Passing through Lennox Valley, any visitor might think of my hometown as a peaceful, tranquil place during the fall of 1998. It wouldn’t take long, however, to learn that life in The Valley was anything but tranquil in November of that fateful year.
Don’t get me wrong. The year 1998 had its share of high points. Celebrity appearances became almost commonplace. Between TV evangelist Todd Cecil and singing superstar Tangi Blevins, there was a lot of excitement in the air.
I’m certain no one in attendance has forgotten the appearance by wrestling legend “Cowboy” Bob Orton, who lost to Jimmy Snuka after interference by Snuka’s manager, Lou Albano, at the VFW post in February 1998.
Still there we were, just three days away from Thanksgiving with so much to be thankful for, yet Raymond Cooper somehow found a way to convince his listeners that times had never been worse for the Good Folks of Lennox Valley.
Hinting at tomorrow’s headline in his now bimonthly newspaper, The Valley Patriot, Cooper spent a good deal of airtime on Monday talking about all that was wrong in The Valley. To hear him tell the story, 1998 was undoubtedly the most dreadful year in Valley history.
“I don’t know about you, Farley,” Raymond said to his guest cohost, Farley Puckett, owner of Puckett’s True Valley Hardware Store, “but I’m not sure this town can take much more.”
Puckett, longtime friend of Cooper and sole paying advertiser in The Valley Patriot, was quick to respond.
“I couldn’t agree more!” Puckett shouted into his microphone. “The events of this past weekend pretty much sum up everything that has happened to our community this year.”
Puckett recited a list of “Valley disasters of 1998,” which he read from the back of an envelope he had picked up at the Best Western Motel in Branson, Missouri, during a family vacation in 1976. Cooper started to ask where the yellowed envelope came from, but decided not to interfere while Farley was on a roll.
“It’s like a ‘Who’s Who’ of everything that could go wrong, and it all took place in one year!” Puckett shouted.
“You’ve done a lot of serious research,” Cooper interrupted, obviously stroking the ego of his guest.
“You bet I have,” Puckett nodded before continuing. “About the only good thing that happened this year was Dale Earnhardt winning the Daytona 500 in February. After that, the whole year pretty much went on a downhill slide.”
“It was one heck of a year,” Raymond chimed in, almost as if rehearsed.
“First, the Methodists decide to get a woman preacher, then a woman decides to run against you for mayor, then those two get together to try to ruin the most sacred annual event in our town.”
Raymond jumped in, “You’re talking, of course, about the men’s breakfast at the Baptist church.”
“You’re darned tootin’, I am,” Puckett shot back before stopping to apologize to the listening audience for using such offensive language.
“So,” said Raymond, taking command of the conversation, “what you’re saying is that just about all of the problems in our beloved Valley this year have been caused by the so-called ‘newspaper editor,’ Iris Long, and her minions.”
“That’s right!” Puckett answered. “And I’ll tell you something else. She’s at it again.”
“What do you mean?” Cooper asked, sounding as innocent as possible.
“I mean,” Puckett shot back, “now she’s making up this whole ‘A.J. sighting’ story to get people all worked up so they will forget everything she has done this year.”
“So you don’t believe that was A.J. walking through the Methodist playground 10 days ago?”
Farley was quick to answer. “No, I don’t. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Barry Jarrell the other day, and he told me he took a stroll through that very playground on that very evening. I’d bet money it was Barry, alright. That Bascomb Finch had probably started his Friday night drinking early when he said it was A.J. that he saw.” After pausing to let the idea sink in among listeners, Farley continued, “And that newspaper editor and preacher woman are getting half the town all stirred up believing it was A.J.”
At Frank’s Barber Shop, Frank Bell and Sarah Hyden-Smith were sharing a boxed lunch from the Hoffbrau and listening to Farley’s rant on the radio.
Looking at Sarah, Frank spoke, “How can you be so calm when that loudmouth is talking about you that way?”
“Let him talk,” Sarah answered as she smiled. “He’s just digging a deeper hole for himself.”
“What are you talking about?” her friend asked. “What hole?”
Sarah answered, “Let’s just say we’ve got a little surprise for Raymond Cooper and Farley Puckett.” After a short pause, she added, “Yes, a very nice surprise.”
Visit www.LennoxValley.com to learn more about the Good Folks of Lennox Valley. Writer Kevin Slimp is a Johnson City native known for his expertise in publishing technology. “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” is fictionally based on people he has met in years of travel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.