— Will Rogers
As seventh-graders at Collierville Junior High School back when the little town was still its own little town in the late ’60s before being overtaken by Memphis, a best buddy of mine and I were aspiring journalists.
Ned, which was short for Edward Lewis, eventually allowed his aspirations to expire and he became a lawyer. I, on the other hand, stayed the course toward the Fourth Estate and continue to expire ... err, aspire. Back then, I was called Ricky, which unlike Ned, was short for Richard Wayne.
The names are unimportant in the broad scheme of young careers, but it’s always nice to know the players in every story. Today’s is such a story. The names are real and the facts are as I remember them some 45 years later. However, the last names are being withheld, including my own, because I don’t want Ned The Lawyer to see this somewhere on the Internet and demand to tell his side of the story.
I don’t even know Ned’s whereabouts. Last I heard ... some 37 years ago through a wedding invitation in the mail ... Ned was on the East Coast. I trust he and his wife have grown many children and grandchildren.
As seventh-graders, we were polar opposites. Ned was very tall, one of the tallest kids in the region, and he played junior high basketball. My assumption is Ned remains tall to this day. I, on the other hand, was very short ... not necessarily one of the shortest kids in the region, and the idea of me playing basketball was a seasonal joke within the coaches’ offices. But by most standards, I was short.
In all matters of size, I was never blessed. I don’t know why. Mom and Dad would have been better sources for such answers, but neither is available for comment today.
Back to Ned and our zeal for newspaper prowess.
Let’s just say it for what it is ... or was. Ned and I were weird kids. As junior high masters of our universe, we launched rival newspapers. It wasn’t a school project. That’s the weird part. We did it one summer when the school doors were locked tighter than the Bush Beans recipe.
The idea was to see whose newspaper was the best. As seventh-graders, our journalistic tastes were simple. Our publications — written, designed and pasted on standard 8 1/2 by 11 ruled notebook paper — included three pages: the Front Page, the Editorial Page and the Sports Page. Eventually, we might have advanced to a Comics Page, but our skills in artistry were limited and the summer ran out.
Our editions came out every two or three weeks depending on our next get-together for backyard basketball, cold Cokes and junior high conversation. At 12 years of age, we didn’t have steady jobs other than the couple of neighborhood yards that I mowed at $3 a pop. With school out for the summer, we had time on our hands; hence, the decision to roll the presses.
Honestly, I can’t remember the name of Ned’s newspaper. Mine was The Trans-Global. I don’t know why because our focus was community news. I guess I just liked the sound of it. Maybe Ned did too. But like I said, ours were rival publications so our mission was to out-do the other, get our product in as many hands as possible, and report the hard news first without fear of neighborhood oppression or retaliation by those who didn’t subscribe to our freedom of the press values.
We operated with few rules. Whatever was the news of the day, in our opinion, became the news of the day in our newspapers.
“The sky’s the limit,” I remember Ned telling me from above. He was a head taller. In the eyes of many, he was the biggest kid on the block. But size didn’t always matter. Not then. Not now.
Because we lived across town from one another in different neighborhoods, I suggested limiting our news coverage to the perimeter of blocks around our homes. In today’s terms, it would be called circulation area. Ned didn’t like the idea. Because we were competitors, he explained, we needed to cover the same territory; that is, the entire town of Collierville.
“That’s a lot of news,” I warned, the thought of canvassing the full community to be a little intimidating. Besides, at 12 neither of us owned cars and were still four years away from getting driver’s permits, much less the full license.
“Are you sure you don’t want to split our territories?” I sought.
Ned pondered. Surprisingly, he acquiesced but not without compromise. Our circulation areas would not be pared down to city blocks but town sectors instead. He took the east side, I the west.
All went as planned.
Our respective newspapers flourished without conflict until a big story broke. It became THE story of our summer.
It worsened the tension between our publications.
It tasked the commitment to accountable journalism.
It tested our friendship.
It was the story ... of the dead squirrel.
I’ll tell you about it next week.