Whittle: The road less traveled


Do you have remarkable friends who took roads in life less traveled?

Meet the late A.J. Neel, who invented the "farm road wave code" of my youth.

It was rare for a stranger to motor down our dusty farm lane, but when they did, A.J. instructed "younguns" up and down our farm road to "Wave at 'em, for farm folks are known to be friendly folks."

A simple index finger "wave" was usually ample for strangers venturing down our road in a cloud of dust.

If A.J. actually knew the "passing through" person, he instructed us to give a little "extra wiggle" of the index finger.

But it was another "finger" that A.J. reserved for "damn Republicans" who had the audacity to come on our road. I thought "damn Republicans" was one word until I was about 15 years old.

Cannon County native son C.L. Vickers took roads less traveled ...

One of life's highest, but saddest honors came when I was asked to eulogize the country weather prognosticator not long after he was baptized at his favorite Baptist Church.

Have you ever met someone you instantly liked? I first spied C.L. Vickers and wife, Sandy, as they sat on the Courthouse steps in Murfreesboro one Fourth of July.

No sooner had I walked up to C.L. to introduce myself, when this broad-framed man, in his patented overalls featuring no shirt, proclaimed: "You're an agitator and trouble-maker, ain't cha!!" To which, I replied: "Takes one to know one."

From there, a cherished friendship evolved. I later learned that C.L. was locally famous for forecasting garden-growing seasonal weather conditions by the signs of nature.

The following is one of Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick's favorite C.L. stories: "Reporter Whittle had interviewed C.L. in my office for that springs' weather forecast for growing garden vegetables. When the reporter laid down his pad and pen, he asked C.L. if that weather forecasting stuff was a bunch of B.S.? To which, C.L. replied: "Yes sir, but I only get to B.S. one day a year in the newspaper ... you get to do it 365 days a year. That ended the interview."

I was with C.L. one cool, fall morning, when a farm neighbor named Jernigan inquired if C.L would sell him 10 pounds of potatoes: "Yeah, but I'm not about to cut one of my taters, for a mere 10-pounds."

My favorite C.L. story: C.L. called me on the phone after being off work for several weeks due to my hip-replacement surgeries in 1995. "Mr. Whittle, I know you've been off work because of two surgeries, and I've gone around our community, and took up a little collection of money, from some farmers and some logging men."

I replied I was making it OK financially, but out of curiosity I asked how much money he was talking about.

"It's just a little over $2,000, and it ain't no loan," C.L. confirmed.

I didn't need the cash, but I never forgot the offer. None of my blood-kin had offered to help out during my sick days.

The late Dr. Leon Reuhland journeyed roads less traveled. Although a medical man, he was best friends to statewide law enforcement professionals.

"I've never known anyone more supportive to police authorities than Dr. Reuhland," confirmed retired Cannon Courier Publisher Andy Bryson.

"Leon Reuhland stood up for fair law enforcement," former Rutherford County Sheriff Truman Jones credited on his radio talk show.

Doc Reuhland was a stranger to me back in 1993, when he called my newspaper office phone, complaining he could not get adequate and timely medical treatment for veterans at either the York VA or Nashville VA hospitals.

"Would you meet me at York VA, as a reporter?" Doc Reuhland requested. "I called the VA last night, and they would not take one of our very sick veterans."

Needless to say, the VA bureau cats displayed high anxiety, upon learning a reporter was there taking notes about the shabby examples of non-treatment Doc Reuhland was describing on behalf of multiple ailing military veterans of our community.

After we did a front page story, Doc Reuhland diagnosed: "All of my veterans are getting good and prompt care at the VA now that we put it out in the newspaper."

Dr. Leon Reuhland served for more than 20 years as coroner of Cannon County. He never took one cent in salary. He was that kind of public servant.