Thursday, April 28, 2011

A reader makes a good point

Yeah, that Obama birth-certificate column this morning touched a nerve... 595 comments and counting, not to mention a few dozen emails and phone calls. The debate in the comments has actually been fairly civil -- a lot of disagreement, and some anger, but more like a boxing match than a back-alley brawl.

One of the emailers, a reader named David, said this:

Out of curiosity were you asleep during the Bush years when it was advanced by “the left” that Bush knew and was somehow involved in 9/11? Did you just miss that a poll in 2007 found that fully 35% of Democrats believed Bush had advance knowledge that 9/11 was going to occur?... I mean, after all, isn’t believing that a sitting President had advance knowledge that the slaughter of thousands of innocent Americans was going to take place just a touch more disgusting than thinking another wasn’t born in the U.S. or is a socialist?

I vaguely remembered some polls along those lines, but asked David to send me a couple of links, which he did. You can find the details here and here.

Now... I'm not sure we're talking apples and apples here. What I remember, from when these came out, is that some people interpreted those questions based on the briefing a month before 9/11 that said Osama bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. Some people might have considered that "advance knowledge" -- not of a specific attack, but that something was about to happen.

One other thing: I don't remember any major voice on the left -- certainly no one who was contemplating a run for president -- pushing that idea. There wasn't a Donald Trump out there in front of the cameras.

On the whole, though, I think David makes a fair point. I should've done that column back then. Politics can make us all crazy from time to time. I hope this current brand of crazy fades fast.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What's in a (Southern) name?

My uncle Ottis died last week. I put his obit on Facebook. A friend who grew up in Ohio read it and said “Man, I love those names.”

Mr. Yarbrough was born in Odum, Georgia, a son of the late Elmer Emerson and Fannie Pearl Tripp Yarbrough…

Most names fade over generations. It might not seem like it now, but one day parents will stop naming their boys Brandon and their girls Caitlin or Katelyn or Qateleyne or however the mom demands to spell it before the epidural. Someday those names will sound as odd to our ears as Ezra and Myrtice do now.

My mama, Virginia, is one of seven: her, Junior, Hazel, Ernest, Ada Mae, Ottis and Buddy. My mom and Aunt Mae are the only ones left.

My daddy was officially L.M., for Leonard Milton, even though everybody called him Tommy. (To a few members of my family, I’m still Little Tommy. I know.)

His sisters were Estelle and Lizzie Mae.

There are lots of people named Otis, one T, from Otis Redding to Otis the drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." But an Ottis, two T’s, is rare.

I’ve met just two: Uncle Ottis and his son, Ottis Jr. The only other one I’ve heard of is the former NFL running back Ottis Anderson. My uncle pronounced it AH-tis. His son and the running back say it OH-tis.

There’s a great Web toy called the NameVoyager. Type in a name and it shows you how popular it’s been over time. Ottis was never popular. It peaked in the 1910s. Since the 1950s, it hasn’t appeared enough to measure. Uncle Ottis was born in 1940.

Both sides of my family were country people. My mom and dad picked cotton from the time they were little.

When my grandmother got sick, my mom ended up in charge of the household chores. She was 12. She made two pans of biscuits every single morning for years. She made them once in a while for my dad as a treat. After he died, that was it for the biscuits. She’s never made another one.

They all had hard lives, but Ottis might have had the hardest. His wife left him while he was in Vietnam. He raised his boy as a single dad and took care of my grandmother in her later years. Then he had a stroke and spent his last few years in assisted living. He liked tangerines because he could peel them with his one good hand.

Most of my mom’s people settled around Florence, S.C., and when my grandmother was alive we’d drive up there every year. I remember Uncle Ottis chain-smoking Chesterfields and falling asleep on the couch, his little black-and-white TV playing “The Twilight Zone.”

They have a national military cemetery in Florence – it’s a smaller version of the one in Arlington. All those rows of white headstones. A dozen of us came to Uncle Ottis’ service. A recording played taps. Two men in uniform folded the flag on his casket and gave it to his son.

Some people long for the good old days. But for a lot of people who grew up like my parents, the days weren’t so good. They’re grateful for air conditioning and washing machines and something other than biscuits every day of the week.

But with every gain comes some loss. A fine old Southern name. A good man who had a tough life.

We stop and pay attention for a moment, so we can remember. Things pass.