Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For the past 64 years, I have been conducting an experiment to learn how much the human body can endure before it totally breaks down, and I think I’ve found the answer to that singular question. Nowadays when someone exchanges pleasantries with me on the telephone and asks me how I’m doing, I run through the litany of ailments that I’m suffering through at that moment. It can take a while.
Sometimes as I run through the laundry list of aches and pains, I think of my sweet mom as she would respond to the same question if someone asked her on the telephone. She endured two knee surgeries just so she could make the transfer from the wheelchair to the toilet, worked to learn how to use her left hand for everything after her stroke left her right hand unusable, struggled to survive in a sightless world of macular degeneration that four separate eye surgeries couldn’t cure, suffered through adverse reactions to various medicines and learned to communicate post-stroke with totally different tonal speech patterns.
Still, when Mom spoke to one of her friends from Pennsylvania, and they asked how she was, she always said in near perfect speech: “Oh, I’m all right.” She must have practiced that phrase thousands of times because she said it flawlessly during her every phone conversation through the 20 years after she suffered her paralyzing stroke.
As a person who writes for a non-fiction publication, it’s not in my thought processes to provide an answer that’s not thorough and accurate to the best of my knowledge. That doesn’t mean that I can’t make mistakes. Au contraire. Lord knows that I make plenty of mistakes, even though I try very hard not to get things wrong in the first place. Still, my underlying guidance as a reporter is to always be factual and truthful. To say “Oh, I’m all right” when every bone in my body seems to be stuck in the throes of pain would not be an accurate response to the question, “How are you doing?”
It used to freak me out when Mom said “Oh, I’m all right,” to someone on the phone especially if I had just finished assisting her to move from one point to another. However, now as I look back on it, I think she was probably right. In some cases, honesty might not be the best possibility.
To underscore that thought, I encountered something that reinforced that concept last weekend as I was driving to work. I had to stop at a business on Bluefield Avenue to pick something up, and when I returned to my car, a pretty young lady asked if I could give her a ride to another business a few blocks further down the Avenue. It was raining, and at first blush, I thought I could help this young person out. But when I asked her to repeat the name of the business she needed a ride to, and realized that it wasn’t too far to walk when the rain cleared up, I told her I worked up the street and needed to clock in because I was already running late.
When I told my wife about the incident, she immediately shared her thoughts on what the headline in the next day’s paper would be: “Bill Archer arrested in prostitution sting,” she said, motioning with her hand to indicate that the headline would fill the space beneath the masthead of the paper. When I protested that it might have been a situation where a young person simply needed a ride down the street on a rainy weekend afternoon, my wife repeated the possible headline, made the same sweeping gesture with her hand and left it at that.
With a 30-year track record of doing stories and taking photographs for this newspaper, I have learned how to differentiate the real from the contrived stories when I get news tips on the telephone. The majority of the calls we receive are sincere, but some may have a grain of sincerity with a heavy dose of embellishment while other can be agenda-driven attacks brought to the newspaper by people who already struck out with law enforcement or the legal community.
While my mother gave me a good line to use on the phone, my grandson, Seth Morgan, gave me a good line to use when I might want to pass on a story I’m not too sure about. My wife brought a whole bunch of family members together for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party a few years ago. As the party was going on, Evonda went over to Seth and asked him if he wanted to meet some of his cousins. Seth responded, “No thanks. I’m good,” and that was it. Both sayings: “Oh, I’m all right,” and “No thanks. I’m good,” have plenty of applications in modern life.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.