I’ve been interacting with the public a long time, and I am always amazed at what might strike a chord with people.
For instance, I have written more than 3,000 columns for this publication and covered a wide range of topics — from the ridiculous to the sublime. I’ve written about royalty and presidents and beggars on the street; the rich and poor and everyone in between, and still, when I talk to people, the column that has gotten the most response — by far — is one I wrote 20 years ago. It was about the Goat Man, Ches McCartney, who for nearly 50 years roamed the continental United States in an old wagon, tending his herd of goats, camping along the highways and byways of this land, preaching the gospel and entertaining all who came to visit his rustic camps.
McCartney died in a Macon nursing home in 1998. He was close to 100 years old and claimed 106.
So, Donald Trump has not been my most widely read subject, nor has Jimmy Carter or Vince Dooley or even Winston Churchill. Nope. The Goat Man. Go figure.
Now I told you that to tell you this.
My former principal, Greg Fowler, introduced me to Facebook more than a decade ago. I wasn’t really very technologically oriented and withstood his suggestions that I create an account for a long time, but he was persistent and finally convinced me to take the plunge. He was right. I became addicted almost instantly.
Over the years I have made thousands of posts on thousands of topics and created thousands of friends and a few enemies, which are easy to take care of because Facebook has a block button. I lose a lot of Facebook friends during election years and football season, and religious topics create a lot of controversy, too. But I never try to state anyone else’s opinions, only my own, so it’s all good.
But this past weekend I really hit a nerve because a simple off-handed remark generated hundreds of replies. The response was quite shocking, actually.
The simple question I posed was this. “Who knows what a doodle bug is and remembers how to call one up?”
I never knew so many people used to play under houses!
I knew that I did, of course. All the houses in Porterdale were set up on brick pillars back when I was a kid, and none were underpinned. On a hot summer day or when it was raining, under the house was the perfect place to play. We could escape the harsh Georgia sun or stay dry. There are probably hundreds of little green plastic army men buried in the red dirt under 36 South Broad St., and some day in the distant future archeologists will be befuddled by what they will find as they dig away layers of clay.
And that cool oasis seemed to be a haven for doodle bugs, which burrowed into the ground into a little funnel, leaving a slightly raised circle of dirt as evidence of their path. We spent hours sitting in the dirt with a piece of broom straw, stirring around in the little hole, chanting “Doodle bug, doodle bug come out of your hole. Your house is on fire and your children are gone.”
At least that was how I remembered the verse. I learned from my Facebook posts that there were several variations but, as I said, was amazed at the number of people who had tried to entice them to the surface.
The mention of doodle bugs elicited a plethora of memories from a simpler time. Someone recalled trying to entice Billie bees by chanting, “Billie, Billie light on my finger.” This memory, of course, caused someone else to remember tying a string to a June bug’s leg and watching it zoom around in circles, and another friend moved the conversation away from the anthropoid phylum and onto the topic of shooting marbles, which was another activity that could be done under the house or out in the open if the weather permitted.
My mama always knew when I had been shooting marbles because the knees of my overalls were caked in red dirt. She always warned me that I had better not play “keepsies,” and I always swore I didn’t, but I sometimes did.
Yes, you never know what will cause a reaction in people, and as we are now in the 2020s there will be plenty of divisive topics to cover in the coming year. I am glad that we can start it off with memories of doodle bugs and Billie bees and such. But I can’t help but wonder what the Goat Man would have to say about the state of society if he were able to camp out on the side of the road and have a word with us.
Happy New Year, y’all. Thanks for being with us.