“When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”


‘Me and the mimeograph machine, making news after school’

Somebody Up There must not want me to go to The City. Last week when I journeyed there for a necessary errand, an epic storm struck right when I had to catch the Jitney home. In spite of being (what I thought was) adequately prepared, I — and everything I had with me — got thoroughly soaked. (I tried to make a video of myself pouring literally cups of water out of my rain shoes — yes, “rain shoes”, I told you I was prepared — but it was too dark and wet down by my feet.)

The errand that took me into The City: watching the countertop guys make a template for this curved counter in our itty bitty kitchen

Here’s how the side with no curve turned out

As you know only too well by now, The Dude and I are downsizing and need to get everything out of the old apartment. So, every time I slip into The City I try to bring some stuff back with me. If I’m traveling by Jitney (which is a fancy New York name for what is essentially a bus) I can’t take, say, boxes of books, but every little bit counts.

Some of the “stuff” got a bit damp. (See rain-stained right side of envelope)

This trip I grabbed a half-full box of tagliatelle, some jars of slightly-old-but-perfectly-good oregano and basil, a few cat toys, some socks, a few bits of china (which I wrapped in the socks), and a couple of random envelopes from a desk drawer, including one tantalizingly labeled “Stuff from Mom.”

By far the largest item in that envelope was this studio portrait of Baby Me. I swear it’s, like, 10×12. (Notice the same expression in the photo at the top of this post)

But what really got my attention were three lovingly-preserved copies of The Carlyle Grade School News.

This October edition had its cover art embellished by a younger sibling

I saw these, and the past came rushing back like a journalistic freight train. Gosh, how could I have forgotten The Carlyle Grade School News? I can recall (now), like it was yesterday, the aroma of baking bread that was the mimeograph machine running off copies in the school office after hours. Of course this happened a jillion years ago when I was in the eighth grade. There’s sure been a lot of water under the bridge (or poured on my head) since then.

The Christmas Edition was a fat one, bursting its staples. There was a Roving Reporter asking what students wanted for Christmas. Overwhelming answer? Mohair sweater, usually in pink

But why and how did this newspaper come to be? Well. When I was a girl there was this comic strip called “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” It featured a glamorous redhead (Brenda) who, as an ace reporter lived an extremely exciting life. I always liked to write and I’ve always had a thing about redheads. I could imagine no future more perfect than to be Brenda Starr. Gosh, it’s only now when I look it up on Wikipedia that I realize that the “Dale Messick” who drew the strip was (gasp) a woman. How perfect! (She shortened her name from Dalia, says Wiki, to get her strip published, since being a woman wasn’t exactly an advantage for a cartoonist in those days.)

Future Brenda Starr. But without red hair

To be Brenda Starr, I would need some practice. They didn’t have a newspaper at my school, so I decided to start one. I recall approaching The Powers That Were for permission to use the school office as a newsroom. I said that I wouldn’t break anything or make a mess, and that they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. All I would need was use of a typewriter, the mimeograph machine and some paper. In those days, well, that was enough. At least in my small-town hometown.

Me with my effortlessly glam mom, at about the age of my Editor-in-Chiefdom

Of course I was the Editor. But there were others on “staff.” Like reporters who covered each grade. Second Grade heard a talk about “the danger of playing in old ice boxes,” while Grade Five said “their chief interest in math is to myltiply (sic) with zeros.” (Note: there is no way to make a correction when typing a form for a mimeograph machine.)

Editorial staff plus editorial excuse

There were sports reporters and a gossip column and puzzles and stories — there was even a story “hand-picked by Alfred Hitchcock.” Though I doubt he actually appeared at Carlyle Grade School to do the “hand-picking.”

No newspaper would be complete without editorials. This one foreshadows the tone of a certain blogger, n’est-ce pas?

There was a fashion column (the Christmas edition featured knee socks), an advice column called “Letters to Lola” which dealt mainly with issues concerning “getting pretty girls to like me.” (I honestly don’t remember who was “Lola.”) Oh, yes, and Want Ads. One offered “Baby snails. Limited supply.” And jokes? You betcha! “Hey Chef, this soup is spoiled!” “Who told you?” “A little swallow!” I didn’t say they were good jokes.

All that remains of the Carlyle Grade School News today are these three dog-eared, rain-rescued and sibling-scribbled issues my mom squirreled away in an envelope buried in a drawer. But it led to my high school gig on the Carlyle Union Banner, my enrollment in Journalism School (see me ecstatic in my dorm room at the top of this post) and, ultimately, to New York City and my ever-so-exciting career in the Ad Biz — not to mention meeting The Dude.

Big fat sigh goes here.

But enough Deep Thoughts. Now I’m back to obsessing about the Ken and Barbie House.

The Ken and Barbie House: getting there!

Amagansett, New York. August 2020


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7 thoughts on ““When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”

  1. Kate Perry

    Hah ! I wanted to start a school newspaper at my junior school – we were about 10….and I had two pals, Christine Stokes and Susan Upstone. We met at Christine’s house because it was the closest to school and also because she had what I thought was a magical shed at the bottom of her garden where we could meet. It was a combination potting and tool shed and hidey hole for her. Despite having to avoid cutting one’s shins on the exposed blades of the old push lawn mower – I loved it! We spent many pleasant afternoons wrangling over the logo and headline which we tried to execute in red ink and gold spangles. Nothing was ever published …..:)

    • Hi Kate! Sounds like you three could have started a smashing newspaper! But even if you didn’t, it also sounds like you had a amazing time. If you do start a newspaper (or a blog!) I’m thinking that red ink and gold spangles would be a terrific motif!

  2. How brave of you to expose your juvenilia and yourself to comments like “I see your style hasn’t changed much.” (You *have* retained a sunny disposition, style-wise, though with much greater mastery of the forms.) I’m also impressed that you got the thing done and enlisted a staff — what an experience for them, too, to have to come up to an editor’s standards (and I assume you paid them nothing, which would also have served as a valuable lesson in journalistic practice).

    One thing though: I’m mad to learn how the “sooths [sic] the savage beast” joke comes out!

    • Ah, Roy! Yes, I felt rather naked publishing this piece (!) But hey, I’m so old now that I actually look forward to a little ridicule. At least I’m getting noticed. I honestly don’t remember how I convinced people to be on my staff. They definitely didn’t get paid. Unless it was in admiration from their peers who didn’t likewise have unlimited power to nose around the classrooms and hallways asking questions and making notes. Notice that I picked the editor’s post — to this day I much prefer pulling bits and pieces together over going out into the field to gather same bits and pieces. Oh! As for the joke. I just looked up the April edition and that joke, is, sadly, pretty lame. Here’s the end: “Soon a large, ferocious and old lion came running into the clearing. He immediately jumped on the violinist and tore him to pieces. The gorilla asked the lion, “Why did you kill him!?! He was playing beautiful music.” The lion only replied, “What did you say? You know I’m hard of hearing.” Like I say: lame. And I don’t mean the lion.

  3. Ilene

    I enjoyed this blog. I too was a writer on my school newspapers, but they existed before me. As to the mimeograph machine, I remember that smell very well. Not quite baking bread, but very distinct. I have a few copies of the “Garland Street Echo”
    And I remember Brenda Starr.

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