Good day. My name’s John, but for any and all practical purposes here within the sheets of Around Paintsville you may refer to me simply as the Common Tater. I’ve always been interested in reading and keeping up with newspaper columnists of the Kentucky variety, the favorites of my youth being Allen Trout and Joe Creason of the Louisville Courier-Journal—both of whom, incidentally, were themselves inspired by Henry Arrowood, a Johnson County writer who made good in the same periodical. I doubt that I’ll ever attain the accomplishments of these three men, but it still feels worth trying, and perhaps I can have a little fun along the way.
Why “The Common Tater”? Well, why not? When the idea of writing a column for Around Paintsville was first suggested to me I thought about calling myself “The Mouth of Muddy Branch” in honor of the creek where I did most of my growing up, but another local writer whom I admire greatly sort of has the Muddy Branch franchise, and he’s earned it entirely. Then I thought of “The Mouth of Greasy Creek” for the community where my wife—let’s call her Sweet Tater—and I raised our two Tater Tots, but it’s only right that Henry Arrowood should keep the laurels for the Boons Camp and Williamsport and Offutt communities. He had no less than three preacher brothers, and thus a lot of stories to tell. “The Mouth of Miller’s Creek,” one watercourse over from Greasy where I went a-courtin’ one time—well, let’s just say that one’s Sweet Tater’s purview. Then I considered “The Mouth of Burnt Cabin,” the little branch just down the hill from where I presently reside, but after all the highway construction of the past century who really knows where or what Burnt Cabin Branch is anymore? In most people’s minds nowadays it’s “that little bitty creek across on the other side of Starfire Hill that runs along 321 and 1428,” and it’s been shifted so many times to accommodate asphalt there’s no way to tell where its original bed was. Sort of like Town Branch in Lexington, or, for that matter, the Fleet River in London. You can’t stop progress, though sometimes, at least in some aspects, you’d like to.
So I had to think of something else. Larry Webster’s already got the copyright for “Red Dog,” so unless I wanted to call myself “Red Horse” after the chewing tobacco “The Common Tater” was about all I had left. Still, as common a tater as I might be, I’ve come to realize that being a common tater isn’t really so bad. The real harm in this world is done not so much by the common taters as it is by the specked taters. Everybody around here knows that specks signal the beginnings of rot on a tater, and the specked taters of this world are those who go through life complacently, simply trying to skate all the way, never speaking out in any form to improve the lot of their neighbors or make any real difference in the world around them and passing out of life as if they’d never even been in it in the first place. What’s the point, if you can’t make a positive difference? And that’s the common tater’s duty—to try to get the specked taters to scrape the specks off themselves, use their eyes (and yes, even a specked tater has them), and maybe—just maybe—do a little growing, even when the specked taters might accuse a common tater of throwing verbal fertilizer at them.
Again, good day and welcome. In this common tater patch I’ll try to feature a little local history and political science along the way, though of a nonpartisan form and with the gentle reminder that, regardless of ideology, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it; a bit of philosophy, albeit not of the long-haired complicated variety; a touch of religion, but not very much of the organized type because I’ve always believed that it’s better for us to have questions that can never be answered than answers that can never be questioned; and throughout, hopefully, some amusement. I’d like to think that you could find something in this tater patch, sooner or later, that you’d want to dig up and take home with you. So it’s past April already, and nearly Vine Day. Time to get this tater patch out.