Politics served up the old-fashioned way

By By Sid Salter
Feb. 20, 2002
FOREST Depending on the area of the state in which you live, the events have different names. Fish frys. Smokers. Stews. Fox hunts. Chili suppers. Dinner on the ground. My friend Jerry Clower always jokingly called them "rat killings."
When I was a boy, it was the way of things or at least the way of things political in the South. About the only political TV ads in those days were those awful 30-minute affairs on Election Eve. The real politicking was done at afternoon fish frys, smokers, chili suppers, stews, fox hunts and "rat killings."
The way it worked was simple. Men and sometimes women, too, were invited to a central location to eat, visit, gossip, hear a political speech or two and then go home.
No handshake, no vote
It was entertainment as much as it was politics. It was a culture in which one did not seriously consider voting for a man for governor unless one had actually met the candidate, exchanged a handshake or broken bread together not a bad idea.
The Neshoba County Fair is the largest remaining example of old-style, all-day political speakings punctuated by good food and good fellowship. There's the Yazoo Fox Hunt. Carroll County still has a well-known event and the Fourth of July party at Lena is a keeper. It is a style of politics that is dying a rather ignoble death murdered by ad agencies, political consultants and "focus groups."
Forest my adopted hometown revived its old-style political event last weekend with the "Montgomery/Pickering Stew." The event honors former 3rd District U.S. Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery and the man who succeeded him, Congressman Chip Pickering.
Twenty years ago, the hunters from the Guyse/Noblin hunting club founded the "Guyse/Noblin Hunters Stew." It evolved into a regional political event that at its apex would draw 300-plus to have a bowl of stew, meet and greet politicians and do a little something nice for the folks at the Hughes Aircraft defense plant.
The late Mayor Fred Gaddis and former Montgomery congressional aide R.P. (Bob) Stringer were the driving forces behind the event. Montgomery was the perennial guest of honor the favorite of World War II, Korean conflict and Vietnam veterans who remembered his efforts on their behalf in Congress.
All 11 candidates vying for Montgomery's seat when he retired attended the 1996 event. But after Sonny's retirement and the death of Stringer, the event lost traction and wasn't held last year.
At 81, Sonny's still active
Members of the Forest business community decided to revive the stew this year. Montgomery returned home from Virginia where he still works each day as a defense consultant in Congress to share the stage with Pickering.
At 81, Montgomery still packs them in. Friends, former constituents and the old vets still remember him and want to shake his hand. There's a standing joke that there's nothing left in the 3rd District to name after Pickering it's all been named in Montgomery's honor. That's really not too far from the truth.
Hughes Aircraft is now Raytheon Systems, but employees still joined the vets who still do the cooking and serving for a bowl of stew and conversation. The crowd was peppered with a retired state Supreme Court chief justice, a sitting federal judge, a circuit judge, a state senator and a host of local government officials.
Hard-core political types will note the presence of Morton political icon Jack Stuart and Boys State backer and political gadfly Steve Guyton. It was a good day to be from Forest and a good day to watch an old soldier like Sonny come home to take another well-deserved bow.
Forty years ago you could learn more about a politician over a bowl of stew than you could in a 30-second TV commercial. Truth is, you still can if given the chance.

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