I wrote my first column about 54 years ago. I would have been 12 years old. I guess you couldn’t really call it a column. Better to call it a “letter to the editor.”
But, it was an exercise in writing and a lesson learned that I still remember.
I sent that note to the Wallaces Farmer magazine. Wallaces Farmer was about the only magazine we received out in corn country. I just checked and it is still in business, no doubt changed a bit from the time before the Internet and instant news. I forget how often we received the magazine, but I think it was once a month.
My elementary school teacher had urged her students to write such a letter to any publication we chose. Most of my classmates wrote their letters to the local newspaper. I wanted to go bigger than that, so I picked the Wallaces Farmer.
By that time in my life, I thought I knew about everything there was to know about farming, so it was only appropriate that I write something on that subject.
Time has erased the subject of my letter. I think I was asking something about why the price of pigs was so low or why the commission firm was allowed to take a cut out of our shipped livestock check or why corporate farming was doing away with the small, family farm. My question was cutting edge, no doubt.
My dad urged me to write, but cautioned me that the magazine might not choose to publish it. He was setting me up to handle failure, I guess. On the farm, one got used to some amount of failure no matter how hard we tried to avoid it.
But, I wrote my letter in my best penmanship, signed it and stuffed it into an envelope and put the red flag up on mailbox.
To all our surprise, about three weeks after I’d put the letter in our RFD mailbox, a letter arrived addressed to me with the return address of Wallaces Farmer Head Office. I picked up the mail that day and it didn’t take me long to run to the farmhouse to see what was inside.
To the surprise of both my parents, the letter inside stated that my letter had been chosen to be placed in the next edition of the magazine. It was the beginning of my writing career, as it is.
My teacher was thrilled when I showed her the letter! She brought me up in front of the class and used me as an example of how one could become famous by writing. It was probably the high point of my whole school career.
My classmates even gave me a lukewarm round of applause. I had discovered fame. My male friends seemed awestruck. And, I did garner more attention from the girls as well after they found out that I was a published author.
Sure enough, the next month’s edition of Wallaces Farmer came and there in the middle of the “Letters To The Editor” was my one paragraph entry and it was signed by me, John Wetrosky, Hinton, Iowa. What a trip that was! Dad patted me on the back like he had never done before.
Every peak has a valley, though. As I was reveling in the glory of my achievement, I sauntered into the gas station just up the road from our farm. The usual group of farmers was loitering around the pop cooler, smoking cigarettes and talking about the weather and the price of fertilizer.
When I came in the door, one of more crusty looking farmers spoke up, “John, I see you wrote an article in the Wallaces Farmer. I don’t agree with what you wrote.” He spun around on his farm boots and walked out of the station. What? I had a detractor? Who did he think he was?
My newfound high status was tempered by knowing someone might disagree with me. But, it was a lesson.
When I told my dad about that, he said, “You know, whenever you write something and sign your name to it, you will have to take responsibility for it and you might have to defend what you wrote.”
I never forgot that lesson. It keeps the bit in my mouth yet today.
In today’s world of the press when people are allowed to comment on articles and not sign their names, I think we’ve lost some of that sense of responsibility. I don’t send those comments unsigned. I and many others of my ilk were brought up to take responsibility for our actions and sending that letter to Wallaces Farmer without my name attached just wouldn’t have seemed right.
Even if that crusted old farmer, who didn’t like what I’d written, hadn’t thrown cold water on my masterpiece.
See you next time. Okay?