WHY I WRITE

Twenty years is a long time.  For each week of the last two decades, it has been my serendipitous privilege to bring you “Pieces of Our Past” in this my hometown  newspaper.  My English teachers in school would have laid down big bets with long odds that I would have never written a word that anyone else would care or bother to read.















As a young boy, I listened to the radio and television news, in particular the correspondents of CBS - Walter Conkrite, Eric Sevareid, Douglas Edwards, Richard C. Hottelet, Robert Trout, Harry Reasoner, Charles Collingwood and more.  I was fascinated with their voices and their words.  I even asked that my baby brother Henry’s name be “Charles Collingwood Thompson.”




Oh, how I wish I had the opportunity to be one of them now, to tell the stories of remarkable people in our country.  But, life came along, and I took a different course until 1996, when Dubose Porter asked me to write random snippets taken from my first book, “Tales of The Emerald City and the Land of Laurens.”  Soon, Dubose asked me to write a weekly 1200-plus word column. Fearful at first that I could never find enough material, the material came flowing freely as if someone placed it there like an Easter egg in a sandy, open field.  The stories  emanated from new books, old newspapers, good friends and unimaginable sources. Divine guidance figured in somewhere as well.   So, here I am now, still telling stories about old and everyday people, more than 1200 of them.

Without a solitary shadow of a doubt, my most enduring inspiration comes from the late Charles Kuralt, who took his writer’s pad and two-man crew on the road to tell us the stories of ordinary people in our country doing extraordinary things with no hope of recognition or reward.

So, as I complete my 20th year, I beg your leave to tell you why I write, written partially in the words of my writing hero, Charles Kuralt.  His words are inserted in quotations.  The rest, well, they are my own - ones which I most likely borrowed from someone else whom I have heard or read. You English majors, please pardon my frequent instances of poor grammar. I write from my soul, not from a grammar text book.

I had superior teachers in Dublin city schools. “Good teachers know how to bring out the best in students. When we become a really mature, grown-up, wise society, we will put teachers at the center of the community, where they belong. We don't honor them enough, we don't pay them enough.”


I have learned in my long life, that history is not simply the story of tangible things, but the stories of people.  "The stories are true and about people who really live in the country.  You learn that the country isn't in flames and there are people in the country beside politicians, entertainers and criminals.  I think it's nice to be reminded of that. 

I have been blessed with a most wonderful and wise family along with a seemingly endless force of friends. “The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege. My parents encouraged me in everything I ever wanted to do.” 

I never really ever needed to hunt a job.  My jobs found me.  “I recognize that I had a good deal of good luck in my life.” 

I knew my grandfather Scott for only ten years, but I do remember that he loved to get in his car and just ride around looking for that special sight somewhere along the side of the road.  He told me lots of stories, which I don't remember. Forgive me as I was only a little boy.

      He grew up living in an amusement park.  As a young man he played college football and basketball.  During World War II, he and my grandmother hosted tens of thousands of new infantrymen for days of fun in the sun in the waters of Lakeside Park in Macon, many of whom never made it home to their family.

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”

My parents, Jane and Dale,  gave me the  gift of loving all people and the love of the history of our past as well as the importance of the history of our future.

         My father had more stories to tell than there are fish in the sea.  I still remember most of his jokes.  I repeat the clean ones whenever I get a chance. He rode me by all of the old home places, the burial grounds and  along the old, narrow, dirt roads while he told me the stories of a time when life was fun and good, but often tough and  hard.

        My mother was my link, my portal to my past, riding with me to Virginia and to the places were her family once lived. She wrote many thousands of words, but none of them were ever published. It is from her loving, brilliant mind that my words flow.

        “Just by luck, I picked good heroes to worship.  I think all those people I did stories about measured their own success by the joy their work was giving them.  There are a lot of people who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority. It's that enthusiasm, that passion for what you're doing, that is most important.”


It was my grandmother Thompson who passed on the genes of story telling from her Braswell forefathers.   She kept her family tree book beside her sofa.  It was from that little, green, tattered book that I began my search of the people who came before me.

       I think she knew everyone from East Dublin to Soperton to Swainsboro to Wrightsville and back. She had a love for all things old, the interesting and the unique.  She saved keepsakes, knick nacks, and clipped historical and people related clippings from every newspaper she could find.

 








    My grandfather Thompson once worked a week to buy her a camera to document our family.  She took as many pictures as she could afford to.  She and my grandfather were too old to serve in World War II, so they closed their store in Adrian and went to work in the shipyards in Savannah to win the war on the home front.

     
 “The storytelling tradition that you bring from the South, I don't know where it arose, but it's still there. You can't go to the feed store, or the county courthouse without running into storytellers. A true Southerner will never say in 2 to 3 words what can better be said in 10 to 12.”

I am a true product of farmers who lived on the back roads of the deep South, although accounts of more than three dozen of my Virginia, New England and Canadian ancestors can be found in the history books of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.  “The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines. Some people out there spend their whole lives selflessly. You can't travel the back roads very long without discovering a multitude of gentle people doing good for others with no expectation of gain or recognition.”

On my writing style, I can only say that it comes from sixty years of listening. “I could tell you which writer's rhythms I am imitating. It's not exactly plagiarism, it's falling in love with good language and trying to imitate it. I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes from good reading. I don't know what makes a good feature story. I've always assumed that if it was a story that interested or amused me, that it would have the same impact on other people.”

Why I write about certain uncelebrated people in these days of constant trials and tribulations is simple. “To read the papers and to listen to the news... one would think the country is in terrible trouble. You do not get that impression when you travel the back roads and the small towns do care about their country and wish it well.”

Whether or not what I write will be seen as anything of lasting importance remains to be seen.  “I would love to write something that people would still read 50 or 100 years from now. That comes with growing older, I think.  I can't say that I've changed anybody's life.” But, I do sincerely hope that I have made you think, smile, laugh, and yes, even cry.

President Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history we don’t know.So, for as long as my aging heart will keep beating and my crooked, narrowing spine will keep me walking, I will be telling you  stories. I will keep wandering through the pages of our past and reporting the deeds of the people of our present, with my failing eyes focused on the future. “Above all else I have learned IS to love my native land.”

So, as I began my third decade of writing this column, I humbly thank all of you for your kind words of gratitude and inspiration.  It is for you and for those who follow us that I have been given the gift of story telling.  Please remember your history. Your family’s history and the history of your community is no more important that any others.   I beg you to study it, learn from it and build a better world because of or more importantly, in spite of it.   Remember this above all, that our most important history is yet to come. And finally, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “You too can find your self through the service of others.” 

      and, Theodore Roosevelt who said, "No one cares how much you know until how they know how much you care.

      and, Sir Winston Churchill greatest maxim, "We make our living by what we earn - we make our lives by what we give. 

  

Comments

Bobbie V Thomas said…
I enjoy your writings very much. May God bless you with many more interesting stories of our histor. May God Bless and Happy New Year.
1968Redcatcher said…
Scott, thanks for your blog. I recently found and started reading your writings here on "Pieces of ...... Our Past." I briefly met you in the summer of 2000 when I was visiting the Laurens County Library while doing genealogy research on my Layton & Tanner ancestors of Laurens/Johnson/Washington Counties. The genealogy volunteer (her name slips my mind right now, but is buried in my notes of that visit) at the library that helped me that day spoke very highly of you and made a special point to introduce you. Thanks again.
Rod Layton
Carthage, Missouri
Cathy said…
For the past few years, I have enjoyed reading your blog about the life & times of Laurens County, GA.
I have been researching my mother’s kin (Fountains, Dicksons, Conners, Gays) who lived in the Bluewater cemetery area. Reading your stories make all those names, that I have on paper, come to life. Although not specifically mentioned, your description of the people/ places/ events can still apply to my people.
Three years ago, you came out & took photos of the memorial headstone ceremony for my great, great, great grandfather (Anderson Augustus Fountain SR) at Bluewater cemetery. I never got a chance to say ‘Thank You’, so I would like to say it now. It was much appreciated.
And thank you very much for continuing to write about the history of Laurens County!
Cathy Martin
(A misplaced Georgia peach living in Powdersville, South Carolina)