My First Column Wasn’t My Greatest Work of Art

I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper as a teenager. While my classmates waited tables and bagged groceries, I revealed personal details about my life, like my crush on a wrestler, to the Cavalier County Republican subscribers. I was a trend-setting teen, because this was years before social media sites gave other teens the opportunity to publicize their lives.


My job as a reporter was a blessing that came after a great disappointment. After a few weeks of employment my editor gave me my own column. I didn’t want to admit I’d barely read any newspapers, let alone his. So, before I could write a column, I had to figure out what a column was.

My questions received vague answers, so I read a few Wayne Lubenow columns before sitting down at my IB Selectric. I’d clacked out a few lines of brilliance when my editor demanded I come up with a column title to create the header. He offered no clues or ideas, just a smile. He’d already snapped my staff photo without giving me a chance to check my braces for food or comb my hair. My bad hair day had been captured for all of eternity, so I had to nail the header.

In desperation, I grabbed a dictionary. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hayes, would be proud. She always pointed to the huge Webster dictionary when we asked how to spell a word. It never made sense because if I couldn’t spell it, I couldn’t look it up, right? Anyhoo, since I liked alliteration, I ran my finger through the “m” words and stopped at magnum opus.  My greatest work of art. Yep. That’d be fine.

In about an hour I completed my first column. The only problem was that the copy went straight from my typewriter to the typesetter. My editor was more lenient than my high school English teachers and didn’t red-ink my copy. He could have. He should have.

Remember, this was before computers. There were no spelling and grammar checks online. The typesetter used a tape punch keyboard with no display window then fed the tape through the Compugraphic to print out the columns on glossy paper. The layout person trimmed them, fed them through a waxing machine, and physically arranged them on dummy pages.


Melinda Brainard's Magnum Opus column(Click to enlarge)


Yea. You caught the spelling error in the header? The typesetter had a hard time getting it right the first time. Some errors were mine, some she “edited” in since she was convinced her high school diploma meant she knew more.


Some things have changed over the years, some things haven’t.


The braces are gone.

So are the bib overalls.

I have nixed overusing exclamation points!

I’m still short.

I still have bad hair days.

I still love people.

I still love writing.


Melinda Brainard's column Cavalier County Republican

My writing still needs editing.

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