• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Here’s Johnny!

Old men, shiners and cell phones

My serious face is in the corner of my office, where I aim for it to collect several weeks of dust. I’d rather laugh than lecture any day.

Anyone know a 115-year-old man?

Readers of the Bluegrass Clipper, the old Midway newspaper from which we pull excerpts each week, can get to know such a fellow in this week’s Sun:

“July 24, 1919… John Shell, who lives on Greasy Creek near Hazard, says he is 115 but neighbors believe he is closer to 130. … Shell still is an excellent marksman and has been known to ride a horse 20 miles into Hyden and back in recent years. Forty years ago, his teeth rotted and he grew a second set which decayed within a few years’ time. Now, he has a third set of teeth which have grown out and are still on duty.”

I just had to look into this, because at least two claims seemed… questionable.

According to Appalachianhistory.net, in 1919, still hale and hearty, Shell appeared at the Bluegrass Fair under a banner reading “The oldest man in the world: 131 years. Admission 15 cents.”

According to the article, Shell grew angry when fairgoers doubted his age, so he raced home and found a tax receipt showing he’d paid taxes in 1809. This meant he must have been at least 21 years old at the time, he said. Harlan County tax lists, however, showed his first payment was in 1844, which would mean he was born in 1822 or so, meaning he was 96 or 97 at the time of the fair – not 115 or 130.

Hey, for 15 cents, what’s a few decades?

Shell died three years later, after a very or very, very long life.

I’m pretty busy these days, so I didn’t chase the claim about Shell’s second and third sets of adult teeth all the way down the rabbit hole.

Preliminary research into the matter indicates humans get baby teeth, then adult teeth, and, when those fall out, false teeth. However, creatures such as sharks continually grow new teeth, and considering the remarkable longevity and energy of John Shell…

Dear Readers feel free to sink your choppers into Mr. Shell’s story and let me know what you find.

Though now merely a fraction of Mr. Shell’s claimed or real age, I’ve always done things associated with folks of his vintage.

Last week, I awoke with what I thought was a blemish under my right eye. Over the next few days, it turned into a shiner; the kind that persuaded me to end my very short foray into boxing when I was in the Navy. I rehearsed lines like, “You should have seen the other guy,” but ‘fessed up when people kept asking, “What happened to you?”

I dunno what happened. I think I know when it happened – in the middle of the night, on my way to the restroom. I have a vague memory of rounding a corner inefficiently, but that’s it. (In my defense, it was dark.) I do such things more often than doctors would prescribe, but bruises fade, eventually.

Lord, please let this one fade.

The other inexplicable thing I did last week involved reaching out to former TV colleagues to unravel a mystery. After calls and texts to three photojournalists and an assignment editor, the puzzle was solved, and it dawned on me that there were better reasons to keep up with old friends.

After what was meant to be the final text to the esteemed and very busy chief photographer of LEX 18, I put my phone back in my pocket, but apparently it wasn’t finished speaking.

This is what it texted to Brian Gilbert, who really did have had better things to do, like getting news stories shot and edited.

“Poi0po pop00o oo0989p”

Then, 10 minutes later:

“0our80ppic poi pop”

An hour later, I realized what my phone had written, and texted one final time to apologize for the pocket texts and explain they were not a preview of my next column.

Of course, in the end, at the end, they were.

There are days when I feel like a clumsy, bruised, incoherent old man, but my first set of adult teeth are still in good shape, and that’s something.

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