Everyone has a story

“Column writing is storytelling in written form. Those who understand the magic in words make the best writers and the best story tellers. Therefore, I believe there is only a thin line that separates the two crafts.”—Leon Aldridge

That thought came to me a couple of weeks ago while on a mission to name the newest series of Aldridge columns scheduled for publication in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

The Mount Pleasant (Texas) Tribune—2017

Columns published in newspapers have traditionally been identified by names. Sometimes, the name will include the author’s name in a catchy manner, such as “Borderline” written by friend and former colleague Gary Borders. Other times, it might refer to the publication itself, as in the column called “Monitoring Main Street,” written by Morris Craig and several publishers and staffers at The Monitor in Naples, Texas for more than at least 60 years that I know of.

Whatever the name, column writing has provided me with more fun and reward than almost any other aspect of the newspaper business. I was hooked on columns in high school reading Paul Crume’s, “Big D,” in the Dallas Morning News.

Crume’s first column was published in 1952 and was on the front page every Sunday through Friday edition for 24 years. He reportedly never missed a deadline, but also never made one with more than seconds to spare. And supposedly, never read his column in the paper the next day.

His last column appeared November 13, 1975, just three days before he died. No one took his place, and unfortunately, in my opinion, the tradition of front page columns also died—with one exception we’ll touch on shortly.

Center (Texas) East Texas Light—1980

My first regular column ran in the Center East Texas Light (now the Light and Champion) in April of 1980, dubbed, “The Aldridge Report.” That was, however, not the first column bearing my byline. As editor for the Sabine News in Many, Louisiana in the late 70s, I penned sporadic contributions for the struggling weekly where time to write regular columns was a luxury—likely why it never garnered a name.

The Boerne (Texas) Star—1993

After Center, and after teaching journalism at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, my next publishing gig was at The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. We called that column “This Week,” a name I also used at the Marlin Democrat, a brief stop on my way back to East Texas to publish the Naples Monitor.

The Marlin (Texas) Democrat—1998

Keeping with the aforementioned Naples Monitor tradition dating back many decades, my column ran on the front page as, “Monitoring Main Street.” Morris Craig still continues that tradition, as he did before me and after me, with the only front-page newspaper column of which I’m aware.

The Naples (Texas) Monitor—1999

Returning to the Light and Champion briefly in 2014-2015, my column ran under the name, “It’s All in How You Look At It.”

All of that leads to naming this most recent Aldridge column, a process that started right before the first offering went to press recently when a message from Center publisher Steve Fountain asked about  a name. I honestly had no idea, so the brainstorming commenced. Now, if you think the catchy titles on newspaper columns are just whimsical taglines requiring little thought or creativity, read on.

I hastily jotted names on sticky notes and threw them up on the wall to stare at them for a while. As midnight struck, the list included:

  • Life is a journey
  • It’s gonna be all right
  • The story goes on forever
  • Everyone has a story
  • I swear It’s the truth
  • That’s how I remember it
  • Still playing with words
  • Miscellaneous Musings
  • Random Ruminations

Employing the latest in scientific methods such as throwing darts at the notes while chanting the proposed names aloud, I began to think about how general interest column writing is little more than telling a story. People love a good story, and it doesn’t even have to be 100-percent true—minor embellishment can be a virtue, like careful use of spices when cooking, only to enhance what’s already there.

Other names fell out of contention as I recalled sage advice from columnist and local new writer Mattie Dellinger years ago in Center who always reminded, “Don’t use 50-cent words when nickel words will do.” Just before 12:30 a.m., the list read:

  • It’s Gonna Be All Right
  • The Story Goes On Forever
  • Everyone Has a Story
  • I Swear It’s the Truth
  • That’s How I Remember It

I borrowed “It’s Gonna Be All Right” from my life-long friend Oscar Elliott in Mount Pleasant, one of the wittiest guys I ever knew. Also liked, “That’s How I Remember It.” It had merit for storytelling. Both of them needed additional words to complete, and column names should be brief. Approaching 1:00 a.m., the survivors were:

  • The Story Goes On Forever
  • Everyone Has a Story
  • That’s How I Remember It

Delaying a final decision until morning, I turned off the computer in favor of sleeping. As darkness replaced lamp light at 12:58 a.m., I had an epiphany. Knowing it would be gone by morning, I wrote this on a note, “It’s a Story Worth Telling.”

The Center (Texas) Light and Champion—2017

Morning and 5:50 came quickly. I let the dogs out and glanced at the words hastily scribbled scant hours before. Reading the survivors aloud for the last time, I fired off an email to Center and to Mount Pleasant … “It’s a Story Worth Telling.”

After seeing it in print, I felt good about it. Truly, we all have a story or two worth telling, and we should be sharing them.

—Leon Aldridge

 Aldridge columns are now published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).

2 thoughts on “Everyone has a story

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