In 1968, I was a student at Georgetown College (Kentucky). Sometime during the second week of school, my freshman English class had been given back our most recent paper and our professor “invited” us to join him in his office to discuss our latest work. The professor’s name was Dr. Woodridge Spears.
When I arrived at his office, he pointed to a chair at the end of his desk and I nervously sat there, while he finished reading whatever it was he had in his hand. Finally, he asked for my paper….which looked like it was bleeding with all of the red circles and “SPs” he’d scribbled on it. As he flipped to the second page, he shook his head, then looked me in the eyes. “You’re Randy Ritchie’s boy, aren’t you?”
Although somewhat surprised at his knowing my dad, I acknowledged in the affirmative, to which Dr. Spears responded, “He couldn’t spell, either.” It turns out he had been my dad’s professor in 1958….and Dad’s papers had suffered the very same red markings to point out the numerous misspelled words.
He continued by inquiring into my knowledge of Webster’s Dictionary and whether or not I knew how to use same. Of course, I had a “new” dictionary and I insisted I knew very well how to use it. Upon hearing my pathetic defense, he shook his head as he gave the paper another bewildered look and said, “Then I suggest you pick it up, dust it off and use it.”
All through high school, I had loved to write and the words had always come easily to me, so I took his advice, dusted off my dictionary and did much better in his class. Unfortunately, I left school shortly after mid-term.
I ran into Dr. Spears a couple of months later at a high school basketball game. There were few fans on the visitor’s side of the floor and I spotted him almost immediately, seated on the forth row at mid-court. How he saw me amidst all of those people on our “home court” side, I will never know, but he did. When he saw I was looking in his direction, he motioned for me to join him. We talked for some time, with Dr. Spears inquiring as to my plans for the future; he seemed sincerely disappointed at hearing that my plans did not include returning to school.
With game-time approaching I prepared to return to my seat across the way. But before I left, he said, “Steve, if I may offer you a bit of advice…..go back to school. Find a college where you’ll be comfortable . . . someplace where you’ll be happy. Let me suggest, also, that you change your major to Journalism. I believe you have a talent; a gift. When I read your papers, I saw something in your writing.” Well, I was 18 years of age and, although I thought Dr. Spears to be a very nice man who had befriended a poor, ignorant freshman, I ignored his advice and didn’t return to school…..at least not right then.
For nearly 30 years his words, “. . . I saw something in your writing . . . ,” literally haunted my thoughts. Then, in the mid 1990s, with the ambers of an old fire smoldering in my belly, I decided to take a couple of writing classes at the local community college.
Finally, in 2007, now living in Florida, I found myself in a situation in which I had the time to sit at my computer and write. Over the next two years, I produced four novels, The Black Mountain Dutchman being the fourth to be finished, but the first to be published, October 2010, and a short story, In the Shadow of the Tower, which was accepted by Black Horse Western Magazine in January, 2009.
In 1968, I had absolutely no idea who Woodridge Spears was. To me, he was an English professor, who had been my father’s professor several years before, and a very kind man. As I have done a bit of research, I have found that Woodridge Spears was a native of Eastern Kentucky and a close friend to author and Kentucky Poet Laureate Jesse Stuart. He was a renowned author and poet whose works include The Feudalist (1946), River Island (1963) and The High Places (1994)…..and this man “ . . . saw something . . . ” in MY work. I must admit, I become quite emotional when I think of that. Unfortunately, Dr. Spears passed away in 1989….I deeply regret never having gotten the opportunity to thank him and to tell him just how much he inspired me.
Having said all of this, I dedicate my first published work to the memory of Dr. Woodridge Spears.
Thank you Dr. Spears….The Black Mountain Dutchman is for you.