There’s no question about it, newspapers have been my life-long love affair. It’s a love affair that actually began before I was even old enough to go to school.
It was 1943. I was just five years old, the war was still raging overseas and my grandfather on my mother’s side had just retired as a conductor with the CNR. On many mornings, he would come by our home and walk me down to the railway station in New Glasgow so we could see “the big train” arriving from Halifax.
When I look back at it now after all those years, I realize he was trying to interest me in the huge steel engine as it chugged to a noisy stop, its steam drifting skyward from its big wheels.
His strategy didn’t work very well. I was much more intrigued watching the bundles of newspapers being tossed onto the platform for distribution throughout Pictou County. That was the way the Halifax Herald — as it was called at the time — got its editions into the area.
I was excited knowing that the comic page I would see at home later had been aboard the train. A very short time after that, I was starting to look at the sports pages, to read about the previous night’s game I attended at the old Arena Rink with my father.
That was almost three-quarters of a century ago. There were no hockey games on television. Heck, there was no such sophisticated thing as a television. It was still an era when you made a phone call and there was a female voice on the other end of the line, offering those familiar words, “Number please.”
A long time ago, indeed.
I’ve often mentioned in conversation, or in my columns, that I started publishing my own weekly family newspaper, Hugh’s Chronicle, when I was just 12 years old. That was done on my little green typewriter, the one my father bought for me when he sold my electric train and my grandfather gave up any railway hopes he held for me. I would make carbon copies of the paper so I could sell subscriptions to my grandmother and her bridge friends, regular subjects in my articles.
But I don’t think I’ve ever gone back an extra seven childhood years to mention those wartime visits to the railway station.
So why now?
It’s because of a conversation a number of weeks ago that developed when a young father came up to me while I was watching a girls hockey game at the new four-pad facility in Dartmouth Crossing.
Later, the young man pointed out his eight-year-old son on the neighbouring ice surface, practising with his novice team. This is only the youngster’s second season in the sport and, his dad says he’s liking it.
The father came to his point. “My son is enjoying the hockey, I’m sure of that, but he keeps telling me he’d rather be ‘one of those people who write about the games.’ I keep telling him he might be able to do that someday when he’s older. Then a friend of mine told me about you, about how you used to write a newspaper when you were so young. It made me wonder at what age I should be encouraging my son. He reads stories on the sports pages almost every day and likes a lot of sports.”
That’s when I explained how young I was, making those trips to the railway station, being more interested in the papers arriving from Halifax, instead of being fascinated by my grandfather’s stories about those big engines.
The man said he’s been reading my columns “for many years,” that he “loved your first book” and wondered if there had been writers in my family who may have passed on a writing talent.
That got me on another matter.
I could think of only one person. I told him about my mother, especially when she was a student nurse at the hospital in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1920s. No, she didn’t become a Brooklyn Dodgers fan — a big surprise and disappointment to me when I was young — but she saw every play on Broadway over her five years living in New York.
My mother’s interest? She wrote poetry during those years. Lots and lots of poetry. Scrapbooks filled with poetry. Poetry on just about every imaginable subject. Maybe that was writing. Maybe that’s where I got my early interest in newspapers. I certainly didn’t get a hang for poetry.
I told the youngster’s father I really don’t think there was anything unique about my youthful attraction to newspapers.
I mentioned a habit I developed.
How I’ve been a sort of Sports Illustrated fanatic since its very beginning in 1954, since the day I was in my uncle’s reception area — he was also my doctor — and I found SI’s inaugural issue in the pile of magazines, the one that remains the most iconic sports cover ever, Eddie Mathews batting for the Milwaukee Braves.
I mentioned Sports Illustrated because I’ve always read it cover to cover, devouring the writing styles of many of the finest sports journalists in the business, a reading habit I still practice. I not only zeroed in on my preferred writers, I learned a lot about their personal backgrounds. I was surprised how many began writing at very tender ages.
I suggested to the father in Dartmouth that his son might enjoy reading SI before he’s much older. I also recommended the youngster write as much as possible. He’s never too young.
What I thought would be a five- or 10-minute chat turned into almost an hour’s discussion.
But I’m glad I did it.
Maybe, in the not-too-distant future, the young guy’s byline will start appearing somewhere in the print media