“As far as my eyes can see…”
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
J. M. Barrie
I have a Tundra, but it is not near big enough to carry the baggage I hold within me.
And as a writer, that is as how it should be.
I’m asked all the time what it takes to be a writer and I just say I don’t know, but in truth, I do.
If you want to be a writer, if you want to be a journalist, you need this…treasures.
Treasures in your heart, in your soul, treasures on scraps of paper, treasures in shoe boxes hid in the closet.
In your heart treasure the bruises life gives you.
In your soul treasure those who come to comfort you.
Bring both to life on paper.
Treasure random thoughts scribbled on napkins, Kleenex, backs of receipts and scraps of brown paper bags.
Treasure random acts of giving, those gifts given not on special days or holidays are gifts of love, gifts of kindness, messages to hold on to.
It is the baggage within us all where lies the great stories of people, places and things that we carry with us all through life. It is the chord of music we all hear, it is the thread that connects us all.
And in this, my 39th year as a writer/journalist, in what will be my last full-time lap of America, I want every single word I write this year to be about the treasures I find out there in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland and New York.
I promise to find treasures that bring us all together, down deep we are all more alike than we are not, and I will prove that. I believe in my heart that the fishing community, the brotherhood/sisterhood of anglers is the treasure that makes that point.
I promise that in an environment of shouting and accusing where so much means so little, I promise to cut through the negative and bring you the positive stories I see every day out here. I don’t know about you but I certainly need that.
And I promise to bring the stories to you of the little things that mean so much, and I do so with this simple story of a father, a son, an Elton John record album and a pen.
“…there are shadows approaching me…”
“Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice In Wonderland
It was September of 1979 and I had just told my wife, her parents and my parents this: “I changed my major, I’m going to be a documentary scriptwriter, or you know, a writer.”
The Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics was out.
The Bachelor of Arts in Writing, or something, was in.
Several of them said this, “What are you going to write about?” I won’t quote who exactly said that because there are still wills to be dealt with.
My answer was exactly this: “You know, stuff.”
But here’s the box score: I was 27 years old (late to college, didn’t start until I was 25), I had been married now for five whole entire years, and most importantly to those adults at the table…I was paying for it, college no matter what it was I was trying to be, was on me, and you know, my bride of five years, Barb.
The adults handled it much better than I ever would if a young man who was my fifth year son-in-law told me the same stuff.
Now get this, the college I was going to didn’t even have the major I was about to major in, they sort of made it up for me.
I was majoring in a major that wasn’t even a minor at the time.
Barb and I never told the adults that part though, our secret.
“…and to those I left behind…”
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
A month or so after that kitchen table announcement I got in my 1977 white mustang 2+2 hatchback and drove up Main Street to Eastern Hills Mall to have lunch with my father, which he always kindly paid for.
My father, Don Sr., worked at Sears. He sold appliances for more than 20 years for the company, before that he was a salesman in his father’s furniture store, in fact he once delivered furniture to the University I was now attending, “…that’s the American way you know.” I didn’t know that then, I know that now.
In the mall there was some kind of all-you-could-eat buffet restaurant that my father, and all the other appliance sales guys, loved to eat at. Trust me when I say this but I know my father dreamed of how he was going to crush that buffet line the following day.
As soon as he saw me walk into the department he always loosened his tie out of respect for the banquet that was about to begin.
We sat in the back in one of the two “appliance guys’ booths,” dad with his back to the place so, “The customers don’t see me.”
Before the man ever picked up a fork it was always the same, “So how you doing?” And when I started the answer he would start the eating.
This one day though, something was up, “So how’s the writing thing going?” And then he just sat there, no movement for the fork.
“Eh, you know.”
Truth is it wasn’t going, because, um, I didn’t know how or where to get it going.
“Huh, maybe you need some help or something.”
Still no movement to the fork, we had a rule at these lunches, his was “no fathering,” mine was “no soning,” and he was breaking it.
We grew up together as not the best of buds. I left the house early, spent years never talking to him or my mother, we had a truce and it was quickly becoming an uneasy truce in the buffet joint.
“…I wanted you to know…”
“Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.”
I had put my fork down and was about to slide out of the booth when, “I think I have something that will help you with writing.”
One leg was out of the booth, but for some reason I stopped, “Here this will help…”
And with that he reached into his sport coat and brought out a slim wrapped box, “…go ahead, open it…”
My father slid the box across the table and then slowly picked up his fork, sliced a corner off the lasagna on his plate and waited and watched me open the gift.
And this is what my father gave me:
It was a Cross pen, a silver Cross pen in a fancy box and when I took it out and turned it between my fingers I saw this…db…engraved on the barrel.
“You should be able to write good fancy stuff now with a good fancy pen.”
Later, after lunch I sat in my 1977 Mustang within the shadow of the Eastern Hills Mall Sears store looking at the pen, twirling it in my fingers, when it finally hit me, that the man who raised me and my sisters, put a roof over our heads, food on our table did so as a salesman who wrote thousands of sales orders with nothing fancier than a bic pen, but who wanted his son the writer to write with a better pen than he ever owned.
“…that’s the American way you know.”
“…you’ve always shared…”
“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
My father is gone, the pen he gave me is not.
A month or so after he gave it to me a story I wrote with it was published in the campus student newspaper. I got paid $25 and a free subscription to the free campus student newspaper.
I showed him the check, cashed it in the mall and paid for his buffet to which he said simply, “See I told you, it’s the pen.”
The first story I ever wrote as a TV reporter I did with that pen, the first story I ever wrote at ESPN, I did with that pen, the story I wrote that won the New York Festival World Medal…I wrote with that pen.
I wrote his obit with it as well.
In 1981 I graduated with my made up major, now at the university you can get a Master’s in it. July of that year Barb and I moved to California to begin a new career and life, June 1981 was the last time I was home with my parents for my birthday.
My mother bought me a tie and a couple “grown-up” shirts. My father, he, he bought me an Elton John LP for the stereo system we were going to drag around the country.
I thanked him, was actually shocked that he even knew what an Elton John was, and packed it up for the move.
Several months later I found it in a box, took the record out and put it on the turntable but as I was doing so I saw that one track was circled several times and in the little print my father was famous for was this, “play this one.”
Honkey Chateau: Side Two, Track Nine – ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’
So I played it, nice, played it again, nice but nothing spectacular, at the time I wasn’t even an Elton John fan. After a couple plays I took it off the turntable and slid it back in the cover…but it wouldn’t go all the way, stuck, push, stuck, push harder, stuck, harder, bend the cover and a piece of paper falls out.
As I pick it up I see it is my father’s writing.
“…my deepest thoughts…”
“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they are impossible.”
The Phantom Tollbooth
There are treasures strewn throughout life and I’ve learned in my 39 years of writing about “stuff,” it is up to writers and journalists to find those treasures and share them with you.
As I grow older with thousands of stories behind me I think that we are supposed to bring you stories of joy and sorrow, and do so in such a way that you treasure both.
I think as I grow older we in the business should leave you with something special so as not to waste your time, that we in the business should offer you some sort of escape. Our written words should give you the same comfort as the early morning fog raising off your favorite fishing spot.
This lap here I want to leave you with 55 stories, some of which you will forever treasure and I know all those on this site who I’m honored to write with want the same thing.
Know this, I know these guys who run this site, know them well, know those who write on this site and not a one, not a one who brings this sport to you leaves anything on the field of play. Every story matters, there are no tearoffs, no one mails it in, trust them and the treasures they bring you about the sport you love.
They love it too.
I’m packing now, will be heading out soon, but before I go I want to leave you with what my father wrote on the piece of paper that fell out of the Elton John album.
Dad actually quoted lyrics from the song, and yes he was the one who gave me the idea to do that in stories.
This is what he wrote to “My budding writer of stuff:”
“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through”
“No matter how hard it gets, treasure writing stuff.”
P.S.: The pen will help, try not to lose it.
“…you follow where I go.”
Old & Wise
The Alan Parsons Project