Barry Saunders

Farewell to my ‘ultimate antagonist’

I went to say goodbye to Al Slaughter up in Oxford on Monday evening.

Funny thing is, I’d never said hello to him – not in the traditional sense.

William “Al” Slaughter and I had been online pen pals, e-mail adversaries without animus, for probably a decade. Most of our conversations began with Slaughter writing to tell me – often disputatiously, always respectfully – what an O’bummer-lovin’ leftist I am, and me responding with “Oh yeah? Well you’re a %$#@$^*”

That’s how we became pals and that is why I knew I had to go to his wake Monday. He died Saturday at age 66.

Slaughter was retired from the banking and financial services industry. He worked at Tires Plus in Oxford after retiring.

Ron Grissom, Slaughter’s friend of 41 years, said his friend loved a good argument. “He had an affinity for the N&O,” Grissom said as we stood outside the funeral home filled with mourners.

He didn’t know why his pal loved the newspaper so much, but I knew: Slaughter once told me that reading my column aided his morning bowel movements.

Glad to help, I told him.

His widow, Elaine, said there were many times she told him, “You can’t write that,” when he’d show her what he was fixing to send to me.

He could write it. And did.

“Aw, he was the ultimate antagonist,” Grissom said when I told him that, in a decade of correspondence, seldom did Slaughter and I find common ground on any subject.

You know how they say “seek and ye shall find”?

I sought – and sure enough found – something on which we agreed. Even though he sometimes wrote to me several times a week, one had to go back to April 2013 to find something we had in common.

“Best Fred Sanford was the ‘Big Money Grip’ episode,” he wrote one day, apropos of nothing.

Any Fredophile knows that’s true, although the “Blind Mellow Jelly” episode gets votes as the best “Sanford and Son,” too.

When baseball hall-of-famer Enos “Country” Slaughter died in 2002, I went to his funeral in Roxboro and later wrote about Enos’ claim to infamy – intentionally spiking Jackie Robinson during a baseball game for playing ball while black. The incident was depicted in the Robinson biopic “42” and is part of baseball lore.

Years later, I realized that was a lame move – going to a dude’s funeral and dredging up perhaps the worst thing he’s accused of doing. I mea culpa’d all over the place.

“Ol’ Enos was my third-cousin, B-man,” Slaughter wrote that day. “Enos was a product of the times. Maybe not bad, but misguided. Probably about as prejudiced as most country folk in the early 20th Century.” He said he’d prefer to remember Enos for his famous “mad dash” from first base to home to win the seventh game of the 1946 World Series.

After I acknowledged the faux pas, Slaughter wrote what passed as a compliment between him and me. “You are not classless, but you are still clueless about O’bummer.”

Scores of people milled about in the parlor of the funeral home, and in the snatches of conversations one could hear them talking about Al the softball player – “He wasn’t a good athlete, but he sure could hit,” someone said – and about how much Slaughter loved beach music, Motown and shag dancing. “There’s some shagging going on in heaven tonight,” his friend, Ben Currin, wrote in his obit and told me. “He was an excellent dancer.”

Beach music? Motown? Shagging?

Those essential parts of Slaughter’s life never came up in our conversations.

Dang. We might’ve agreed on even more if it had.