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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Teddy Bear and an angel

Never been to Greenville, Miss., but every time I hear of this town, known as “The Heart of the Delta,” I chuckle aloud because of a joke I heard years ago.

Last weekend, I was reading from a favorite magazine, “Garden and Gun,” and there was a reference to Greenville in one of the many stimulating stories the magazine seems to engender as routinely as azaleas bloom in springtime.

The reference sent me to Wikipedia with the objective of learning more about a town which is the centerpiece of a clever joke which we will get to later.

The Internet confirms that Greenville is a little over two hours from Memphis. It is located by the mighty Mississippi and was named after Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War hero.

Greenville was destroyed by the siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War, but the citizenry would not remain defeated. Like the Phoenix, Greenville rose from its ashes to flourish again. Greenville is the home of, among others, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hodding Carter; Mary Wilson, who sang with “The Supremes,” author Shelby Foote and Frank White, the big league baseball player.

An incident in Greenville gave us the Teddy Bear. When President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid and accomplished outdoorsman, journeyed to Greenville in 1902 to hunt at the invitation of Gov. Andrew Longino, he didn’t enjoy initial success. Other hunters in the party had killed an animal, but Roosevelt was scoreless which prompted members of Roosevelt’s party to take action. Joining them was an African American Holt Collier of Greenville. They chased down a black bear, clubbed him defenseless and then tied the bear to a willow tree.

Roosevelt was invited to make a kill, but refused, claiming that such a deed would be unsportsmanlike. Roosevelt ordered the bear to be put out of his misery. This led to a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman of the Washington Post and led to the origin of the “Teddy Bear.”

You could say that Greenville has had an interesting history, and I am happy that the advent of the Internet allowed for a quick familiarity of this town of more than 42,000 population.

Now for the story which started all this.

Seems that there were two rednecks, who had grown up as friends, but had become separated when one left town to start a life in a distant city. In the by and by, when they met on the street corner, they initiated small talk as small town Southerners are wont to do.

“Man, how ya doin’”, the first one began the conversation. “Doin’ all right, doing all right,” was the reply.

“It’s been 14 years since you and I seen one another,” the local redneck advanced.

“Yep,” said the second. “It’s been ever bit of 14 years since we seen each other.”

The small talk continued unabated, and the first one asked, “Are you married?”

The reply: “Oh, yeah, I’m muchly married.”

Next question, “How many chilren you got?”

“Man I got 14 chilren.”

This prompted an exclamation from the questioner. “Fourteen children, my goodness. What kind of wife you got anyhow?”

“Oh man, I got an angel for a wife.”

This response ended the conversation, “Man, you sho’ lucky. Mine’s still livin.’”

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