Published on November 24, 2020

Leon Hale asked us to write story about a corn cob

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Thanksgiving is fast approaching in a year marked by political strife, way too many hurricanes and tropical storms and COVID-19.

Now the news is suggesting that toilet paper and sanitary wipes will again become scarce. I could work myself into a giant funk. But that is just not going to happen.

Since I have stories published by the “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” series of books, I have subscribed to Chicken Soup’s daily messages. Every message includes an inspirational quote. One I read recently said: “There is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.”

That is so true if you let it be. For instance, it doesn’t matter how bad the day is, it only takes a second for Roy to say, “That gumbo sure was good,” to brighten up my day.

Or, when my crazy dogs run to meet me at the door like I’ve been gone a week, when I only came back from the mailbox. They change my world from having the blues to feeling like there’s sunshine and roses.

I also think about how I got to this point in my life. It seems like everything I have done has led me here, doing what I am doing. Last week, I wrote about when I took Feature Writing I and II from Leon Hale, the famed Houston Post and Houston Chronicle columnist.

He only taught college classes for two semesters, and I was able to enroll and benefit from both. Remember, I talked about how Leon would bring something different to class – like a corn cob – and that the item was used to create a mental or emotional spark to write a story.

Leon would ask the class what the item was. Then he would say, “This is your assignment: Write a feature story about a corn cob.” Then we would discuss what ideas we could get from that corn cob. We could use the standard journalism 101 questions - who, what, when, where and why - to get started.

That corn cob could be left over from a recent family reunion feast; it could be dried and become a corn cob pipe; it could be chopped up and used for hog feed. Or, it could be the standard Leon Hale starter: “The old farmers used these dried corn cobs instead of toilet paper in the outhouses.” (I’m thankful that with the COVID-19 pandemic that we haven’t had to resort to this – yet.)

It made you think. Something as humble as an old, dried corn cob made for some great feature stories in that class. It was assignments like those that made me get out of my comfort zone and interview people (which was tough for this introvert) and conduct research for features. The most wonderful part of the class was when we shared our stories; they were all so different, told from different viewpoints.

Writing stories about, well, just about anything, taught me to notice the small things that people sometimes overlook. Writing about a corn cob makes writing about people and events better. I learned from an inanimate object that there is not one thing that does not have a story. You just have to look for it. For that gift, I am truly thankful.

Leon also had a gift for elevating the everyday man - the plant worker, the trucker, the teacher, the farmer, the soldier, the housewife. I admire that in Leon’s writing, and when I began writing and getting published myself, I promised myself to focus on the positive and to lift people up whenever possible.

I am thankful for having been given the chance to do so.

As Thanksgiving rolls around in this pandemic year, I am thankful for my friends and family and for new friends that I am making and for the ability to share their stories with my “customers”. I’m also grateful my daughter is preparing the turkey this year, and I get to bring the dressing and a ham.

My Leon Hale challenge to you all is to find what you are thankful for, because “There is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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