I’ve always liked to write. The first thing I ever wrote for the “public” was a story about some topic I’ve long forgotten, when I was in the fourth grade.
I remember that I asked Miss Johnson, a lovely silver haired lady who was a great teacher, if I could read my story to the class. Wanting to encourage initiative from her young students, I suppose, she said I could.
The class seemed moderately interested in my story but when I asked Miss Johnson if I could write a new chapter each week, she demurred, obviously feeling that adhering to her teaching schedule was of a higher priority than hearing the stories of a future Fitzgerald or Hemingway.
Well, obviously I wasn’t a future Fitzgerald or Hemingway, just a future old newspaper man, as reporters or journalists were called back in the day. I turned out to be much more comfortable with reporting facts rather than inventing characters of my own.
The funny thing is, that until my senior retreat at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge I intended to be a veterinarian rather than any kind of a writer at all. The retreat was designed to be a time for prayer, contemplation and meditation. One afternoon during a break, I was in the cafeteria at the Manresa Retreat House, sipping a Seven-Up, when, like a bolt from the blue, I realized I wanted to be a newspaper man, not a doc who takes care of cats and dogs, as noble as the latter profession is.
So I majored in journalism at LSU, getting a good solid foundation in gathering facts and how to put them down on paper so that people would want to read what I wrote.
On Jan. 8, 1965 (the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans) I reported to work at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. And for the next 41 years, until 2006, I was a newspaper man, though by the time of my retirement it would have been considered politically incorrect to call myself that. It was the “man” part that would have offended the sensibilities of some, you see.
It was a heck of a ride. I got to do things that most folks never get a chance to do, including covering hurricanes, earthquakes, landing on aircraft carriers, meeting presidents, movie actors and all sorts of interesting characters, both good and bad. Perhaps my favorite years for everyday satisfaction were when I covered the criminal courts in Jefferson Parish. For real, true-life human drama, there’s little that can compete with the moment when a jury comes back with a verdict in a murder case.
And now, retired to Natchitoches to get away from “hurricane alley” down south, I still get to express myself, now as a columnist, something I’d never really done during my years on the job in New Orleans. It’s fun because from week to week I often don’t know what I’m going to write about until the last minute. Sometimes I’ll be inspired with an idea while trying to get to sleep at night. Other times I have to sit down and just come up with something.
But you know what? As fascinating as my career was, like so many journalists, I was a would-be novelist. I had ideas for several books that I was going to write when I retired, but just never got around to doing. I fear they will stay in my head, rather than become reality.
My potential novel topics included the story of how a young southern college boy dealt with the assassination of John F. Kennedy (if it sounds like it might have been autobiographical it was); a novel centered around the Civil War in Baton Rouge and the siege of Port Hudson, with all kinds of interesting characters, and a supernatural horror story about the ghost of a murdered stripper in modern day New Orleans.
Three very different genres of writing, indeed, but those were my ideas.
Alas, as I said, you’ll likely never get the chance to read them because in my retired laziness I prefer reading other people’s books rather than doing the hard work that writing one of my own would entail.
But, heck, you never really know. Or as they say in France, “On ne sais jamais.”