The kid was a go-getter. Just a few months out of Wake Forest College, at 21, he was working in the Raleigh office of United Press International, just breaking in to the news business.
Someone, I’m guessing his mother, gave him a diary for Christmas. The diary, dated 1941 on the front, had a small page for each day. (It arrived in my mail, after a surprise discovery.)
His first entry was January 16. He must have just started the job. He began the day, he writes, “punching the teletype.” On these machines news organizations would communicate with each other, and if the computers of today are quiet mice compared to the typewriters that preceded them, the teletype was a freight train compared to typewriters.
The entry also includes “Called on...” with a list of state government officials to whom he’d paid visits for purposes of introducing himself as the new kid in town for UPI.
The names of most would not be remembered by anyone today, or even noted in the state’s history books, except perhaps for one: “Called on Kerr Scott, Agri.” Scott, then commissioner of agriculture, would later become the governor and a U.S. senator, and he and this young man would be friends. Scott would even send the fellow a note in 1952 when his son was born.
At the bottom of that Jan. 16 page, in quotes, was this: “A world in flames.” It’s a partial excerpt from comments by a man who already was the world’s menace, Adolf Hitler. He was on the minds of most people this fellow’s age at the time.
On the following day, he noted going to “Sec. of State Thad Eure’s office” to check on “lobbyists – high pressure corps.” (Eure was elected in 1936 and didn’t leave office until 1989. Lobbyists, of course, are eternal.)
Tidbits from the year: On Jan. 19, the State Bureau of Investigation was laid low by the flu, as the director, Fred Handy, told the kid. The kid got it himself and was advised by someone that the best cure was “straight corn,” meaning, presumably, liquor.
Along the way, the kid was becoming acquainted with the new governor, J. Melville Broughton, with random state senators and representatives.
The small town kid from the foothills still wasn’t a thick-skinned Capitol reporter. On Jan. 26, he (the son of a Baptist preacher) felt guilty enough to write, “Slept through church hour for the first time.”
He was starting, through the job, to learn things: “Covered committee on roads. I was startled at some facts brought out. $50,000,000 to restore roads in need of repair; biggest cause of accidents according to chief engineer is narrowness of roads and bridges. $1 per prisoner, per day, allowed prisons dept. (for road work).”
After a weekend at home in the foothills, he caught a bus from Charlotte to Raleigh. “Stood up all the way. I can’t watch old ladies stand up even if some sailors and other guys did!!” Once back in the big city, he saw the most popular movie of the time, “The Westerner,” with Gary Cooper.
He noted happy things like meeting a girl “who had the looks...wow” and worried about little things like his sore left arm which he mentioned only casually was probably from the bullet still in it from a 1936 hunting accident. Some politicians were more colorful than others, like the ones who argued against demon rum but were said to have been injured falling down the stairs drunk, or others who argued about having open season on ‘possums and rabbits, with one commenting he thought a ‘possum was a cat.
A proposal to give everyone in the state over age 65 the sum of $15 a month was disputed, and regulation of fortified wine included a comment from one distinguished lawmaker that “fortified wine was the only thing he DIDN’T drink.”
The diary ends in mid-March. There would be things coming in life he didn’t know and couldn’t have anticipated. On a double-date, he’d meet a special girl (she was with the other guy, his friend, at the time) from a nearby town.
His mother would die young, and his father would live to near 90. A first cousin, his closest, would die in the Battle of the Bulge.
But the special girl would wait, for three years, until he got home from the Army Air Corps and the Pacific. They’d marry, but it would be a while until an only child came along. Life was long and good.
The diary covers only about 10 weeks in a life of 84 years. But in the way he looked at things, my father never changed much. And he always stood up for little old ladies on buses.