People have said to me “Bill, you sound more intelligent when you write than when you talk. Why is that?” I tell them “The answer is quite simple. When I am talking I am by myself and am like an actor without a script, I have to find the words that I use from a very small vocabulary and I am without helpers. When I am writing I have six wonderful helpers.Would you care to meet them?”
First I have my wife who is an excellent speller, while I have difficulty spelling words with more than five letters.
Second is Webster’s Dictionary. Now some will ask “if you have a dictionary as a helper why do you need your wife?” Again the answer is simple “You have to know how to spell the word before you can look it up in the dictionary, dummy.” I can turn now to Mr. Webster and find the definition and other usages of the word.
Third is my computer with its program which shows me synonyms that can be used without repeating the same word over and over. This program also has a spelling checker which (when my wife is absent) will give me the correct spelling of a word if I can come close enough with my clumsy spelling for the computer to recognize the word I am attempting to spell.
My fourth helper is time. When talking one generally speaks quickly thus having little time to seek just the right words while in writing one has time to pause, reflect and ponder over the words used as well as time to restate what was first written.
Therein is the beauty part of the computer’s word processor. Having written something a week or so ago and in thinking it over find a different and better way of portraying the image of my thought it becomes an easy matter to change what was previously written.
Once again I lean upon the help of my wife, the speller, to edit what I have written. When I reread a piece I have written my mind sees words that I intended to include that are not actually written. It is here that my editing helper plays another big role by saying this doesn’t sound right, or, you have left out a word and subsequently a correction is made.
The fifth and most important helper of all is my memory. It appears that I have been blessed with a memory far better than many of my friends and acquaintances, for, according to them, my recall capability far exceeds their own.
My sixth and most trustworthy helper is my imagination, for when memory fails I can always depend upon my imagination to fill a gap, plug a hole, or fabricate an acceptable escape hatch from the position in which the loss of recollection has placed me.
Recollection made it possible for me to write my memoirs and those same recollections sprinkled with the magic dust of imagination enabled me to write many of the short stories that have been published in this column.
Therefore dear reader, if ever you ask me a question to which my answer appears to be somewhat dull and colorless please understand that to obtain a more intelligent response my answer would have to be made in writing in order that my six helpers will be available to give assistance to my reply.
To add length to this column here is a short story about Brady’s 1936 flood and the old railroad trestle.
One day while on my way to Rochelle I decided to take the old road out of town that goes underneath the old Santa Fe railroad trestle which still stands and crosses Brady Creek just East of town. (Those of you who have never seen that trestle will understand the following story more if you will drive down there and take a look at that sucker.)
As I passed under this high railroad crossing I was reminded of the 1936 flood that was trying to wash the township of Brady away and the only way to reach town from the north side was to cross over that railroad trestle. Since I lived on the north side of town and worked at the Central Drug Store which was under siege by the flooding waters I felt obligated to reach the drug store and lend a helping hand.
To this end I approached that high railroad trestle and saw the flood waters rushing beneath it. I observed too, the distance one would have to walk to cross the creek using that trestle as a roadway. Undaunted and yet forgetful that I suffered from acrophobia (a fact I learned some four years earlier while my brother Shorty and I were crossing the mountains in Arizona, California and Wyoming while looking for work out west) I started walking across that railroad trestle.
After walking about half way across I made the mistake of looking down into the water rushing beneath the railroad track and in that instant my self-confidence vanished. With my courage gone and frozen with fear I dropped to my knees and started hanging onto that railroad track for dear life.
Some time later after my mind had defrosted enough for me to think clearly I found myself slobbering like an idiot and wondering what in the hell I was doing out in the middle of Brady Creek clinging on to a railroad trestle that the creek in its flooding rage was trying to demolish.
After what seemed an eternity my mind cleared enough for me to realize that I had to get off that damned trestle — which way would I go — back home or on to the drug store.
I finally decided I would continue on across and go into town. So grabbing for the last bit of my courage and still whining like a whipped pup I straddled one of those iron rails and crawled the rest of the way across that sucker on my hands and knees.
After reaching dry land I felt, I am sure, as thankful as did old Moses after his successful crossing of the Red Sea. So, faithful to my church upbringing I looked heavenward and thanked the Lord for taking care of idiots like me.
NOTE: This was just as I had done when the Lord got me out of that cave at Lost Creek in 1928 and when in 1932 he stopped that freight train in the high mountains of the great divide in Wyoming just in time to keep Shorty and me from freezing.(a story that will be told in a later column)
Having concluded this successful crossing and regained my self-confidence I walked up the railroad track to about 2nd St. and followed it into town. There I found the water flowing across the square was just a little over knee deep so I waded across to the Central Drug Store and reported for work.
P.S. I might add that the real work did not start until the flood waters receded and the cleanup began.