Satchell Paige, the great baseball pitcher and philosopher-from-left field, once said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
I’ve never been sure what he meant. Do your best right now because somebody better is gonna catch up? Leave your past in the past and focus on the future?
Or maybe he meant that you’ll only be humbled—maybe entertained—by who you once were.
This weekend—as I celebrated my 65th birthday, making me officially old for federal purposes—I got a glimpse of my past when my high-school journalism teacher’s daughter emailed me a copy of a letter written almost 50 years ago by … me.
In the spring of 1974, I was a high school junior and I wanted to be the campus newspaper’s editor. I couldn’t have known where that path would ultimately lead; it was just another extracurricular for a kid who never wanted to go home right after school.
I’ll never know why Mrs. Strube—even at 65 I don’t feel right calling my old teachers by their first names, in this case Donna—kept that letter, but today her life is coming down to its bare necessities. We have stayed in touch all these years as she has often celebrated my professional journalistic accomplishments and come to as many of my book events as she could. But she couldn’t possibly have known any of that when she put this kid’s humorously earnest letter in a folder where it’d sit for half a century. See for yourself:
April 19, 1974
Dear Mrs. Strube,
I realize that Cindy Hanna, present editor of the Kelly Kall, is a senior. Therefore, her graduation will vacate the position of Editor-in Chief. In lieu of this, I wish this to be considered a formal letter of application for that station.
I do lack experience in the editing field. However, I believe that with the background I have in English, I could pick up the “tricks of the trade” quickly. But I might add also that I have been exposed to the work that goes on, however briefly.
I am also well aware of the fact that the greatest experience in spelling and grammar does not make a good editor. I realize that a huge amount of hard work goes into producing the state’s best high school newspaper. I would consider it a duty and somewhat of a pleasure to dedicate myself to something which has already become an institution and a milestone in my life.
Whatever your impression of me, I still think it best to enclose a list of people who would be glad to give any information as to my actions, beliefs, and lifestyles around my home, school, and work. I am certain you may contact these without their becoming irate.
In conclusion, Mrs. Strube, you will never know the great respect and admiration I have for you. And please don’t think this is an apple-polishing stunt. Whether I become editor or no, I am looking forward to working for you on school publications next year.
I got the job.
This letter marks a pivotal moment in my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know it was the first step in a colorful, exciting life as a writer. I certainly didn’t know that I’d someday wince at “application for that station.” Hell, I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Now I do. Sorta.
I barely recognize that kid, which might just mean I got too far ahead of him. I don’t remember what he was thinking in 1974, although I’m glad he thought it. I wish I still had that readiness to jump off a cliff. I wish I had a chance to write that letter again. I wish I had time to do it all again.
You were right, Satch. I probably shouldn’t have looked back.
Cover Photo by Kaiison