WHITTLE: Fascinating places on life's road

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While speaking to a group of young journalism students at MTSU's mighty Mass Communications College, a student from Cannon County asked the most unusual places or situations I'd been in as a 45-year-plus veteran of newspapering across the globe.

Immediately, my mind drifted to Suceava, Romania, where I was on assignment in 1993.

Former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, and his chief-of-staff, Kent Syler, were on U.S. Government diplomatic missions to help American families access Romania orphans for adoption.

Being a country of severe poverty, Romania's government was unable to cope with so many orphans, a result of a former dictator who ordered, in the early 1980s, all women, 12 or older, married or not, to have a child, preferably a male child, to help fill out the ranks of that nation's military.

It was on the last leg of a week of touring, that our entourage was transported to Suceava, in northern-most Romania.

The temperature that fateful night was several digits below zero, and that included inside a former communist military officers' barracks' building, where I was supposed to sleep and rest.

While laying cold and wide-awake beneath at least 10 heavy blankets and quilts, I recall asking myself: "Why the hell did I ask for this assignment back in the warm newsroom back in Murfreesboro, Tenn.?"

I especially recall my tundra-frozen thought the next morning, when a Romanian diplomat asked if I would like to take a shower. Being there was no warm water, I can still envision, in my minds' eye, where icicles may have been dangling from exposed body parts if I had taken the shower. Brrr!!

In response to the young journalist's original question, my mind went to the opposite end of the earth, where wife Pat and I felt like teeny, tiny insignificant ants as we vacationed in northern California.

When we stepped on the wilderness floor where the massive Red Wood trees have survived since the age of dinosaurs, it hit me emotionally, how small we humans are in context to Mother Nature's grand scheme of life on the beautiful planet we're blessed to live on.

Those trees conjured up spiritual thoughts as we walked beneath earth's tallest living plants.

Washington, D.C. was where one of life's most embarrassing moments happened…

It was a big day, when this ol' country boy newspaperman had been invited to dine in the White House.

Being in my mid-twenties, it'd been only a few years from my days of patrolling up down endless rows of cotton fields on my family's rural farm in the Bootheel farming country of Southeast Missouri.

I was in Washington to update the influential life of Albert Gore Sr., former U.S. Senator from Tennessee.

Although senior Gore had been defeated in a re-election bid a few years before, he was still one of the most influential men in America as head of the massive American-based Occidental Oil company with tentacles of influence throughout the globe, Washington and on Wall Street.

It was during lunch one of life's most embarrassing moments happened as former Sen. Gore and I were chatting with President Jimmy Carter's advisors, Bert Lance.

All had gone well in my highly-nervous meal and interview, until I knocked one (singular) green bean off the side of my White House dinner plate.

Instead of simply picking the damn bean up and quietly putting it back on my plate, I, being red-faced, hid it under my left hand while I tried to keep taking notes and eating a bite now and then with my right hand.

Looking back, it's understandable that I've never been invited back to the White House. I didn't like green beans as a farm boy, and still don't.

Back to boyhood days…

Honored I was, as a small tyke, the day Daddy Whittle proclaimed me old enough (four years old) to accompany him, unbeknownst to Momma Whittle, to Daddy's favorite gambling room in our small farming hamlet of a town.

"You don't speak, you don't move, while Daddy's playing cards," were Daddy's words as I sat on his knee while the poker cards were being dealt. And I didn't move a muscle.

Since Daddy was killed in a car wreck two years later, being allowed to sit on his knee while he gambled is a memory I'll treasure to my own grave.

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