In March of 1984 Iran accused Iraq of using chemical weapons. I remember thinking, "Who cares?" The only reason I’d ever heard of either place was because back in junior high Miss Velna Gray Paschall made us learn the major food crops of every nation in the world (rye, barley, oats, wheat and corn for both, in case you are interested). That same year, “Terms of Endearment” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Again, I didn’t care. I was pulling for, “The Return of Billy Jack.” The Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984. Had I know about it, I wouldn’t have cared. I couldn’t use the thing anyway. The space shuttle, Challenger, was taking off so frequently at the Kennedy Space Center that I had begun to take them for granted.
In March of 1984, on the back of a grocery sack, I scribbled down what became the first “story” I ever turned in. It was about a cat that lived with us but didn’t belong to us. He or she just moved in and hunkered down. Turned out to be the toughest rascal I’ve ever known. And that darn cat pushed me into the writing business.
Twenty-five years later I’m still at it, for reasons that I find hard to define this morning. I ran out of ideas and story lines way before that cat left us for greener pastures. It’s kinda like a treadmill. I got on and I can’t get off. But I cannot keep this masquerade up forever. Folks are already beginning to murmer. They are “finding me out” right and left. They are poking each other in the short ribs and remarking “See, I told you the boy is no Hemingway.”
Listen, a quarter of a century is longer than you think when you’ve got a highly skilled and very learned editor-in-chief holding out a grimy paw every week for what they expect and demand to be a Pulitzer type narrative. Boy, have I left them scratching their heads over the years.
I got so mad at one of those “idiot” editors two weeks ago I could have just spit. They messed up my title. Listen, I take great pride and work hard to have the “correct” moniker on a story. I’m not going to call a dissertation on George Washington the “George Washington Story.” How mundane. I’m going to entitle it, “Mayhem Along the Potomac” or “Tall Guy Makes Good” or “Cherry Tree Didn’t’ Blossom.” I rushed in to announce my displeasure at his gross negligence when he quietly showed me that he had printed it just exactly like I’d turned it in. The idiot was me. My mind is so far gone I was thinking one thing and wrote something else down. And I had the proof in black and white!
There are other “signs” that I’m on my last journalistic leg. I have begun to repeat myself. How many times can I tell you about hanging on to the collapsed cat walk on top of the town water tower with two 5-gallon buckets of barn red paint tied to my waist? How many times can we go over that big fight up at the Skyway Grill? How many times are you going to listen to me describe Leon’s Tarzan-inspired leap off the Tennessee River Bridge? Or the account of Leon riding Nicky Joe Stafford’s big horse into the prom? I’m tired of hearing about Leon and Jackie Burns stealing the red light off of Aaron Pinson’s police car and “hooking” it up to the juke box out at Frank’s Dairy Bar. How long can I keep pointing out the remarkable number of shortcomings of Mary E. Pendleton?
I’ve been writing about growing up twice as long as it took for all of us to grow up!
Yogi has moved to the back side of Mt. Hood in the far expanses of Oregon. Pam Collins has retired down to Paris Landing. Jane Hill has gone to the dogs. Jimmy Carter got a tattoo and rode off on a motorcycle. I can’t find Buddy or Hollis. Mr. Archie Moore’s pond has long since dried up.
Uncle F. D. passed away, as has Pa and Gran, Uncle Ben, Uncle Womack, Aunt Beatrice and most of the rest of a generation that touched my memory in such a loving and positive way.
I’ve had writer's block since April of 1984. I refuse to write about tragic, pathetic or down turn stories. You can flip on the TV or look at the headlines for that. I don’t know enough about politics to report on that phenomenon. I prefer happy over sad, so that cuts out a lot of ideas right there.
My boys have grown up and moved away. I refuse to bore you with stories about my grandchildren. Hank no longer runs with me. And after 34 years of marriage, Cathy ain’t as funny as she used to be.
Lately, I’ve found myself starting one story and finishing up with something entirely different. I’ve begun to split infinitives and dangle participles. Well, I’m kidding you a little here; writing a weekly column hasn’t enhanced my prose composition capability one whit, I still don’t know a predicate from an indirect object. I’ve never let syntax get in the way of a good story.
I can’t say I’m past my prime because that assumes I reached one. I can say I’m tired of scratching these stories out each week. But the real reason I have begin to look toward the end is simple. If I keep doing this long enough, Mary E. is going to find out where I live and come down here and beat the living daylights out of me!