I imagine trying to follow Harry Marlin as a Bulletin columnist is the equivalent of following Vince Lombardi as coach of the Green Bay Packers, Tom Landry as coach of the Cowboys or Bear Bryant as coach at Alabama. A lot of people get a chance to try, and it takes a long time for anyone to succeed. Nevertheless, I’ve been invited to do just that. I certainly consider it a privilege and daunting task to try to “fill in.”
Though for a variety of reasons, Harry tells us he’s through, I consider my role “ just filling in” and want him to know that he’s welcome to return, guest contribute, or just vent with just a day or two’s notice in the space that has been his on the top of each Tuesday’s Bulletin editorial page for the last several years. Though he usually had 99 ways to tell a story, the crux of his legacy is that you always looked forward to the hundredth. Turning a phrase to amplify on some simple facet of life prompting one to see the obvious from another direction is a talent few are blessed with and Harry has it… indeed he still does.
Perhaps the most important thing to do when following a local icon like Harry Marlin in such a capacity is to make clear who and what I am not and where I have not been. Clearly, I mean this as a tribute to Harry’s colorful and courageous past and literary longevity of book and column writing.
I’ve never flown wartime bombing missions over Europe in a ball turret of a World War II B-17 bomber plane. As chilling as Harry’s description of that career point is, I can only commend his courage. I don’t miss it.
I’ve never played guitar with Waylon & Willie and The Boys at Luckenbach, Texas. In fact, I’ve never played any musical instrument with anybody at any time. I’m just a little envious of Harry in this regard but my musical associations are limited to Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones CD’s.
I’ve never been a private investigator for an insurance company, nor a renowned Texas lawman. The sight of a loaded gun is a little unnerving and certainly the sight of a person chasing me with one or pointing one my direction is even more so. This puts Harry Marlin in the esteemed same league with Mike Hammer and Joe Friday in my book.
I did not grow up in The Depression in Blanket, Texas, dining on fried rabbit or squirrel, gravy and cornbread, turnip greens and pinto beans… if there was any to be had. Dad, however, tells the same stories about wintering during those same years on a Wisconsin dairy farm. He’s fond of telling about walking to school in those days in the sub-zero Wisconsin winters six miles round trip and “uphill both ways.” So with two witnesses a world apart describing a similar scene I take it to be gospel.
I’ve not assembled a collection of newspaper columns into four books. I have copies of the three of Harry’s books that have been in recent print, and I do pull them out periodically and re-read them. I’ll do it again soon to remind myself of who and what I’m not.
I’m just a Wisconsin farmboy who for 35 years has usually been able to find work as an itinerant newspaperboy at small-town American newpapers.
So with that said, I look forward to chatting with you each Tuesday morning and invite you to rebut, review and reply. I just thought it fair that I warn you that you may find me a little boring, considering who occupied this space before.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.