One boomer who’s a professional rememberer

Some baby boomers remember the past better than others. But we figure the very best is retired Evansville, Indiana columnist and still-producing-books author Garret Mathews, because that’s what he has done for a living. In fact Garret calls himself a “professional rememberer.” BoomerCafé is going to run a series of installments over the next few months of some of Garret’s remembrances which, as you’ll find out as you read the series, are no different than the things we remember … or wish we did. He starts the series simply explaining why he does what he does.

You’re about to depart on a long flight. You either have no traveling companion, or one who’s only good for three statements of fact and a couple of hasty rejoinders. That won’t even get you to the oxygen mask instructions. The reality is undeniable. Time — lots of it — needs to be killed.

So you walk inside the airport’s book nook and examine your options. Impressed by the clever cover design, you pick up this little tome. You flip through some pages. Impressed that anyone could think up a sufficient quantity of time-incinerating crapola to get the reader to the terminal zone, you purchase “Garret’s Memory Book.”

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

Thanks. I promise to give all the money to our grandchildren.

I invite you to remember along with me. But be careful as you cogitate on my challenges. You may be so engrossed that you recall the delinquent customers on your newspaper route, but forget your connecting flight.

I grew up in Abingdon, Virginia, a small town in the southwest corner of the state. My first newspaper job was 90 miles away in Bluefield, West Virginia. In 1987, I went to Evansville, Indiana, to write the metro column for the Courier. I retired in 2011 after 39 years in the business. Altogether, I penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners and murderers to Appalachian snake handlers.

For a good number of those years, I did five columns a week. With that many deadlines, you plumb the depths for ideas up to and including personal experiences.

I’ve had a few.

Passed instruments at an embalming. Ran two marathons. Visited the DMZ between North and South Korea. Crossed Indiana in three days (180 miles) on my one-speed bicycle. Became the second man in my Army Reserve unit to wear a short-hair wig. Sold jokes to Joan Rivers.

Lived in a boarding house. Walked a guy’s pet lion. Jumped out of an airplane. Watched Mom die from smoking-induced lung cancer. Had a guy pull a pistol on me while covering a coal mine strike. Organized an over-40 baseball team that played all-star teams of 14-year-olds. Because it was my idea, I got to pitch.

There were days when I couldn’t find anyone to interview. Days when I couldn’t play off something that was in the news. Days when I couldn’t think of anything funny.

The cubicle of a newspaper columnist.

The cubicle of a newspaper columnist.

So I responded to the blinking cursor in my computer screen by going back in time.

I wrote about the places I went parking in high school when I was lucky enough to have a date.

And the time my eighth-grade English teacher passed a note saying my zipper was down.

I wrote about my use of the pen name Lance Chance in college when trying to sell dirty stories to magazines.

And the time I saw my first dead body.

I wrote about working with an arsonist. Stu B., a copy editor, started a fire in the mailroom as a diversion so he could steal the pressmen’s lunch sacks.

And the 1981 Super Bowl I attended with a seriously ill young man whose dying wish was to go to the game.

What can I say, ladies and gentlemen of the skies? I am a professional rememberer.

Garret Mathews’ latest book is “Columnists: While We’re Still Around” (www.columnists-stillaround.com). His theatrical play about the civil rights movement is “Jubilee in the Rear View Mirror.”

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