Thursday, February 3, 2011

Meet Me at the Olive Bar

Recently, I had occasion to look up North Carolina law on cyberstalking (NC General Statutes 14-196.3).

Herbert Hyde, on the dust jacket

But the subject of today's story is what I found when I turned the page to NCGS 14-197:

If any person shall, on any public road or highway and in the hearing of two or more persons, in a loud and boisterous manner, use indecent or profane language, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. The following counties shall be exempt from the provisions of this section: Pitt and Swain.

I already knew a little about this law and a legendary speech delivered by Swain County native Herbert Hyde in 1973. A colorful and brilliant attorney, Hyde was representing Buncombe County in the NC House when the proposal was made to drop the exemptions for Swain and Pitt.

Hyde’s oratorical skill was already well-known thanks to his propensity for peppering speeches with quotes from Shakespeare and the Bible. So the room went quiet when Herbert Hyde rose to defend the exemptions. In his own words, “there ought to be a refuge somewhere a man could go and that when he really is provoked he could say something with impunity."

His eight-minute speech was so popular that he released a recording of it during his 1976 run for lieutenant governor. In the past, I had gone looking for the recording (or at least a transcript) and had come up empty. However, NCGS 14-197 made headlines last month after an Orange County Superior Court judge declared it unconstitutional when a Chapel Hill woman was prosecuted under the law.

In the aftermath of that decision, several journalists recalled Herbert Hyde’s speech and the wonderful UNC Library has posted the recording. It really is a classic. A few excerpts:

My great uncle Fide Hyde told me that any man who had to work around a mule ought not to try to be a preacher because he’s bound to cuss….

You can’t cuss in Cherokee. Cherokee is a beautiful, romantic language. It has no harsh percussive sounds in it. The only letter where you have to close your lips in Cherokee is the letter “M” so you can talk all day and smile. You know, give the other feller a rough time, but you can smile the whole time….

This act is obviously unconstitutional, no question about it. But the fine folks in Swain wouldn’t want me to stand on that kind of technicality and I’m not going to do that….

We’re sacrificing the good name of a great county here by even suggesting that these people are going to get out on the streets and highways and in a loud and boisterous voice use indecent and profane language. Shakespeare once said, if I can quote it correctly, he says, “Who steals my purse steals trash. 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed." Now Swain County is a poor little county. It’s got very little left, nothing except its liberty and if you should take that away, and if you should filch from her her good name, she would be poor indeed.

Mr. Speaker, I say to this General Assembly, do not heap this indignity upon her fair head. Let her stand once again and lift her head in pride. Let her go forth even as an innocent woman in virtue, unsullied, unharmed and undamned by this iniquitous bill.

Reading the obituaries for Herbert Hyde, who passed away in 2006, I came across a quote he used in his campaign speeches:

I was born in a log cabin that I built with my own hands.

Writer Thad Stem once said that Hyde had "the eyes of Will Rogers and the tongue of Mark Twain."

In another obit, I learned that he attended Western Carolina University where he was student body president and editor of the college newspaper. I can’t help but reflect on how times have changed. There was a day when a country boy from Swain County might have found a hospitable setting for achieving his potential. But these days, I have to wonder if that same opportunity exists at WCU. I’m guessing some of the comments I read on a local website come from faculty members of that institution. If not, it’s an all-too- familiar attitude you hear from far too many folks who have moved to this community in recent years, including some of those at WCU. I hear this kind of stuff on a daily basis and it has worn thin, as far as I'm concerned. You might find it hard to believe, but the whine-and-cheese crowd of whom I speak in this instance has gotten its collective shorts in a wad over the fact that our community fails to offer one of the essentials of a civilized existence. And what is this crime against sophistication and good taste? What is the evidence of our gauche backwater's unbearable inadequacy?

"Our local supermarket doesn’t provide…

…an olive bar!"

I’d tell you what I really think of that. But, unfortunately, it’s still illegal to cuss in Jackson County.


More links:


Henry Roeland Byrd said...

It is an outrage you know, we don't have an olive bar and those damn locals can't even teach their hunting dogs to read no trespassing signs. And while I'm at it, I did not build my beautiful "green" faux log cabin house out here in the woods just so some asshole could build a house that I could see. I thought we had ordinances that prevented my view being disrupted.
Yep, I moved here to get away from somewhere else and before I'm through I'm going to insist that this is going to be just like everyplace else. And I'll buy the first round at Moe's Southwest Grill when we get the community we came here for.

GULAHIYI said...

Which would be a greater jewel in our crown...
An olive bar?
Or an Olive Garden?
I can dream, can't I?

Nebry Roeland Byrd, PHD, MD said...

Why stint? We can have it all. This is paradise, the locus of the great Charlanta Megalopolis. If you build it they will come and we, dear friend and astute observer of the inane and unutterable, are centrally located. Why did you know that there are plans to recreate all the amenities of the famous Oxford (England not Mississippi) campus right here on our very own Millennial Dreamscape? What we need is vision or at least a grand ego, er hero with vision, say someone like our own inimitable PT Bardo. A man like that could bring us a town center. Really, trust him, just sign on the dotted line and Olive gardens, bars, perhaps even pits shall be grown among us - from the tiniest mustard seed as they say.
Think as big as the mountains that surround us and soon they shall seem small, mere foothills to our ability to conceive a bigger, greater, better, amenity filled quality of life that befits our location at the center of the Universe.

GULAHIYI said...

I'm such an uncouth hick, they won't even let me into Ashvegas anymore. So I have to be content with what is.

I wonder if anyone remembers the old ad campaign they used to promote the Paris of the South:

"I got it in Asheville."

Of course, all that accomplished was to launch a slew of STD jokes.

Actually, I just checked and the Asheville Merchants Association has allowed its license on that slogan to expire, so why not recycle it?


I wonder if it would work any better here than it did in AVL?

Dr. Max Rebbeneck said...

Or perhaps an ad campaign based on:
I got the Whee! I got the Whee!

I'm thinking a revival of the Wizard of Oz cast with the yellow brick road prominently featured. Maybe the council of Forest Hill could reprise the Lollipop Guild.

And never mind Asheville. Like the comedian and watermelon pounder Gallagher said about somewhere else:
It's like a bowl of granola, what ain't fruits and nuts is flakes.

Anonymous said...

As a WCU professor, thanks for this post. I'll be using the excellent Herbert Hyde clip in my rhetoric classes. That's a gem.

In fact, this whole post makes me feel damned proud. (comment typed in Swain county)

-Nate Kreuter

GULAHIYI said...

Glad to hear it. WCU has a long and respected tradition of service to the people of the mountains. Some of us hate to see that shortchanged in the headlong rush to provide the commercial amenities that Dr. Bardo seems to think are essential to making the university "competitive" in the 21st century.

Henry Roeland Byrd said...

Dr. Madison had a vision of a school in the mountains for the people of the mountains. In his poems he often extolled the humble virtue of the mountain people, not from a position on high but as acknowledgment that we lacked neither talent nor intellect but opportunity.
It is a shame that Dr. Bardo's greatest legacy may be that he brought division and separation. WCU became enamored with everywhere and everyone else and in doing so created a sense of being apart from the communities that gave it both life and mission.
Herbert Hyde may have used that old mountain phrase: getting above one's raising, to describe the last fifteen years.
My friend Mr. Hicks perhaps says it best:

How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?