For the life of me, I don’t understand how I have always had a knack for getting myself into these unique positions, and having to try to figure out a way to escape without undue damage.
Looking back, I remembered my first quite scary position in journalism was not my doing, but the work of my first college journalism professor, Mr. Lawrence Webb.
I began my newspaper career at an early age, inserting the Sunday comics in the newspapers. I lied about my age to get the job. Then, when I got my driver’s license, I went to work in the print shop, mostly delivering church bulletins. But I also had to do the mailing chores of the Stamp News and the Ware Shoals Life newspaper. By myself.
Then I went into the sports department, taking prep football stats on Friday nights and typing out short stories as to who won, what the score was, who did the scoring, and both team’s records. I was pretty sure I had newspapering in the bag.
Mr. Lawrence Webb, my journalism teacher at Anderson College (it’s University now) was giving out assignments for newspaper staff jobs. We didn’t know it before hand, and odds are I would not have signed up for the class had I known.
I had worked at the Anderson Independent through my teens, figured I knew a good bit about the business, and this would be a good way to raise my grade point ratio without too much work. This newspaper staff thing was a shock.
Mr. Webb had asked the class, the first time we gathered, to write a short story, no special subject, so he could get a quick look at our writing style. I wasn’t even aware I had a writing style. I would just sit down, think about what I was going to write for a minute, and jump in. Once I got started, the words just flowed. Someone told me years later that I write like I talk, but here, just off a handful of paragraphs, I was going to be stuck with a non-paying newspaper job for a full semester.
I was a long way from congratulating myself on a job well done. And he kept handing out jobs. And I wasn’t getting one. Finally, by my count, everything was gone except obit editor, and we weren’t expecting a student to pass away the entire semester.
Finally, everyone in the room had a job, except me. And he called my name. Before he could say anything else, I asked about the open slot in obits. Not one person thought that was funny.
And Mr. Webb said, “Reese, I have saved you for last because you have the best job. You are going to be our columnist, and it will be called, ‘Reese at Random’. Write about anything you want, just have one story for every edition.”
I was stunned. The Anderson Independent had a columnist. I knew him. He was Franklin ‘Hank’ Acker, and he had married a Fant. He was good, with style and timing, and aided by the judicious addition of alcohol, kept people wanting more of his stuff. In fact, (I would guess it was in the 1950’s, rumor had it that Hank had ‘took drunk’ and made up a werewolf. It had killed a few chickens, a dog here and there, and folks were beginning to take notice. Then it moved on to cattle, larger animals.
Folks were scared, and Hank was having the time of his life. Finally the newspaper owner called Hank in for a chat. He presented Hank a fifth of good alcohol and said, “You got drunk and made up this werewolf, and now not only are people afraid at night, our delivery boys are refusing to deliver the papers.”
“Now, get drunk and get rid of the werewolf before I have to get rid of you.”
Hank’s column the next day reported the animal had been spotted some 10 miles out of the town of Anderson. His next story moved the animal killer another 20 miles away.
Hank just walked that dangerous animal into the mountains where it was never seen or heard of again, and the world got back to normal.
Based on this scientific evidence, I knew I was going to be a good columnist.