Back when I was a kid (I swore I would never use that phrase; oh, well, it's too late now) the best place to get your unsubstantiated rumors was the church bulletin.
Invariably the secretary would end up with a couple of lines at the bottom of the last page, and to fill it she would dig out a letter from her cousin in Waxahachie, Texas, who shared a story on the back page of her church's bulletin. What a shock. Proctor & Gamble, the company that made all those wonderful cleaning products, had been taken over by witches. The proof was on each bottle — a crescent moon and stars. The Waxahachie cousin issued a call to boycott all P&G merchandise.
Soon thereafter a television news reporter contacted the company about the claim that was sweeping the country and the public relations officer explained that the corporate logo went back to the crescent moon and stars on an outhouse, where invariably all need for cleaning products originated. When the news team contacted the church that printed the rumor, it cited another church, which in turned, cited yet another church or a church member's trusted manicurist at the corner beauty shop, which went out of business six months ago and no one had seen any of the former employees since.
After a while, most church secretaries stopped believing letters from distant cousins who lived in remote spots in the Great Plains, and Proctor & Gamble didn't have to defend itself against charges of witchcraft.
Now in the modern technological age the church bulletin has been replaced by the Internet as the best source for rumors. Hardly a day goes by that a new scandal is not revealed through a chain email from that same obnoxious cousin from Waxahachie or the cyber back fence called Facebook.
Just consider the recent debate about fluoridating drinking water if you want to hear some unverifiable rumors. Or look to the sky and see the supposed poison being spewed out of commercial jet liners. That's a good one. Or listen for the frequent telltale sign, "Agenda 21,'' that is so often blamed for everything anybody finds disagreeable about government.
Another recent one involves public schools and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Did you know that children no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning for fear of offending somebody? I have to admit I'm getting pretty old and even my children have been out of school for more than 10 years now. What do I know?
As any patriotic American would do, I sent an email to a teacher I know in the local school system and asked if there was even an outside chance that this allegation might be true.
Every morning they say it, she reassured me, and they keep in the part about "one nation under God.'' Not only is she a teacher, but her husband is a teacher in an adjoining county. They have maintained the same mailing address for more than five years and have relatives who will verify their employment.
Perhaps this compulsion in the common psyche to be outraged about something and to organize a protest about it comes through genetic mutation. Many of our relatives came here from Europe, where their native countries outraged them. After they got here they missed the adrenaline rush of outrage — like eating a Snickers bar every day. They're filled with nuts, nougat, caramel and chocolate into which you want to sink your teeth.
Now what was it that was outraging me? Oh, yes, rumors on the Internet. I want my friends and neighbors to join with me to find out who's really behind this conspiracy. Of course after we defeat this menace, there will be another one next week. Just like a Snickers, it will be filled with nuts.
Jerry Cowling is a storyteller and author living in Brooksville.