Paul Greenberg

They accumulate, the scraps of material there wasn't room for a column, but are too good to throw away. So, like a good seamstress, the prudent columnist puts them away for another time, confident they'll fit in somewhere someday. Or maybe make a patchwork quilt of a column when they're all sewn together.

My mother used to have a big box of such scraps. She never threw anything away. Now and then when I was a boy I'd find one of them incorporated in one of my shirts or a pair of pants. Neat. The economy of it gave me a certain satisfaction even then. I've since learned to do the same thing with written material. The secret of this business is recycling.

For example, I've held on to this gem of wisdom from my granddaughter up in Boston -- Newton Centre, Mass., actually -- for whole days before sharing it. That must be something of a record for a proud grandpa. Here is the entire text of now five-year-old Miss Carolyn Sara Bernstein's sisterly advice to her older brother at bedtime: "It's time to brush teeth, but be careful: Don't use your mind. It will only distract you."

That piece of Zen deserves a place with the response a safety expert got when he was interviewing workers on an assembly line. He was searching for ways to cut the accident rate at the plant, but all he got from a retarded woman who worked there was: "Don't worry 'bout me. It's only them's that thinks that gets hurt."

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The obituary of Her Honor Andree Layton Roaf began with the usual list of black-woman firsts in Arkansas: first to sit on this state's Supreme Court, then on its Court of Appeals. But one first Judge Roaf achieved was missing from the obit. And it still brings a smile to my face. She was the first black bride to have her engagement picture in the Society section of the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial.

It was a mistake, of course, in those still racially segregated days of the early '60s. When an engagement picture arrived of a slightly freckled young woman, it was sent to the Society page rather than Colored News, or whatever we called it at the time. Its appearance on the Society page was much noted in town; this time the Commercial had succeeded in scandalizing both the black and white communities.

The next day, bright and early on a Monday morning, the switchboard operator -- was it Myrtis Bobo or Norma Jean Hutcheson? -- said there was a man up front who wanted to see somebody about that picture. And the Society editor was prudently unavailable. That left me, the new editorial writer in town.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.