‘What were the angels made of?’

I tell this story in feature writing class lectures all the time. My first real feature was on a young man mastering the art of dying. He was poor and he had cancer and he was living with his mother while she waited on him to die. I met them through Hospice and I spent days with them — I can still find their house almost 20 years later.

My professor told me to write in details. So I noted the music playing and the walls of peeling paint and the way he smiled and the texture of his hands and all of these great details. Basically I had everything but the smells, because I hadn’t yet figured out how powerful an olfactory callback can be in print. I was so proud in that story that I managed to get in the tidbit that there were two cast angel decorations hovering over the wall next to the medical bed the guy, about my age, was in.

My professor reads the story and says “What were the angels made of?”

Now that’s detailed.

I see stories — good stories and great stories — and I think of those angels and that guy and my old prof. Still such a valuable lesson for me. It came to mind today while reading this quality piece from The Anniston Star On roads and waterways, Alabama’s law-enforcers brace for even deeper cutbacks.

The reporter does a ride along with a marine officer to point out how, in this time of deep, deep state budget cuts, how they’re already stretched beyond thin. And, of course, the officer’s boat dies. Tough for him. Great example for the reporter.

But a little more context in that story, that Alabama has more navigable fresh water than any state in the nation, at 47,000 miles, covered by just 43 officers. That’s not thin, that’s can’t quite give up the mayo thin.

And that doesn’t include 30,000 miles of intermittent water flow — ponds and floodwaters and the like. I pulled that data from a state encyclopedia, because I always think about those plaster angels.

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