Character Stacks Up
March 24th, 2011
To be considered “different,” one must have an opinion or appearance or lifestyle or habit that varies from that considered to be mainstream. If one publicly defends or promotes any of that, one can move to “eccentric,” and, if passion is involved, right on up to “dangerous.”
But, then, if everyone goes with the flow, the power of the current is never checked, and the mainstream never changes.
As published in The Daily News, March 25, 2011, and in The Memphis News, March 26-April 1, 2011
STACKED AGAINST GIANTS
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the 40th anniversary of the Overton Park/I-40 decision, a uniquely Memphis accomplishment by unique Memphians. Since then, many of you have told me stories about your involvement and/or the involvement of those you knew. I'd like to share one. It comes from a good friend, David Sims, a Memphian who now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. I'm sharing it not just because it's good, or because it made me laugh – David does that a lot – but because it points out that the richness of our characters is what gives cities character. Memphis is far richer than most.
David writes, “Your story about stopping I-40 going through Overton Park brought back great memories, especially Sunshine Snyder, one of the ‘stopping I-40’ personalities. Although I never met Sunshine, I knew her husband, Dr. Snyder, very well. He was a PhD research chemist at DuPont while I was there. At the time, he was researching how to improve the operation of our hydrogen peroxide plant, whose technology we stole from Nazi Germany. Our Secret Service took two DuPont engineers, commissioned them as Navy Captains (so they would not be shot as spies), and sent them behind enemy lines to copy the hydrogen peroxide process.”
Like all good storytellers, David digresses a bit.
“Back to Dr. Snyder. Somewhat eccentric, his main claim to fame was his perfection of the ‘Geological Filing System,’ first introduced by way of a 1930’s W.C Fields movie. Fields was a clerk and had all his files stacked in what appeared to be a disorganized fashion. When approached to produce a specific file, Fields only asked the age of the file and retrieved it by going to the depth that corresponded to that point in time. Dr. Snyder had perfected this technique. Every flat surface in his office and most of the floor were completely covered with files, laboratory notebooks, etc., and he knew exactly where each piece of information resided. Unfortunately, his office appeared to be so cluttered that the DuPont Safety Engineers classified it as an unsafe workplace.”
“Dr. Snyder was warned for months by DuPont management that he had to correct his ‘unsafe workplace.’ After a significant period of time, the plant manager stormed into Dr. Snyder’s office and raked everything off every flat surface into a huge pile in the middle of the floor, so large one had to climb over it to get to the desk. Dr. Snyder calmly responded that, ‘If this is where the Plant Manager wants my files, then this is where they will stay.’ So, he continued to rummage through the stack on the floor to retrieve pertinent information. I have a feeling that Sunshine Snyder was just as interesting as her husband.”
Me, too, David. One stood up against progress at any cost, and the other stood up against conformity at the cost of personality.
I'm a Memphian, and I'm betting that dinner at the Snyders’ was never boring.