George Yow limped badly. A Japanese machine gun smashed one leg in World War II. As sports editor of The McAllen Monitor in the late 1940s, he hired a kid to help him.
The kid was tall, 16, awkward, a sports lover. He earned 10 cents each column inch he wrote.
A year passed. Yow limped back to his hometown to work in Ashville, N.C.
“Good luck, kid,” he said to his young assistant. “I hope your new boss appreciates you.”
The Monitor did not pay writers much in 1950. A few older men applied but refused the job. The kid kept coming to work at 6 a.m. to put together the sports page, or pages, before school. He clocked 40 hours a week, including night games and weekends.
Finally. they hired him as “Acting Sports Editor” until an older man came along. None did. The kid made nearly every mistake in the journalism books. Once he wrote “San Benito has the best umpires that money can buy” after McAllen’s baseball team had lost a close game there. Few readers would have hired lawyers for libelous words like that in the 1950s. The kid could have been fired.
Soon after being named sports editor, the cocky kid just turned 17 — and could have died.
The hard-drinking Monitor staff in the 1950s invited him to a party they held. They handed him a full, dark bottle to celebrate being a real newspaperman. He had never drank alcohol but once, when his grandfather gave him a small glass of wine one New Year’s Eve.
Now a paid newspaperman, $25 for a six-day week, he chugged down that bottle of whiskey, his first. Some of the reporters laughed. The host and other old-timers worried. One editor said, “Kid, you better quit drinking and let somebody drive you home.”
The dizzy new sports editor laughed and lied, “I drink like this all the time!”
Then, ashamed and dizzy, he left the party, driving slowly west on Hackberry to his home past the railroad tracks. He didn’t remember anything else until he woke up at nine Saturday morning. He had to be at work at 10.
Suddenly this young sports editor realized he hurt all over and was sick at his stomach. He felt much pain but found no blood leaking out, yet dozens of bruises all over his face, head and body down to his toes. Had he just missed hitting a train?
So he crawled painfully out of bed and saw his 1939 Hudson car was banged up too, but with no blood on it.
He showered, covered his bruises as best he could, and rushed to The Monitor office in the nick of time to make his Saturday deadlines, between bouts of remorse and up-chucking. Few kidded me. Perhaps they had terrible hangovers too.
Many years passed before my younger brother Bill told me, “You know, Jimmy, I never got as drunk as you did that night until I was 20 because Dad woke me up to watch him beat you up when you came home so drunk. At least he pulled his punches and just bruised you all over.”
Dad died, age 96, on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, this month. The oddest thing was that we never spoke of that painful night the rest of our lives. Still, it was a valuable lesson and I remain certain he prolonged my career, and life, that night.
I wrote for five daily newspapers in Texas and California. I worked with more than 200 newspaper men and women. A majority of them are now dead. Many were heavy drinkers.
I wish they all had fathers like mine.