Ever wonder what makes a person want to write, or want to be good at it? My dad said a good reporter never lets go of the curiosity, never lets politeness get in the way of a story – but also never lets a story get in the way of basic courtesy and humanity. In my humble opinion, modern journalism allows the story to trample humanity far too often.
We used to go for drives, just my dad and me, and we would talk. He told me about newspapering, reminisced sometimes for the entire ride. It was less a conversation than it was a feast of words.
He could paint such vivid word pictures that often I could not see the landscape through which we drove for all of the images crowding my mind.
He never talked down to me, which sometimes left me struggling to decipher a word by its context.
It seems as though I’ve known the four Ws (who, what, when, where – you all know them) all my life, along with that important H (how). Applying them was second nature even when I was in grammar school. Chasing a story with him, I could often tell him some or all of the Ws of it, which pleased him no end. And of course, it pleased me no end to have pleased my dad.
I wonder often if my personal philosophies were formed less by my own observations and judgments but by his. I can’t recall the specifics of our talks anymore. He died in 1968, and time erodes so many memories.
He was utterly irreverent, could make me sick from laughter or weep with empathy. He disliked pretension, subterfuge, hypocrisy and injustice – especially injustice. To him, family was the highest priority.
My siblings have different philosophies than I do, and although he talked with them and wrote letters when one of them was away, I was the one who went with him on stories most often. And on our long drives, I knew I was the world’s luckiest child.
We had an ongoing squirt gun battle, with only one gun. Whoever had it would sneak up and shoot the other, elude capture and hide the gun. Eventually, the victim would discover the gun’s hiding place, reload it and the game was back on. Months could pass between battles. I once spent the better part of an hour crawling through kitchen and dining room to the living room, to rise up behind his easy chair and blast him in the back of the neck. Boy, did I pay for that one! He trapped me in a closet and of course, I emptied the water pistol at him. But he had a turkey baster and a pitcher of water in his hands. Cheating was fair in our game.
Irreverence – dad went to as many of my choral concerts as he could. He would sit in the audience and make hideous faces, cracking up not just me, but anyone else in the chorus who caught his act.
There was never a doubt in my mind – and maybe not in his, though he never said – that I would follow in his footsteps. He wanted to write a novel, something that I don’t think even my mother knew. After he died, I looked everywhere, because I’d once seen several pages of a rough draft. I don’t know if I wanted to simply read it, or to finish it for him. But it was gone. He hadn’t had much time to work on it, anyway, working two jobs to support us until the day he died. Perhaps he chucked it. I don’t know.
That was part of why many of our talks were in the dead of night. He got home at exactly 12:20 a.m. from his second job as a copy editor at the Columbus Enquirer, and there I often was, waiting, even on school nights. We’d talk, eat peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, and eventually he would remember that I was supposed to be asleep. He’d send me to bed, but never rebuked me for waiting up.
All these years later, I often look at the clock and it’s 12:20 a.m. Funny how that happens.
I don’t know if he built a love of writing in me, or if he recognized it and simply tried to help my love blossom. He never said, and it never occurred to me – and there wasn’t enough time – to ask.I’m just glad that I have it, and glad of the things he taught me.
Like him, I became a journalist, and like him, may never see a novel published, though unlike him, I’ve written several. (NOTE: this was written in 1998, long before I published Memory’s Child)
I’m glad I had him, even if he did lie when he said freckles were beautiful. Even if he lied when he said his was transferring some of his freckles to my face when he grabbed me up and rubbed his stubbly face against my cheeks while I squealed and squirmed.
He’s been gone more than three-quarters of my life and I miss him still. He would have been 100 today. Happy birthday, Dad.