Now that The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington has reopened, let’s take a final stab at the continuing reader reaction to the tumult that began there when co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the establishment June 22.
We’ll kick that off with a plea by a retired insurance broker from the Cave Spring area of Roanoke County. He calls himself “the REAL Jim Francis.”
The Cave Spring Jim Francis was highly dismayed to see his name attached to a quote in the June 28th column. That was from a different Jim Francis — an engineer in Arizona. Arizona’s Jim Francis was critical of Wilkinson’s action. And he also called former President Barack Obama “arrogant and racist” and “the Chicago dummy.”
From Cave Spring’s Jim Francis: “The comment quoted is directly opposite of my position. I support The Red Hen for refusing to serve Sarah Sanders and asking her to leave.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Georgie Brizendine, of Raleigh, North Carolina (but formerly of Roanoke), wrote: “Kudos to Stephanie Wilkinson! She has every right to decide who she will serve and who she won’t. There is no difference between that and the baker who would not make a wedding cake for a gay couple or a pharmacist who would not fill a necessary prescription for a woman. They cite religious reasons but it certainly does not sound like that. It was a personal choice for them.
“It is hard to believe that the religious right would condone and approve of what has happened to our country since Trump was ‘elected.’ He has definitely increased hatred, bigotry, disrespect and it is very evident in some of the responses you received to your article.”
Fenton “Spike” Harrison, a former member of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, heartily recommends The Red Hen.
“I have had several enjoyable meals at the Red Hen in Lexington. I have found the food to be excellent and the staff friendly and attentive. To acclimate Roanoke residents who have not been there, think ‘Local Roots’ in an intimate small cabin setting. (The outside is brown and is intended to look old).
“When I saw the headlines in the paper I was sad to see the whole controversy but I am not ready to throw stones . . . Whatever happened, I will dine there again, soon.”
Virgil Cook of Blacksburg, a retired English professor at Virginia Tech, is no fan of Donald Trump. However, he was aghast at Wilkinson’s action.
“I voted for Hillary Clinton,” Cook wrote in an email. “I am ashamed of the behavior of the owner of the Red Hen. If I lived in Lexington, I would never darken the door of the place. Where is civility? True, Trump has set the tone, but do the rest of us have to get down in the gutter with him?”
Sharon Ellmore of Roanoke was more concerned about responses from the Trump crowd.
“After reading the responses to your column and seeing similar comments from Trump supporters elsewhere, I am truly alarmed. They are following his dog whistle to use profane, anger and hate-filled spittle at anyone who disagrees. Trump has created an army of compliant, gullible, illiterate supporters who refuse to acknowledge his lies and bullying behavior.”
Gene Stuckey of Roanoke wondered, “Who is paying some of these clowns to stand [outside The Red Hen] and protest? Are they on welfare? Are they being paid by pro-Trump groups or Trump himself? They obviously don’t have normal jobs. Who can afford to do that who has a regular job?”
Rob Neukirch of Floyd bemoaned hair-trigger anger in the present political climate.
“I am surprised by how many people I know who are no longer speaking to certain family members, old friends, etc. We’ve entered the Twilight Zone. Years ago my acting teacher, after watching an exercise devolve into [expletives] reminded us: ‘ In acting and in life, anger is an easy choice but it’s seldom the right choice.’ “
As an antidote, Neukirch recommends watching episodes of the internet web reality series, ”Returning the Favor.” The host, Mike Rowe, travels around the country meeting people who are giving back to their communities.
Finally, we have some words from Susan Schlossberg. For 17 years, she’s been teaching young people etiquette and manners, as director of the Lynchburg and Roanoke Valley chapters of the National League of Junior Cotillions.
“Whatever their political affiliation, it is difficult to stand back and see the rhetoric spewed, the fake news, and our President,” Schlossberg wrote in an email. “As a HUGE baseball fan, I was taught at a young age that the team takes on the personality of its manager. I feel that this is the same for our country. We are going down a very slippery slope.”
“Some of your readers may admire [Trump] and say that he is doing a great job, but what he is also doing is NOT demonstrating honor, dignity and respect to all citizens, something that we, the people, should have. It makes trying to teach young ones these principles difficult when their own parents cannot set the example and take the high road. Truly I’m concerned for our future.”
Schlossberg offered another antidote to the present divisiveness: a documentary now in movie theaters, ”Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about Fred Rogers, aka “Mr. Rogers,” of children’s television fame.
“Some of his quotes should be reflective of all of us,” Schlossberg wrote.
“Love is what keeps us together and keeps us afloat . . . The greatest evil is those who don’t accept you as you are . . . Make goodness attractive . . . Everyone has inherent value. We should be repairers of creation.”
“Haters can hate,” Schlossberg added, “but please, for our children’s sake, act with civility.”