In my senior year I was editor of the high-school newspaper.  (We even won a prize from the Columbia University School of Journalism.)  What I remember most is the literary progeny on my staff.  It included the daughter of Burke Davis, a well-known writer of the time; the daughter of the historian Richard N. Current; and the stepdaughter of the poet Randall Jarrell.  Once we had a small gathering at Jarrell’s house near the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was on the faculty.  Jarrell came through the room, cast a distracted but unfriendly gaze on the adolescents, and wandered on out.  Not long after this he was killed under strange circumstances, struck by a car as he inexplicably walked along the side of a highway.

Howard Smith is unknown these days.  From Virginia, in the 1950’s and 60’s he was chairman of the Rules Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a notorious bête noir of the liberal press for keeping “progressive” legislation bottled up.  As a young reporter, I covered a state convention of the Democratic Party of Virginia.  An old man, leaning back in a chair in a distant corner of the room, was pointed out to me as the legendary Smith.  I asked him a few questions, which he answered laconically in an old Virginia accent, and with bad journalistic ethics I told him I appreciated the work he was doing.  “Well, we do what we can,” he said.  The northern Virginia district that Smith represented for decades, the Democratic Party, the Congress, and indeed this country of ours are so different from what they were then that they must have been taken over by aliens when we were not looking.

Al Capp was the cartoonist who made a fortune with “Li’l Abner,” a vicious caricature of the benighted American South, about which he knew nothing.  At a period in the abominable 60’s, Capp became prominent in “conservative” circles.  The Republican Party, being an intellectual vacuum as always, seized upon him as a celebrity because he was at the time in his comic strip satirizing Vietnam War critics like Jane Fonda and Joan Baez.  He was for this reason invited to speak at a convention of the Young Republicans of North Carolina, which I attended.  The Saturday night after the convention, I saw him wandering the halls of the hotel, accosting and attempting to fondle every unaccompanied woman in sight.  He was aging and quite a bit overweight, though towering over most of the women.

Joan Baez was in town for a concert, and I wangled the assignment from the college paper to interview her.  This was early in her career.  The counterculture had not yet achieved full bloom, though she was already a part of it.  The interview took place in a lounge of the semiswank university hotel.  She came in accompanied by another young woman.  Both were barefoot, with loose hair and roomy peasant skirts.  Her traveling companion, it seems, had been picked up during her visit to another college (in Pennsylvania, I think).  I do not remember much about the conversation except that she did express admiration for such Southern music greats as Doc Watson and Flatt and Scruggs.  My overall impression was of someone timid, immature, and tentative, as if not quite sure what she was doing and waiting to be rescued.

It was a memorial service for JFK.  After the stadium service, I happened to be in a chapel, standing within easy conversational distance of the Rev. Mr. Billy Graham, Teddy Kennedy, and some of the younger Kennedys.  Billy Graham was very impressive, an obvious alpha.  Teddy Kennedy definitely was not impressive.

Speaking of Kennedys, I got to know very well Margaret Coit Elwell, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for her biography of Calhoun.  Still the best, although she was not—or perhaps because she was not—an academic historian.  From North Carolina, she lived in Massachusetts with her farmer-poet husband, an extraordinary character that I fear New England no longer produces.  After we got to know each other well, she told me this story.  When she was a young reporter in Washington, then-congressman John F. Kennedy, without any prelude, made the crudest possible advances toward her, a practice at which he apparently was usually quite successful.  She was naive but self-respecting and well brought-up, and Kennedy was out of luck that time.

Here is a clue to today’s higher education.  It happened at a university, not my own school.  An M.A. student wrote a thesis about the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, in which Jefferson and Madison strongly asserted the right of states to nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government.  A tenured full professor of American history chastised the student for having made up something that could not be true.