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I’m With Stupid – December 9, 2011

by Todd Hartley

Here’s what I know about mistletoe after two seconds’ research on Wikipedia: it’s a plant that grows “attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.” To prove the point, the article included a picture of a “hemi-parasitic” European strain of the plant in the branches of a silver birch, most likely an American or Chinese one.

For some reason, when two people find themselves standing beneath mistletoe around Christmas time, they are supposed to kiss. This is a situation that has heretofore never befallen me, but it sure makes a clever pretense for characters to hook up in poorly written romantic comedies.

Now, here’s what I know about Southern folk, based on my 41 years’ experience knowing and being related to some of them: they’re just like everyone else. They’re just as intelligent, or not, as people from the North, and they probably have the same ratio of hardworking professionals to lazy cretins. Sure, they may be a little fuller in the waistline, but it’s not like the rest of the country is exactly svelte.

Normal as they are, however, occasionally, as happens everywhere, Southerners do live up – or rather down – to their gun-totin’, tobacco-spittin’ stereotype, and the results are often hilarious.

Why do I mention mistletoe and Southerners in the same column, you ask? It’s because this season’s entry into the annals of Dixie lore has a festively Yuletide feel to it, involving, as it does, mistletoe, a man from Georgia and a 12-gauge shotgun. The latter, of course, is a staple of Dixie lore, but the mistletoe is kind of a new twist.

Before you go thinking that someone responded poorly to an unsolicited kiss, though, you should know that thankfully no one was hurt in the incident. The man, 66-year-old William E. Robinson, was arrested and charged with reckless conduct and discharging a firearm on someone else’s property, but it wasn’t because he shot at anyone. He just wanted to dress up his home for the holidays.

The story goes something like this: Robinson was in search of some mistletoe to liven up a doorframe in his home. (For the purposes of furthering the redneck stereotype, you can assume said home is a trailer, though the article I read didn’t expressly say.) It’s hard to imagine such a transparent ploy enhancing the odds of a smooch for Robinson, whose bearded, combed-over image accompanied the article, but I suppose hope does spring eternal.

Robinson located some mistletoe in a tree near the North DeKalb Mall and, standing outside an Applebee’s restaurant at 5:30 p.m., blasted it out of the tree with his shotgun. A passing motorist who witnessed the event notified authorities and then followed Robinson to a gas station, where he was arrested.

The arrest apparently came as quite a shock to Robinson, who didn’t realize he had done anything wrong and claimed to shoot mistletoe out of trees every year. “I get some for my friends,” he said. “The best way to do that is with a shotgun.”

Naturally, I realize that such an incident could have taken place outside any of America’s 2,010 Applebee’s and is in itself hardly worthy of inclusion in the annals of Dixie lore. Still, I would call it stereotypically Southern not for the hilarity of Robinson’s transgressions but for the veracity of his claims.

You see, Robinson was surprised by the police response to the incident because he considered it a proud Southern tradition to shoot mistletoe out of trees with a shotgun, and he was astounded to hear that others weren’t aware of this. Amazingly, he was right.

In 2001, no less a publication than National Geographic ran a story noting how, for many years, Southerners have indeed prepared for Christmas with guns a-blazin’, blasting mistletoe from trees with a round of bird shot and proving that if something involves a shotgun, it’s almost guaranteed to be a Southern tradition.

So I would ask the authorities in Georgia to go easy on Robinson, who was just doing what Southerners are supposed to do, and I would offer this piece of advice to any of you living across the South: If you find yourself under some mistletoe this Christmas, and you find the person with you attractive enough, make the kiss quick, and then get the hell out of there. If tradition holds, someone could be unloading a 12-gauge in your direction any minute now.

Todd Hartley wonders if Robinson was drunk enough to make the mistletoe a moving target. 

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