The “s” was lost, but at least a “w” didn’t appear…

I grew up working around my father and mother’s weekly newspaper in the New Mexico resort town of Ruidoso. I’m not sure what my first gig on the newspaper was, or when it started, but by the time I left for college I had delivered papers, poured hot lead “pigs” for the Linotype machines, inserted advertising flyers, folded papers, ran an engraving machine and even set type. I’m sure there are other things I did, but one of them was particularly memorable.

My father had written a feature story about a Ruidoso resident who owned race horses that ran regularly at Ruidoso Downs. The story was added very late to the paper’s feature list this particular week, and because of time constraints, it never was proofread.

The newspaper usually had two sections in the summer, sometimes with additional pages having to be inserted by hand. The feature story in question was printed on one of the pages that would be inserted in the first section of the paper.

After it was already printed and awaiting insertion, someone took a quick look at the layout of the page and glanced over its contents. And there it was for all the world to see.

The story identified the subject of the article as a “local hore owner” — the “s” apparently dropping out of the line of type when it was set. My father, understanding the gravity of the error — even though the implied offending word was not spelled correctly — knew he had to do something to avoid a libel suit.

There wasn’t enough time to reprint the section, and the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive. So he did the next best thing, put his 12-year-old son to work to fix it.

Of course at that time, I knew what the misspelled word implied, and even knew how to spell it correctly. I decided to press him on the issue of why we had a problem with that word, in hopes of forcing my father into a embarrassing explanation that would lead to a more robust and graphic discussion about the birds and the bees. But he delicately deflected my question with an ambiguous response, never giving me the embarrassing conversation I thought I wanted.

So my job became taking a black crayon to every one of the 1,800 insert pages, and drawing a smudgy line through the word “hore.” I tried to add a bit of creativity to the process by making my black mark appear as a blob of ink that had dripped on each of the pages during the printing process.

It took me several hours to complete the project, just in time to slip the page with the almost titillating story into the main section of the newspaper. As far as I know, there were never any repercussions or libel suits filed over the incident. But I do know that my hand cramped up for several days following my furious scribbling.

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