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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Ups and downs of write-ups

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton
From 17 to 82.

That's my age range for writing columns for The Baytown Sun, from a senior in high school to a senior in retirement.

Yep, I'm 82 and don't care who knows it. When 52 or 62, I may have been coy about the matter of age, but at this stage in my life, I'm just happy to be here.

My favorite lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim understood. One of his best show tunes is "I'm Still Here" from "Follies" and it makes me want to march every time I hear it. Damn the knees; full speed ahead.

Anyway, except for failed vision and hearing, loss of hair and teeth, arthritis and congestive heart failure, this octogenarian feels like a senior in high school.

Through the years -- going back to when Truman was president -- I've written various kinds of columns.

My first by-line appeared in The Baytown Sun in the fall of '51 when I began writing Robert E. Lee High School news for the teen page.

A year later I was at work at The Sun editing the teen page and creating a column called Teen Bits. To show I had a sense of humor, albeit with arrested development, I embellished the column with sophomoric knock-knock jokes. (Knock, knock. Who's there? Sam. Sam who? Sam enchanted evening )

Some things are best not remembered.

Two years out of high school, I married and started writing a housewifely column for the women's news section. Clumsily playing on the word CinemaScope, I named the column FeminineScope.

Terrible title. What was I thinking.

In addition, I edited the entertainment page and typed - click, click on the manual typewriter - a column called Limelight. Thank goodness, I didn't label it LimeScope.

An assigned column that I hated to do was Hospital Beat. Every day I had to go to three local hospitals to check the list of patients and then trot from room to room to see if the sick and wounded would let me put their names in print. I would ask politely in my best journalistic bedside manner, "What is your name, where do you live and what are you in here for?"

Once, I barged in on a lady in labor.

When I began yakking about Hospital Beat, I couldn't understand her response. She would mumble and moan quietly and then scream loudly. I gathered this was not a good time.

And there was the incident during which I went through my prepared speech, telling this guy how much our readers enjoyed reading Hospital Beat, and if he didn't mind, I'd like to put his name in the paper and also, would he mind telling me why he was in the hospital.

He did mind.

He did not want his name in Hospital Beat and said so with a look that would freeze a thermometer.

My editor was a big fan of Hospital Beat because it was loaded with local names, the bread and butter of a community newspaper. The column, much to my dismay, drew a large number of curious readers wondering who was in what hospital and why.

Despite my dread of dropping in on patients every day, Hospital Beat continued to grow in popularity. In Philadelphia, a catch phrase once went: "Nearly everybody reads the Bulletin." In Baytown, back in the late Fifties, nearly everybody read Hospital Beat.

Finally, thank goodness, hospital authorities began to tighten regulations in regard to privacy and wouldn't allow me to pick on their patients anymore.

I tried not to look jubilant.

After moving from women's news to the news desk, I wrote columns for several years under the standing headline Wandering. The name had been suggested by advertising manager Syd Gould. He had asked me to do a shopping column for the ad department and call it Wandering. He envisioned a columnist wandering from store to store to chat at the checkout counters and see what's happening in the world of merchandise. Although this likely would have been more fun than going from room to room in hospitals, I never did the shopping column. After all, a line had been drawn on our floor between the ad and news departments, and I decided not to step into the commercial zone. I did, however, take to the Wandering title for a general column that ran on the editorial page.

Eventually I opted for regular headlines to hover over my prose in The Sun, but nowadays in Texas Escapes it's a throw-back. I'm Wandering again.

Once upon a time, a copy editor at The Sun decided to run each column under a standing headline Back in the Day.

I objected.

Back in the Day, to me, sounded like something an octogenarian would write.



Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" Octobe 4, 2016 columns

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