THE IDLE AMERICAN: Friends Will Rogers never met

Will Rogers—a long ago American favorite whose gentle humor and keen observations made a world smile often, and sometimes even think—claimed he never met a man unworthy of his liking. Dying too soon in a 1935 plane crash, this gift to America from the Oklahoma Territory would have included women, too, had he not lived in an age of unbridled chauvinism.
Caught in the jaws of the Great Depression, we needed him. He was “everyman,” always on level ground with the rest of us.
I wish he’d known my Alabama friend, Allen Fonde. Ole’ Will would have included him on his list of special friends, even if on a chance encounter. Fact is, Fonde reminds others of Rogers. Allen isn’t profound, never was on the stage, hasn’t starred in movies and his name isn’t a familiar one.
Maybe Allen is like Will because he’s “beyond laid back.” He has a disarming smile, is slow to speak, doesn’t argue about Alabama/Auburn football games and “lays low” when contentious political arguments arise.
Wait. I’m leaving out important facts, some mighty important ones. He’s fair-minded, master of barbecuing and is a world-class granddad.
Wouldn’t most of us like to have such a reputation?
First things first: On the matter of fairness, he’s the kind of partner to look for if one wanted to get in the cattle business, starting with a couple of cows.
If one failed to come to the barn at day’s end, he’d likely say, “You’re the lucky one. Your cow came home, and mine didn’t.”
How’s that for fairness?
As to barbecue, Allen is open-minded, having turned out tons of both beef and pork. Fact is, he doesn’t blink if church, youth camps and high school groups ask him to prepare feeds for a thousand folks or more.
“Why shouldn’t I?” he chuckles, “I’ve got plenty of pits and some of ‘em on wheels.”
Most Southerners have little truck for beef barbecue. I realized such years ago in Birmingham, where a hotel movie channel ran the movie Babe continuously.
Trumping all else, however, is his kindly manner in dealing with children in general and his nine-year-old grandson Will in particular. (This youngster is NOT related to Will Rogers, but his middle name, Allen, honors his granddad!)
At a Christmas family reunion, Allen took off his belt, as if preparing to administer licks to Will. “This here is my AT&T belt,” he drawled. “It can reach out and touch someone.” Will, of course, knew he was joking.
“Pudding-proof” of this grandfather/grandson relationship: When Will was baptized in the family lake a while back, it was a given that Allen would offer the closing prayer. That’s the way Will wanted it.
Steve Purtz, a new friend who hails from Florida, would likewise have “set well” with Rogers.
A missionary, he’s at home with people wherever he goes, including Uber drivers—and preachers.
What many might call “sheer coincidence,” he sees as unquestioned providence.
On a recent trip to St. Petersburg, FL, he was driven to and from a medical appointment by two different Uber drivers. As it turned out, they both live in Wimauma, FL, both attend First Prospect Missionary Baptist Church and both make the hour-long trip daily to Tampa/St. Petersburg for Uber fares. (There’s not much Uber business in Wimauma, population 6,200.)
On the plane back to Dallas/Fort Worth, Steve was seated by an elderly man. Soon they were in conversation. Steve’s new friend, formerly in the Odessa, TX oil industry, had moved to Wimauma recently to retire. He learned that the church he was visiting needed a pastor.
You guessed correctly. Steve was seated next to Rev. Samuel E. Badger, pastor of Wimauma’s First Prospect Missionary Baptist Church. He said the two Uber drivers are “uncle and nephew.”
For whatever reason—or for no reason—Steve’s experience defies coincidence.