The Hutchinson News
A Remarkably Unselfish Bunch
June 21, 1963
"You realize, I explained cautiously to the boys, when I broke the news about my going to Africa in a few days and not returning until September, "that this will mean no vacation trip this summer."
There was a long and, for our house, surprising silence.
"Well, heck," Kevin finally said, "at least we'll have a vacation from you."
That did it.
I decided to go.
But the assignment to conduct workshops for African editors in Ethiopia, Tanganyika and Nigeria for 2-1/2 months, under auspices of the African-American Institute and the State Department, was not an easy one to accept.
When the phone rings one day, interrupting the editorial you are writing about courthouse politics, and a voice says, "We want you to go to Africa for us," your first response is a frightened negative.
It is as if Elizabeth Taylor had just proposed. You'd have to say: "The idea is delightful, honey, but I'm already married."
And when you are married not only to a family of eight, but also a morning, evening, and Sunday paper, you hesitate very definitely before considering such an offer.
I hesitated just long enough for the voice to insist that I not decide at once, but that I think it over and call the next day. The hesitation, as the boys' vacation trip was concerned, was fatal.
I submitted the proposition to the boss as a completely ridiculous thought, only to discover that he didn't think it ridiculous at all. "Is your staff well enough organized to get along without you?" he asked. This, of course, is an extremely dangerous question. Say no and it is obvious that you have not been doing a very good job of organizing. Say yes and it raises the question of whether they need you at all. I gambled on the latter.
All that remained then was to call home. "I think it is wonderful," my wife said bravely, not thinking for a moment about the possibility of broken water pipes, who was going to cut the hay or how the ewes would get bred. "You've just got to do it."
All that remained then was to pacify the boys. (The two girls are still too young to put up much of a struggle, one way or the other.)
But Kevin, who at 13 has developed the resignation of Job, set the right tone. After that it was easy. More or less.
"Get me some information on medical care in Africa," ordered Sean, the eldest, who will be arguing medical care on the Nickerson debate squad next year. I promised to look into it.
"I want one of those cool blow guns with the poison darts," advised Kevin who will probably grow up to be one of those fellows who set off the hydrogen bombs in those tests out in Nevada.
"I want a monkey," insisted Terry.
"I don't think I can bring a live monkey home, even if I could get one," I explained. "There's some sort of quarantine." I tried to explain what quarantine meant.
"Oh, well," agreed Terry, "bring me an elephant."
Tim was deadly serious, having just doctored up the scars of a brawl with his older brother.
"I want a voodoo doll," he said. "A real one that works. One that looks like Kevin, so I can stick pins in it and make him jump." I was non-committal.
Tom still hasn't decided and I'm keeping the list open for him until my plane leaves.
But Mary, who is four, and gets cuffed around by five big brothers, was very definite.
"I want a little black baby," she explained patiently. "But a sister, not a brother."
Megan, who is two, just said, "Bye, bye, Daddy," which is about all she can say.
Mother didn't ask for anything except reassurance. "I understand," she said, "that the women over there are all quite ugly." I agreed.
Finally, I was picked because they needed, along with all this pedagogy and glamour, a country editor whose problems, while they might not be as exciting as those in Africa, are at times probably as exasperating. I got the nod partly, I think, because for the past 10 years, Peggy, the boys and their little sisters and I have been playing host to a couple of score of foreign visitors who have been sent this way by the State Department.
I was able to accept the offer because I'm blessed with a staff which will carry on in such a manner no one will miss me; because Jack Harris and Peter Macdonald are the kind of bosses who think any editor worth his salt should get out and see the world he tries to present in his paper; and because my family, for all the hamburger they eat, lights they leave on and toilets they forget to flush, are a remarkably unselfish bunch.
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