Kevin Slimp: Lennox Valley: Battle of the sexes: Good folks get serious over song poll

By Kevin Slimp

Syndicated Columnist

In a small town like Lennox Valley, residents find entertainment in ways that would seem foreign to someone growing up in the big city. Sure, we had clubs, like the Auburn Hat Society, and church-related events, but our entertainment wasn’t limited to these activities.

As editor of Hometown News, Iris Long liked to do her part. One way she did this was through her Weekly Readers’ Poll.

The subjects of her polls could include just about anything. Sometimes it was something as innocent as “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” Other weeks it was downright controversial, like the time Iris posed the question, “Do you think egg price inflation is related to the Federal Reserve System?”

This issue of Hometown News included more than enough serious stories. With the controversy surrounding the annual men’s breakfast and turkey shoot, along with the possible appearance of A.J. Fryerson a few nights earlier, Long felt a bit of levity would be good for her fellow citizens.

On Tuesday, as she sat at her desk contemplating the topic for the weekly poll, her primary objective was to come up with a question to amuse her readers. She considered:

• What is the funniest movie you’ve seen this year?

• How many donuts could you eat at one sitting?

• What is your favorite in-state vacation spot?

She contemplated something about the favorite menu item at the Hoffbrau, but didn’t want to risk the possibility that “beer” might earn a place on the list. As the only restaurant in town serving alcohol, Iris realized it was a possibility.

Eventually, she settled on a poll question that was sure to provide amusement, as well as good memories, to many of her friends in The Valley: “What is the best love song of the past 35 years?”

Iris felt certain there would be a lot of votes for “Unchained Melody,” by the Righteous Brothers, and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” by Percy Sledge. What she didn’t expect was any controversy arising out of her innocent poll question. One would think, by October 1998, she would have known better.

You may be surprised to learn it’s sometimes difficult to find exciting stories to fill the pages of a small town newspaper each week. This week was an exception. Iris had a difficult time determining which would be the main story on Page 1. It would be hard to discount the possible sighting of A.J. Fryerson the previous Friday night. However, the controversy surrounding Saturday’s competing breakfasts directly affected a good portion of the population.

When the paper came out on Wednesday, the front page was divided in half with a thick, 3-point line running the entire length of the broadsheet page. The A.J. story filled the left half of the page. A story about the competing breakfasts filled most of the right half of the page. The only front page item, other than these stories, was a small box underneath the breakfast story with the headline, “Weekly Readers’ Poll.”

The Internet hadn’t made a huge dent in The Valley by 1998, so Iris collected responses to the poll in a box at the reception desk of Hometown News. Folks would drop by at their leisure — deadline was noon on Monday — and leave their responses.

By Friday, Caroline’s Salon was buzzing with hair dryers and chatter as Valley women prepared to look their best for Sunday services. For weeks, A.J. Fryerson had been a primary topic of discussion, but the story of his possible appearance took a back seat to the Weekly Readers’ Poll.

After much discussion, it was decided that everyone present, other than Ellie Jarrell, who had already placed her vote in Iris’s box, would cast their ballots for “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” an almost 30-year-old song by Lynn Anderson.

Earl Goodman stirred those assembled at the VFW hall later that evening, when he shared that the women of The Valley were conspiring to fix the weekly poll by selecting a “feminist” song with the theme “men don’t try hard enough.”

Frankly, only a handful of members remembered the song from 1970, but it didn’t take much to get tempers flaring in my hometown in 1998. After two hours of heated debate, the assembly agreed to cast all of their ballots for Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”

Never mind the song, recorded in 1968, was really about overlooking men’s faults, the men of the VFW were giddy with excitement, thinking the song held the perfect message for the women who were trying to “fix” the weekly poll.

It was common knowledge Iris kept office hours on Saturday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. As she worked on the paper, she was surprised, pleasantly at first, by the number of townfolk stopping by to drop their votes into the poll ballot box.

At 12:05, Long locked the front door and peeked at a few ballots. She quickly realized what was happening as almost every slip had either “Stand By Your Man” or “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” written on it.

Leaning back in her weathered leather seat, Iris sighed, then whispered, “Oh, brother. I’ve done it again.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original idea for “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” by Kevin Slimp came while visiting with a friend from the small town of Lennox, S.D., several years ago. For five years, Slimp jotted ideas concerning the folks who lived in his fictional home town and eventually put those ideas into stories. Share your thoughts with Candy Allan via email at callan@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8386.

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