BOWEN COLUMN: Just you and me, sitting and having a little talk together

Published 9:30 am Friday, January 28, 2022

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The date was August 6, 1997. That was the first column I ever wrote for our LaGrange Daily News. As I’ve said, I was young back then, younger than I am now, younger than I’ll ever be again.

Or, Mr. Twain actually said it first, and it sure sounded a little better coming from him – which reminds me: I guess when I first picked up the pen to write I figured I’d want to have a little bit of Mark Twain in me and a little bit of a Mr. Lewis Grizzard, whom all Georgians know because he hailed from a few miles to the north of you in Newnan, Georgia. I guess he and Mr. Randy Jackson are about the two most famous people from our sister-city of Newnan, but they are two pretty good ones.

Really Twain and Grizzard were always the only two I could think of when I’d try to explain to somebody what the column was like. “Oh, the column’s kind of like Lewis Grizzard,” I’d say, “if you know him, or Mr. Twain.” But, when you think about it, you couldn’t ask for much more than for somebody to up and say, “Yeah, you remind me a little of those fellas.” I’m not sure I ever heard anybody say that, but I’ve said it in my own mind plenty of times.

One of the better compliments I remember is something the “Professor” said down at the Y one day. He was a professor at LaGrange College, a young fella for a professor and a pretty good basketball player. We were walking over to the water fountain to get a drink in between games and talking, and he said, “What I like about your column is that it is just as if you’re sitting there talking to us, just the way we are right here.”

And I thought, “There it is.” There is what you want to do, sit down and talk to the people just as we are talking right now. Talk to them about the things they know about; and sometimes even talk to them about the things they don’t know about, but do it in a way that after they’ve read it they think they know everything there is to know about the thing. Thanks, Professor, for your thought.

Grandma – that is, my grandma Zona Belle Miller, who lived down on Truitt until she left us in 2003 – said that reading the column was like getting a letter from home, which was especially nice because, well, it was Grandma, and I could imagine Grandma leaving her kitchen about the time the Georgia evening sun began to set; and she’d sit on that green couch she had forever, and she’d lean back and flip through that day’s Daily News until she saw my picture up there toward the top of the opinion section. Ah, there’d she’d read and smile, because that was her grandson who was coming home to her once again.

Yes, my friends, there was magic in this little column, right from the beginning – twenty-five years of magic, and it was never better than when the magic flashed itself right from Grandma’s living room, where she sat, proudly.

Grandma, you know, played a big part in this whole thing getting started. I was home the summer of 1997, and Grandma and I were driving out to see her son and my Uncle Raymond who lived down the Roanoke Road just past the Georgia line. We were driving her 1955 two-toned Ford jalopy that I’d love to have right now. But, as Providence would have it, the car broke down on the side of the Roanoke Road; and a Mr. Charles Nix happened by about then and stopped to help. Mr. Nix was a longtime journalist for the Daily News, and, as he helped us, I somehow slipped into the conversation that I had just published a book called “That Southern Red Clay Jus’ Won’t Wash Off” and that I was wanting to write a column for the paper.

Of course, there are about twelve-thousand people who want to have their own column; but Mr. Nix must have felt I might know a little bit about what I was doing (which, as James Garner says in the ‘Support Your Local Sheriff’ movie, “I’m not sure what I said to give you that idea.”). But Mr. Nix, after transporting Grandma and me to Uncle Raymond’s safely, left us and graciously arranged for me to go down to the LDN office and meet Ms. Andrea Lovejoy the next day to set me up to write for my own hometown paper. I went down to meet Ms. Andrea, and I was over at Charles’ desk talking to him when Andrea heard me from across the room and said, “Why, you sound too down to earth to be a famous humorist,” and that was my introduction to Ms. Lovejoy.

I remember as we talked, she said, “I don’t know what even to pay for something like this,” reminding us that this was before we had several thousand people sending in columns. I gave her a modest price, and she said, “Okay.” So, for about a decade, I received a modest check twice a year, before I started writing just for the love of the game.

And, today, twenty-five years since that 1997 beginning, I still write for free – but then, again, I really don’t: I get paid, just not in cash anymore. I get paid in the fact that Mr. Daniel Evans takes my columns and stories and even a fib or two, some say, and he says, “This fella belongs right here in this spot on this page, just where he’s been for a quarter of a century.”

And that’s payment enough.

I guess it will do for the next quarter of a century or so, at such time that I’ll look back again and say, “Ah, I was younger back fifty years ago, younger than I am now, younger than I’ll ever be again,” I’m sure.

That’s how you’ll know it’s me, coming to you again, talking to you as if we’re sitting face to face, just as the good LaGrange College Professor had said one time long ago.