By: Kevin Slimp
Welcome to Lenox Valley
Powerful Words - Underdog attacks make-believe issues
For a while it seemed as if the mayoral debate might have ended before it began. After prayers by Raymond Cooper and Dick Bland incited a near-riot in the Methodist church fellowship hall, voices quickly dulled to whispers as Juliet Stoughton took her place behind the podium.
As the cacophony quieted, Stoughton took a moment to regain composure before introducing herself.
“Hello. My name is Juliet Stoughton,” she began. “I know most of you don’t know me, and you are probably wondering what I am doing on this stage with the other candidates for mayor.”
“We sure are!” shouted Marvin Walsh to the delight of his fellow Cooper supporters.
Cackles were heard in the VFW section as TV-6 meteorologist Matt Pinkin attempted to take control by reminding the audience the timer would restart at 60 seconds due to the interruption. That silenced the crowd. No one likes being chastised by a famous celebrity.
Juliet continued. “I’m here,” pausing to catch her breath, “because I remember all the wonderful stories I was told about this place.”
You could have heard a pin drop as the audience absorbed those simple words.
“I heard of this Valley, filled with wonderful people. I was told they were hard-working, friendly, gentle people. I couldn’t wait to see this place and meet these people for myself. I was excited because this Valley would be my home.”
Murmuring could be heard among the crowd. “That’s right,” someone uttered, just loud enough to be made out among the audience.
“Imagine my surprise when the first voice I heard was a voice on the radio.” Juliet thought it best to exclude her previous soulmate from her early impressions of the Valley.
The spectators were on the edges of their seats as everyone, even the children, knew that Stoughton was referring to Raymond Cooper, host of “Renderings with Raymond” and candidate for mayor of Lennox Valley.
“This voice was neither gentle nor kind,” she continued. “It was mean and hateful.”
Elbert Lee Jones had heard enough. He was about to shout something, probably neither gentle nor kind, but was subdued by his fellow VFW members who realized Juliet would get a fresh 60 seconds if she was interrupted again.
“I am here,” she said quietly, “because I want the Lennox Valley I dreamed of, the Valley made up of hard-working, friendly neighbors. I want to work toward making our Valley a better place for everyone.”
Matt Pinkin reminded Juliet she had 10 seconds remaining on the timer.
“I want a town concerned about real problems, not make-believe issues like rising egg prices and the Federal Reserve.”
For a brief moment, the room was silent. That’s when Rhonda Goodman rose from her seat and began applauding. Her husband, Earl, the mailman and the first to suggest on “Renderings with Raymond” that Cooper should run for office, turned to his wife with a stunned look on his face.
Other women in the audience began to stand and applaud. After a few seconds, there were 20 or more women, plus a couple of men, on their feet and clapping with Rhonda.
The main headline on the front of Lennox Valley Hometown News the next morning read “Newcomer Turns Heads” with the subhead, “Sharp criticism of fake issues incites crowd.”
Two photos graced page one. The dominant photo, underneath the headline, showed all three candidates on stage during the coin-flip to determine who would speak first. A little further down was a picture of Elbert Lee Jones rushing the stage, being held back by Marvin Walsh and two other Cooper supporters.
The only other story on page one included the results of a poll conducted by the Spring County League of Women Voters, which coincidentally included no members of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society:
- Mayor Dick Bland: 30 percent
- Raymond Cooper: 39 percent
- Juliet Stoughton: 3 percent
- Undecided: 28 percent
Email Kevin Slimp at email@example.com.
Welcome to Lenox Valley
Tempers Flare - as prayers become personal
The excitement in the Valley was palpable that Tuesday evening as the good folks made their way to the fellowship hall of the Methodist Church for what would soon be known as “The Debate of the Century.”
The atmosphere was similar to that of a county fair or street carnival as members of the VFW waved signs proclaiming, “Down with the Federal Reserve!” while the Ladies of the Auburn Hat Society passed out lemon cookies to children trying to hang on to their parents along the crowded walkway.
Campaign attire revealed the sentiments of those in the crowd. Raymond Cooper’s supporters proudly wore “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right” buttons, while those of “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland’s adherents proclaimed “God’s Own Man.”
Absent from the festivities were any signs of support for the Juliet Stoughton, the last-minute candidate who tricked Cooper and Bland into taking part in a debate just two days before the mayoral election. I suppose it was hardly a surprise as only a handful of Valley residents had met Juliet in the year since she moved to the Valley.
Iris Long hurriedly finished laying out Wednesday’s issue of Lennox Valley Hometown News, leaving only space for a front-page photo and story about the debate. Next to the debate story she listed the results of a just-completed poll of Valley voters under the headline, “Valley Poll Full of Surprises.”
Iris left the newspaper office and hurried over to the debate site carrying her well-worn camera and note pad. This election was the biggest story of her long career and she wasn’t about to miss the fireworks about to take place at the Methodist Church.
Neither Lennox Valley nor Springfield was big enough for a network-affiliated TV station. However, students at Spring County Community College were on hand to broadcast the debate over the local cable access channel.
Using her influence as secretary of the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce, Vera Pinrod made arrangements for Matt Pinkin, meteorologist at Channel 6 News, to travel the 60 miles to Lennox Valley to moderate the debate.
All the ingredients were present for a slugfest of historical proportions. The candidates lined the stage in three chairs, with Mayor Dick Bland in the center seat. A single podium graced the stage, blocking those along the center aisle from seeing Bland clearly. A microphone was mounted on the front of the podium connected to a portable speaker on the floor below.
Moderator Pinkin took the stage, provoking an almost deafening roar from the audience. Celebrities were rare in the Valley, although 1998 saw more than its share between TV evangelists and performers at the county fair.
As the crowd watched in silence, a coin was tossed determining who would speak first. Raymond Cooper would be first, followed by Mayor Bland, then Juliet. The moderator told each candidate to make a one-minute opening statement.
Cooper approached the podium as a sizeable portion of the audience cheered. Looking over the assembly, he paused, then asked everyone to bow their heads.
As everyone except Iris Long lowered their heads, Raymond began to pray, “Let not the foot of pride come upon me, and let not the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the doers of iniquity have fallen. They have been thrust down and cannot rise.”
His fans were beside themselves. Their champion once again was led by God to deliver a heartfelt prayer. That it came straight from Raymond’s “Book of Famous Prayers” was unknown to them.
Dick Bland was a seasoned politician. Not to be outdone, as his 60 seconds began, he also asked the audience to pray with him.
Quoting directly from Judges 15, “Silver Tongue” prayed, “Lord, I have been smitten by the jawbone of an ass.”
That’s when things began to get out of hand. Cooper supporters took the prayer personally as Bland loyalists cheered the mayor on. It was obvious the meteorologist was in over his head.
Just when it seemed that the debate might have ended before it began, the crowd hushed as Juliet Stoughton took her place behind the podium.
Kevin Slimp currently makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to Lenox Valley
Gen. Cooper gets help from Private Ryan
Undoubtedly, the two chief forms of entertainment in my hometown in 1998 were politics and church, in no particular order. If we wanted to bowl or play miniature golf, then a trip to Springfield, the county seat, was required.
Professional wrestling came to town a couple of times each year. Most of the wrestlers were from Springfield or some other nearby town, and we’d recognize them if their masks happened to slip. My favorite wrestler was “Lightning” Hugh Light.
Light was a master in the ring. Tall and wiry, he used every ounce of his 170-pound frame to outmaneuver his more sinister opponents. In April of 1998, I ran into Lightning at the Rexall drugstore in Springfield, as he filled the racks with the latest magazines.
I asked why he was putting magazines on the rack and he told me that was his job. In an instant, professional wrestling lost some of its luster and it’s never been quite the same for me since.
We did, however, have one other form of entertainment in the Valley: The Majestic Theater. With only 1,200 residents, there wasn’t enough business to keep a theater open every night, but on Friday and Saturday nights plus Sunday afternoons, the good folks of Lennox Valley could plop down $2 ($1 for children) and spend two hours escaping reality.
With only one screen, movies came and left quickly. Most movies played only one weekend at the Majestic and were replaced with a new title the following week. An exception to that rule was “Saving Private Ryan,” which was in its third week – a record in the Valley – in August 1998.
Callers to “Renderings with Raymond” had come to refer to their hero as “Gen. Cooper,” as “Saving Private Ryan” infiltrated the minds and hearts of Valley residents during the movie’s run. Cooper, having never served in the military himself, was happy to take on the honorary mantle.
“I cannot compare to the heroes in that great movie,” Raymond would say. “But like them, I’ve dedicated my life to fighting the forces of evil and destruction right here in our Valley.”
With the election just two days away, and the debate of the century only a few hours away, Cooper was in his prime during the Tuesday show.
Asked how he felt about a poll being conducted by an unknown organization in Springfield, Raymond reminded the group there were many “outsiders” who hoped to disrupt his campaign and he was sure this was another ploy by the elite media to steer attention away from the issues.
Now that egg prices were no longer discussed on Raymond’s show, no one was quite certain to which issues he referred. Whatever they were, his faithful fans wouldn’t let anything or anyone dilute their enthusiasm.
While most good folks of the Valley were glued to Cooper’s show, Iris Long was busy pasting up pages of the Lennox Valley Hometown News which would hit the stands the following day. She had already decided the main headline would relate to the debate, now only five hours away. She would have a four-column photo of the candidates behind their podiums with the main headline across the top of the page. Underneath the photo, she left plenty of space clear for a detailed report.
Other than the debate story, Iris left room for only one other piece – an article detailing the results of the just-completed survey of Valley voters. Iris wasn’t as young as she once was, and sometimes she found it necessary to stop whatever she was doing and take a breath. This was one of those moments.
While Iris thought about the huge story about to take place, Raymond used the last hour of his Tuesday show to remind listeners to consider their options wisely. He had recently begun referring to Mayor “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland as “Sliver Tongue.”
“He is as sneaky as a snake,” Cooper liked to say about his rival.
He ended the show by reminding his listeners, “It wouldn’t be right for me to use this radio platform to influence your voting decisions.” Then, after a pause, “Just vote your conscience, remembering two of the candidates in the field have no conscience.”
Kevin Slimp makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee these days. You may reach him at email@example.com.
Who’s the Valley’s favorite candidate?
Now that Sarah Hyden-Smith and Iris Long had carved out a platform for Juliet’s last-minute mayoral campaign, it was time to talk strategy.
There was no budget for an expensive ad campaign. After all, Juliet’s most menacing opponent owned the town’s only radio station, and being the ethical journalist she was, Iris couldn’t just give Juliet free space in the newspaper.
Fortunately, ministers and editors are generally skilled wordsmiths, and Sarah and Iris knew words pack a punch. As Iris saw it, their only hope was to engage Cooper and “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland in a public debate.
“Surely,” Long said while in deep thought, “there are more people in the Valley like us.”
Hyden-Smith agreed. “Most folks have just heard Juliet added her name to the ballot. They have no idea what she stands for.”
Iris concurred. “Let’s face it. There have got to be dozens – maybe hundreds – of voters who feel the same way we do. We need to let them know they have a choice.”
“But I’ve never debated,” Juliet interjected. “Do you think my inexperience will make me look foolish against two seasoned speakers?”
“You’re a smart woman, Juliet,” Sarah shot back. “That’s what will come through.”
The group knew that getting Silver Tongue to debate would be easy. He loved to speak on stage. Getting Raymond behind a podium, however, would be more difficult. It was Juliet’s idea to call Raymond the next day, during his Friday “Renderings With Raymond” broadcast, to challenge him publicly.
Juliet stayed up half the night, thinking about her call to Raymond. She would need to trick him into agreeing to a debate. Raymond was no dummy. He knew he was a clear favorite, and debates are generally meant to benefit the underdogs. Her words would be crucial.
Friday marked six days until the election. Caroline’s Beauty Salon had its usual crowd, as women of the Valley prepared to look their best for church services on Sunday.
As usual, the radio played “Renderings With Raymond,” while customers sat under hair dryers and in seats along the large window looking out over Bearden’s Corner.
At 2:20 precisely, as Vera Pinrod was about to say something concerning the evils of Harry Potter, who she had recently begun referring to as “the devil’s son,” the room grew silent as Raymond announced, “Let’s take another call.”
Juliet began her call just as she had prepared, exuding confidence, “Yes, Mr. Cooper. This is Juliet Stoughton.”
Obviously surprised, Cooper seemed more amused than concerned by her call. “Is this the same Juliet Stoughton that is alledgedly running for mayor of Lennox Valley?”
Expecting that response, Juliet was ready. “Yes it is. The very same.”
“Well, how can I be of service to you today, Juliet?” Cooper said almost coyly.
“I would like to challenge you to a debate next Tuesday night.”
“A debate?” Cooper chuckled. “Miss, I know that you are new to the complexities of campaigns, but there are only six days left until the election. I’m quite sure this last-ditch effort of yours couldn’t even be planned in such a short period.”
Juliet was ready. “Mr. Bland said you would say that.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked an obviously perturbed Cooper.
“I made the same challenge to him this morning. He said he would be happy to debate, but you would be afraid to face me on stage. He said you would probably make up some excuse about it being too close to the election date.”
“Listen here, missy,” Raymond almost shouted into the microphone. “You name the place and time, and I will be there to show you what a real mayor looks like.”
Iris and Sarah both smiled as they sat together by the radio as Juliet answered, “Tuesday night. Seven o’clock. At the Methodist Church.”
For a moment, Raymond Cooper was speechless. But just for a moment.
Kevin Slimp currently makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pre-election parties highlight candidate disparities
With seven days remaining until the mayoral “Race of the Century,” groups gathered throughout Lennox Valley to cheer on their candidates.
“Silver Tongue” Dick Bland held his campaign gala in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, where 200 supporters gathered to celebrate his upcoming victory. Red, white and blue streamers hung throughout the room, alongside photos of Bland glued to letter-size sheets of red, white and blue construction paper. All who gathered knew Silver Tongue had at least two advantages in the race. First, he hadn’t angered many good folks over the past four years, which was quite the accomplishment for an incumbent in the Valley. If it hadn’t been for the furor over egg prices and the Federal Reserve System, folks would have been hard-pressed to name any issue that divided the community over the previous four years.
Bland’s second advantage was self-evident. Everyone in the room was quite certain that God was on Dick’s side. After all, he was a loyal church-goer, with 17 years of Sunday School perfect attendance pins to show for it. With God on his side, the mayor was a shoo-in.
The gala began with a somber yet powerful prayer by the church’s pastor, Brother Billy Joe Prather. That was followed by a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” sung by the attendees and accompanied by Loraine Sutherland, First Baptist Church pianist.
Two miles away, on Highway 11, there was another celebration taking place. The VFW was the perfect spot for Raymond Cooper’s “Campaign Bash,” as he had referred to it during his radio talk show for the past five days. There were no prayers at Raymond’s celebration. There were no choirs or hymns. There were, however, tipsy veterans mixing alongside Raymond’s most fervent supporters. And, instead of hymns, the two cracked speakers in the jukebox blared “All My Exes Live in Texas.” To be fair, there were a few inebriated celebrants singing along.
Juliet Stoughton, known until recently as “Claire” to the few folks she had met in the Valley, held a less animated event than her opponents. Supported by her friend and pastor, Sarah Hyden-Smith, along with Iris Long, editor of The Hometown News, Juliet listened as the two of them discussed campaign strategy, all the while knowing her chances of winning were someplace between slim and none.
Fortunately, Iris and Sarah were able to convince Juliet not to make the annual First Baptist Church Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot an issue in the campaign. Long shared that she planned to endorse a candidate in the upcoming edition of The Hometown News, and pancakes and turkeys didn’t make for a suitable campaign platform.
Other than a story announcing Juliet’s campaign in the previous edition of the paper, there had been little notice of her candidacy. Cooper, obviously aware her chances of winning were miniscule, ignored Juliet’s campaign after initially reacting to the news when she entered the race. “Silver Tongue” seemed content to focus on his main adversary, Raymond Cooper.
With Cooper running on the slogan, “In your heart, you know he’s right,” borrowed from Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, and Bland sticking with the rallying cry from his first race, “Stand with Bland,” Juliet needed a catchy and memorable slogan, something to cause voters to recognize she was a viable candidate.
That’s when it came to her – “Vote for the egg-cellent, egg-citing candidate, Juliet Stoughton!”
“That’s funny,” quipped Sarah.
“I love it,” Iris chimed in. “It’s funny, and it reminds voters of Raymond’s involvement in the egg scandal.”
Four hours later, reading over their notes one last time, Iris declared, “It just might work.”
Meanwhile, Cooper acted as though he hadn’t a care in the world as Juliet’s troops discussed campaign strategy.
All the while, Raymond laughed and danced with his adoring fans as George Strait sang, “And that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.”
Kevin Slimp currently makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact him at email@example.com.
February 2017 Archives
Valley Clergy Unite
“Evil must be stopped,” warns Pinrod
Every fifth Friday of the month, which generally comes around about four times most years, the clergy of the Valley would gather together for lunch. Over time, the gathering came to be known as the Ministerial Alliance of Lennox Valley.
To outsiders, meaning just about anyone who doesn’t work for one of the Valley churches, the words “Ministerial Alliance” bring thoughts of important discussions concerning major theological and ethical issues. The pastors are careful to be sure the meeting is included in each of their respective church newsletters, and the good folks of the Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches can feel relief that their shepherds are guarding against any corrupt influences that might infiltrate their community.
To the clergy of the Valley, however, the Ministerial Alliance basically means a chance to have lunch together and compare notes about what’s going on in their congregations.
So it was on July 31, 1998, the ecclesiastical leaders of the community gathered together for lunch. One danger of announcing the meeting so prominently was that members of the community often requested an opportunity to address the Alliance, usually to bring to their attention some moral concern requiring their collective wisdom and guidance.
It didn’t take long for the pastors to realize the necessity of planning a “business meeting” after lunch to allow members of the community to address the group. Otherwise, the respected leaders would never be able to discuss politics, sports or other matters of great importance.
This would be the first Alliance meeting for Sarah Hyden-Smith, and she approached the date with a combination of excitement and trepidation. After all, she was the first female to enter the all-male fraternity of ministers in Lennox Valley, and she was concerned she might not be welcomed with open arms.
Sarah was pleasantly surprised by her reception. All her colleagues, even those from churches that didn’t allow female clergy, offered their sincere welcome and quickly made her feel at home.
She had considered bringing the subject of the annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot at First Baptist Church to their attention, but thought better of the idea. After all, what concern of hers was it if men wanted to have a meal together and shoot paper plates? Maybe after a year, the time would be right to address such things before the group.
Father O’Reilly was the first to welcome Sarah as she entered Betsy’s Diner on Highway 11, just north of the VFW. The group usually lunched at Betsy’s, instead of the Haufbrau, to keep the Baptists and some Methodists from getting upset at their pastors for eating at an establishment that served beer.
Most of lunch was spent discussing the upcoming election, with Father O’Reilly taking a good bit of ribbing for having the only church without a candidate on the ballot.
“Looking at the candidates,” quipped the good father, “I’m thinking I should round one up.”
Following lunch, the group began their business meeting in the “social room” at Betsy’s. The social room was a fancy name for four tables that could be separated from the rest of the diner with an accordian-style folding wall.
There was one item of business on the meeting schedule, a presentation from Vera Pinrod, representing the Auburn Hat Society.
“You might remember,” Pinrod began, “earlier this year I brought an item to your attention about a scandalous book being read by many of our children.”
Being new to the alliance, Sarah had no idea what book Vera was referring to.
“Harry Potter,” continued Pinrod, “might be the most dangerous element to prey upon our youth since Dungeons and Dragons was banned from official school activities in 1987.”
Being a fan of Harry Potter, Sarah almost giggled before catching herself.
Vera continued, “I have spoken to both Raymond Cooper and Mayor Bland, and both agree that something must be done about this menace. I’m sure you will give this issue the prayerful consideration it warrants.”
Lutheran Pastor Brother Jacob, sitting next to Sarah, leaned over and whispered, “Welcome to Lennox Valley.”
Never Before! Cooper silenced by shocking news
Raymond Cooper’s plan was simple on Wednesday as he began his daily program at noon on Talk Radio 88.3. As had become his custom, the show commenced with Lee Greenwood singing “I’m Proud to Be an American,” followed by a heart-warming prayer by Raymond.
Just a few hours earlier, as Claire sat across the booth from Sarah Hyden-Smith, sipping hot tea and memorizing the Hoffbrau’s breakfast menu, neither she nor Sarah had any suspicion this conversation would alter their friendship in so many ways.
Eventually, Claire lowered her guard enough to share something she had been hiding from her new friend. “I need to tell you something. Something really important.”
“OK,” responded Sarah in a caring tone.
She explained that her old life was much different. Before moving to the valley, she had a good job. She was involved in several community causes. Then she dropped the bombshell. “Claire is not my real name. My real name is Juliet Stoughton. Back home, everyone calls me ‘Jules.’”
After the shock wore off from her friend’s confession, Sarah asked if there was anything else she’d been hiding.
“No, just the name. I met a girl named Claire in college. She was the most confident, smartest person I’d ever met. After my ex-fiance left, I decided to use her name, hoping I could be more like her. After all, nobody knew me here. They still don’t. Well, no one except you.”
After the prayer, Raymond began a stirring discourse concerning the importance of honesty in the press. Cooper knew that by now almost every listener would have read the morning edition of Lennox Valley Hometown News, and he was none too happy about the words Editor Iris Long used to characterize his election campaign.
“Perhaps,” Cooper barked, “the alleged editor has an ulterior motive. Maybe there is more to her negativity than meets the eye.”
Raymond welcomed Farley Pucket, to the show. Pucket owned the local True Value Hardware Store and was Cooper’s biggest advertiser. Raymond knew where his bread was buttered and trusted Farley to agree with his opinion on most any subject.
“Did you get a chance to read the so-called editorial in the paper this morning?” Cooper quizzed his guest.
“I feel,” answered Pucket, “it’s the duty of every citizen to keep up with the goings-on in their community, but it’s getting harder for me to read the biased opinions of that so-called editor every week,” continued a riled-up Farley. “I’m just about ready to cancel my subscription.”
“Have you,” asked Cooper, “heard any rumors about Long planning to enter the mayor’s race?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me none,” answered Pucket. “There’s no other explanation for the way she is defaming a fine man like you.”
With that, Cooper opened the telephone line for his first caller. It was none other than Vera Penrod, secretary of the Spring County Chamber of Commerce, as well as president of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society.
After a brief introduction by Cooper, Penrod spoke in a disconcerted tone, “I just came from the county courthouse, where I was going over the list of vendors for this week’s farmers market.”
Vera stopped to catch her breath before continuing, “That’s when it happened.”
“That’s when what happened, Vera?” asked an interested Cooper.
“There was a young woman there. I’ve seen her in town once or twice. Her name was Juliet Stoughton.”
“Go on,” prompted Cooper, hoping for the kind of gossip for which Vera was best known.
“She was there to place her name on the ballot for the Lennox Valley mayor’s race. She had that new woman preacher with her.”
This might have been the first time Raymond Cooper found himself totally speechless. There was at least ten seconds of complete silence before a recorded commercial for tiller repair kits at Pucket’s True Valley Hardware began playing.
Upon his return to the air 30 seconds later, Cooper was loaded for bear. “Who is this Juliet Stoughton?”
“I wonder,” Farley chimed in, “if she could be an employee of the Federal Reserve System.”
“I smell trouble,” said a worried-sounding Cooper. “The last thing our valley needs is a tool of the media running for public office.”
Six days could shape future of the valley
These might have been the most memorable six days of my teenage years. Between Friday, July 17, and Tuesday, July 21, 1998, Iris Long had broken the egg price-fixing story wide open; Raymond Cooper had quickly devised a sinister scam to convince his listeners he wasn’t involved in the price scandal; the good folks of the valley learned one of the biggest gospel groups of all time would be playing at the county fair in just four weeks; and both Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh had publicly rededicated their lives to the Lord during the contemporary service at the Lutheran Church.
In case you are counting, that’s five days. Then there was Wednesday.
Iris Long knew Raymond Cooper’s cover story was a sham. It has been said all is fair in love and war, and Raymond had no time for love while he was still deep in the trenches of an election battle. Like any good journalist, Iris believed in the public’s right to know. She would include the facts on the front page, with her own thoughts on the Opinion page.
After writing and rewriting the lead story headline more than a dozen times, Iris finally settled on:
Cooper Lays an Egg Following Price Fiasco
Many readers didn’t wait for copies to arrive in their mailboxes later in the day. They rushed to the nearest paper box, dropped in their quarters, took a moment to absorb the headline, then read and reread every word of both the front-page story and Long’s editorial on page four.
Iris knew that most sentiments would remain unchanged. It would take more than a few words from the “biased media” for Cooper devotees to turn on their champion. Most “Raymondites,” as they had come to be called, couldn’t understand why the media, which included only the Hometown News in Lennox Valley, was so prejudiced against their faithful, humble servant.
Didn’t Iris Long realize Cooper had a profound religious experience and faithfully attended the contemporary service at the Lutheran Church each Sunday? And it wasn’t just Raymond. His example had led others, most notably Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh, to turn their lives to the Lord.
As hard as it is to imagine, there were folks in Lennox Valley who hadn’t even read the morning paper and had no idea who would be performing at the county fair.
As Claire Lapella sat across the booth from Sarah Hyden-Smith, sipping hot tea and memorizing the Hoffbrau’s breakfast menu, neither she nor Sarah had any suspicion this conversation would alter Claire’s life in so many ways.
Eventually, Claire lowered her guard enough to share her recent feelings of loneliness. Her soulmate’s memory wouldn’t go away. Every song seemed to be about him. Every TV show and movie increased her pain. Here she was, after one year, in a strange place with only one friend, Sarah, and no sense of hope in sight.
She explained to Sarah that her old life was much different. Before moving to the valley, she had a good job. She was involved in several community causes. “Claire Lapella,” she said before reducing her volume to a whisper, “made a difference.”
Jessie Orr had been a waitress at the Hoffbrau for as long as anyone could remember. She had that special talent for hearing everything without hearing anything. Along with this talent, she had the knack for knowing when to butt in and when to keep her distance. This was the perfect time to butt in, she thought.
“It says in today’s paper there’s still time for someone to get their name on the ballot for the mayor’s race.”
Neither Claire nor Sarah understood the connection to their discussion.
“You’ve been here a year. You’re obviously over 28 years old. Maybe you should consider running,” Jessie explained to her befuddled patrons.
Conversation stopped as Jessie took her time refilling the cups. Sarah and Claire paused to digest the possibility of a “Lapella for Mayor” campaign.
“You know,” said Sarah, “that might not be as crazy as it sounds.”
As Raymond, Elbert Lee and Marvin huddled together across the square at the radio station to read Iris Long’s editorial, little did they know that looming just over the horizon might be a bigger problem than a few cracked eggs.
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Write to Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soulmate memories haunt Claire Paletta
Loneliness lasts. It never completely goes away. It is the one emotion that seems to make its way into the hearts of almost every man and woman sometime during a lifetime. Sure, it can be masked. Other people and interests partially fill the void, but now and then loneliness seems to find its way back when least expected.
Claire Paletta knew all about loneliness, and for some reason, it had just dawned on her an anniversary was approaching, an anniversary she would just as soon forget. August 4, 1998, would mark one year to the day since Claire moved to Lennox Valley to be with her soulmate, Chris Rhodehouse. And as soulmates often do, Chris soon left her to be with his soulmate, a younger woman he met while attending a national leadership conference for book dealers in Des Moines, Iowa.
Claire was no stranger to loneliness. Married at 21, she found herself 32 and single with no children 11 years later. In the 12 years since the divorce, Claire had tried dating a few times. This was before computer dating became the rage, and it was a little harder to find potential suitors.
At one point, she thought she had found the one. That all changed when she learned the one she was so sure about had secretly planned a romantic cruise for two to Hawaii, and she wasn’t invited. To make matters worse, she found about the trip on her own, four days before the happy couple set sail on Hawaiian Cruise Line’s ship appropriately named “Independence.”
Claire thought she would never get over the experience, but time is a funny thing. As William Shakespeare once wrote, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
Eventually, she marked what she later called “the Hawaii event” to experience, thankful that she found out before it was too late and she was married to a man who might secretly take other women on ocean voyages.
A year later she met Chris Rhodehouse. Blond and blue-eyed with a big smile, he looked the part of a future soulmate. They met, interestingly enough, at a personal growth conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Claire was there to hear her favorite self-help guru speak on “Attracting the Positive and Deflecting the Negative.” Chris was working at a vendor’s booth, selling copies of the speaker’s latest book to excited buyers.
Fresh from a session titled “Finding Your Soulmate,” Claire stood five deep in line, waiting for her turn to buy a copy of “Colossal Steps.” She felt sure she would return two hours later when, for ten dollars, she would meet the author as he signed her just-purchased copy.
Little did she know that less than a year later, she would be packing almost everything she owned and moving to a small town three states away to be with her real soulmate. After all those years, Chris was worth the wait, or so she thought.
Claire sat in her living room, shades partially pulled so the room was a bit dark, listening to her favorite singer from her teen years:
There’s something in my eyes, you
know it happens every time
I think about a love that I thought
would save me.
While Claire thought about the past, Iris Long was busy finalizing the pages for the next day’s edition of Hometown News. After writing and rewriting the headline more than a dozen times, Iris finally settled on:
Cooper Lays an Egg Following Price Fiasco
On the Opinion page, Iris penned an 800-word editorial titled, “Is There Anyone Out There?” In paragraph three, she wrote, “Surely there is someone worthy of leading our valley into the future without lies, tricks and deceit.”
She added that Dick Bland was a “fine man,” but would have a hard time defeating Cooper.
She reminded the voters it wasn’t too late. The statute for mayoral elections allowed candidates to place their names on the ballot as late as 21 days before the election. That meant there were two days before the deadline.
“The qualifications are as follows: At least 28 years of age, no felony convictions, and a resident of Lennox Valley for 12 months.”
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
January 2017 Archives
Annual event lures stars to the valley
In 1937, Albert E. Brumley wrote a catchy gospel tune titled “Turn Your Radio On,” which was eventually recorded by dozens of artists and groups includ-ing Skeeter Davis in the 1960s and Ray Stevens a decade later.
Like many hit songs, “Turn Your Radio On” reappeared from time to time, possibly because radio stations loved playing the self-celebrating tune so much. There was a time when radio stations didn’t begin each day until sunrise, and many of those stations in small towns across America began their days with that favorite gospel melody.
While it was recorded numerous times by well-known artists, no one had a bigger hit with the song than Tangi Blevins & the Heavenly Hosts. When Tangi sang the chorus, you knew she meant every word:
Turn Your Radio On
And listen to the music in the air.
Turn Your Radio On, heaven’s glory share.
Turn the lights down low
And listen to the Master’s radio.
Get in touch with God, Turn Your Radio On.
While a lot of folks in the valley were fixated on the upcoming mayoral election, there were others who had their thoughts focused on another major August event: The Spring County Fair.
For teenagers like Mary Ann Tinkersley and myself, the fair meant getting our sheep ready for the annual FFA judging, a big milestone for small-town youth. Most of the excitement, especially among the female population, was reserved for the lineup of pseudo-celebrities who made their way through the county fair circuit each year.
Some fair headliners were bigger than others. No one will ever forget Tim Jones, the Tom Jones impersonator, who caused more than one fainting spell as he sang “She’s a Lady” in 1977.
If I tried to name the biggest star to grace the stage at the Spring County Fairground before 1998, it most likely would have been a toss-up between 1985’s Boxcar Willie, who catapulted to fame as an overalls-wearing hobo selling records during afternoon Brady Bunch reruns, and “Mr. Sound Effects” Wes Harrison in 1983.
But on Tuesday, July 21, 1998, the primary focus of attention shifted from weekend news of the spiritual rededication of Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh during the Sunday contemporary service at the Lutheran Church to the posters being hung in store windows along the town square.
Who would believe it? In just four weeks, Tangi Blevins, along with all four Heavenly Hosts, would be appearing live on stage at the county fair. This could just be the biggest star to appear at the county fair since Boxcar Willie. This surely made the 11-mile journey to the county fairgrounds worth the effort.
Raymond Cooper, thankful for anything that would temporarily divert the community’s attention away from the recent egg-price scandal, found an old 45 in the record vault left from the previous station owner. Earl Goodman, delivering mail to homes on 3rd street, noticed the tune playing as he walked past each screen door on this warm summer day:
Turn Your Radio On
And listen to the music in the air.
He thought it was odd, since Raymond Cooper generally gave his daily Federal Reserve Report at 2:45. Whatever the reason, Earl couldn’t get the song out of his head the rest of the day.
And to think – all this happened as Iris Long pasted the headline as she made the final touches to the next morning’s edition of The Lennox Valley Hometown News.
Just like most big events in the summer of ‘98, chatter about Tangi Blevins would wind down in favor of something much bigger.
Iris Long inhaled, then exhaled, as she made the final touches to the front page.
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact him at email@example.com
Helen Walker loves to scream . . .
With the news surrounding Sarah Hyden-Smith, first female pastor in Lennox Valley, and Raymond Cooper’s conversion at the Lutheran Church, one might think the other churches on the town square took a back seat during the summer of 1998. But the good Lord works in mysterious ways, and during the summer of ‘98, it was more true in the valley than in most places.
Sure, the Methodists and Lutherans might have been hogging the limelight at the moment, but it hadn’t been long since Todd Cecil, world-famous TV evangelist, graced the stage at First Baptist Church, and plans were already being made for the annual Baptist Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot.
Don’t think the Catholics were suffering from lack of attention. Unlike their Baptist brethren, the good folks at All Saints Catholic Church didn’t need celebrities or firearms to have a good time. They knew their faith, which had lasted twenty centuries, depended on tradition rather than big one-time events to keep the flames fanned. And no tradition was more important than Friday night bingo.
Yes, every Friday night most valley Catholics, as well as a good number of Lutherans and Methodists, filled the parish hall for the chance to scream, “Bingo!” and walk home with cash and other valuable prizes.
Probably no one enjoyed bingo night more than Helen Walker. Helen had been playing bingo at All Saints for as long as anyone could remember. She always showed up early, right at 4:55, and took her place on the first row, left of the center aisle.
It was important that Helen get her front row seat because, well, she couldn’t hear as well as she once did. It was all she could do to make out the faint letters being called out over the parish hall sound system. Her hearing was so bad, in fact, that almost every week she would hear some of the numbers incorrectly, thinking she had made bingo when she really hadn’t. Over time, other players began allowing Helen to think she had won, rather than go through the arduous task of explaining to her what had really happened. Anyway, most folks thought it was cute that Helen went home every week thinking she was a big winner.
Helen particularly liked the “special” games played each week. Two or three times each Friday, the caller would yell, “Catholic bingo!” and Father O’Reilly would come to the stage and pull a random card out of a box next to the caller’s microphone. Each card corresponded with a different “Catholic” version of bingo.
Helen’s favorite was “Rosary Prayer Bingo,” although she was often confused by the caller’s words. Just last week, she had confused “Glory be to the Father” with “Hail Holy Queen” and walked off with the $20 jackpot.
This was a special bingo night, as valley mayor “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland was on hand to call one game. With his roaring voice, it would be less likely that Helen would win during his game.
Showing up at bingo was a calculated risk for the mayor. He was a member of First Baptist Church, which normally gave him a distinct advantage on election day. But with the election just five weeks away, Bland found himself in the fight of his life against challenger Raymond Cooper.
Bland decided it was worth the risk, possibly upsetting some of the voters at his home church, where games such as bingo were frowned upon. He hoped his Baptist base would understand his predicament while he picked up a few votes among bingo night regulars.
On any other Friday night, Raymond Cooper would show up to disrupt the mayor’s limelight. However, this was no normal night. While the lights were bright at All Saints Parish Hall, other lights were shining down the street at the radio station as Cooper met with Marvin Walsh and Elbert Lee Jones to find a way out of the mess they had made earlier in the day when they spilled the beans about the cause of egg price inflation in the valley.
“I sense,” Raymond told his fellow conspirators, “that the Lord is about to shake up Lennox Valley Lutheran Church this Sunday like it’s never been shaken before.”
At that very moment, the excited voice of none other than Helen Walker could be heard in the distance as she shouted, “Bingo!”
Kevin Slimp, author, visits more than 150 cities each year in his travels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once again, the truth shall Set Raymond Free!
The ladies in Caroline’s Beauty Salon were on pins and needles after hearing Raymond Cooper, host of the daily radio talk show, “Renderings with Raymond,” utter the chilling words, “I have the biggest news flash in Lennox Valley history,” just after Vera Penrod announced that Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh were scurrying into the radio station across the street.
While all the good ladies in Caroline’s were getting their hair just right for Sunday services, Iris Long, editor of Lennox Valley Hometown News, was sitting down at her desk to write what might be the most important story of her career.
With four days before Hometown News went to press, Iris knew it would take a miracle for Marvin and Elbert Lee to keep the news from Cooper that Jones had just confessed to being part of an egg price-fixing scheme hatched by none other than Raymond Cooper himself.
That’s when Long heard Raymond’s announcement about the upcoming news flash. Her heart sank. She had dealt with the valley’s most prominent celebrity long before he bought the town’s only radio station and ran for mayor. Cooper was notorious for getting himself into trouble and, just as quickly, finding a way to escape the consequences of his actions.
Iris took her fingers off the keyboard and waited. There was nothing more for her to do.
Back at the radio station, the frantic atmosphere had calmed a bit. In the background, the old gospel hymn “Trust and Obey” played. Raymond had told his listening audience seconds earlier that he had been inspired by his conversation with the previous on-air guest, Brother Jacob, to play a few gospel tunes. In reality, he needed time to scheme.
A few moments earlier, as Jacob exited the station’s front door, Marvin and Elbert Lee almost knocked the young pastor over as they hurried into the lobby while “top of the hour” commercials were playing over the air.
“What has gotten into you?” blared Raymond as his winded friends caught their breath.
“Elbert Lee has gone and done it this time,” Marvin shot back. “He told that newspaper editor that you were behind the egg price deal.”
“Exactly what did he say?” asked Cooper.
Marvin answered, “He said it was ‘that radio man’s fault.’”
“That was all he said?” asked Cooper.
“Wasn’t that enough?” Walsh shot back.
Cooper told everyone to calm down. “Give me a minute to think,” he said coolly.
And think he did. Raymond always had an idea. The more trouble he seemed to get out of, the more his listening audience praised him as their champion. Cooper knew he just needed the right angle.
As the final hymn played, Raymond heard the words of the gospel favorite just as his listeners heard it, “Be of sin the double cure. Save from wrath and make me pure.”
As the final chorus of the hymn played, Raymond went over the plan one last time with the two farmers. Elbert Lee was having such a hard time staying calm that Cooper finally told him to go sit in the lobby.
Word had spread throughout the town, and more than two-thirds of the good folks of Lennox Valley were sitting by their radios waiting for the news flash.
“Welcome back, friends,” Raymond began. “I now know why the good Lord led me to play those calming tunes a moment ago. He must have known what was about to happen.”
Iris could hardly believe her ears. Just how was Cooper going to get out of this mess?
Cooper continued, “I’m siting in the studio with Marvin Walsh and Elbert Lee Jones, two respected farmers and leaders of our community. They’ve come to me, wanting to confess something to all the good folks in our valley.”
You could hear a pin drop in Caroline’s Beauty Salon as everyone listened.
“It seems,” continued Raymond, “that my prayer earlier in the show caused these two to do some real soul searching. Elbert Lee just told me they felt led to come here to tell the citizens of our community that, while largely due to issues with the Federal Reserve, they feel some responsibility for the rise in egg prices over the past two years in our community.”
Iris sank in her seat.
Kevin Slimp is a writer currently living in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Hold for breaking news ... Egg case Cracked Wide Open
I’ve always said that gossip in Lennox Valley was born in one of three places: Maxine’s weekly column called “Rumor Has It,” Raymond Cooper’s radio show, or Caroline’s Beauty Salon.
Being a Friday afternoon, every seat in Caroline’s was filled, and all the hair dryers were humming as the good ladies of the valley prepared to look their best for Sunday services. Some would call it coincidence that the women were trying to discuss Maxine’s latest installment of “Rumor Has It” as “Renderings with Raymond” was playing in the background on the ancient sound system. All three ingredients were in the mix for a gossip-fest of gigantic proportions.
There’s a tradition among gossip columnists called the blind item. When a columnist gets a juicy tip but doesn’t have a reliable source, as was often the case in “Rumor Has It,” a blind item is sometimes applied. Maxine used this technique frequently, describing in detail something that had happened to someone in the valley without revealing any names.
For example: “What single minister in Lennox Valley was seen having lunch with another ‘supposedly’ single pastor at The Hoffbrau last Monday?”
The salon was full of customers trying to discuss Maxine’s column while listening to Raymond as he concluded his second hour of programming with Brother Jacob as his guest.
“I believe we are,” exclaimed Raymond, “cut from the same cloth, Brother Jacob.” Then, after a dramatic pause, “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Jacob attempted to sputter some words, but Raymond cut him off before he had a chance. “We should do this again,” continued Raymond. “It’s a nice change to have someone with me to discuss theology.”
Not that anyone noticed besides Jacob, but his contribution to the discussion amounted to a total of three minutes and twelve seconds during the second hour of Raymond’s show. He secretly hoped he’d never be subjected to such torture again.
Vera Penrod, who was under the hair dryer closest to the window overlooking Main Street, interrupted the discussion about “Rumor Has It” as she noticed something peculiar happening across the street.
“Look at that Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh scurrying into the radio station like a couple of mice,” she said in a distasteful tone. “They almost knocked over that young Lutheran pastor. I wonder what they’re up to now.”
A hushed tone suddenly covered Caroline’s as everyone waited to hear what Raymond would have to say after the “top of the hour” commercial break. Vera broke the silence as she said, “I wonder if Elbert Lee and Marvin have some breaking news.”
Top of the hour commercial breaks generally lasted four minutes on Cooper’s show. The salon assembly couldn’t help but notice when the commercial for Massengale’s Mortuary played a second time.
Eventually, after seven minutes, Raymond returned to the air. “You know,” he uttered, “that visit with Brother Jacob has me feeling extra spiritual this afternoon. I think this would be a good time to play a few gospel songs for our listening audience so you can share in my sacred moment.”
Inside the radio studio, emotions turned frantic as Marvin explained how Elbert Lee had spilled the beans to Iris.
“Exactly what did he say?” asked Cooper.
Marvin answered, “He said it was ‘that radio man’s fault.’”
“That was all he said?” asked Cooper.
“Wasn’t that enough?” Walsh shot back.
The customers at Caroline’s listened intently as Raymond returned to the air, following “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
“Friends,” began Raymond, “I have the biggest news flash in Lennox Valley history.”
Kevin Slimp lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more about Lennox Valley at lennoxvalley.com.