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In case you never knew the Post

Courtesy Chronicle
Leon Hale
Leon Hale, columnist
Jan. 30, 2005 reprint
Houston Chronicle

During one of the public question-and-answer sessions that I get mixed up in now and then, a person in the audience asked me if I miss the Houston Post.

I do, sure.

For 32 years I was on the payroll at the Post, and you don't stay that long with one employer without its leaving some deep marks on your past.

When the Post died in 1995, I'd been gone from there several years.

The other day at the drugstore a fellow asked me how long I'd been at the Chronicle. Told him 20 years, but before that I was at the Post for 32. He looked puzzled, and then I understood that he had never known the Houston Post.

He moved here just a couple of years ago, and the Post had been dead seven years by that time. Must be thousands of Houstonians like that, who never knew the Post.

Which is just normal reality and yet it seems strange to those of us who worked there.

I came down out of the country in the fall of '47 and took a job with the Post for $300 a month, a sum I thought was so handsome I made a long-distance call back home to tell my folks about it.

The paper was then operating in an ugly old brick building on the southwest corner of Polk and Dowling. It no longer stands and I don't grieve it. I learned to hate that building. It was so dark in winter and hot in summer.

But I loved being a part of the Post. Lloyd Gregory was running the paper then. Arthur Laro was managing editor. Harry Johnston was city editor. Morris Frank was sports editor.

Pecking out stories in that newsroom we had truly literate people like Hubert Roussell, George Fuermann, Worth Gatewood, David Westheimer, Hubert Mewhinney, Donald Barthelme. For me, just having a cup of coffee with people like that was a continuing education.

Unknown to him, I became a student of Roussell's. I studied every sentence he wrote. I thought it so wonderful that he could compose those soaring, long-haired reviews of symphony concerts. And in the next breath, produce one of his light pieces on Flossie the Cigarette Girl in the lobby of the Rice Hotel. I loved those Flossie stories.

Mewhinney, possibly the most eccentric journalist in a calling loaded with eccentrics, wrote Meeting All Comers, a column in which he answered questions sent in by readers. Referring to these correspondents as readers all the time offended Mewhinney's sensitive ear so he started calling them customers.

When Mewhinney died I appropriated that usage. I'm frequently asked why I call readers customers in the column. Well, that's where I got it. I stole it.

What little I know about putting out a newspaper I learned in my first five years at the Post, when I had the farm beat. My knowledge of scientific agriculture was close to nonexistent but nobody else on the staff knew anything at all about it so in comparison I seemed fairly well qualified. And on that beat I learned the basics about dummying a newspaper page and writing headlines and going in the back shop to watch the printers make up the page.

During those years I also lugged a heavy 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and often had to develop and print my own pictures in the Post photo lab.

The way newspapers are produced has changed, and I don't know much more about it now than the average person on the street. So what I learned back there in the '40s and '50s is of no practical account. Even so, it's a part of me and I'm glad I had the experience.

I confess it bothers me a little to run into Houstonians who never knew the Post.

Somebody ought to write a book about it.