I can’t even spell Swahili

A funny story. Actually two funny stories, although one’s probably more ironic or sardonic than funny.

Before I lose you, the first funny tale.

Kelly began her final semester practicum yesterday for her Master of Social Work program. She thought the learnin’ was windin’ down. Turns out that she’s going to work most of time with the local refugee communities. Looks like she’ll need to learn Swahili, any number of Burmese dialects, Congolese, Vietnamese …

If that sounds demanding, frustrating, confusing or whatever, consider that we are all pegs looking for a comfortable fit. Kelly’s best fit once upon a time was as a mom raising kids. (Ours and, over a period of four years, 26 foster kids). As she gets ready for a smooth landing as an MSW degree-holder, her peg is a natural fit for this field. It’s so cool to see that happen.

But it won’t be long until she’s telling me in Swahili how much she hates football.

And now for something funny/ironic …

I ran for the Maries County R-2 board of education in 1991, one of six candidates for two seats on the school board. I finished fifth.

During my campaign, I knocked on at least 500 doors, delivering a slick little flier, shaking hands and wearing hand-made campaign buttons. I was just 28. Twenty years ago, I had a lot more energy and bent at the knees and hip better back then.

One door-knocking experience stands out more than others. My high school principal, then retired, answered his door and asked, “What do you want, Jodie?”

I thrust out my hand for a strong handshake and with the other hand offered my slick campaign flier. Mr. Evans had a simple, rather pointed response.

“Not on your life!” And he slammed the door.

A decade and a half earlier, back in the fall of 1977, just a couple of weeks before the end of the first semester of my freshman year in high school, Mr. Evans announced — arbitrarily, I should add — that anyone with more than one excused absence would be required to take semester final exams, regardless of grades. Until that capricious ruling that, I must add, clearly violated the ex post facto prohibition of the United States Constitution, the number of absences didn’t matter if you had an “A” average, which I had. I shouldn’t have been required to deal with the burden of not studying for final exams.

But I also had a handful of excused absences, courtesy of notes that my mom wrote (she really did) excusing me to go home to watch the baseball playoffs, which back in those days were played at reasonable hours (interference with school hours notwithstanding). I railed against Mr. Evans’s unpatriotic disdain for the very tenets of our country’s founding. Could be that I actually questioned whether he was a Communist. (Probably not my best moment, and certainly one that eliminated any possibility that he would ever cast a ballot for me in a future school board election).

Two years later — in fact, it was October, so almost two years to the day of The Great Ex Post Facto Debacle — the local newspaper publisher, Norman Gallagher, dropped by the high school in search of someone to write school news for The Belle Banner, our community newspaper. Mr. Evans brought Mr. Gallagher to Mr. Fann’s algebra class and summoned me to the door.

I was 16. A career was born.

Mr. Gallagher paid me $25 a week, gave me my own office — MY OWN OFFICE, OMG — and taught me lots of things that journalists should do: ask tough questions, never ask a “yes or no” question, and whenever the high school principal censored an article from appearing in the high school newspaper, of which I was editor, then that article should appear on the front page of The Belle Banner. Mr. Gallagher also taught me a lot of things that journalists shouldn’t do, such as calling the local doctor, a man of middle eastern descent, “a camel jockey masquerading as a physician.” (His words).

He lost that libel suit and soon thereafter sold the newspaper.

Not sure caused me to think about my failed bid for the school board, which was actually a blessing in disguise, because just a year later, in 1992, I took my first job at a daily newspaper and we moved from Belle to Jefferson City.

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Evans.

Can’t blame him for not feeling like he owed me his vote.


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Filed under A reporter's life, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

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