When I was a child, my mother taught me a lesson about telling the truth that I’ve never forgotten.
Born in England in 1937, I grew up in the shadow of war-torn Europe during World War II. I was 5 or 6 years old, and rode the bus eight miles each day to Hitchin Grammar School, which perched on a hill overlooking the town.
My most pleasant memory of that institution is of sliding down the hill on a snowy day after school, using our arithmetic exercises books as sleds.
My worst memory is of the day my mother sent me back to school after school broke up for the term. I evidently was a little kleptomaniac, with a quick eye for a shiny coin left sitting around. While I have wiped the actual theft from my memory, I must have shown her my loot—or she found it—because her stern reaction is seared on my soul to this day.
She immediately called the school, explained what had happened, and marched me back to the bus stop where she put me back on the bus with strict instructions to return the money and apologize.
I remember trudging back up the hill, being crossly received by the headmistress—who was ready to leave but now had to deal with this tearful child—before I returned to the bus stop and thence home.
My mother was almost angrier about my not telling the truth than pinching the money. “Not telling the truth is terrible,” she castigated me. “Never do that again.”
Although there was some backsliding, in general in the years since that day, I have tried to follow her dictum.
I’ve thought of that incident and its importance quite a lot recently—and the different worlds that I grew up in as a child and as an adult.
In the war years, while adults were careful not to scare children, the whiff of danger was always present—the scream of the air-raid siren being particularly frightening. But in many ways, for we children, life went on fairly normally. Everyone learned to live on the edge of danger, and there was a real sense of comradeship.
My father worked for the Ministry of Food and my mother volunteered at a soup kitchen in the East End of London—an area badly hit during the bombing—run by the Canadian Red Cross. My brother and I would press our noses to the window and cry each morning when she would leave to catch the train to London.
She brought me a Red Cross first aid box, a miniature child’s nurse’s outfit and a cloth doll, which I used as my “patient.” I endeavored to be the perfect nurse—regularly cutting the doll open to “dress its wound,” pouring liberal doses of iodine into its stomach before bandaging it tightly.
That was a simpler time, dedicated to surviving and getting through the war. Today, we live in a much more multi-faceted world, we have so many more avenues of exploration and opportunities, so many different ways of expressing ourselves that sometimes we seem to get lost in the maze of conflicting opinions.
Today, we wonder whether the “news” is real or “fake.” When I was young, I amused to reflect that the word “fake” in those pre-television days was more likely to describe the fur around a woman’s neck—which in that time of austerity might be fox rather than mink. Or, it could denote an antique of questionable veracity.
I have been fortunate enough to have found my true calling in my mid-50s, embarking on a journalistic career that is deeply satisfying—covering the news of a community I have loved and respected for more than 50 years. Not for me the siren call of the national media scene—rather, covering the real news of the people, events, businesses, artists and places of Loudoun County has been my honor and privilege for the past 25 years. And doing it, in the company of colleagues and friends whose professionalism I have never questioned.
My mother would be pleased that her dictum is being followed today. My former editor exhorted his reporters always to be professional and to “tell the truth,” in whatever guise it might appear.
As Capital Gazette Editor Jimmy DeButts said in Annapolis, MD, several weeks ago, following the death of five of his friends and colleagues and commenting on the life of a journalist, it’s “just a passion for telling stories from our community.”
Where does our truth lie? I found one example recently. As I drove south on King Street, I passed the large construction site slated for development on the east side of the street. I watched as a big bulldozer’s claw scooped up a mound of debris—splintered wood and plaster remnants—all that remained of the former premises of ArtShare and the King Street Studios, a place where lovers of art and members of Loudoun’s formidable art colony would gather to share and exhibit their visions of Loudoun County.
The building whose walls once blazed with color no longer exists, but many of those paintings live on, gracing the walls of homes and public buildings throughout the county—still telling their truth.
Journalist Margaret Morton has covered the Loudoun community, its history, people and places, for 24 years, first at Leesburg Today and at Loudoun Now since its founding in 2015.