More or Les

More or Les...that was the name of Les' column that appeared for years in the Ark Valley News (the paper he owned and published until he sold it a few years ago).

I keep thinking more and more ABOUT Les as the days pass and the services draw closer. I'm hitting the road in a few hours to drive back home and prepare for the visitation, the funeral, and the informal reunion Saturday afternoon of past and current AVN staff members.

Last night, as I packed for the trip, I ran downstairs to grab a suitcase. Sitting in the top of an open box nearby was my first college journalism textbook. I can't remember the last time I saw it. But there it was, this week of all weeks. I flipped through the pages and realized just how long it has been. The photographers on the front of the book were shooting film cameras. And there was no mention of the Internet anywhere.

But the memories came rushing back, of watching Les at the front of a classroom, talking, showing examples, laughing, debating news judgment, explaining the pitfalls of misplaced modifiers and why no one should ever use semicolons (because 99 percent of people use them wrong, so don't bother trying).

I began to sob. I wanted to run upstairs and do anything else except remember. But I couldn't help myself. I was compelled to scrounge around in a few more boxes. I dug up class schedules, used notebooks, clips of my stories, and class assignments. I flipped through a stack of papers, looking at Les' scrawl in the margins. I giggled as I read his correction of a poorly written sentence that included a quotation I had ended with the credit, "laughed Smith." Les scolded, "People don't laugh words. Try 'she said with a laugh'." Another time I cluttered up an already clunky lead by including the words "Student Government Association fees." I could've found a cleaner way to present that, he noted. He was right, as always.

I read those pages and cringed, my face flushed with embarrassment. "I could've done so much better, Les," I wanted to yell! I realize I was just learning. I'd do better today because I've had experience, practice, and Les' words in my head all these years.

I'm struck by the fact that Les' death has hit me harder than the passing of just about anyone else in my life. My brain won't stop churning. My chest aches. Tears fall. I woke up with a headache this morning -- I suspect from clenching my jaw. He wasn't family. But he made me feel a part of his.

Anyone who ever knew him seemed to become an honorary Anderson, more or less.

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