Recently, Richard Ellers, an acquaintance through my church, said to me, "You write well for the Tribune Chronicle, considering that you never had a course in journalism."
Ellers is a retired, professional reporter for the Plain Dealer and Tribune Chronicle. Coming from him, that was a nice compliment, and I thanked him. Nearly every month, other people have complimented me on my work. It is surprising to me because I don't think I am a writer. I just simply enjoy writing.
When I was hired about seven years ago by Guy Coviello at the Tribune, he said I could write on anything I wanted to, within about 700 words. Over the years, I have written about personalities, dead and alive, from Earl Derr Biggers to Alec Pendleton, and quite a few World War II veterans.
Since then I have written about coal as a product of the Appalachian Orogeny (a mountain building process), the glacier that was a mile high over Courthouse Square 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, and how what is now Ohio was at one time below the equator.
My travels and places I have visited over the years have furnished material for my columns.
People often ask how I get my ideas. After reflecting on this, I think that the ideas are all around me.
Looking around almost any room I am in, I am stimulated by an idea that may be curious or new to me. The emotions evoked by a painting of a landscape or a portrait stimulate a desire to put that feeling into words.
I never thought that I did this well, but it satisfied me to try to do it, and I had the hope that other people might try to write, too.
When I think back to my childhood years, I recall reading in Time magazine when I was about 11 years old that the U.S. naval cruiser, Northampton, had been sunk by the Japanese in the early part of World War II. About a week later, in the same magazine, I read in another story that the USN Northampton was successful in a battle with the Japanese.
I wrote to Time asking for a correction. There was a correction in the magazine the following week. It was rewarding to have my bit of writing recognized.
This was at the same time that I was writing for the Hawley Grammar School "Echo." I felt a part of the publishing world, so I needed to point out to that national magazine the error I saw.
The next year at Williston Academy in Easthampton, Mass., I joined the Willistonian, the monthly newspaper for that school. I became a reporter, and my eyes were opened to possible stories I could write about campus activities.
An example was the story of the boys who hoisted a cow with a block and tackle up the brick tower of the Old Gymnasium. Later, a similar prank was performed by my college fraternity brothers who dragged a cow up the multi-level floors of the neighboring Theta Chi house, but I didn't write that one up for the school paper.
Later in life, I became the editor of the newsletter of the Southwest Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Social Work. This writing was on a much more serious note, including interpretation of local and national news from the social welfare scene.
I enjoyed doing this, but the deadlines for publication seemed to roll around awfully fast for this busy, active social worker.
In later jobs, I wrote annual reports and edited newsletters. All of that, plus the fact that I wrote up my daily work with patients case by case in narrative form, gave me experience in writing, particularly in looking for the details and unusual events.
Now with my handicap impeding my ability to type, my wife types my dictation for this column on a three-week basis.
I didn't know it at the time, but maybe writing for the paper when I was 11 years old stimulated me to write in the future. Maybe the encouragement of writing for the Hawley Grammar Echo, has led in a circuitous way to the comment by Mr. Ellers.
Thomas is a Tribune Chronicle columnist.