I had begun my writing and storytelling early in life. By the time I got to college my storytelling skills had been honed but my writing skills needed work. I entered Brigham Young University, 2,000 miles and a world away from Clairton as a young, immature seventeen-year old freshman. Freshman English teacher, Mrs McKay was an elderly spinster who had recently moved from New Zealand to teach at BYU. I refer to her as a spinster because I could not imagine her with a family, as she devoted so much time to her students. She was a “teacher’s teacher.”
I also refer to Mrs. McKay as elderly, for that was my 17-year old perspective of what an elderly person looked like. She was probably well into her forties!
Mrs. McKay encouraged her young charges to write. She told me that she believed I had a particular gift for the written word and helped me with the basics of writing. Then she challenged me to write a piece about something I knew about. I chose my hometown of Clairton and chose satire as the means to pen the article. The tongue-in-cheek story told of the steel city that “snowed grey” with soot, and had a fishing pond with a crack in the local park. The crack allowed the water to seep out and ended the lives of the poor fish.
Mrs. McKay loved my story and sent it to the school newspaper which published it. I was so proud that I sent it to a buddy back home, who gave it to his parents who gave it to a councilman who gave it to the mayor.
My father, a City employee, was called on the carpet and severely upgraded for having a son who would write such trash about their hometown. He was given a stern warning that such folderol must cease. That night the phone lones between Clairton and Provo sizzled as my father gave me a lecture peppered with tough steelworker language. The mayor received an apology.
Last Thursday the Mayor of the same city gave the same writer a proclamation. My how times change.