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JIM: The Wit & Wisdom of Adair County's Melvin L. White

By JIM

Adair County native Melvin White's long, loquacious, and and always entertaining letters, replete with pointed comments and wry observations greatly tempered with humor and self-effacement, frequently graced the pages of the Adair County News during the opening decades of the 20th century. Often as not, his barbed wit could have held it own with that of Adair County's most famous grandson of the shire.

A missive he penned in his long-since adopted home of Larimore, No. Caro. on November 9, 1915 was published in the next week's edition of the paper. It contained several gems of the first water, among them the following examples:


On the topic of enemies, friends, and forgiveness (or the lack thereof):

"[A]ll the sophistry of moralists can not cause me to forgive an impenitent enemy. I could fight a man in sudden heat and make friends; but a deliberate and premeditated injury, the laws of neither God nor man can make me paliat [sic; palate?] or condone, the difference between me and some other people is that they claim to forgive and I don't." On the topic of being beholden (or not):

Mention of his old chum Philip Voils led to Melvin to the recollection of an anecdote involving Philip's father, the then well-known and still well-remembered herbalist (or yerbalist, as those of his era called the profession), Dr. William Voils. It seems that the good Dr. wanted to buy three pigs of Oscar Pile, a prominent citizen of the community. After the pigs were caught and tied, Dr. Voils asked the price. Mr. Pile, knowing the doctor cobbled on the side, replied, "I'll not be hard on you. Just take the pigs along and I'll let you pay for them in shoe-making and mending. I like to encourage an enterprising man." Upon hearing that, Dr. Voils, employing his favorite by-word, heatedly replied, "Well rot take it, untie 'em. I'll pay you fur the pigs an' you pay me fur my work. Rot take it, I own no man, an' never intend to." On his failure to visit an old teacher during a recent trip to Kentucky, and a comment about himself:

"It was with sincere regret that I failed to see Miss Sallie Stewart, one of my best teachers. She doubtless regards me as a poor exponent of her skill, but so far I have managed to escape the penitentiary and the poor house, which is some cause for celebration." On the futility of writing for the humorless (complete with a sly, whistling-past-the-graveyard-in-the-dark literary reference):

"A joke never appeals to a man who regards a face long enough to wear a bridle as an evidence of exalted piety. Such people regard humor as a piece of sad news; and irony, metaphor, hyperbole and allegory strike them as relentless facts...For this class no writer can afford to waste his sweetness on the desert air."


This story was posted on 2015-11-12 11:11:49
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