The Gallatin News
My fifteen minutes
My first, and probably only, 15 minutes of fame lasted for about three weeks in the summer of 1991. The “fame” was limited to the middle Tennessee area and was handed to me when a social writer for The Tennessean decided to pick on my beloved Sumner County; Gallatin to be precise.
Catherine Darnell, dubbed by the late folksy Tennessean columnist Jerry Thompson as the ‘Cat in the Hat’ for her infamous headwear, printed a list of unkind “You are so Gallatin if..” remarks in her Scene and Heard column which normally featured fancy, schmancy parties at the Belle Meade Country Club.
The list, a rip-off of Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You may be a redneck if..’ shtick, included pearls of wisdom like, ‘You are so Gallatin if you view the next family reunion as a chance to meet girls,’ and ‘if the directions to your house include “Turn off the paved road”’ and ‘if you consider your license plate personalized because your father made it,’ and so on.
Needless to say, her Sunday edition column wasn’t well received in Gallatin.
I was a part-time correspondent for The Tennessean at the time covering primarily government meetings. On the following night at a Budget Committee meeting, a group of Gallatin residents, including former Gallatin City Council member Betty Scott, pretty much hung me out to dry for being associated with a newspaper which would print such garbage. I tried to explain that I was just a working stiff trying to pay my bills but I don’t believe they were in a listening mood. I tried to tell them I didn’t even know Catherine Darnell, much less read her high-society column.
While talking with the night editor later that night, he tells me I have a message to call John Seigenthaler, publisher of the Tennessean and friend of the Kennedys, as in President John F. and Attorney General Bobby. I chuckled and told him I wasn’t falling for that gag, realizing they probably pull it on all rookies. Eventually he convinced me it wasn’t a joke, so I called him.
Long story short, I was in Mr. Seigenthaler’s office at 8 o’clock the next morning planning a rebuttal. Apparently, the people of Gallatin had called, complained, demanded apologies and cancelled subscriptions in great numbers. He wanted something in the next day’s paper to defend Gallatin, take Darnell to task for her column and, most importantly, stop the cancellations. Jerry Thompson, who she called the ‘Sap in the Cap,’ was her normal adversary but he was out of town, so Mr. Seigenthaler looked to me to do the job.
By noon, I had a first draft on his desk. He didn’t think it was nasty enough so he added quite a few zingers he had probably wanted to sling at her for some time. He used this opportunity, under the cover of my name, to sling away. Before I left, they snapped my picture to appear with the column the next day.
My rebuttal column, after the zingers, invited Darnell, who always referred to herself in the plural ‘we,’ to visit Gallatin, tour the campus of Volunteer State Community College with then president Dr. Hal Ramer and let my former college English teacher, Virginia Thigpen, explain the fundamentals of grammar to her in hopes that she would quit calling herself ‘we.’ My suggested tour included million dollar homes along the shores of Old Hickory Lake, a pep rally at Gallatin High School, and a meal at Duncan’s Diner, a great local eatery that was located on Blythe Street.
She also had a habit of referring to the good life in the 37205 zip code (Belle Meade). I suggested to her that the ‘best people in the world are happy to call 37066 home.”
It generated a lot of buzz. It was talked about on Nashville television newscasts and on radio talk shows. Gallatin’s WHIN talked about it for a couple of weeks. The Tennessean ran my column again the following Sunday. Darnell rebutted me in her next column which she titled ‘It’s a mad, mad, mad Gallatin.’ Nashville’ alternative newspaper, The Nashville Scene, jumped into the sprawl and suggested that I ‘didn’t have a sense of humor.’
I received ‘atta boy’ letters and phone calls from other reporters, elected-officials, friends and strangers from all over the state, including a note from a lady who said she hoped I won an award for putting Darnell in her place. I was invited to the next Gallatin Chamber of Commerce meeting where I was introduced to cheers and applauds and treated like a celebrity. They lined up after the meeting to shake my hand and thank me for taking up for Gallatin.
While eating the best hot-water cornbread in the world at Duncan’s Diner later that week, a lady recognized me and came up to thank me for the article. I was pulled over that week by one of Gallatin’s finest for going a bit too fast on Red River Road and, for the only time in my life, was only given a warning. I can’t say my defense of Gallatin was why I got off with only a warning, but I can’t say it wasn’t either.
The next couple of visits to The Tennessean office were pleasant because, all of a sudden, everyone knew me. Many of the staffers introduced themselves to me. One asked me to autograph a copy of the column. Apparently they had all wanted someone to respond to Darnell for some time.
Truth is, I met her during that time and she seemed like a nice lady. I doubt she actually believed all the things she wrote about Gallatin; she was probably just up against a deadline and was hard up for a good subject for her column. I can relate. It’s sort of how I felt just before I thought about sharing this story with you today.
See you next week.