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Woster: Never have an unpublished thought

At my mom’s wake service, my monsignor cousin said the Wosters “never have an unpublished thought.’’ It turns out, I have a lot of them.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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When I have idle time and think about cross country, I always picture a 68-degree fall day, freshly clipped grass scattered with the first falling leaves and just enough of a breeze to make a runner smile.

Both intellectually and from experience, I know my idle-time image isn’t how a lot of cross country meets actually unfold. Those perfect early autumn days, the kind Norman Rockwell might have painted, come along rarely. Perhaps the infrequency makes them so vivid in my mind.

I’ve been to two meets so far this season. It rained during the first meet, a gentle but chilly rain on the shoulders of a guy who hadn’t packed a windbreaker. It was sunny and cloudless during the second meet. The temperature was well above 90, though, and there wasn’t enough breeze to make a sparrow smile.

Mitchell hosted the first meet. My favorite runner competed in the girls’ junior varsity event. The temperature seemed right for running. The showers were a nuisance. Everyone runs in the same weather, right? Sure, but when thunder and distant lightning push the pace, everybody heads for the busses, too. JV girls finished as the rain briefly increased. After the storm, the meet finished at an accelerated pace.

Gregory hosted the second meet. I like that course. It has just enough hills and valleys to keep things interesting. Spectators can follow a good share of the action by stepping lively over the fairways and around the trees. But, goodness, the afternoon was stifling whenever the breeze died. And I wasn’t even running. Fans were dumping water over runners as they passed. Some competitors seemed to appreciate the drenching. Others would have preferred to handle the heat without help.

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Much as I have an ideal image of cross country, so do I romanticize track.

Meets are run under idyllic conditions. Cinders crunch underfoot (I never ran on an all-weather track) and if there’s a breeze, it blows down the final straightaway. In reality, we went to three or four meets last spring that left me chilled, right to the bone. No matter how many blankets and coats we brought, we left the stands shivering. A person can’t be miserable at a track meet, because, well, it’s a track meet. But a person can be cold, in spite of his perfect memories.

I’ve been thinking about memory and reality recently after a couple of email exchanges with my siblings. In one, my younger sister asked a simple question. Did our Uncle Frank wear a western hat? She remembers that he did.

None of the rest of us could confirm that. My little brother thought he wore the equivalent of a seed-corn cap. My big brother agreed. I thought he had a long-billed cap of some sort, but I couldn’t guarantee that. In fact, as I thought about it later, I conjured up an image of Uncle Frank with a western hat when he rode a horse – Firefly, I think – as we herded cattle.

My four siblings and I grew up together on the same farm, at the same time, knowing the same people and seeing the same activities. You’d think we’d all know what our uncle wore, right?

We got to reflecting, and it seems to me that each of us siblings has reached the age at which we doubt some of our clearest, most familiar memories. I remember my big brother saying once that he was all set to tell a wonderful story about the family spending days at the State Fair, when it struck him that we never went to the Fair as a family. Even so, he has memories of it.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve included a memory in the draft of a column and had to stop and ask myself, “Did that even happen?’’ I search through old photos or clippings. If I can’t confirm the memory, I drop it from the column. I’ve ruined some pretty good, if maybe untrue, columns that way.

At my mom’s wake service, my monsignor cousin said the Wosters “never have an unpublished thought.’’ It turns out, I have a lot of them.

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Sometimes when my newspaper and the governor’s office were at odds over our coverage, I’d be unable to get formal interviews.

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