Printer’s ink in my dream and a long way from home

The long, straight highway across the prairie and into Plainview. Photo Source; Panoramio
The long, straight highway across the prairie and into Plainview. Photo Source; Panoramio

WE ALL DREAMED our dreams when we were alone, usually in the dark, and making grandiose plans we knew would never happen. The planets would have to align just right. My planets had left the sky. Maybe they had never been there at all.

My dream was a simple one. All I ever wanted to do was own a small town newspaper.

I would be the publisher and editor, and people would gather around the town square every afternoon about four o’clock and wait for the latest edition to roll of the press to see what I had written for them or about them.

When I graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism Degree from The University of Texas, I turned down a job offer from the Wall Street Journal to take a position as managing editor for a small East Texas newspaper.

The couple that owned it was up in years. Their son was a college professor back east. He didn’t like newspapers.

I did.

Come to work for us, they said, and when we retire we will give you the newspaper.

It might take ten more years.

It might even take fifteen.

I didn’t care.

I had my own newspaper within my grasp. I could feel it. Already my dream was stained with printer’s ink.

To make the offer impossible to turn down, the couple was ready to hire Linda to work as personal assistant to the publisher’s wife. We knew we could never beat a deal like that.

So I came on board as managing editor for eighty dollars a week.

Linda earned forty dollars week.

It wasn’t much, but we could buy groceries, pay the rent, and, besides, I was at the helm of a small town newspaper that would one day be mine.

The dream lasted six weeks.

I met Linda for lunch on day at noon, and she said, “I quit this morning.”

“You can’t.”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“That woman wanted me to get down on my hands and knees and wash the crayon marks off the sidewalk in front of her office,” Linda said. “I ruined a pair of hose, broke a heel on my shoes, and tore out a seam in my skirt.”

“Think it over,” I said.

“I have.”

“And?”

“I quit.”

Here are the basic facts of life and a good marriage.

She quit.

I quit.

No problem, I thought. I walked out to the newsstand, bought a copy of the Dallas Morning News, and went straight to the employment ads.

I could always find another job, and sure enough the Plainview Daily Herald was looking for a reporter.

In kindly terms, I explained to the publisher what his wife could do with her sidewalk, and we were on our way to Plainview.

It took all day and into the night. Plainview was beautiful in the darkness: nothing but low-hanging stars as far as the eye could see. They would sit right down on your shoulders.

The town didn’t look so good in dawn’s early light. The landscape was flat, bleak, barren, full of sand, heavy with wind, and the wind kept blowing the sand in our faces.

I walked into the Daily Herald and met with managing editor Jim Servatius.

He was looking for a reporter.

I was a reporter.

He hired me.

I swaggered out to the car and, flush with a smile, told Linda, “You don’t have to worry. I have a job.”

“I’m not living here,” she said.

“Why not?”

“I’ve checked.”

“What did you find?”

“Plainview is four hundred and sixty-four miles from Kilgore.”

Her home was Kilgore.

My home was Kilgore.

Her mother lived in Kilgore.

So did mine.

“It’s too far away,” she said.

Here are the basic facts of life and a good marriage.

I walked back in the Daily Herald office and resigned.

The job has lasted less than ten minutes.

We drove all day, headed home.

As we threaded our way through downtown Dallas, I noticed a sign for United Press International, which was once the chief competitor for the Associated Press.

I stopped the car. “Think I’ll go up and fill out an application,” I said.

Linda smiled. Dallas was much closer to home.

I came back down thirty-two minutes later. “You don’t have to worry,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I have a job with United Press International.”

It couldn’t get any better than that.

Linda’s smile widened. “Here in Dallas?” she asked.

“No.”

“Where?”

“Denver.”

Her smile turned to a frown. She picked up the map and checked off the miles. There were nine hundred and twenty of them.

Finally, Linda looked up and said, “What’s wrong with Plainview.”

I rode the elevator back upstairs and resigned.

The job with UPI had lasted less than five minutes.

By dark, we were only our way back to West Texas. By the next afternoon, I was shown my desk at the Plainview Daily Herald.

“What’s my job?” I wanted to know.

“We have a newspaper,” Jim Servatius said.

I nodded.

“Fill it up,” he said.

“Anything else?”

“Your typewriter has one ribbon,” he said.

I nodded.

“Make it last as long as you can.”

I was a newspaperman, and it was too far away to ride the wind home.

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  • “Make it last as long as you can,” good advice.
    It helps to be having fun while you’re making it last.
    Who wants to make hell last?
    Or maybe the question should be, “Why did I make that hell last?”
    Anyway, welcome home my friend.
    You are good.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You are kind, Bert. It’s good to be home.

  • Don Newbury

    You MIGHT be one to oppose whoever first said, “I would change a thing about my life.”….

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, precarious journeys are always the best.

  • Roger Summers

    And these days journalists don’t get a chance to quit. Newspapers lay them off before they can.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      And, Roger, you can’t find a classified ad for a reporter’s job in the Dallas Morning News anymore.

  • Donna Cariker

    Caleb,
    First: You learned early on “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy”. Second: When you have a great writing talent like you do, you can find a job anywhere you go (as you proved). And you can even get the job back again after quitting! You know a good thing when you have it (Linda) and employers know a good thing when they have it (you).

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I have a lot of memories on my travels from job to job, book to book, but my good times with Linda are the best ones.

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