I was talking with a reporter I worked with at a newspaper in Indiana more than thirty years ago. Time has soothed old grudges and gripes, and we laughed about them. Like most reporters, we knew editors were sub-literate cretins. We were young and certain of our righteous cause. Both of us still write for a living, but not for newspapers, and we seem to have cooled off significantly. One memory was different, more sobering, and we remembered it identically.
One of the guys on the production side – not a reporter or editor – also ran a dairy farm. I didn’t know him well but our relations were cordial. I knew he had a wife and young children. One day on the farm, his wife was backing up a tractor and ran over one of their boys, killing him instantly. He was, as I remember, four or five years old. Most of the newspaper staff attended the memorial service. The little boy was laid out in formal clothes, in an open casket, with his right hand holding a toy tractor. That’s when I started crying. Everyone wept. It remains the most emotionally impossible experience of my life, and now I have three sons of my own. Those parents, especially the wife, must wake to a memory of that pain every morning. On this date, Aug. 28, in 1750, Dr. Johnson writes in The Rambler #47:
“For sorrow there is no remedy provided by nature; it is often occasioned by accidents irreparable, and dwells upon objects that have lost or changed their existence; it requires what it cannot hope, that the laws of the universe should be repealed; that the dead should return, or the past should be recalled.”
Johnson was married when he wrote these words. Two years later, Elizabeth “Tetty” Johnson would die at age sixty-three. On first meeting Johnson she had told her daughter Lucy: “That is the most sensible man I ever met.”