Just write down what you see

Published 11:17am Thursday, March 27, 2014

Somehow, I’ve missed out on carting our youngest to the orthodontist lately, but not Monday, which explains why on our way back to the car I asked about a new staff person I noticed.

“Been there a year or more,” my daughter answered matter-of-factly, peering into the rear view mirror for a better look at her adjusted bracket. Clearly, I’m out of the loop, but at least I’m sure it’s the same orthodontist. I am sure, right?

“Yes, Mother,” she sighed, and I’m glad to know it, because I’ve had a healthy respect for orthodontists ever since I watched one testify in the Panola County Courthouse 27 years ago.

That was the summer I did an internship at a paper in Batesville, way up in the north part of the state. It was a good learning opportunity, one that even offered me a chance to help place ads for a hometown boy by the name of Ronnie Musgrove who was running for his first state-wide political office.

By June, however, I had grown tired of typing up honor rolls and garden club reports. My mentor must have sensed it and gave me a shot at something a little bigger – a murder trial.

“Just write down what you see,” Rita Jean said, waving me off. “And be sure to get the names spelled right.”

What she failed to mention was that during breaks I’d be standing next to a Coke machine and a guy who had, at 16, killed his best friend. Even so, I tried hard to look like I knew what I was doing, faithfully taking notes as the details played out: Two boys in love with one girl. Boys go hunting. One never comes back. Months later, someone stumbles over a skull in the woods.

Each day I watched spellbound as the scenes played out on the witness stand. Though the trial had been moved because of publicity, the girl at the center of the love triangle was still the center of attention, though reluctantly. She was, by then, married and a mother and very clearly uncomfortable recounting what she knew.

I also vividly remember the orthodontist pulling out photos of teeth and braces and showing how his set of records confirmed the skull belonged to the victim.

My own duties in the drama came to an abrupt halt one morning when a buzz of activity near the front of the courtroom resulted in an unexpected announcement. After six years of denials and two trials, the accused (the one who liked Cokes and had stood near enough for me to count his freckles) unexpectedly decided to enter a guilty plea.

I was just two rows behind both sets of families when they heard the news and broke down. No journalism class had prepared me to take notes on that.

A few hours later, I was back at the offices of the Panolian when Rita Jean motioned me over to a phone. To my surprise, someone from The Associated Press was on the other end. “Write up a summary of today’s trial events? Yes, yes, sure,” I think I managed to get out.

That fall I returned to college with some pretty impressive honor roll typing skills and five lines of AP fame to add to my resume. A young man from Booneville, just about my same age, headed to Parchman for 20-something years.

Funny how spending a half-hour in an orthodontist’s waiting room can bring all that back, and more.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.