I knew I wanted to be a writer from the moment my first-grade teacher asked,
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
But in first grade, I also wanted to be a ballerina, a psychiatrist, a yoga instructor, and Columbo.
During the summer between third and fourth grade, I was bored. When other kids came over, depending on who was there, they would end up playing office, war, or doctor. And I interviewed them. When they would leave, I would interview my parents. Repeatedly for hours. And when they had visitors, yep, I questioned them too.
I remember the best conversations came from the Houston Police officers I would encounter (flag down) in my neighborhood. I had loads of small spiral topped notepads filled with quotes from “my sources.”
One afternoon my father brought home a typewriter, paper, and other office supplies.
“Ok Scoop, take all your notes and turn it into a story.”
“Can I smoke a cigar like Alfred Hitchcock?” I asked, reaching into a wooden box containing my dad’s Cubans.
With a glance, I realized that wasn’t happening and went upstairs to write.
Each week, usually on a Sunday as Meet the Press played in the background, my father would edit my work and send me back upstairs. Soon, I ran out of material. So, I set my sights on the neighborhood and started a newspaper. By the end of the month, I had to increase circulation to meet the demand and expanded distribution to various shops in the area.
But this enterprise didn’t last long.
My father explained that although people liked the paper, maybe stories like “Why was Mr. Branch’s car parked in the driveway of Mrs. Dalton’s house all day?” wasn’t what our neighbors wished to see on a stand in the local pet store.
“I tried to interview him, Dad, but he got into his car and drove off. Then Mr. Dalton came home and told me not to hang around his house.”
My community newspaper was over. I forgot about writing and concentrated on my future career as a ballerina (with a psychology/detective side gig.)
A couple of years passed and my mother began working in the Federal Courthouse on Rusk in Houston, Texas. One morning as we were having breakfast, the conversation turned to some of the upcoming trials in her building. My dad asked when the trial against the KKK was to start.
“Next week. Security is crazy at the building.”
“Can I go, Dad?”
“To the trial? Why?”
“I want to cover it.”
“Now Scoop, I already told you the neighbors don’t want you to circulate your paper anymore.”
“If I find another paper to write for, can I go then?”
“Sure, kid. Let me know.”
When I arrived at school that morning, I went straight to the principal. After my involvement with the neighbors, I had learned not to say much when making a pitch.
“Can I start a school newspaper?”
“We already have one. Do you want to write for it?”
“No, we have a newsletter that the parents read. I want to start a newspaper for the kids.”
“Well if you can get a few more children to work on it with you, then I don’t see a problem.”
That afternoon my next newspaper was born, and I spent the rest of the day interviewing teachers and a somewhat confused rabbi on what they knew about the KKK. By that evening, my father had no alternative but to allow me to attend.
I remember the first day of the Vietnamese fisherman vs. the KKK and Louis Beam, like most people recall their first kiss. Armed with a briefcase packed with legal pads and pens and my old Scooby Doo lunchbox crammed with snacks (because I may not have time to meet my mom in her office for lunch,) I yanked open the heavy wooden doors to the courtroom.
I was the only child in attendance, and I can still recall the expressions on the faces of the adults in the room. But the bailiff was friendly and made sure I had a great seat.
“I’m on assignment,” I announced as the defense attorney walked by.
The man paused and smiled.
“Can I get an interview with Mr. Beam?”
“Uh. I can ask him,” he said with a bewildered look on his face.
By the afternoon of the second day, I had learned enough from the testimony and my investigation to have some crucial questions my readers would demand the answers for. As the defense attorney now wouldn’t even glance in my direction, I realized he would be of no assistance. And I needed my interview. So, I waited.
When the judge called for a short recess, I made my move. Walking through the swinging half doors at the front of the courtroom, I introduced myself and took a seat next to the Grand Dragon of the KKK. Although he was chuckling at first, by my third question, he understood I knew my material and evasion was not an option.
I wish I still had that story; I’d love to see if it was as controversial as my parents said it was. Apparently, they received a lot of grief for allowing their daughter to not only attend a graphic trial but for leaving me alone to chat with a member of the KKK. But on that day, through their willingness to allow me to explore my curiosity and creativity, an author was born.