By Gary Lloyd
If journalism could afford a time machine, I’d go back to Aug. 2, 2010, on Laurel Drive Southeast in Magee, Miss.
It was late in the afternoon on a hot Monday, deadline approaching, but I should have talked to bystanders and family until the batteries in my tape recorder went dead, should have tapped my fingertips on the keyboard until they blistered.
I’ll set the scene: The words that came over the police scanner chatter sounded like a joke. An 18-wheeler had driven into a house on Laurel Drive Southeast. There was no way, but, joke or not, small-town happenings demand storytelling. I drove over and, sure enough, an 18-wheeler was jammed through the side of a home, like a spoon in pudding.
I stood in dumb amazement as curious neighbors looked on, as first responders sifted through the smashed bricks. The homeowner, in his 80s, was home that afternoon, napping in his bed. The 18-wheeler plowed through most of the home and came to rest against his bed, leaving the man with lacerations, bruises and other injuries, but nothing life-threatening. He was airlifted to the hospital, but he was lucky. The driver of the truck had apparently suffered some sort of heart problem while he was driving, and he ultimately lost control, churning through power poles before crashing into the house.
My “story” went on the front page that Wednesday, but not above the fold, a surreal photo of the scene accompanied by maybe 200 words. It was a glorified caption, though I did include this quote from the police investigator: “The Good Lord was next to him in that bed.” How do you get a quote like that and not expand on it? I should have told the story better.
In that week’s newspaper, I wrote stories about cocaine possession, a 12-year-old baseball team losing in the Dixie Youth State Championship, a YMCA after-school program and not much else. Even if I needed more time, the next week’s issue included bylines from me about a street resurfacing grant, a jamboree football game, the opening of a scrap yard, and stories about a police chase, stolen firearms, a burglary, grand larceny and cocaine possession. I did write an update on the man injured in the 18-wheeler crash, but it was a hard news update about being in good spirits after ankle surgery. I quoted only his third cousin, who was the city’s police chief. I should have told the story better.
I learned later that the man had served as a sergeant in the United States Army in World War II before earning a degree in divinity from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as a pastor, and taught history and social sciences in Magee public schools for 28 years. As an older man, he worked at Piggly Wiggly in Magee and, after the 18-wheeler accident, moved to a local nursing center. He died in 2017.
Imagine what that story could have been. Imagine the wisdom a man like that could bestow upon the world in a newspaper feature, or even a book. I missed that opportunity to give him that platform. Why didn’t I write that?
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.