About a month ago, I was perusing our in-house archive of vintage newspapers, tasked with compiling another installment of our popular “old news” columns for the June 3 edition of the paper.
Having the freedom to explore any year, I gave in to natural curiosity and flipped through the yellowed pages of the year I was born, 1971. It’s fun to revisit the headlines and general state of things when you entered this world, is it not?
To be honest, there wasn’t a surplus of stop-the-press stories 49 years ago. A new art gallery was opening, a new Kiwanis president was elected and the local Dodge dealership was sold. Nothing much to see here.
What really caught my eye were the advertisements, which sharply contrasted what a buck would get you in 1971 versus today. Then, you could buy a pound of ground beef and a four-pack of premium toilet paper for less than a dollar.
A couple months ago, finding a single roll of non-plush toilet paper for something close to a dollar was a cause for celebration. My, how the times have changed in the age of COVID-19 supply and demand.
Having typed up the June 3 old news, I looked up the birth announcements from Wilkes General Hospital in the Thursday, June 10, edition of The Journal-Patriot. A certain someone I know was due to make their print debut in the newspaper.
It was with a mixture of horror and humor that I read that “Marty Mardin McGee was born to David and Martha McGee of Rt. 1, Ferguson.” Hardin is my middle name, and also is my mom’s maiden name.
Something you must know about my mother: she clips out a lot of things from the newspaper. Obituaries, marriages, something mentioning a friend or family member, or anything really that catches her eye—those scissors have seen much action over the years.
So, my imagination kicked into high gear. What about the birth announcement of her last child with the typographical error? Did she clip it anyway and pencil in the correction? Or ball up the newsprint in anger?
I imagined the following took place: Mom saw the typo, then made a solemn pledge right then and there, as God as her witness, that she would raise up her son to hate typos. He would grow up with a single purpose in life: be a caped crusader against unintentional mistakes, fighting for spelling accuracy his entire life and never resting until the war was won against his arch enemy, finger fumbles.
I hypothesized that’s why she bought me a Chicago Manual of Style at the impressionable age of 7, made me read the dictionary every night before bed, and enrolled me in one of the best journalism schools in the country.
I figured that’s surely why she handed me a copy of the Yancey County News of Jan. 24, 2013, and circled the page one banner headline “So what’s is the president’s gun policy?” Under it was the front page of the New York Times of May 19, 2014, and a red arrow pointing to the subheading, “Cautious reponse to world crisis.”
Those are the salacious details of my daydream, but that’s not the way it played out in real life—except for the part about me getting a degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism.
My mom had no idea the paper had spelled my birth name “Mardin.” She seems to recall my grandpa McGee subscribed to the paper back then, but if he saw it (and he was a dedicated reader who hoarded old newspapers), no mention was ever made.
In case you’re wondering, Mardin is a name of Kurdish origin that means “brave and hopeful.” As far as typos go, a far worse one could have greeted my arrival in the world.
Let me be clear that I hold no grudge toward anyone for the typo making the local paper. I’m the first to admit that we journalists make mistakes just like anyone else.
Or, it could have been a case where the newspaper received wrong information from the hospital; we’ll never really know. Either way, a human being made a simple error—a tale as old as time.
While I’m not a superhero with spelling and grammar superpowers, I do consider myself a lifelong connoisseur of words and their intricate formations, and each day in the newsroom I do my dead-level best to exorcise typos from the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.
Did you know, though, that punctuation saves lives?
Consider the different outcomes of “Let’s eat, grandma!” and “Let’s eat grandma!” But that’s the subject of another column.