Have I ever ever told you about Sam Palor Lake down in Florida? No? Well, it’s an interesting story.

I begin by saying that I am from Madison, Florida — a town straight out of Harper Lee’s mind and could be the setting for To Kill A Mockingbird. There were, and still are, three traffic lights in the village.

When I was growing up in Madison, on Thursdays around dusk we boys would gather at the local weekly newspaper office to get and peddle the paper. It sold for 10 cents, of which we made three cents per paper. And parents weren’t afraid to have us out at dark going from street to street and house to house selling papers to folks sitting out on the front porch on a summer night.

But I’m getting away from my story. A few miles out from Madison was a beautiful, spring-fed lake named Sam Palor (as in pail). As a pre-schooler I caught my first fish here, a trout about six inches long.

What’s that? You say trout aren’t found in the warm water lakes of north Florida? You’re right; what I actually caught was a large mouth bass. But we called them trout.

But I digress again. Let’s get back to my story.

I always figured that the lake was owned by Mr. Sam Palor. I never met him and back when I was growing up in Madison I probably thought he was long gone.

So you can imagine my surprise when a couple of decades ago I heard that some Florida State University students were doing an archaeological dig at Sam Palor Lake. Only they weren’t calling it Sam Palor Lake — they referred to it as San Pedro y San Pablo Mission lake.

Well, what do you know! A Spanish mission right here near Madison in the early 1600’s! Then I remembered that there was a crossroads community out in the county named San Pedro, and it made sense that there would be a Spanish mission named for Peter and Paul.

Poor Mr. Sam Palor. I guess he never existed! It all came about by the inaccurate passing along of information. Through the decades and centuries, San Pablo Lake became Sam Palor Lake.

It reminds me of the parlor game in which a circle of folks pass a phrase spoken from person to person and at the end of the line the original phrase said by the first person is compared with what the last person heard.

It leads me to ask you to consider a New Year’s resolution — resolved, that we do not pass along gossip.

How easy it is to get facts wrong, to give them a slant born of our own view or to just honestly mishear.

Remember what we were taught in our early years about saying things about other people? “Is what I am saying true? Is it kind? Does it need to be said?”

In these days when our public discourse is all too often either not true, or not kind and may clearly not need to be said, all of us need to guard carefully what we say.

It seems to me that the only way forward in our present society is to recover a sense of respect, a conscience for morality, and to remember the kind of person we are meant to be.

By the way, San Pablo Lake is no longer called Sam Palor Lake. Now they call it Sampala Lake!

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