By Billy Blackman,
“We were poor growing up in Jackson County. We ate so many gophers that our front yard looked like a troop train had wrecked out front ’cause of all the empty gopher helmets.”
— James Peacock
I once drew a political cartoon using a caricature of James Peacock many years ago when I worked at the Havana Herald and he was a Gadsden County commissioner.
Actually I drew a bunch of ’em.
But this particular one I stumble over a lot in my memories, and not because it was the first cartoon I drew of him or because of its subject matter.
Heck, I can’t even remember now what the cartoon was about.
I think it had something to do with him and the Quincy mayor on a see-saw.
What made it memorable to me is that I unconsciously gave James two arms when I drew him.
And, as most everyone knows, he was missing part of one arm.
James jokingly told me once, “People call me ‘Single Wing’ Peacock and they call my brother ‘Double Wing.’”
The cartoon was published and no one, not one person, noticed that he had one arm too many.
No one but him, that is.
“Hey Billy,” he said to me a day or so after the paper hit the stands. “You gonna have to redo that cartoon. It ain’t right! You have me with two arms!”
He laughed as we stood in the auto parts store, him selling some guy a set of spark plugs for a 1970 Oldsmobile, me thinking he was just making sport of me.
“What!” I said snapping as fast as a snake. “How could I have done that?”
I opened a paper and looked. And I had!
The next week I drew another cartoon using him, but only after I took my pen and amputated that one arm.
James had a great sense of humor.
Even though it is usually an adversarial relationship that reporters and politicians have, James and I got along just dandy.
Maybe it was because we laughed so much.
Oh I knew he sometimes used me and he knew I sometimes used him. But sometimes that’s the way ink gets on paper.
That’s the way things get done in the newspaper business. Sometimes.
James was a leader in the county during a stormy period in our local government.
It was the time of mandatory garbage service and its crusty, salty, thick-skinned, determined opponent, the not-so-shy, Mr. LL Shaw.
It was the perfect storm when it came to finding things to write about. Well, actually you didn’t have to find them, they found you!
County leaders must have been dozing when they put themselves in this political nightmare that they just couldn’t seem to wake up from.
The county was suing its own citizens because many refused to comply with county orders to sign up for garbage collection with garbage giant Waste Management — or else face the consequences of the county judge.
And the citizens, many of them poor and living in unpainted shanties and led by Mr. Shaw, were fighting back.
Nobody really knew if the resistance was an act of defiance or an act of financial survival, or both.
With the loud and persistent personalities of Mr. Shaw and his small but determined army of followers showing up at every meeting, the county attorney’s office and the old regime county commission still in power, all coupled with a binding, long-term contract with Waste Management, it was a reporter’s nirvana.
It was like being assigned to cover David and Goliath, only difference being that the underdogs fell short of throwing rocks.
And it was not uncommon to overhear someone say, “Well, I went to a fight last Tuesday night and a county commission meeting broke out.”
Then James Peacock was elected.
He was sort of a lighthouse on the shore, quiet and sometimes hard to see through the stormy weather, but never-the-less giving mandatory garbage opponents an honest shimmer to shoot for.
While some of the newly-elected leaders were running toward the camera lights, James was off-stage, quietly working on a way out of the exclusive contract the county had at the time with Waste Management.
He was successful; the mandatory garbage ordinance was repealed, and the storm eventually blew itself out.
James — along with the new like-minded commission — had done what he was elected to do — if for no other reason than to give some folks one fewer thing to worry about on the first of each month
A man of his word.
How rare is that in this new world of politics.
I drew many more cartoons using James and other local political figures, because let’s face it, in government, there are always other storms to take the place of the last one. “One a’comin’. One a’goin’. One a’rainin’. One a’blowin'”
But James Peacock always seemed to have a knack for soothing storms before they blew through the front door at the county commission meetings.
But a lot of times.
Those times in Gadsden County are now dim memories in the minds of old reporters and newspaper archives.
But I remember the vital role James Peacock played in changing those times for the better.
I know his family and friends will remember him too, for a lot of reasons.
And I will think of him often and continue to wonder why no one, including me, noticed that the cartoon had him with two arms.
It could be because no one ever saw him as being handicapped to begin with.
He simply was able to get too much done to have been labeled “handicapped.”
Just think how much more he might have accomplished if he’d had both arms.
Rest In Peace, James Peacock.