Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wal-Mart encounter proved to be an eye-opener

      It was around Christmas time of 2006 when I started digging for more information about the Marshall plane crash. My research findings would be used for a long feature I had been assigned to do by the Winston-Salem Journal (NC) daily newspaper.
       As things turned out, the feature was never published. But that was just fine with me. The material I had already put together proved to be the beginning of what eventually became the memoir November Ever After, which was released last fall.
       Among the various episodes that I’ll always remember about writing my book involved a personal  encounter at a Wal-Mart in Winston-Salem. I made what I thought was going to be a quick stop at the DVD racks. A couple of DVD documentaries that I had never seen before caught my eye (Remembering Marshall produced by ESPN; and Return of the Thundering Herd by Warner Brothers).
       As I read the promotional print on the back of each DVD case, a middle-aged man who I didn’t know, approached me and started talking. The subject matter he addressed was hardly idle conversation about the movie We Are Marshall, which was scheduled for its nationwide debut showing around that time.
       The guy never introduced himself. He just started talking specifics about the time he visited Huntington, West Virginia. Don’t know if this was a combination or irony or coincidence, but he talked about what he could see from the air when his plane came in at Tri-State Airporta few days after the crash. He even provided detailed descriptions of what he saw of the crash scene. At the time of his visit, the clean-up crews had not finished their work at the crash site.
       All the time this man talked, I listened and said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. In the meantime, my mind kept trying to come up with a plausible explanation as to why this man decided to tell me—a stranger—about his visit. He had no way of knowing that I had any kind of personal connection to the tragedy. I wasn’t wearing anything with Marshall University on it. Even now, it still blows my mind as to how and why this guy approached me and spoke in such great detail.

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