When Alexander F. (Casey) Jones assigned me to write a local column for The Washington Post in December of 1946, he gave me a blueprint of what kind of column he wanted.
Whatever success the column subsequently enjoyed can be credited to Casey's shrewd judgment of what best serves the reader's interest.
I contributed only one policy decision of my own: "Never reprint a previous column."
I knew that even a blind hog will find an occasional acorn, and even a mediocre reporter will occasionally write something that one or two readers think worth repeating. The writer must learn to resist the urge to yield to requests for reprints.
I was in my 35th year of heeding my own advice on this point when a phone call arrived from Mrs. James W. Demory of Rockville. Mrs. Demory asked that I reprint a District Line column that was published on Friday, May 8, 1970.
Curious, I looked up the microfilm and learned that a special "day" was scheduled for May 10. To mark the occasion, I had written:
"Business firms are very high on mothers, and at this time of the year they remind us to show appreciation for our mothers.
"Their advice covers mothers generally, so I am not sure they would have approved of my own mother or any of her breed.
"Modern standards require that mothers read books about raising children while they let their children do as they please. But my mother was an authoritarian. Very mean.
"One of my earliest memories of her is a scene that would have melted any normal person's heart. There I was, crying my eyes out for a piece of candy, but she was so unconcerned she didn't even raise her voice. She just said, 'You know very well we're going to have dinner in about five minutes, so this is not the proper time for candy. Crying won't get you what you want, so you might as well stop it.'
"How do you like that? My little heart was breaking, but she didn't care.
"She continued to be mean to me all through my childhood. She forced me to hang up my clothes and brush my teeth whether they needed it or not; to study when other kids were playing, to take music lessons, and to wash up before I came to the table -- all sorts of stuff like that. It was really dreadful.
"If I wanted to go out at night, you'd have thought she was a member of the Gestapo the way she interrogated me.
"She asked where I was going, for what purpose, when I would be back, and other ridiculous questions. I guess she just didn't realize how embarrassing it was when she invited my friends to come into the house so that she could meet them instead of just letting them holler for me from outside.
"I just couldn't wait to grow up and get out of a house run by a woman who thought people should always be polite and never lose their tempers, even when they were being repressed and not permitted to live their own lives.
"You don't know what I went through being dragged to art galleries and religious services and Fourth of July speeches and junk like that. And having a portion of my microscopic allowance practically confiscated from me for the poor box. And being forced to spend half my life washing up. Many a time I was tempted to report that woman to the authorities.
"However, now that she is safe from earthly travail, God rest her soul, I am awfully glad that I was never in any real doubt about her, or the role she played in my life. She was my liaison with all the good things that man had learned since venturing out of his caves. She was a civilization's personal representative to me; and if I was to benefit from what previous generations had learned, it would be primarily through her.
"The meanness I complained about was not caused by her lack of compassion but by my lack of understanding.
"Besides, even if she had raised me all wrong, it wouldn't have been her fault.
"She didn't have a book of instructions for guidance. She had to figure things out for herself."
I guess I should be ashamed of myself for violating my policy not to reprint old columns. I'm 11 years older now and might have said it better in a new version. But this reprint is my Mother's Day gift to Mrs. Demory.