Conversations with Kids: The Artist at Work

Topeka Daily Capital
January 17, 1960

The thing about talking to children is that you almost always learn something interesting. If you’re new at it, you may get a shock now and then, but the old timers are virtually shock-proof. They haven’t necessarily heard everything, but they’ve heard enough to expect anything.

I am an old timer, myself. I’ve done a lot of talking to children, often out of necessity. Around our house, I often find I’m on speaking terms only with some of the children. The younger ones, at that.

You can get into these conversations in any number of ways. For example, just walk in from work some evening and say to one of your sons, Hi, pal, what’s new?
“Aw, nothing, except Mr. Tompkins wasn’t home.”
Now, as you can see, the conversation is rolling. You say, he wasn’t home, huh?
“No, and we couldn’t get his ladder.”
You’re right. He said ladder. Ladder?
“Yeah. Will you borrow it in the morning and get my lunch box off the roof? I didn’t throw it up there.”
You knew he’d get that in. Who did?
“Kurt got mad because I threw his lunchbox and it went down the sewer….”

So you’ve learned something. Two lunchboxes at about 3 bucks apiece. 6 bucks shot.

Let’s say now that you’ve just lost six bucks yourself shooting 88 when you figured on about 81 and you go home looking for trouble. You storm in and collar two or three of them and yell, “who got that garden hose out in this kind of weather?”

Well, the first time I did that the children’s mother snapped, “I did, to wash off that mud you got on the walk that I asked you to wash off a week ago and quit yelling at the children and if you can’t play golf give up the game, and furthermore….”

Well, the second time I yelled about the garden hose, which was a long time later, one of them said: “We got it out to play filling station.”
“Yeah,” said another. “We filled up mom’s car.”
Oh, no. You didn’t really.
“Yes we did, daddy.”

Line up for broken arms.

It is through conversation that children learn discipline, and learn that parents are firm but fair. It was just the other day I told one of the girls she absolutely couldn’t go outside without her coat on.
“Why not?” she sobbed. “Amy is out there and doesn’t even have any pants on.” Two blocks away, too, it turned out.

You can walk in the house on occasion and upon close inspection find one there who isn’t yours. So you ask yours who their new friend is.
“His name is Johnny.”
Where does he live?
“We don’t know. He’s been here all afternoon.”

In those cases, we just turn on the front lights and wait for their search party to show up. And let me tell you, it’s better to wait for the search party than be in the search party. I’ve done both.

I like the real casual conversation where the child does the talking and you just grunt and nod as you read. I was doing this the other day when one of the girls said, “… and I frewed a rock and hit Tommy in the eye.”
Isn’t that cute the way she says frewed instead of th- WHAT?

It is through these conversations that I have learned of toys in the toilet, snakes on the patio, milk in the furnace vents and so on. And I learned something else the other night.

I chased all of them to another room period later I heard one say, “Daddy’s a dummy.”
“Yeah,” said another one.
“Yeah,” said another one.
“No, he isn’t,” said the oldest, and I was swelling with pride when he added: “he’s a dumbbell. That’s the way you’re supposed to say it.”

That boy is a born leader.

No Contest: Phelps gets his way with Topeka authorities

Topeka Capital Journal
December 20, 1995

You might say the Rev. Fred Phelps is exactly where he wants to be. He is on the front page and the editorial page with some regularity, and also at times on other pages, this one included. He and his followers are free to picket anything and anybody, whenever and wherever they choose. He has the city divided. This newspaper and some concerned citizens have laid the “Phelps problem” on Mayor Butch Felker’s doorstep, but he has responded defiantly, saying it’s not his fault the picketing outrage goes on unchecked.

Felker says he has ordered all laws enforced. Police chief Gerald Beavers says all laws are being enforced. Beavers says all laws are being enforced. Yet, some police officers say they’ve been told to ignore the name-calling by the Phelps gang, and have been warned the city won’t back them if they make an arrest.

So now an investigation of the police department is brewing, and the bickering has started. It could take years. Phelps must have one big belly laugh after another. Continue reading

Holiday visit to Britton, over all too soon

Topeka Capital Journal
November 29, 1996

SOUTHLAKE, Tex. – We are spending the holiday with daughter Amy and her husband, Duff Nelson, and three granddaughters who were glad to see their grandma. They spoke to me too, to say 1) I parked in the wrong place, 2) I can’t smoke cigars in the house, and 3) would I pump up their bicycle tires?

Daughter Mary flew in Thanksgiving Day, so we had a small family reunion. Duff did well cooking the turkey, and it’s a good thing. He is still on probation for having messed up this chore three years ago. The turkey was on Duffs outdoor cooker for about three hours before he discovered the machine was out of fuel. We had microwaved bird for dinner.

We drove to Texas, and along the way I thought of the many times we had traveled south from Kansas for a family gathering. It started in the early 1950s when my parents lived in Oklahoma City, and there was no Kansas Turnpike or interstate between here and there.

We’d take the back roads down through Emporia and Sedan into Oklahoma, then through Pawhuska, Cleveland and Stroud, where we hit the new Turner Turnpike connecting Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It didn’t take long, because on those roads you could make Turnpike time.

We were doing just that one Christmas Eve night when we were stopped by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper. Continue reading

Lunch with Sen. Kassebaum (Gambling Pays Off)

Topeka Capital-Journal
Oct. 16, 1989

Let it be said that the lady kept her word. Senator Nancy Kassebaum, true to her promise, bought my lunch last Thursday in Washington to make up for the five bucks she cost me when I bet a lawyer, of all people, that she wouldn’t run for office again next year.

Actually, I even came out a little ahead on the deal. Lunch in the Senate dining room of the Capitol cost a little more than I lost, plus I had the pleasure of her company and got to enjoy the rarified air of one of the most exclusive clubs in the country.

There are only 100 senators, and it is an understatement to say they are treated well. It is not difficult to understand why she, or anybody, would decide to return to the task of helping to run the country and, for that matter, the world.

But she said the decision wasn’t all that easy, that when she walked into the press conference to announce her decision on whether to seek reelection, she still wasn’t 100 percent certain what she’d say.

It was so uncertain that her daughter called her after the conference to ask what she had said. And it was so up in the air that the betting on which way she’d go was split in the Dan Glickman family. Continue reading

Doc Snider gets the post office back…in great detail

Oct. 13, 1992
Topeka Capital Journal

In my prime growing up years in Britton, Okla., one of the state’s U.S. senators was a lawyer named Thomas Pryor Gore, known as T. P. Gore, or as “TeePee” when he would use the outline of an Indian tent on his campaign literature.

This symbol and his dark complexion, which seemed even darker because of his white hair, caused most people to assume Gore was part Indian. But he wasn’t. He came from Mississippi, and he was a near-perfect picture of a politician – tall, handsome and solidly built. And, when he spoke, people listened.

He was recognized as one of the great orators of his time. Even as a teenager he was in demand as a speaker, and it was because his fame spread far beyond Mississippi that he wound up in Oklahoma and in the U.S. Senate.

There was one other thing about T.P. Gore. He was blind. Not blind in the political sense, not partially sighted in medical terms, but absolutely, totally blind. The tragic thing about it was that he wasn’t born blind, but lost his sight through two freak accidents before he was 20 years old. Continue reading

Reliving the toughest hour in network television

Topeka Capital Journal
August 21, 1995

HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. – Three men who once were responsible for the production of “the toughest hour in network television” had a reunion here this week. They recalled the horror stories, the good times and bad, and marveled once again that even one show got on the air, and agreed it was a miracle that more than 190 shows made it without a mishap over a 13-year period.

We met here because this is where Bill Flemming, the former ABC-TV sports announcer, spends the summers. Kemper Peacock, the New York City film editor and producer, and yours truly made the long trek here to the far reaches of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

When we were involved in the show, Flemming was the host and Peacock led the production team that actually did the work period as executive producer of NCAA films, I was responsible for the overall operation and for delivering the show to ABC on time. That meant I carried the beads and led the prayers that nothing would go wrong.

The show was College Football Highlights, which aired each Sunday morning during the season.

What we did was film six or seven college football games all over the country on Saturday afternoon, and then put highlights of those games on the air Sunday morning in a neat one-hour package. A sympathetic TV critic gave it the “toughest hour” label.

It sounds pretty simple, and it would be now, but back when we started in the late 1960s, it was considerably more complicated than planning and pulling off the invasion of Normandy. Continue reading

Writing the story of Britton would be no “Picnic”

Topeka Capital Journal
July 30, 2001

Recently I enjoyed visiting the past through the musicals “Music Man” and “Oklahoma,” and the drama, “Picnic.” I’ve seen all three so many times, on the Great White Way, the semi-Great White Way, in local theaters and in high school auditoriums, on the big screen and the small screen, that I long ago lost count.

“Music Man,” my favorite, is about a con man who comes to River City, Iowa, and sells the town on starting a boys band, even though he doesn’t know a musical note from a radiator whistle. The mayor smells a rat and says he “better hear some by-God tootin’ out of them horns, “ and he finally does. The hero wins the heart of Marion, the librarian.

“Picnic” is the story of a young man who returns to his hometown in Kansas broke and looking for work, but really hoping to get by on his looks and charm. It also is the story of an aging school teacher looking for a man.

After 27 unexpected turns of events that teacher lucks into a nice, cigar chewing guy, and the young man leaves by hopping a freight – but with the town beauty queen on a bus right behind him. They’re headed for Tulsa, where he can get work as a bellhop at the Mayo Hotel. Continue reading

A Full Life for Famous Topeka Author

Topeka Metro News
July 1, 2005

This all started with an email from Charles Crawford of New York City, a KU graduate, a faithful reader and a prolific communicator. He said that with “Nero Wolfe” being resurrected for television, now is the time to write something about Rex Stout, once a Topekan and the author who created the heavyweight detective character.

Crawford also offered some items from Stout’s 1975 obituary in the New York Times, and he ended his message with the comment, “sounds like a dream life to me.” If it wasn’t, it was close, and it bolsters the idea you should keep trying until you get it right.

Stout was famous a couple of times before he gained permanent all-star status by writing 78 detective novels, 46 of them featuring Wolfe, an eccentric, chubby, beer-drinking gourmet sleuth, whose wisecracking aid and companion in crime solving was Archie Goodwin.

In the books, Wolfe weighed 286 pounds and made fat fashionable. I think I read every one of the Wolfe-Goodwin’s stories, in book form or in American Magazine or the Saturday Evening Post. I was addicted to them early in life as I was later to John D McDonald in his Travis McGee.

Rex Todhunter Stout was born in Noblesville IN, in 1886, and a few months later the family moved to Wakarusa. He was like Dwight D. Eisenhower in that he came so close to being born in Kansas the state can claim him as one of its own. Continue reading

For These Shooters, No Shots, No Hats

Topeka Daily Capital
July 15, 1959

The popular picture of the press photographer comes from the movies, or the poorer television shows. The fellow is a middle-age wise guy, with his hat turned up in front and a press card sticking in the band and – since he works for a newspaper – he naturally drinks too much and talks too much.

I was comparing this “typical” photographer with the Daily Capital’s real life staff the other day and I was a little shaken. Either times have changed or we’re on the wrong track.

Rich Clarkson, the boss, and Gary Settle, are Ivy League-trim, practically hairless and disgustingly young and single. Owen Brewer is so young, he’s Little League. Then there’s Bill Snead, and I guess you would call him National League. He’s young, too, but he’s married and he’s a Cardinals fan.

The four of them don’t own one hat among them. If anything, they talk too little, and I shudder to think what havoc a shaker of martinis could create in their darkroom. I am confident they all take heed of my admonition that bleary eyes cannot focus properly and hands that touched liquor should not touch our shutters.

It’s remarkable, the more I think about it, how these guys get us good pictures when they fail so miserably to measure up to the movie and TV versions of their profession. Continue reading

After Philly, before Oakland, Finley, Bauer and the A’s

Topeka Daily Capital
June 28, 1961

WASHINGTON – When the Kansas City A’s last played here, about three weeks ago, one of the things I heard while visiting with them was that owner Charles O. Finley had wanted to release Hank Bauer before the season opened.

They say that the loudest protests came from Joe Gordon, then the manager. He said Bauer not only was a good ballplayer, but also was a good influence on the younger players and was popular with Kansas City fans.

They say, too, that general manager Frank Lane agreed with Gordon and the two of them combined to save Bauer’s job. Continue reading