For my first 2021 column, I’d like to look back at what I wrote about in 2020, “The Year of the Rat,” according to the Chinese zodiac. The year 2021 will be “The Year of the Ox,” beginning on Feb. 12, the Chinese New Year.
The Year of the Ox has to be better than The Year of the Rat, right? Besides furnishing lunch for snakes and raptors and being test subjects for lab experiments, of what use are rats? Oxen, on the other hand, can furnish meat, hides and do useful things such as pulling plows.
Here’s how I divided the 50-some columns I penned:
1. Columns about people in Iredell whom you know or might have known: a very nice fellow named “Duke” Hunley, who was a security guard at the main library in Statesville was featured in April 26’s R&L; or Scotty Hill, “A Man Who Knows His Beans,” who may be found at the produce section of the friendly Food Lion store on Old Mountain Road.
I struggled to write about the loss of one of our best local teachers, the ever-smiling poetess and Southern lady, Libby Campbell, who was my friend.
It was my pleasure and honor to have had a small part in helping my friend Gill Kling finally get his medals from his service in the U.S. Army in the Second World War and the Korean War. Gill got a well-deserved column in the R&L.
There were historic people who landed in my column — people like the Moravian Bishop Augustus Spangenburg, who trekked through here in the 1750s and wrote down some of his impressions.
2. Columns about irritants and problems such as Daylight Savings Time, when I try to figure out what time it “really is.” Cellphones and I don’t get along well, either. Thank goodness my wife can usually help me. It’s a “flip phone,” supposedly the easiest to use with the fewest bells and whistles.
Another technology-based column concerned the apparent planned obsolescence of mechanisms for playing recorded music.
3. Columns on Iredell County history such as my three-column investigation of the 1920 murder of James H. Nantz. Another mystery involved the disposition of two iconic jet aircraft, naval variants of the F-86 Sabre jet. One used to be in Liberty Park in Mooresville and one was in Caldwell Park in Statesville. The final locations of both planes are still unknown.
I found another true mule-falls-in-the-well story, and gave some history of the horseshoe pitching tournaments that were once prominent in Statesville.
4. Columns about places. I reported on the fine programs put on at the Hiddenite Center in Alexander County, particularly their yearly “Irish Done Right” and their observance of “Robert Burns Night.”
I also surveyed some interesting places in nearby Mount Ulla and paid a visit to the past at Mr. Pink Shinn’s store in Shinnville.
5. Columns about the COVID epidemic’s effect on people. One, in April, showed several indications that we might lick the pandemic if we did remain calm and use our brains and I gave some advice to the graduating Class of 2020 in another column.
Also on the plus side was the discovery, by a cousin in Asheville, of my maternal grandmother’s cookbook, which might not have been found had my cousin not been ensconced in her home, thoroughly bored, and decided to go through some dusty boxes in her basement. Way to go Anna!
Finally, I wrote about our church resuming services but still taking prudent precautionary practices.
6. Miscellaneous columns include a look at dubious holidays such as National Shrimp Day (May 10) and National Fruit Cocktail Day (May 13). I wrote about the two Scottish terriers, Molly and Nessie, who live with Judy and me; perhaps it is we who live with them.
I also did several columns on The Future and checked if some famous predictions from 1899 had come true (not many, but some were remarkably close.)
I wrote about the ragtime composer, Scott Joplin (1868-1917), and began a long-distance friendship with a Joplin scholar in Missouri. Were it not for Mr. Joplin, there would be no jazz, rock and roll, nor most of what we call contemporary music.
To round out the year, I did two columns on the fictional British secret agent James Bond, created by Ian Fleming.
7. I wrote many columns about books. I read a lot last year, especially after COVID began to be taken seriously, and I figured that many readers might be hunkered down, too, looking for something to do like reading a good book. I tipped my Stetson to three exceptional Western writers, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and Craig Johnson, in my first column of 2020.
I also told you about a new book on "The 34th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in the Civil War in Tight Ranks," by Donald Hazelwood. For a little comedic relief, I wrote about The Darwin Awards III, a tongue-in-cheek prize to “those individuals who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it in a spectacularly stupid manner.”
Tony Horwitz’s "Blue Latitudes" was an interesting non-fiction account of the globe-straddling voyages of Capt. James Cook, who filled in many blank places on world maps in the 18th century.
Another non-fiction book was "The Know-It-All" by A.J. Jacobs, who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and reported on the interesting things he found while on his quest.
I told you about the book that indirectly led me to become a teacher and a writer, a science fiction novel titled "The Space Egg" by Russ Winterbotham, demonstrating the power of the written word.
Attracted to the weird and unexplained, I did a column on the book, "Weird Carolinas," by Roger Manley. In the book you will find Iredell-related weirdness in Tom Dula (Dooley), the Bostian Bridge train wreck, Marshal Ney, the Lake Norman creature and Joe Ponder, late strongman of Love Valley.
When our planned summer trip to the beach fell through, a victim of the COVID, I did a column on ocean-related literature. If I couldn’t go to the beach, at least my mind could go, and in two columns I suggested a number of books of a nautical nature for general readers.
Bob Greene’s "All Summer Long," about growing up in 1960s Ohio, got a column, as did Jack Grossman’s "Child of the Forest," a true, harrowing account of a young Polish girl’s ordeal of eluding Nazis during World War II.
Some past fictional books and heroes came to life again in 2020 as I wrote about Captain Midnight and the books for boys that were published during World War II. We could use more heroes, even fictional ones.
Another book reviewed was "Return to the Coca-Cola Trail," by Larry Jorgensen, whose second book recounts the story of “The World’s Favorite Soft Drink” and the Coke bottling plant in Statesville and other towns.
My favorite column of 2020 was published in October, when my friend Joe Hudson and I told readers why our regional style (East vs. West) of N.C. barbecue was best. Readers apparently found our columns to be tasty and filling. West is Best, Joe.