|The Back Forty
By Roger Pond
The hardest thing about writing a newspaper column is answering questions from readers. Even routine queries like, “How long does it take to write a column?” never seem to have a simple answer.
Does a column take a couple of hours, a couple of days, or a couple of years? I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ve ever finished one.
One of my grandson’s classmates stumped me recently when she asked, “How many books do you write in a day?”
The most vexing question I ever got was, “Do you write that column yourself?”
“What did she mean by that?” I thought. “Does she think I’m too dumb to write it, or too smart to write it?” It’s a no-win situation as far as I can tell.
The toughest question of all is, “How did you get started writing?” I’ve mulled that one around for years, and my mind always skips back to my early years in grade school.
Readers need to understand I grew up in an era before creative writing was taught, or even encouraged in the lower grades.
Students who tried to be creative, or refused to color between the lines, generally wound up in the boiler room talking with the janitor.
My old school wasn’t the most progressive, even for that era, so most of my writing was terse and to the point.
“Roger was sic yesterday. Probably had the flew. Signed, Dad.” That kind of stuff.
As I advanced through the grades, my teachers began comparing my writing with more famous authors. “This reminds me of Steinbeck,” Miss Arbuck would say.
“You and Bubba Steinbeck are staying after school until we find out who’s copying from whom.”
Soon my teachers were comparing my writing to that of my sister, then my older brother; and finally they said they didn’t care where I was getting it as long as it wasn’t hurting anybody.
By the time I reached junior high I realized that humor wasn’t taught at my school, either. It seemed to be discouraged, if anything.
If Miss Arbuck saw something humorous, she did everything she could to squelch it. Whereas most humorists have people encouraging them, I’ve had to go it pretty much alone.
When David Letterman was a boy, his teachers probably said, “Oh, Dave, that’s so funny! I’ll bet your mother is very proud of you.”
That’s why he grew up to be such a smart aleck.
My teachers didn’t see things that way. My teachers were what Garrison Keillor calls “humor impaired.”
Miss Arbuck, in particular, was death on young humorists. We’d come up with something especially hilarious, and she’d say, “You may have thought that was funny, but I certainly didn’t.”
“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself,” we told her. “Just hang in there, and you’ll probably catch on right away next time.”
This seemed to cheer her up, but I’ve always wondered about a woman who grinds her teeth like that when she smiles. That must be hard on the molars if nothing else.
This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.