Dennis Rogers: He was more than just Elvis and barbecue.
Updated: Aug 13
"Hey Saunders, come over here."
It was my former newsroom colleague, Dennis Rogers, beckoning me to his desk to listen to a voicemail message left by a reader.
Among other things, the caller was berating him for writing about barbecue too danged much.
My first reply: "Is that possible?"
My second reply was "Don't worry, old bean. You write about waaaaay more than just barbecue. Gimme a couple of days and I'll think of something else."
I was joshing, of course, because Dennis Rogers wrote about most things that are important to Southerners or would-be Southerners.
● He wrote about barbecue, but from an intellectual perspective. He dissected the differences between the 'cue served in eastern and western North Carolina. Being an Easterner, he preferred the spicier, vinegary 'cue to the Western style, which is milder and may contain ketchup.
Me? All I cared about was that there were copious amounts of hog in it.
● Speaking of hogs, he wrote about Harleys and his love of them.
● He wrote about sweet iced tea which, he confided to me, would be his rapper name if he ever changed careers. For years afterward, that was the name I called him - Sweet Iced T.
● He wrote about Elvis.
● He wrote about Eastern North Carolina, from whence he hailed, and the people from there whom he felt were often neglected by the rest of the state. He memorably wrote of what he perceived as state government's lack of concern for it: if the eastern part of the state fell into the ocean, he wrote, the rest of the state wouldn't notice.
● He wrote a column about peering into a woman's fooderator and seeing a tub of pimiento cheese in there, and knowing he was in a welcoming place. I haven't eaten a pimiento cheese sandwich since then - and I've eaten about eleventyseven thousand - when I didn't think of that column and smile, because I feel the same way.
● He wrote about Vietnam.
● He wrote a primer for Northern transplants who didn't want to betray their newbie status by the way they talk. He issued a special warning about using "y'all" without proper instruction.
In a wonderful Martha Quillin-penned tribute in the New & Observer, for which Dennis wrote 31 years, former Gov. Jim Hunt said "I think he was just the essence of North Carolina.... He knew the old North Carolina, the rural North Carolina, but then lived in our emerging great capital, and yet he spoke for the plain people, the little people. He talked about life and what we ought to be doing.”
The similarities in our backgrounds was astounding to both of us and was the source of endless mirth between us. Dennis was white, skinny and a Phi Beta Kappa from down East: I am not.
Once, when I let it slip that I'd spent the night watching a documentary on Richard Petty, Dennis warned "You'd better be careful: People might find out that you're just a 'good ol' boy'."
I'm not, but Dennis was, as a mutual friend called him, "a good ol' good ol' boy."