Published on November 17, 2020

Leon Hale wrote about The Fiddler, but never heard him play

Having Leon Hale as college writing teacher was inspiring

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Life is funny – and if you ever said to me that I would meet anyone famous when I was young - I would have laughed in your face. I was always inclined to write, even preferring essay questions to True or False questions in school.

But to be able to take two feature-writing classes from a columnist I grew up reading, I was indeed blessed. I am referring to Leon Hale, columnist and novelist. I was born in 1953, and Leon’s first column appeared in The Houston Post in 1954.

Leon Hale’s March 16, 2014 column announced his retirement from writing columns after almost 65 years on the job for the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle.

He deemed it was time to retire, 30 years past the time most people quit the rat race. We, the “custhe fiddler plays. I know I have heard him, and it gives you goosebumps. Hale is welcome to come sit on my deck and listen for The Fiddler anytime he wants.

This customer (he called his readers his customers) spent many hours wrapped up in his stories. His columns ran about 800 words week after week, and he typed them all by hand on a manual typewriter with the hunt-and-peck method for years.

There was a time when I was a child and our family followed Hale’s column to find a ghost road in East Texas. We thought we found the ghost until it turned into a reflection on a car’s windshield.

No one elevated the common man better than Hale, and who can forget his trips south each year to find the spring?

I also recollect a time when a young, would-be-journalist was fortunate enough to take Feature Writing I and II from Mr. Hale at Sam Houston State University the only two semesters he taught. What I learned in his classes has served me as a writer to this day.

You never knew what he would bring to class - a clothespin today, a corn cob tomorrow. I learned to observe everything. I learned that everything and everyone has a story. How good a story is depends on the storyteller and the relationship to his/her “customer.” I took his lessons to heart.

I was thinking that maybe I was getting too old to keep writing, that I missed my chance to write the novel in me. But I am enjoying writing this column each week, and my financial adviser thinks I ought to write a screenplay about Kristin and my trip to Big Bend National Park.

And there are other stories in me. I just read that Leon Hale is 99 years young and has a new book coming out in March 2021 entitled, “See You Down the Road,” published by Winedale Publishing. I guess I have another 30-odd years to go before I get too old to write mine.

When I published my first story for Image magazine, I called Mr. Hale to thank him. Years later, I’m harvesting wonderful stories from people around me for my own column, and I am still grateful for Leon Hale’s teachings.

I sometimes wonder how my writing would have changed if he had never brought a corn cob to class.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)