One day when I’m a famous and rich published author, I’ll do an interview, and one of the questions will be “Who inspired you to write?” I’ll name two people. One is the mother of an old friend of mine. She wrote two novels; one of them took much of my high-school career. I’ve got an autographed copy of one of them, and I treasure that.
The other person I’ll name is Mike Harden. I’ve always loved reading his columns. They could sometimes be called acerbic, and you really didn’t want to be on the wrong end of one of those columns. If his human-interest pieces didn’t move you, you needed to see a doctor. Even before I knew I wanted to write, I wanted to have the skills he had. When I was younger, I thought he had one of the coolest jobs around. He got paid to meet interesting people, and tell stories. That amazed me.
I recall reading about the decline and death of his mother. It wore on him, but he seemed to find some release in writing about it. He drew so many people into his stories around that time. I still recall the piece he wrote about her last dreams of being surrounded by children. When he chose her gravesite at Green Lawn Cemetery, he drove by it after choosing it, and realized he had put her near Baby Land, where she would be surrounded by children. I had the honor of escorting her funeral procession, although I didn’t know Mike at the time.
Several years ago, as I was starting to work on my writing skills, my wife noticed that he was giving a class on writing, and we found the funds to pay for me to attend that class. I spent a series of Wednesday evenings at the West Jefferson Library with Mike and perhaps a dozen others. I sweated out writing assignments that challenged me: a 10-minute exercise to write a story about a scene on a postcard; a 30-minute exercise on writing about death. But I grew in that class. More importantly though, I was told by someone I respected that I had a future in writing, and that he saw something in me. Someone I thought of as a great writer and storyteller was “immensely impressed’ with my writing.
I will never forget that feeling, and I will always treasure his words. Farewell for now, Mike. We are better for having your voice around, and worse now that it speaks no longer.