In my last three postings, I shared with you how I got a post-convent job in Dayton, Ohio. Today, I want to introduce you to my three co-workers, who helped me find my bearings in this new world.
As I explained last week, I met Bob, my future boss, on Sunday, January 25, 1967, when he and his three young children picked me up at the Dayton Airport and drove me to my new “digs” at the Loretto Guild. Bob was the managing editor of Our Little Messenger.
Most first and second graders in Catholic schools throughout the United States read this weekly publication each Friday. It was a four-page, 8 ½ x 11-inch, full-color weekly that always contained stories and features about animals, inventions, Catholic feast days, fun activities, and other things that might enthrall young children.
Many children in the public grade schools got The Weekly Reader, which those of you who grew up in the United States may remember. The Catholic schools got the “messengers.” The Pflaum Publishing staff produced three of these a week: Grades 1-2, Our Little Messenger; Grades 3 through 5, Young Catholic Messenger; Grade 6 through 8, Junior Catholic Messenger. Each messenger had its own staff. The staff of Our Little Messenger consisted of Bob, Brian, Alice, and me. Each of us was responsible for one messenger page each week.
These three co-workers taught me how to write captivating children’s stories that contained an element of surprise. They also taught me how to edit and introduced me to a book I’d never before encountered—The Chicago Manual of Style—which I learned was the “bible” of the publishing industry.
As a senior editor, Alice had been in publishing the longest of my co-workers. She was my first real teacher in the art of line and copyediting. Alice spoke with surety about how young children learned and deeply appreciated their sense of wonder. A gifted writer, she completed her work within hours and then set to researching topics for future use in the messenger.
Brian, a black-haired Irishman who spoke with a lilt, liked to tell stories. Thus, he kept me from thinking about my own inner anxieties. Getting to the core of a page topic took Brian at least two days each week because he saw so many details and possibilities. His slow pace helped me become patient with my own learning during those first weeks in the job. The truth is that Brian helped me relax.
Bob was new to publishing and came to it as a writer who’d already had a well-received book published for young people aged 10 to 14. He had an abiding interest in all aspects of nature, and at our weekly meetings to discuss the next issue, he’d come up with intriguing topics—the song of whales, the antennae of insects, the butterfly’s return to San Juan Capistrano, the wing feathers of raptors.
The four of us worked in a long rectangle of a room. On one long side were windows, one per office. The other long side was an empty wall, which stood as the right-hand side of the aisle that passed each of our left-hand offices. Jutting out from the window wall were three partitions that divided the space into our four offices, each of which contained a desk, chair and file cabinet. At each of the short ends of the rectangle were doors.
Alice occupied the first office; I, the second; Brian the third; and Bob the fourth. His was the largest space as he needed a table on which we could lay out the weekly stories and illustrations and assess each issue before its printing. During these sessions, he taught me about layout and design.
These three co-workers set me on a career path as an editor and curriculum developer. They truly changed my life.
Note: One of the summer messengers is now for sale on e-Bay. As of Thursday, May 1, you can see it by clicking here.
Photographs from Wikipedia.