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Posts Tagged ‘Gail Tabor’

Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.

Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.


My dead mother is more successful on the Internet than I am. It happened Thursday.

She had a little help.

But that doesn’t lessen my bemusement. It only seems to show how capricious the online audience is and how difficult it can be for a writer to be heard in the digital cacophony of the Internet.

I should explain.

I’m a second-generation journalist. My mother, Gail Tabor, was a reporter for the Citizen-Journal in Columbus, Ohio, when she met my father, Steve Lucas, who was pursuing a PhD in business at Ohio State.

She kept reporting right up through her pregnancy with me. She left reporting when she had me, but 12 or 15 years later, after her divorce and a move to Phoenix, Arizona, she got a job at the Arizona Republic. She worked as a features reporter, fashion editor, gossip columnist and news reporter, in roughly that order, until being forced into early retirement in the mid-1990s.

At the time she left the newspaper, the Internet was barely a thing most people had even heard of, and like most people she didn’t own a computer.

A few years after she retired, I took a job in Richmond, Virginia, that among other things called for me to be a daily advocate to the company’s newspaper editors for adopting various “new media” practices – video, blogs, social media, and on and on. As part of that work, I started a blog nearly 10 years ago devoted to those things.

The original blog was behind a company firewall and couldn’t be viewed by the larger world of the Internet, but in 2011 I migrated it here to WordPress.

Despite my clearly brilliant insights, however, the blog has never gained much of an audience – except for one post in 2012 that called for media companies (including but not limited to newspapers) to recognize that the people who produce their “content” are their most valuable commodity and need to be paid like it. That post drew a favorable comment on Steve Buttry’s blog, which got it noticed and linked to by All Things D, and traffic to my blog spiked to an all-time high. Nothing else I wrote ever came close to achieving that kind of audience. (Despite that post’s popularity, no one ever adopted my recommendation. Journalists, and content-providers in general, remain paid like dirt.)

Earlier in 2012, my mother died. Among her things were a good many of her newspaper stories and columns. One was a column she wrote in 1983 about a candy treat called Buckeye balls, which are rolled peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, but not totally covered in chocolate so they look like Ohio buckeye nuts. Making Buckeye balls was a fall tradition for my family, usually done on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I loved that column and typed it, in its entirety, into a post on my blog.

Over time, that post became the second-best-read item on my blog. Pretty much every day, at least a couple of people searched the Internet for “buckeye balls,” “buckeye candies” or some variation and followed a link to that post.

And then on Thursday a slideshow online called United States of Food: Official State Foods mentioned “buckeye candies” in its Ohio entry and linked to my mother’s column on my blog.

The traffic blew away my previous one-day record. So now my mother, who never blogged a day in her life, has both the best-read post on my blog and the biggest single-day audience. If it were anyone but Mom, I’d be upset.

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My mother, who has been dead three years and never lived in Lenoir, received an offer in the mail at my house this week to get a free hearing exam.

“You have received this invitation today because you best represent the segment of the population which is most likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus,” it said.

I would not have thought of the dead as the segment of the population most likely to suffer from hearing loss, but in hindsight I should have known better. If nothing else, all the dirt muffling sounds from the surface would make that person keenly aware of how much better his hearing could be.

Anyway, my mother was cremated. Surely that process cleared up any problems with her ears.

But as I thought about it I realized there are other possibilities.

What if the afterlife is more like the Catholics envision it, or used to (do they still believe in limbo and purgatory?), and when you die it isn’t a clear-cut case of going to heaven or hell? There could be intermediate steps. Maybe not limbo as the Catholic church described it, but something hung in the middle between heaven and hell.

My mother lived a good life and was kind to helpless animals, but she was no saint — she was a journalist, after all — so perhaps she escaped hell but is condemned to an eternity of tinnitus, a constant ringing sensation in the ears.

It would be like the afterlife was portrayed in the comedy-horror movie “An American Werewolf in London,” where the victims of a werewolf are cursed souls and must roam the earth as ghosts until the werewolf’s blood line is severed.

This would make being bitten by the journalism bug a curse similar to being bitten by a werewolf. (If you don’t think being a journalist is a curse, come spend a day with my boss.) I’m sure this idea would strike any journalist as uncomfortably familiar in the same way as looking into a mirror at a big, formal gathering and seeing yourself with a severe case of bedhead.

Except in the movie, the ghosts of the werewolf’s victims looked just like their physical corpses – bloodied and mauled, and gradually decaying.

In the case of the cursed journalist, the ghost would walk the earth forever, constantly sticking a finger in his ear and wiggling it, or lying in bed in the dark trying to ignore the ringing. And of course, the curse for a journalist is doubled because the dead can’t drink.

I can see it now, and probably will the next time I belly up to a bar. I’ll look down at the row of seats and imagine dead journalists at each one, all looking longingly at my beer while they wiggle an index finger in their ears. All except Mom. She was a scotch drinker.

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Photo from Dec. 28, 1983, Arizona Republic
Going through a huge box of my mother’s papers — personal, financial and some of her newspaper clips — I came across a column she wrote for the Arizona Republic in 1983 (under the byline Gail Tabor) claiming to be the person who first made a dessert that became popular among Ohio State fans, Buckeye Balls, which are peanut-butter balls dipped in chocolate with just a circle uncovered on the top so they look like buckeyes. A portion of the clipping was torn, and the whole was too long to fit on my flatbed scanner, so I’m typing in the text below. Note that if you try making them, the key in the recipe is “6 or more tablespoons peanut butter.” You start with six, then keep adding peanut butter to taste.

The story about where popular Buckeye balls started

By Gail Tabor

It is time, Ohio State fans, that you hear the truth about your favorite nibbling food, the Buckeye Ball. (A buckeye, for those who need explanation, looks somewhat like a bloated chestnut.)

Had it not been for me, you wouldn’t have the pleasure of gorging on those mouth-watering, chocolate-covered peanut-butter-flavored morsels.

As is so often the case concerning valuable and coveted items, the recipe was claimed by a conniving woman from Oklahoma. She fibbed and said it was hers, after promising me under oath that she would never let that recipe out of her hands.

Not only was she a dishonest purloiner, she instilled in me a deep distrust of everybody from Oklahoma, a fault that stays with me to this day.

It all began in 1964, when I married a rabid Ohio State fan whose idea of fun was sitting in the rain and snow watching football games. Oh, those memories: Finding the seat, wrapping sock-and-boot-clad feet and legs first in plastic, then in a layer of newspapers, and covering everything with a blanket. You didn’t dare move an inch the rest of the game for fear of disturbing the wrappings and letting in the cold air.

Christmas of that year, my mother brought us some candy. I begged her for the recipe, which she gladly shared. (Actually, you can say the whole thing started with her.)

When I was ready to start dipping the small balls of batter, I didn’t get the first one completely covered. I held it up on the toothpick and said to then-husband, “Hey, it looks like a buckeye.”

Thus it was christened. We gave batches away to friends, and they fell in love.

“How did you make them?” they would beg. But I was selfish and refused to part with the information. I wanted to be the only one in the world to have the secret of making candy-lovers happy.

In 1971, ex-husband graduated and we moved from Ohio. Before we left, the wife of a man who studied with my ex, and who was also graduating, pestered me unmercifully for the recipe.

“We’re returning to Oklahoma, and you will still be the only one over here who knows how to make them,” she said. “I promise I’ll never tell anyone else. Please, please, please,” she said, or words to that effect. All I know is, she pledged a solemn oath to keep her mouth shut. I relented.

Dates get fuzzy in retrospect, but it may have been 1973 when a visit was paid to Columbus during football season. Imagine my surprise when I picked up the local newspaper and saw an entire story on Buckeye balls. How in the world, I wondered, did somebody else figure them out?

“Well,” said a friend, “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you would be furious. But (woman from Oklahoma) sent in the recipe to the Ohio State alumni magazine, under her name.”

Furious is an understatement. I felt deceived, betrayed, put-upon, hornswoggled and just plain enraged. I swore revenge.

That took a back seat. In the confusion during and following divorce and resettlement, the Buckeye ball donnybrook was forgotten until it came time to make them again. Every year, for 17 years, it has been a tradition in my house to make the delicacy on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game. And every year my children, who have heard the story a million times, would help me make the balls and dip them in chocolate, saying all the while, “Mom, why in the world did you trust that woman?”

This year, I was in Columbus on assignment when the big day rolled around. While Ohio State and Michigan were slugging it out, I met a friend for lunch and moaned over another tradition going down the drain. This year, the making of Buckeye balls would be delayed a week.

“Gail,” my friend said, “this whole state has gone crazy over Buckeye balls. I think you ought to find some way to tell the real story about how they got started.”

So now you know. Today, and forevermore, as the scrumptious little bites disappear into eager mouths, bow to the West and give thanks to the woman in Phoenix (certainly not Oklahoma) who made such joy possible.

As one matures, one grows out of childish shortcomings like selfishness, so here is my original Buckeye ball recipe, for all the world to see. (But if you think I’m going to share my secret recipe for West Virginia Christmas pickles, you’re crazy.)

Buckeye Balls

4 pounds powdered sugar
1 pound butter
6 or more tablespoons peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces chocolate chips
1 block canning wax

Combine first four ingredients, adding a bit of milk if necessary. Rolls into small balls. Melt chocolate chips and canning wax in top of double boiler. Make sure chocolate and wax are mixed well so wax doesn’t rise to the top. With toothpick, dip the balls into the chocolate, but do not cover completely. Chill in refrigerator. After chocolate is hardened, store candy in plastic bags in freezer.

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This is off the usual topics for this blog. Obituaries are completely out of the control of most newsrooms, so my intended audience — journalists — can do nothing about this complaint. But having dipped into the obituary pool Friday after my mother died, I can report with great authority that on this part of their business, this nation’s newspapers are practically lying naked across a table, eyes closed, holding a sign that says, “Whatever,” waiting for a madman with a knife to come along. If you have never made arrangements to place an obituary, let me assure you: It is messy, and it is EXPENSIVE. It is everything, in fact, that begs for someone to come along offering a simpler, easier, cheaper solution — an idea that was introduced to the news industry years ago as a job to be done. But of course no one really wants to make it cheaper, because that would reduce revenue. I remember once hearing a publisher gripe about a company-imposed mandate to simplify and beautify classified ads; the end result was a better-looking (bigger type, more photos), more enticing page that offered more options to people placing the ads, but the ads were bigger without the price going up, so revenue per ad was lower. Focusing on that is just short-term thinking — the number of classified ads has been dropping like a rock for years, driven by free online ads, so the intent of the change was to try to improve the printed ad experience and stem the decline, and maybe entice more people to come back. If you’re constantly watching your back, trying not to lose more ground, you can’t go forward.

Almost two years ago, Steve Buttry pointed out the problems and opportunities in the obit business. He was right then, and he’s righter now. But it’s even worse than I knew when I read his post in 2010.

I attempted to place my mother’s obituary in five newspapers — in the town where she was born, in the city where she began her journalism career, in the city where she retired, in the city where she lived for 10 years before a heart attack changed her life and mine, and in my own city. One told me that obits had to come from a funeral home, not individuals, which is a barrier because I’m not using a funeral home; my mother is being cremated by the Cremation Society of Virginia, which told me to handle the ads myself. I explained this but was told the ad had to come from a funeral home. So, one paper gets no ad. The cost at the other papers ranged from around $300 to nearly $500 (in my own city, the ad was free because I work for the company — an excellent employee benefit but one you hope never to use). In the accompanying listing for each at legacy.com (yes, each one has a separate, unlinked listing), my mother’s name appears as Anita Lucas, even though she never went by Anita — like many people, especially in the South, she went by her middle name, Gail — except for one listing: the obit placed in The News & Observer of Raleigh.

The News & Observer also was the only one that had a completely web-based system for placing the ad. It was easy and seamless. Every other place had me e-mail in the information, and they called me back to get credit card information. Not bad, but not seamless.

One day, probably in the not-too-distant future, someone is going to combine something like the N&O’s online obit-submission system with a cheap price, and at that point, newspapers will hear another nail pounded in the coffin of their revenue model. For instance, why not a TV station? TV has geographic market presence — which I’m not convinced is even necessary nowadays — and this is revenue TV stations don’t now get, so a low-cost, web-only model is nothing but a plus to them. Or some newspaper company, like the N&O’s McClatchy, might decide, “Hey, why don’t we roll out this web-based obit system as a national thing, like Craigslist, and not just limit ourselves to where we have a building?”

When the day comes that someone actually does this, newspaper executives won’t be able to say no one saw it coming or tried to warn them.

5/21 UPDATE: Through Twitter, legacy.com noticed my complaints and addressed its end of them, so her obits now appear online as Gail Lucas, and the guest books have been combined.

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Gail Tabor at Lockbourne Air Force Base
My mother told me not to go into journalism. She made herself crystal clear. I remember when I told her I thought I wanted to study journalism in college. She fixed me with the kind of look teenagers usually get for breaking the news they are gay, and she said something like, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll never have any money.” She was a divorced mother of two boys, working for the Arizona Republic, so she knew her subject matter well.

She started her career at the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal, where in 1961 her job as society editor took her to cover an “Officers’ Wives” luncheon at Lockbourne Air Force Base, and during her visit she was given a tour of the restricted area where all the planes were kept, and she got the idea to ask for a ride in one of the planes — a supersonic F-101B. Her account of her exchange with Lt. Don Fullerton, the assistant information officer at the base, sums up her life:

Gail Tabor in flight helmet“Ha,” said Fullerton, “you’d faint on takeoff.”

That did it. I just had to get that flight.

She got the flight, becoming the first woman to fly in an F-101 and the fifth woman to break the sound barrier. The experience so exhilarated her that she kept damn near everything about it — from her typed draft, covered with edit marks, to copies of the three first-person stories she wrote about the experience (bearing the two-column logo, featuring fancy cursive-style type, of “Women’s Features”) — in a folder the rest of her life.

She interrupted her career to raise two boys. One had the sense to go into sales and other business-oriented pursuits. The other liked to write and felt the same sort of exhilaration that led to that folder of yellowing paper, so when she said, “You don’t want to do that,” he thought, “Yes I do.” He has second thoughts nowadays, but when it comes down to it, he still hasn’t been able to follow her advice.

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