When I finally met Vicki, Queen of the YAWs
Like anyone brought up Catholic, I know that an agony will lead to a fine payoff. Since I had suffered up a storm at the stock shows, I figured something had to give.
Enter: a good Methodist farm girl from a town just down the road whose own personal motto became my own: “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth it.”
While still at Ag Comm, we hired a writer named Vicki Miller, who had been working at the Associated Press in Omaha at the time and wanted out.
I certainly didn’t know it then, but the wire service is a grind, constant pressure to not only react to the news, but to push market numbers, weather reports and sports agate, the statistics in small type that fill newspapers. Vic wanted more rewarding work and she wanted a life.
Vicki was a marvel to the 20-something me. A few years older, she had already worked at a couple newspapers in the state and was a capital-J Journalist. She was super smart, opinionated, funny and I respected the hell out of her.
Although I already considered myself a feminist, I’d never met anyone who used it as an F-bomb. Deeply dragging on a cigarette and waving her long arms, she loudly assured a sexist young man in our office that her reproductive organs were “a spent shell” but she was no less a woman for choosing against motherhood. Tough women who mimicked men, she said, would “pee standing up.”
I adored her from the moment I met her.
This being my hero’s journey, up until now it had been completely alone. An assigned seat for one, as the archetype calls for and my nature has always angled towards. No one in my family had been a journalist – hell, I don’t think I’d ever even met one, with the exception of my TV pal Mary Tyler Moore, of course.
Meeting Vic changed all that. She was like me, a country girl from Neligh, Neb., just 40 miles down Highway 20 from my hometown of O’Neill. She was high-minded, competitive, driven by a love of story. And she had already worked as a real reporter, that elusive dream of mine.
Maybe, just maybe, because she’d done it, I could, too.
We spent many nights at her new house in Lincoln drinking beer, telling stories and for me, winning the big sister I’d always wanted. She laughed at my disdain for little old Nebraska, a cynical pose I’m sure I’d purchased for 59 cents at The Imaginary School of Cool People. Instead of viewing it as a big, boring, square state out in the middle of the country, Vic showed me the stark beauty of the Sand Hills and the muddy, meandering geographical line that cuts Nebraska in half, the Platte River.
She also introduced me to a wonderful group of women who populated the prairie, some of the earliest writers and reporters of county fairs, school boards and police blotters. Nebraska Press Women probably only had a few dozen members, but they inspired me with their dedication to a craft they often practiced in between farming, children and another job, like teaching. The old-timers quickly dubbed us the “Young Angry Women,” and we took on the badge of honor as the YAWs.
Vic was a print reporter and gave me shit for being just a broadcaster -- what she called a “talking dog,” someone who could just back up to a story and bark at it. That irked the hell out of me, mostly because it was so true. As we so delicately put it in Nebraska, I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground.
I was shocked that someone wanted out of what I considered real reporting when I so desperately wanted in. Fine, Vic said, try for a job at the AP. She handed me an AP Stylebook, the guide to punctuation and other rules almost all media follows, and she taught me the formula for writing sports stories. The keys to the kingdom.
I passed the written tests to get into the AP, though I still wonder if the Omaha bureau chief was so hard up for a staffer that he looked the other way on my sports writing. I gave up the glories of Backyard Farmer and stock shows and set out for a temporary gig covering the Nebraska Legislature for the AP.
At this point in my life, I laugh at our old motto about difficulty giving things some great meaning. And I’m convinced that the saying should be on the highway signs leading into Nebraska, because most of us live by it. “Welcome to Nebraska! We believe if it isn’t hard, it isn’t worth it. It’s why we live here.”
True to our motto, the AP was very, very hard. Was it worth it? Well, that’s a story for another time.
The exception to that rule is my friendship with Vic. It’s always been easy and fun and each time we see each other, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
Vic just retired from the university a few weeks ago, having honored that institution with her exceedingly hard work and good writing for many years. She probably doesn’t know what an enormous role she played in so many lives, mine included. And she will pop up again in these pages, of that I’m sure, because she helped write my homegrown story.