I wanted to be the keeper of the secrets.


My novel Deadline News is all about the greed, the jealousies, the rumors, the gossip, and the backstabbing that takes place in small town America. There’s even a murder or two.

It could be set in any small town.

All small towns are alike.

I know.

I’ve lived in them.

I love them.

I was once sitting in a back corner of Hay’s Café, drinking an early morning cup of coffee, and one wizened old man sat back, blotted the coffee from his mustache with a handkerchief, pulled his gimme cap down over his eyes, and said: “God made all of mankind.”

The rest of us nodded.

“God made this beautiful land we’re living on,” he said, “and God made the animals running loose in the woods and the birds sitting in the trees.”

Nobody could argue with anything he was talking about.

“God did real good,” he said.

He shrugged.

“But there’s one thing God was never able to do.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Only the devil can make a little town,” he said.

“Amen,” the sheriff said.

And he knew best.

During my growing up years, all I ever wanted to do was work on a small town newspaper. It was, I thought, the most glamorous job in the world.

Of course, I came from Pitner’s Junction.

Glamour had never been in style in Pitner’s Junction.

So I went to college. I studied journalism.

The smart kids in my class were majoring in advertising and public relations.

But, no, I had my eyes set on a small town newspaper.

Reporters investigated all sorts of things, I thought.

Reporters wrote stories every day.

Reporters had front page-bylines.

Reporters knew every secret in town: who did what to whom, how many times, and why.

I wanted to be the keeper of the secrets.

So I accepted my first newspaper job at a small town daily.

I did it all.

I covered the police beat, which mostly dealt with drunks, domestic disturbances, and traffic tickets, none of which ever made the newspaper.

I covered every civic club in town and mingled weekly with Lions and Optimists and Rotarians and Jaycees.

I wrote obituaries delivered by grieving widows on their way to the attorney’s office for their first glimpse at the will.

I would have covered a murder or two.

Sometimes the money went to the wrong woman.

Sometimes it went to the wrong widow.

Thank God the man was already dead. It saved him from a lot of grief, a load of pain, and probably a day in court.

I handled the interviews.

I wrote the stories.

I wrote the headlines.

I designed the pages.

I delivered the afternoon edition to the advertisers.

Everybody was glad to see me coming.

I did what I loved.

I was doing everything I loved.

And they paid me forty dollars a week.

I thought I was rich.

My wife told me we were poor.

“But I’m important,” I said.

“You’re poor,” she said.

She was afraid I had missed it the first time.

“But I know every secret in town,” I said.

She sighed.

I knew it was going to be a long, cold night.

“So does everybody else in town,” she said.

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  • I really have to go live in a small town for a while.

    Of course, then I’d be the new guy, and no one would tell me anything.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia: In a small town, all you have to do is go down to the corner cafe, put a dollar in the jukebox and play three Merle Haggard records, and within the blink of an eye you’re part of the hometown family.

      • I’ll have to try that; I’m not so sure – I’d more likely represent yuppies come to town.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          You would feel at home with the yuppies, Alicia, and I would be eating grits with red-eye gravy dripping off my elbows.

  • Don Newbury

    Caleb, except for the typesetter, I was the LONE employee in a small town newspaper during the summer of 1967. I was promised $40 per week; end of first week, though, publisher asked if I could wait a week for pay, and in same breath, borrowed $50 from me. This was pattern for several summers, but I learned much from this saintly man who never regarded a check he signed as anything but a promise to pay, and he always did. He was revered in Bangs, TX, and when I wrote master’s thesis on his life, they had a barbecue at the football field in his honor, gave him and his wife a big color TV and renamed Main Street “Kyle Avenue.”…I learned as much from him as from any teacher at any level….

    • Caleb Pirtle

      That is an experience you can’t pay for, and the lessons learned last a lifetime. In my case, it was the editor of the Gladewater Daily Mirror. I worked there every summer I was in college. I would walk in June 1, and the family would leave for a three-month vacation. As you said, I did it all. Local news. Associated Press news. And laid out every page every day. By my senior year at Texas, I knew as much about the newspaper business as my professors, who had never worked on a newspaper.

  • Roger Summers

    Hey, Dr. Don, that sorta sounds like what is going on just now in Arlington, Texas, USA – Baseball Town! – regarding the big push by Rangers owners for a new ballpark to replace the “old” ball park. No kidding. And no sweat. Interesting the way some folks find ingenuous ways to put the touch on other folks.

    • Don Newbury

      No media foxes watching fat cats’ houses….

      • Caleb Pirtle

        Roger, when we go see our son, who lived on the western edge of Grand Prairie, my wife would not shop in Arlington because she refused to let any of her money go to Jerry Jones and his football stadium. If he wanted a stadium, she thought he could pay for it, not the folks who lived and shopped in town, those who would never benefit financially from Jerry World.

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