The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

News From Down Home

Posted on | May 3, 2023 | Comments Off on News From Down Home

Judge Parker (right) singing gospel for MLK Day in Calhoun.

One of the best jobs I ever had was as sports editor of the Calhoun Times in Gordon County, Georgia. I arrived there in 1987, a few days before the start of football season, and a few weeks later met the beautiful woman who became my wife. For the next four years, I covered local sports there before moving on to the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune (the daily paper whose parent company owned the Calhoun Times). Our first three kids were born at Gordon Hospital (now AdventHealth Gordon), and so that community still has a special place in my heart.

For some reason, I woke up in the wee hours this morning and the thought went through my mind that some of the kids I covered as a sports writer back in the 1980s must be grandparents by now. Probably what sparked that thought was what I wrote yesterday about Hunter Biden and his Arkansas stripper baby mama, whose 4-year-old is Joe Biden’s illegitimate grandchild. While I was working on that post, I’d texted my kids to tell them how proud I was of them. I mean, maybe I haven’t always been an ideal father, but at least none of my kids are crack-smoking, stripper-chasing trash like Hunter Biden.

So I got that going for me, as Carl Spackler would say.

When my wife and I got married in April 1989, we did so on a Friday afternoon at the Gordon County Courthouse, with Judge Johnny Parker doing the honors. Judge Parker was also a minister of the gospel, and the ceremony was conducted with the traditional Book of Common Prayer vows. One of the most memorable moments of my life was when we got to the part about “forsaking all others,” a phrase that struck me then as a particularly serious vow, all things considered. Here I was, vowing before God to turn away from my youthful gallivanting forever — “Til death do you part” — and wow, what a profound thought that was.

In 2008, Judge Johnny Parker stepped down from office after years as Gordon County’s probate judge, and guess who the voters chose to replace him? His son, Richie, whom I covered during my sports editor days back in the 1980s, when Richie was the point guard for Fairmount High School. What a scrappy player he was, too. One night, Fairmount was in the regional playoffs against Bremen, and Richie just absolutely lit it up — shooting, passing, defense, everything you could ask from a point guard. And it was only after the game that I learned he’d been suffering with the flu, a fever of 102, nearly passed out in the locker room at halftime, but he wasn’t going to let the team down.

So when that thought crossed my mind in the wee hours — some of the players I covered back then must be grandparents by now — the first name that came to mind was Richie Parker, and I began Googling to see what he had been doing lately. Don’t know if he’s a grandpa yet, but he and his wife have eight childrenattaboy, Richie! — and that’s Richie you see in the picture at the top, playing guitar and singing, with Virgil Harrison on bass guitar, at the 2015 Calhoun-Gordon County MLK Community Celebration. Richie’s added a few pounds since his scrappy point guard days, it seems, but I’m sure he’s one of the most popular and respected members of his community, just like his dad.

One of the items I turned up while Google searching Richie was a Facebook post about his speaking at the local Rotary Club and, while I was on Facebook, I noticed a promotion for an article from The Atlantic with the provocative headline, “How Rural America Steals Girls’ Future.”

The article, by Arkansas native Monica Potts, was behind a paywall, so I couldn’t read it on my phone, and instead I began researching the author (because what else is a journalist going to do when he’s lying awake in bed at 1 a.m.?). Turns out the article is excerpted from her new book, The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America. And I was able to find a review in the Guardian which summarized the book’s left-wing thesis:

Potts grew up in Clinton, Arkansas, a rural, majority-white town in the Ozark mountains, where poverty and lack of educational opportunities combined with the pervasive culture of evangelical Christianity to steer girls into early marriage and motherhood. Addiction and domestic abuse were widespread, though rarely acknowledged or addressed. A 2015 study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attributed the drop in life expectancy among poor middle-aged white people to increases in drug overdoses, suicides and complications from alcoholism: “a trio of ailments they called ‘deaths of despair’”. “Words like malaise and despair hint at stories that can’t be told with data and statistics,” Potts writes. So she returned to Clinton, “with its ageing, shrinking population, governed by a small group of people who worshipped at the same churches as their parents and who had knit around themselves an ever thicker and tighter web of personal and political self-deceits”, in search of the women behind the statistics.

Of course, it’s that “pervasive culture of evangelical Christianity” which is the real villain in “majority-white” rural America — a purely political sermon from a feminist alumna of Bryn Mawr whose only reason for writing about her hometown was because she hates Jesus.

Excuse my wrathful tone, but there’s nothing easier in the world for a Southern writer — and nothing I hate more — than to trash their home folks this way for the pleasure and amusement of college-educated liberal readers. The downward socioeconomic trajectory of rural America over the past few decades is very real, of course, but trying to blame it on Jesus? No, thank you, ma’am. In fact, a much deeper problem is that too many small-town folks have turned their back on the Bible and have instead absorbed the message they get from media — TV and movies, etc. — which make sin seem exciting and glamorous and sophisticated.

As someone who has direct experience with sin in the real world (even if I now jokingly deride it as youthful “gallivanting,” I don’t hesitate to denounce it for what it really was, namely sin), I know very well what life is like on the Highway to Hell, and am grateful to God for pointing me to the exit ramp before I reached the final destination. Trust me when I say that not all of my good-time buddies back in the day were so fortunate. Kim McMichen died on death row, for example, and at least four guys in my senior class of high school later died from AIDS.

No matter how much the world changes — all the modern “progress” of interstate highways, air conditioning, cable TV, Wal-Mart, fentanyl — the fundamental nature of human existence remains what it was nearly 300 years ago, when Jonathan Edwards warned his congregation that they were “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”

Keep in mind that the Reverend Edwards preached that sermon to a flock of devout Christians, descendants of the Puritan settlers of New England who strove to live in the most respectable God-fearing way, yet even they were nothing but wretched sinners, entirely dependent on divine mercy.

If the most straitlaced New England Puritans were in need of this stern Calvinist warning, how much more do we need that sermon today?

The Devil is keeping mighty busy in 21st-century America, and sinners are going down to destruction on a daily basis by the dozens and hundreds. Even in seemingly wholesome small towns, the Devil’s always close at hand, eager to tempt folks with the “excitement” of sinful pleasure. Alas, the quality of preaching has been degraded, and there’s a lot of cheap grace and feel-good phony piety coming from too many pulpits. In the excerpt from her book in The Atlantic, Monica Potts focuses on her childhood friend Darci, who grew up to be a druggie loser. One night at age 13, Monica and Darci sneak out to meet up with some older teenagers at a party, where Darci hooks up with a boy and is later scolded by Monica:

At that first party, I saw a glimmer of this other life Darci had begun to live. When we got back to her den late that night, I told her that her new friends were sleazy. “That’s not very nice, and not very Christian” was her response. “I thought we were trying to see the good in people.”

Who taught her to think that way? “The Gospel of Niceness,” as I’ve sometimes called it, bears only a superficial resemblance to actual Christianity. Jonathan Edwards sure didn’t preach that stuff.

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14 KJV) is not a message about being nice, because I’m sure most of the Pharisees in Jerusalem were considered perfectly nice, by the standards of the time and place.

And what about Hunter Biden and his baby mama, Lunden Roberts?

She was a standout athlete at Southside High School in Batesville, Arkansas (population 11,191), which is about 60 miles east of the much smaller town of Clinton (population 2,509) where Monica Potts grew up. In basketball, the 5-foot-8 Lunden Roberts “held the Arkansas state record for single-season free throw percentage, sinking 96.4 percent of her free throws during the 2007-2008 season.” She graduated high school in 2009 and first attended Western Illinois University before transferring in 2010 to Arkansas State in Jonesboro, about 70 miles east of Batesville. After getting her degree from Arkansas State, she then pursued a master’s degree in criminal investigation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., reportedly hoping to land a job with the FBI. Instead, she ended up working as a stripper at the Mpire Gentlemen’s Club, which is on M Street, about halfway between downtown (K Street) and Dupont Circle. Could anyone back in her Arkansas hometown have ever imagined that this former all-conference basketball star would end up shaking her naked rump for tips in a D.C. strip club? And that, while doing it, she would attract the attention of the crackhead son of Obama’s Vice President? But even a small town high-school sports hero is not safe in these evil days when Satan “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8 KJV).

Jonathan Turley has sought to portray Lunden Roberts in a more sympathetic light, but I’m sure the decent God-fearing folks in Batesville are scandalized by her sad fate. Getting knocked up by the Most Notorious Crackhead in America? Hester Prynne had Nathaniel Hawthorne to tell her tale, but Lunden Roberts gets her pathetic saga told and re-told by every trashy tabloid writer, not to mention us bloggers. Dear brothers, can’t you see that we are still very much “sinners in the hands of an angry God”? If the son of the President of the United States could turn into a sleazy crackhead, and a small town Arkansas basketball star could grow up to be a D.C. stripper, how can any of us be impudent enough to think our own children are safe from Satan’s snares?

Having barely escaped from the Highway to Hell — perhaps it was the next-to-last exit, but certainly it wasn’t far off from the infernal destination — I’ve always worried that my kids wouldn’t appreciate how important it is to avoid the various wicked ways of sin. Modern ideas of “progress” tend toward a tolerance of sin that would have horrified our ancestors. There are a great many self-identified “Christians” nowadays who think we shouldn’t call any behavior sinful (except “hate,” which in its 21st-century definition means disagreeing with liberals). Everybody nowadays reacts to any condemnation of sin the way Darci reacted when Monica Dobbs criticized her sleazy friends: “That’s not very nice, and not very Christian. . . . I thought we were trying to see the good in people.”

Well, ma’am, where did that approach get you? No matter how “nice” you think you are, you start hanging around a bunch of trash and you won’t be very nice at all before too long, and not a few such folks — just “trying to see good in people” — find their way to prison or an early grave.

This sermon could be extended further, but I’m already past the 2,000-word mark, and so I’ll tell you that today I decided to make a call to the Gordon County Courthouse: “Can I speak to Judge Parker?”

When I got him on the phone, I didn’t introduce myself right away, but told him I used to cover him when he played for Fairmount, and as soon as I told him my name, Richie was delighted. We talked for at least 45 minutes, and one of the things he told me was that he’d recently attended the funeral of Chris Randall, who played football at Red Bud High. As part of the tribute to Chris, his family had dug out the old newspaper clippings from Randall’s football days, including his picture — along with Richie Parker of Fairmount and two other players representing Calhoun High and Gordon Central High (the four high schools in the county at the time) — on the cover of the annual “Pigskin Preview.” There were several other clippings about Chris, and all of them had my byline. Richie said that while he was looking at those clips, he got to wondering whatever happened to me, so I caught him up to date, and then we just talked about everything for a while. During my years writing for the Calhoun Times, the local football teams all had losing records, but in the past 15 years, Calhoun has become a powerhouse, winning three state championships, dominating their region and advancing deep into the playoffs nearly every year they didn’t win the state title outright.

Richie’s kids are all doing fine, generally reflecting his family’s talents in athletics and music (Richie and his sister Leah are both musically gifted) and yes, as I guessed in that wee-hour thought that led me to start Googling, Richie is already a grandfather. His folks are still doing fine. When I promised Richie to get down to see him sometime, I told him how much I’d love to get a chance to see his dad again, and Richie said, “Oh, my mama, too. She always thought the best of you.”

There are still God’s people down in God’s country. Small-town living is the best way to live, no matter what any liberal writer may try to tell you. Never forget where you came from, and try to live in such a way that the folks down home can be proud of you. Amen.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

Just coincidentally, my wife and I are leaving out today to attend our youngest son’s college graduation this weekend — a 1,122-mile road trip — so this might be a good time to remind readers of the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:





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