Friday, April 30, 2004

You hear a lot of folks talk about the good old days when a man's word was his bond and you could do business by a handshake. When I was a teenager I paid lip service to that concept, even though I didn't really understand it completely until I saw it in action a few years later.

There is an old farming family here in the county that owns quite a bit of property left over from the old days when they had crops other than subdivisions. They own several hundred acres of wooded ground right across the ridge from me. Back about fifteen years ago, they put the property on the market and a company from up north was looking to buy to put it some sort of waste handling facility. This was in the days before zoning in the county and one could have a single-wide beside a mansion and a chicken house beside an elementary school (note: that last item is what finally brought us zoning).

Some of the neighbours were rather upset at the prospect of dodging garbage trucks on narrow roads that had been dirt just a few years earlier and still weren't what they needed to be to handle that kind of traffic.

And of course you had the inevitable shit-stirrers and malcontents (including at least one jack-leg preacher) who liked to kick up a fuss. Someone put out the word that the company that wanted to buy the property was not only a bunch of Yankees, but they were also owned by the Mafia and they were also going to be handling toxic waste...

Naturally this caused even more agitation in the community.

Someone finally had the bright idea to get the community together to talk about it at a nearby church. Evidently no one had thought to go to the property owners and ask them what exactly was going on.

They held the meeting on a Saturday night and the little church was packed. I went, out of curiosity mainly, to see what all the fuss was about. I personally didn't give a rat's ass who they sold the land to. I figured if it was a dump it didn't matter anyway because of how the land lays (an entire little valley betwixt two hog-back ridges) and besides, it might keep the property taxes down if it depressed the land values in the area.

I also look at land like this, as long as I'm not making nerve gas or bubonic plague and testing it on the neighbourhood kids I think I should be able to do anything I want within reason on my property.... not that I would put up a tittie bar next to an elementary school, but you get my drift.

I listened for a while to the aforementioned malcontents and shit-stirrers as they stood behind the pulpit and denounced the property owners, the prospective buyer and just about anything else that they could while they had an audience. They were well on the way to working the crowd up into a lynch mob.

When one of the speakers finally slowed down enough to take a breath, a man came forward from the back of the church and approached the pulpit. This Gentleman was one of the property owners. Someone had been smart enough to call him and tell him what was going on, so he slipped down to hear what was being said.

He came forward and began to speak to this angry, pissed-off crowd who were about ten minutes away from the pitchfork and lantern stage and I saw the most amazing thing.

The crowd calmed down. Even the malcontents seemed embarrassed as he quietly and calmly spoke to the crowd. I do not recall his exact words, but he reassured people. After he spoke for a few minutes, an elderly gentleman in the church got up and left. I was standing near the back door and I asked him why he was leaving. I thought he was leaving because he was mad. He told me that he'd heard all he needed to hear, that JC (the property owner) had given his word (that the buyers were not a Mafia owned toxic waste company) and that was all he needed to hear.

A few more people started to leave, for pretty much the same reason I assume (I'm not positive all of them left for that reason because I did not speak to everyone), but everyone seemed to be contented when they left.

He talked for about fifteen minutes and by the time he left, everyone was satisfied except for a few red-faced instigators who stood around and muttered as the crowd dispersed.

What I carried away that night was seeing that a man's reputation for honesty and fair dealing had headed off a lot of ill-feeling and legal bullshit... all because he was (is) known as a man of his word. So I figured out that having a reputation for honor and honestly is worth more than a pocketfull of lawyers.... at least to people who respect such things these days.

oh, and for what it's worth, all of the turmoil was over nothing. The deal fell through about a month later.