Since I have now completed 25 years of writing this column, this month is a bit of a milestone for me. Growing up, if you would have asked any of my peers what they thought I would be when (or, if) I grew up, writer would have been about as likely an answer as NASA astronaut or professional ballroom dancer.
According to all the English teachers I had throughout high school and college, I didn’t get it. Until 25 years ago, I wrote the same way I talked — a version of English I like to refer to as “hillbilly southern,” with a splash of dumbass. And, trust me, that ain’t gonna get nobody no writin’ awards, or even a C grade on the report card.
But, I had the great fortune of growing up around a neighbor who could weave the most entertaining and interesting stories that a young kid could ever hear. I could sit for hours and listen to Nuell Yochum spin a yarn that would make a man like Jerry Clower envious, and he could tell the same story 10 times, and it would become better, funnier and more clever with every version. If I gleaned any knowledge of storytelling, I owe it to Mr. Nuell.
Thankfully, my wife came along about 37 years ago and began to gradually correct my English (both written and oral) in such a manner that normal people can now read my stories and understand them. She’s also the one who encouraged me to start writing this column those 25 short years ago.
I had no idea how to get my stories printed, but I sent three samples to the editor of the little weekly newspaper I’d read my whole life. The editor was new and I didn’t know him, but he was kind enough to read my samples and mailed his response back to me. “Your stories are good enough to print, but not good enough for me to pay. Keep them coming.” I did and, luckily, other newspapers and magazines (that were willing to pay) started picking them up.
My parents were still alive when my column first appeared in a statewide magazine, and I couldn’t wait to proudly show it to them. I can still remember my dad looking at the column with my picture by the title (Dad never learned to read) and saying, “I can’t believe anyone would want to pay for anything you have to say. You’re not going to get arrested for fraud or theft, are you?” You had to know Dad.
A couple of weeks ago, at a purebred cattle sale, I saw an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. He is in his late 80s and has always reminded me of my father. “Jerry,” he started, “I see you’re still writing in a couple of magazines I get. How long have you been doing that, now?”
“It’ll soon be 25 years,” I proudly proclaimed.
“Hmm, you’d think you’d get better at it.”
Crownover lives in Missouri.