letter-to-the-editor in our Friday newspaper took me to task for not making more out of my time here. I presume he felt I had never liked any town in which I’ve lived.

To be honest, that was the only reason for the commentary. I’ve lived in six cities in the past eight years and have loved every single one of them.

Demopolis, beyond my hometown, is the most special of them all. I worked in newspapers for six years to attain a position as the publisher of a paper, and I got that chance here. I bought my first house in this city. Shoot, I bought my first riding lawn mower here — even if I don’t know how to change the tires, which apparently don’t have tubes.

The reality, though, is that Demopolis is the first place I’ve lived where a lot of people look at outsiders as intruders. That’s not an indictment of everyone; just an observation by one person.

Over the past week, I’ve obviously had a chance to listen to the ranting of a number of citizens. I’ve also turned down more dinner invitations in one week than a sumo wrestler could have handled.

What’s important is that a few people at least considered the thought. I know two callers verbally wondered if they needed to get more involved in welcoming new folks to town.

For my sake, that’s embarrassing. Long-time residents like Rob Pearson, Andy Eddins, Jay Reynolds, Tom Perry, Scott Stapp and Webb Tutt have extended uncountable invitations and befriended me like I grew up across the street. They, and many “transients” like Jason Windham, Paul Garner and Mike Marshall, have gone beyond kindness and acceptance.

And then there are those people like Jay “Hot Dog” Shows, who think everything’s just a big, old silly joke.

“Jonathan, I am publicly inviting you over for a hot dog supper any night this week…,” Shows wrote in a letter-to-the-editor. “I will provide the condiments; will you please bring the wieners and buns?”

This is exactly what I’m talking about, people. I’m not a wiener kind of guy.