In the business of trying to be a respectable writer, there is a serious code of ethics that every wordsmith must behold. Now I’ve been around some journalism-school scholars who have the ethics of a cockroach so, let’s get this straight from the get-go: all ethics are is who you are.
That said, in the world of the written word ethics come in degrees. For example, if a crummy writer copies verbatim from a good writer, that’s called plagiarism and it will get you banned from the game for life. It should, too. But if a real good writer borrows a notion or a sentiment from a crummy writer, such happenstance is sometimes called “the sharing of ideas,” but only if you tell the crummy writer you are “borrowing” his prose beforehand.
Today, on July The Fourth, 2012, I am entering a third realm. It is called “stealing” but, in a way, I feel I am entitled because I hired the guy long before he ever saw a typewriter. As a matter of fact, Mark McCarter started as a part-time sports writer for me when he was still a student at Brainerd High and didn’t know squat about prepositions, drinking late-night beer or much else he’d soon learn was important.
This February the same kid, now the best sports writer in Alabama and the editor of The Huntsville Times, was dutifully inducted into the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame and, while I didn’t go for fear I might cry, I was the one guy who gave him his first start, who has prayed for him for decades, and who still somewhat covertly keeps up with his comings and goings.
The other day ole Mark wrote maybe his best column ever and, as I read it a second time and basked in it all the brighter, I realized it was exactly and precisely what the Fourth of July means most to me. So today I’m stealing it, partly because I want the folks in the McDonald, Tn., community to read it, and partly because its rhythm, its flow, its warmth and its beauty is what I first saw behind the pimples many years ago.
Maestro McCarter, play your best, sir. Please play for us on this Fourth of July:
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CONTENTMENT & GREAT MEMORIES
By MARK McCARTER, The Huntsville Times
McDONALD, Tenn. -- My great uncle's name is on a plaque, the gym-sized, concrete-block Ruritan Club building dedicated to him.
Heaven knows how many fruit logs he foisted on people to build the club. Harlie Newman loved to sell and haggle, everything from bank loans to beagles. His wife, Hazel, a school teacher, used to reward me a $1 for every A on my report card. It did not, suffice it to say, send them into financial ruin.
I was going into the Ruritan Club with my uncle Jack, who himself is great. He's the last survivor of four sons, one of whom was my father. I stopped by to visit on a road trip last week, to take him to lunch. He ended up taking me, to a meeting of some of the neighborhood seniors.
Ah, a country covered-dish lunch, meals cooked with love and real butter.
Jack introduced me as "my nephew from Alabama." That drew a couple of snarky comments here in Big Orange Country.
But I'm as much from McDonald, Tenn., as anywhere, I want to believe.
And maybe I especially needed to believe that at a time when some simplicity, reality and priority adjustments are in order. When you ponder uncertain futures everywhere around you, the past is a nice blanket to snuggle into.
McDonald has never been much more than a wide place on Highway 11 northeast of Chattanooga, left even more ignored by the Interstate that runs parallel. There's a market, a building that once housed a mop factory and the Methodist church where I spent every Christmas Eve of my childhood.
My mother grew up in McDonald. My father moved there as a teenager, when his father fretted about his job at a hosiery mill during the Depression and realized that he could grow enough food to feed his family if he lost his job. Their house still stands but, sadly, the current residents knocked down the two-story garage my father built by hand after World War II.
For years, we'd drive from Chattanooga to McDonald every other Sunday for mini-family reunions, with fried foods and rich cakes and, when the men gathered outside, NASCAR on the radio.
Jack's house was the first you'd come to, across from the elementary school my aunts and uncles attended, then around the curve was the house my maternal grandfather designed and built. Next door, my paternal grandmother's house. And then another uncle's house, across the field where we'd play baseball and where my impish Uncle Billy would roll rabbit tobacco cigarettes in shreds of brown paper torn from grocery bags.
After lunch at the Ruritan Club, I had one more stop to make.
It's where, according to my strict orders, my last stop will be.
Lee Cemetery sits on a little hump alongside the main highway. Some of my ashes are to be sprinkled there. It's adjacent to railroad tracks my maternal grandfather helped lay between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
A marble tombstone marks where he and my grandmother are buried. "Gone But Not Forgotten," it says. Indeed. Next to it, a pair of obelisks mark my great-grandparents' graves.
At Granddaddy's service in 1989, I had a fleeting thought: How fitting if a train would roll past as the old railroad man was being eulogized. Sure enough, in the middle of the prayer, a train whistle bleated in the distance.
As I got out of my car -- I couldn't make this up -- and walked toward the graves, from the north came an ever-growing rumble, a train thundering down my Granddaddy's railroad tracks.
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Mark, old son, that is exactly what America means to me too. Beautifully done, as you may suspect, because I just stole it.