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I’m a TVA baby. My father was a Yankee, from Michigan I think, one of those educated engineers who came down here to dam up the rivers and bring electric lights and indoor plumbing to the bedarkened South: FDR’s potlatch. Then they all went off to the War and some returned and others didn’t. It’s Destiny that decides such things.
I fly a lot. I slept through the take-off from Nashville and woke up just in time to hear the man in the seat next to me say, “There’s the Mississippi, Ned.”
“Ned,” the Ned he was talking to, was a boy of about eight in the window seat. I was in the aisle seat. I looked over them both, out the little oval window, and saw a long lake laid out like a coonskin, running north and south, with skinny legs of muddy water extending east and west.
“That’s Kentucky Lake,” I said. “Or Barkley, not the Mississippi.”
“Excuse me?” he said.
“Kentucky Lake is the Tennessee River,” I said, “dammed up by TVA. Barkley Lake is the Cumberland. Both run into the Ohio here, only twenty miles apart. We’re still a hundred miles east of the Mississippi.”
“Who is he?” asked “Ned” the kid.
“Some nosy A-hole,” said the man. He was about forty with a flattop and an OpryLand tee shirt.
“I was just trying to be helpful,” I said. “You got it wrong. It’s against the law to mislead children!” It should be, anyway.
“Can I help?” asked the stewardess. “Please don’t shout.”
“Sorry,” I said. I almost never shout. “I’m a TVA baby. This ignoramus in the middle seat is so ignorant that he thinks Kentucky Lake is the Mississippi River!”
“I am a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy,” he said. “On vacation, and I do believe I know a lake from a river.”
“I can see how one could make that mistake,” I said. Though I couldn’t help adding: “Though I am dismayed to learn that a US naval officer could be so ignorant as to the geographic layout of the country he is supposedly supposed to defend.”
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Ned,” the man said. ”He’s crazy.”
I hear that a lot. I wanted to kill him. I usually carry a gun for just such occasions, but they are no longer allowed on commercial flights, so I rammed the heel of my hand upward into his nose and drove the bone into his brain, such as it was.