By Hardy Jackson
“Yankees have this volitionless, almost helpless capacity and eagerness to believe anything about the South not even provided it be derogatory but merely bizarre enough and strange enough.”
The headlines fairly shouted: “Duck Hunters Shoot Angel.” But it was the next line that really caught my attention. “ ‘She looked like a giant bird,’ says Alabama Man.”
Yessir, there it was in the Weekly World News, conveniently located in the “impulse shopping” section at the check-out line of our local supermarket. So naturally I bought it.
At first glance it seemed a classic example of the hard-hitting investigative reporting for which the tabloid is famous. Here was Ted Sargo and Jack Vellor, up in Jackson County, out on their first duck hunt, firing into a flock of birds and bringing down a record breaker.
Seeing it drop, Sargo told the reporter, “I wondered where I’d get a skillet big enough to fry the critter.”
But then they saw the “beautiful wings . . . flowing hair and silk gown” and the truth hit them – they had killed “a messenger of God.”
Naturally upset, both men expressed the hope that “God understands that it was an accident.”
God, however, was not their immediate concern, for police and paramedics soon arrived. But before charges were pressed, an EMT told the News reporter, “the angel was suddenly engulfed in the brightest light I ever saw. The next thing I knew, she was gone.” Without a body, or evidence there ever was a body, the police had no choice but release the men.
That left the judgment of Lord to worry about, so to get right with The Almighty, Sargo and Vellor vowed to enter a theological seminary. “If we become priests, maybe God will forgive us for shooting this blessed messenger,” Vellor explained. And just to be sure all bases were covered, the two vowed they would “never hunt anything again.”
Now let me say that I had doubts about the story from the start.
In the first place, it would take more than dropping one of God’s messengers to get most of the hunters I know to give up the sport. If one of my buddies brought down something Angel size, the first words out of his mouth would have been, “Quick Eugene, call the taxidermist.”
As for eating it, the size of the skillet would not matter. Folks I know don’t subscribe to the frying school of duck preparation. They’d bake that booger, with apples.
So, I asked myself, was this a Fake News fraud?
But there was a picture, yessir, a photograph of the fallen angle floating, face down, in a reed-choked lake.
So I called up the newspaper in Scottsboro, the county seat, and guess what? There are no reed-choked lakes in Jackson County. And that’s not all, nobody has ever heard of Sargo or a Vellor. (Sargo, in particular, was suspect for up there surnames ending in vowels are hard to find as a tattoo on a Deacon’s daughter.)
As for entering a seminary and becoming priests, well, that just about did it for me.
If the boys had begun speaking in tongues or looking for a serpent to take up, that might make sense. Of if they had vowed to answer the next alter call or invitation hymn, or just promised to write a check to Lottie Moon, I might have given them the benefit of the doubt. But the priesthood? In Jackson County?
All of which almost led me to conclude that the whole thing was Fake News, published to fool Yankees into buying the paper because, as William Faulkner put it, those northern folks will believe anything about us if it is “bizarre enough and strange enough,” which, of course, this is.
Almost, except for one thing. When asked about the incident, a spokesman for an area wildlife agency told the News that there never was an angel. “It was a swan,” he said. “If the hunters think they saw something else, they are mistaken.”
Ah Ha! A government denial.
Hmmmmm . . . . Maybe that was an angel after all.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.