The Guy Who Just Wouldn’t Leave

August 1, 2013 | By | Comments (21)
Steve Bender

My blood type is just like my outlook — B+. Photo by Jessica Alba.

Everyone makes mistakes. Thirty years ago today, Southern Living made a BIG one. They hired me. To make it worse, I’m still here. What is wrong with these people????

After all, anyone who knows anything about Southern Living knows we’re a happy magazine. The last thing we ever want to do is offend someone, which is why Anthony Weiner’s job applications keep getting lost. Yet, during my inexplicable three decades here, I’ve managed to offend just about everyone. Such as:

* Squirrel lovers — Instead of just telling folks that daffodil bulbs are poisonous to squirrels, photographer Van Chaplin and I built a fake grave site complete with plastic flowers and a headstone that read, “RIP. Rocky. One bulb too many.” Sacks of hate mail from irate animal lovers, convinced that I had murdered a squirrel by jamming daffodil bulbs down its throat, filled the office. My favorite letter was addressed to “Steve Bender, Squirrel Nazi,” and began, “Herr Bender….”

* New Orleans Saints fans — Back when the Saints were a really bad team (Mike Ditka was coach), I suggested that people suffering from chronic insomnia should either watch C-SPAN or take in a Saints game and they’d be snoozing in 5 minutes. All three Saints fans took the time to write me a nasty letter. I appreciate it, guys.

* Texas A&M fans — After plant breeders at Texas A&M succeeded in transforming the bluebonnet, the Texas state flower, from its normal lovely blue to a washed-out lavender, I took them to task. I wrote, “Who wants a bluebonnet that fades in the fourth quarter?” Aggie fans were incensed, sure that I was a stooge for their arch-rival, the University of Texas (I went to school in Maryland and, yes, I know — our team is usually awful). But in a delicious bit of irony, the very week my comment was published, the Aggies were leading 28-7 in the fourth quarter. They lost.

* The entire population of West Virginia — Last year on our Facebook page, I asked readers to send me pictures of pretty gardens in West Virginia. “But, please,” I added, “no Clampetts.” Now you would have thought that resentment in the Mountain State might have ebbed since the last episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” aired in 1971, but you would be so wrong. I nearly got smeared with black gold and tossed into the cement pond.

* Misguided Bird Lovers — In a November 2009 post called “Burn, Squirrel, Burn!”, I told readers how they could keep squirrels from raiding bird feeders by using seed infused with Habanero pepper oil. It’s harmless to birds, I said, because unlike people and squirrels, birds don’t react to pepper at all. A reader named “Doomaflochee” commented, “Are we really so grumpy that we are potentially poisoning birds so that fat b******s can enjoy a squirrel-ess [sic] world. Get over your petty self.”

Wow, that’s certainly worth some self-reflection, Doomaflochee, but now let me ask YOU a question using proper punctuation and spelling. How come you weren’t upset by the picture of burning squirrels that ignited after eating the pepper-laced bird seed? I was trying to offend you there!

Sincere Thanks from a Void Where My Heart Should Be
I know I haven’t lasted at Southern Living for 30 years on talent alone. There were some serious bribes involved, convictions overturned on appeal, and the fact that I change offices every 5 days so my boss can’t find me. But, of course, the main reason I’m still here is the legion of sick, sick people like you who continue to read this schlock without remorse or shame. If I weren’t so grumpy, I would express my deep gratitude to each of you personally, but I believe the following perfectly captures the feeling of this special moment.



  1. Steve Bender

    You must know something that I don’t. I’m not going anywhere. There are still too many people left to annoy!

    August 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm
  2. Peggy Eright

    30 years! Now you make ME feel old! I never read your article first – I save the best for last. Keep up the good work.

    August 5, 2013 at 11:34 am
  3. Carol

    I’ve been a fan for all of those 30 years; I too always start off reading my new issue in the Garden section. I raise my Lager to many more years

    August 4, 2013 at 11:29 am
  4. Lisa

    You are the best , Your sense of humor & Witt will be sorely missed ! Any chance we could change your mind ? Will you be doing any other articles or just watching squirrels ?

    August 4, 2013 at 11:05 am
  5. Meridith Gaskin

    Congrats! You’ve been working at Southern longer than I’ve been alive! I, and the magazine, owe you a great deal of thanks. I owe you bc my garden has never been so happy and you gave me the courage to start growing vegetables instead of just flowers. Southern owes you bc you are the sole reason I started buying the magazine. Thanks for the laughs and advice, I know I need it. You’re the best Grumpy!

    August 3, 2013 at 10:18 am
  6. Steve Bender

    Thanks, everyone. Don’t worry, Michael — I have no intention of becoming agreeable.

    August 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm
  7. Susanne Bunch

    Dear Grumpy, I have enjoyed your columns for years. You have fulfilled the mission statement of many publishing houses in that you have entertained, educated, and enlightened. Thank you for the smiles and chuckles as well as the helpful, practical info you have shared over the years. Happy Anniversary!

    August 1, 2013 at 7:02 pm
  8. Tom Mann

    Wow, Grumpy! You started writing with Southern Living the day my niece was born – but you don’t look a week or even a decade older than her, for some reason. Did you start out when you were like 8 years old???

    Congratulations on your longevity and tenureship (I just made that word up – spellcheck told me so, so it must be true – but it also wants me to add the word spellcheck to my dictionary???) Keep up the good work, Steve – offending people is becoming a lost art. Your Internet friend, Tom Mann/@SolakNC

    August 1, 2013 at 4:58 pm
  9. Margaret Agnew

    Steve “Grumpy” Bender: You are definitely one of their better mistakes!!!

    August 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm
  10. Susan Payne Dobbs

    Congrats, Grumps! It was fun, and it still is for you! But I do recommend retirement…when you’re ready!!!

    August 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm
  11. rose white

    Happy Anniversary

    August 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm
  12. sheila mallard

    30 years huh? I think that qualifies you as vintage. Happy anniversary on your long stay at SL.

    August 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm
  13. Janice Bowman

    Of course, we love you because you refuse to take life seriously. You are a refreshing breath of air and show us a lighter side of life. Thank you and long may you wave!

    August 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm
  14. michael vandergrift

    Happy Anniversary! Enjoy reading your column every month, but God help you, I think you’re starting soften and might actually have been nice on a few occasions! Snap out of it! We are gardening idiots, and need to be reminded of such. 🙂

    August 1, 2013 at 3:09 pm
  15. Donna Ferber

    Hope the Bdy is a happy one, and thanks for the smiles.

    August 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm
  16. Gaylia Annette Hancock

    Happy anniversary to one of my favorite reads in Southern Living.

    August 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm
  17. A DiMaggio

    You need a haircut, bouffant’s are not in style!

    August 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm
  18. Carolyn Choi

    You must’ve been around 10 when you started working there, Grumps , cause you don’t look much older than 30 . If you had been sweet instead of sour you’d have never made it for 30 years. By the way you forgot to mention the tomato lovers across America that you’ve offended with your anti-tomato rhetoric . And as for that beer I believe I did get you a cold one in Asheville last year. Here’s to many more years of your sneaky, low-down,no account outright chicanery. Still think your fans are sick ?

    August 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm
  19. Jean

    I have been a fan of Steve for years.Nobody like him. That might be a good thing! Congrats Grump….I didn’t know you were that old! Rocky sends his love.

    August 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm
  20. Tina Creger

    Happy anniversary Grumpy! Hope you continue in your attempt to offend for years to come. The humor is always refreshing.

    August 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm
  21. English norman

    Absolutely fabulous! I’ve been reading your articles and posts since 1991 and love your sense of humor. Being irreverent makes the world more interesting. And if you offend someone, at least they were paying attention!

    August 1, 2013 at 11:57 am

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