In 1991, I was majoring in Communications at Mercer University and I wanted to be a “journalist.” It had been my dream since girlhood – not fiction writing: but Mary Richards.
I wanted to BE Mary Richards (ah – character of The Mary Tyler Moore Show), but it didn’t happen…
My only “taste” of journalism came in the form of looking for a freelance opportunity – and my involvement in politics. It was right before the Clinton/Gore campaign – of which I ran the Griffin, Georgia headquarters by the fall of 1992 – but this was 1991. I was young, idealistic, and I found an interesting story I think few to this day have found out.
I won’t write about it. I never will. But I can tell the background that ended it – and didn’t launch me into journalism as a career. Why?
I got scared off – and smartly so!
But for 1991, before the Internet, I did some research. It was in a nearby state and it involved a national story from the 1960s – I found something about a famous dead woman that most Americans would remember. This woman had spent a year working in a school, teaching – before her demise at a young age.
Trust me, you won’t crack it.
I began correspondence with a few of her former students and employer. I prepared to journey to the city where she had worked. And on the eve before my departure, a phone call came to my father’s house.
“May I speak to Anne Hendricks?”
My father grumbled and got me out of bed. I took the phone, blinking. “Who is it?”
“Some woman.” Dad returned to his bedroom.
“Ma’am?” If you know me, it comes honestly as a Southern girl – especially one in 1991 looking at twenty.
“It would behoove you not to come tomorrow. Do you hear me?”
“Why?” I asked. She sounded Northern – and could you use “behoove” like that?
“Listen to me. Do not come. Back off. You seem to be a smart girl. Especially for one that fears water.”
I had not grown up in politics. My grandfather’s world of the Marshall Plan and Middle Eastern excitement hadn’t extended into my world save his 1960’s connections to Iran and his Iranian friends killed after the Shah had died and the Revolution changed everything. This – had nothing to do with him. He was also long deceased.
I immediately called his widow, my step-grandmother. She was footing my bill for my research – and college – and I told her what happened.
“Doesn’t surprise me, Fannie. Considering WHO this is and WHO it involves… Back off is a warning: do it!”
“But this is a good opportunity – it could go somewhere!” I argued. Cloak and dagger seemed fun at 19!
“Did you tell anyone else besides me?”
“No – well, just you -”
“Back off. I was in the diplomatic corps for years – and I know this stuff. BACK OFF! Or you will be…dead too!” she yelled into the phone. I could feel the sweat under my armpits.
“You can’t swim, can you?” my step-grandmother was scared. She meant to scare me.
“How would they know of my fear of water?” I asked.
“They make a point of these things, Anne,” she whispered, “Back OFF!”
I was terrified of water.
I was terrified of drowning.
My step-grandmother stayed on the phone with me until the realization “sunk in” real well. I was told to destroy everything. I hung up and crawled into bed, terror in my heart.
The next morning, I burned everything in a pot belly stove – knowing the only unique and creative journalism story I could ever birth was gone forever. I also made sure I learned how to swim and overcame my fear of water.
That’s as close as I’ll come.
Tonight, I was watching a special on YouTube and listening to stories connected to people “around” her – but not “her.” I remembered the story I had destroyed, the phone call, and told my husband. His eyes shot into his hairline.
“How did you discover this story, so long ago?”
“I simply read a magazine and well, traced some things. It seemed strange she was down in the Deep South for a year. And I made some phone calls – wrote some letters… I had people who were just going to tell me what this woman was like – and run a story of “before” she had died – a few years before – and her life, for one year, as an educator. Not really too complicated.”
“You know how she died, right?”
“Yes – but -”
“You did right. How in the hell did you find such a smidgen to do a story on – but that? That would have been picked up, Anne. Wow. See? Even then, you were a born researcher before the Internet.”
I end my story there. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I had “shown up” in that city and done my story – would I have gone into journalism? Or would I have stayed my father’s course to become a librarian? I was a librarian for 16 years. I am now a simple author of romance novels and ghostwriting. I have the fancy degree but I never did enter journalism, save my own column, freelance historical work, and professional pieces in my field.
In my Google curiosity over the years, the story was never done. I remain probably the only person to think of such an article – and maybe, with almost 25 years past, it’s best I never did or do. I’m glad I listened to my step-grandmother, now dead over ten years.
Stay that way!
I intend to!
But it would have been a good story…