How I got my dream job
More and more people stop me on the street and ask when I’m going to retire, so I think that day must be close at hand. But not just yet.
I am reminded of my first few days at The Corydon Democrat and the tons of tall tales I have written since about my husband, Virgil, and his embarrassing escapades or sheer misfortunes. Being a nice guy who enjoys a laugh as well as anybody, he has never, ever complained. I love him for that.
But this is not about him for a change. It’s about a most traumatic time in my life. I wouldn’t want to relive it, but neither would I take anything for the experience. We’ll start at the beginning, my interview with editor Randy West for a reporter’s position, my subsequent hiring and the next few days. Looking back, I cannot believe all that has happened since or that I’m still here.
It was September 1983. On the way to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany for an evening class, I stopped by The Corydon Democrat office for a ‘quick’ interview.
I wore a bright green A-line dress, a strand of white pearls and black, one-inch pumps for the occasion. When I entered the front door, I was greeted by a pleasant, friendly woman (I later learned she was none other than Ruby Rooksby, a legend in her time) who picked up the phone and summoned ‘Mr. West’ from a place mysteriously called the ‘dark room.’ It was Monday, and, in those days, he spent most of his time developing pictures for the upcoming Wednesday newspaper.
I admit I was nervous about the interview, because I really, really wanted to work for this newspaper. It was often held up in journalism classes as the standard, and the little weekly paper had earned many awards of excellence at the state and national levels.
When Mr. West came into the front office where I waited, he was wearing a dark green, smudged apron around his middle and a slightly furrowed brow. The rest of his face was hidden by a bushy, untrimmed beard, mustache and thick eyebrows. He led me into another room, sat me down on the ‘visitor’s’ side of a desk and proceeded to interrogate me. He would lower his chin and look up at me as though I had just landed from Mars, I swear. He gave me a battery of tests, all of them intimidating and designed to make me look foolish. Then he gave me a writing exercise.
He handed me a sheet of paper that he said contained notes from the sheriff’s department about the first bank robbery in Corydon’s history. My job was to turn those notes into a front-page story. Then he disappeared, leaving me with a manual typewriter and a ream of paper.
First of all, I had not typed on a manual typewriter for years. I knew if I got the job, I would have to do something about that, but I wasn’t too worried. By this time, I knew Mr. West took me for an idiot and gave me the final test just to get rid of me.
I sat down and banged out something that answered the ‘W’ questions ‘ who, what, when, where, why ‘ and I was just about finished when the interrogator appeared, wiping his hands on that green apron. ‘Are you finished?’ he asked. ‘Is it the best you can do? This is your one big chance, actually, the only chance you will have, you know!’
I ripped the sheet of paper from the typewriter and started over. I wondered how he knew the story was so bad I needed to start over? He did that several more times, until I finally handed over what I had done and the devil be damned. I picked up my purse and was heading for the front door and freedom as he followed, looking over my story.
‘Well, you didn’t convict him,’ Randy said of the fictious bank robber in the story I had just written. ‘That’s good.’
That’s all he said.
But a few days later, he called. ‘I’d like to offer you a job,’ he said.
I was dumbfounded. My heart jumped up and lodged in my throat. ‘When can I start?’
The following Wednesday, he said, the day the paper comes out.
That meant we had time to take son Jerry to the University of Tennessee that weekend, and Dee Phillips and I, as co-editors of The Horizon (the IUS student newspaper), could get the paper out on Monday and Tuesday.
When we left for Knoxville, Tenn., early that Saturday, I took along the previous week’s issue of The Corydon Democrat. I read every inch of copy on every page, including the Classifieds, and declared to Virgil there wasn’t anything in that paper I couldn’t have written, so not to worry. For some reason, I was beginning to itch.
On the way to Knoxville, along about Richmond, Ky., Jerry wanted to drive, so Virgil turned over the wheel. I got in the back seat, where all mothers belong in such instances. But it didn’t help.
The farther we went, the itchier I got. I thought it was a good case of the nerves from being in a moving vehicle with that kid going at least 60 mph in interstate traffic.
Finally, we unloaded the boy and his belongings in the college dorm and started back home. We stopped for a quick lunch, but I could hardly hold my cheeseburger for scratching.
‘You must be suffering empty nest syndrome,’ Virgil said. ‘Not hardly,’ I said.
Perhaps the stress of starting a new job, which experts say ranks right at the top, was my problem.
When we got back in the green Chevrolet, I looked at my arms and found they were turning blotchy. I checked the side mirror and was amazed to see my face was fire-engine red. As we traveled on, it got worse, as if that were possible.
We passed Lexington. I hadn’t even thought about stopping somewhere for medical attention; I was too busy scratching and blowing on my arms, trying to cool them down.
Not far from Louisville, Virgil said enough was enough. He was taking me to Jewish Hospital. Surely there would be something they could do. Something they could give me.
The ER doc took one look and declared, ‘You’re one big hive.’
He told Virgil to settle in for a wait, because he had given me a shot and I needed to lie there for a while to make sure there wasn’t an adverse reaction.
Finally, the doc declared me fit to travel and told Virgil to get me home and to bed because I would sleep like a baby for the rest of what was left of the night.
I did, but when I woke Sunday morning, I was still red all over and my lips, I swear, were so swollen you could balance a cup of coffee on them while you read the newspaper.
Remember, in those days, poofy lips weren’t fashionable.
Thankfully, by Wednesday, my lips were nearly normal and my skin had faded to a blushing pink. I went right to work on a story about the agreement between Kentucky and Indiana settling the Ohio River boundaries. A couple of days later, I brought in my electric typewriter. I haven’t stopped typing since.