Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forty Years and Still Writing

It recently occurred to me that it has been 40 years since I wrote my first newspaper column. I was 15 at the time. And this year marks the 15th anniversary of my first regular Over Coffee column.

My first Over Coffee column appeared in Edinburgh’s Tricounty News in March, 1993. I had been working part time for that weekly for a couple of years, contributing some news stories and editorials. But in 1993, I decided to quit my miserable job babysitting inner-city teens at Job Corps and start a new career in local journalism.

The title of this column, Over Coffee, is not exactly original. It isn't that I couldn't come up with anything new or different if I wanted to. It's just that I wanted to take the opportunity to continue a tradition started by one of my predecessors in the newspaper business, someone to whom I owe much of my present interest in newspaper writing.

Long-time Edinburgh residents probably know the answer to this. Who had a column of the same name in another Edinburgh newspaper about 40 years ago? And what was the name of that paper?

The name of the newspaper was The Edinburgh Daily Courier. Yes, it was a daily back then. Francis and Sarah Otto owned and published that newspaper until the middle-1960s. The Courier was sold to the Franklin Evening Star, which later became the Daily Journal. Bill Hale became the editor. It was Hale who gave me my first shot at writing a regular column for the newspaper.

I was interested in the weather back then, as now. I was only a sophomore in high school, but Bill came over to my house and took some pictures of my "state-of-the-art" weather instruments (such as a rooster wind vane, a large empty can with a ruler for a rain gauge, a window thermometer, and a cheap barometer).

He did a story on me and my interest in the weather. That kicked-off a regular daily feature which included my hand-drawn weather map of the United States and a forecast. It was 1968; I had no computer to produce digital maps. I actually drew a U.S. map freehand every morning.

Occasionally, I would even write an article to accompany my forecast and map. One of those articles, complete with diagrams, was called The Anatomy of a Thunderstorm. It was also picked up by The Republic in Columbus, Indiana.

Bill wrote a daily column in the Courier. He called it Over Coffee. And to think, he had to come up with something new and different EVERY DAY!

A few years ago, I was digging through an old chest of drawers that belonged to my late Aunt Ruby. She would keep almost everything I produced back then. I noticed several old yellow newspapers, advertising milk at 69 cents per gallon. They all contained some of my original newspaper material. I hate to think my style hasn't improved, but they really were not too bad for a high-school kid!

For several years, until the paper folded (and, no, I don't think I had anything to do with that), I continued to provide the daily weather forecast for Edinburgh. I wrote my forecast and drew my map every morning after I got dressed and would slip my copy underneath the door of the Courier office on my way to school. And in the afternoon, it would be in the paper, as if by magic.

Anyway, that is the origin of this column. I offer a thank you to the late Bill Hale for the start, and for the idea. Have a cup on me, Bill. But I still prefer decaf.

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