My Dad, John F. Stith Sr., could multiply whole numbers and fractions in his head, like 7 1/4 times 18 7/8, almost instantaneously. But his formal education ended when he was 13 years old, in January 1909.
He told me that after he finished the 7th grade he quit school and went to work. There were seven kids in his family and his father was dead — he killed himself when Dad was 10 years old.
After that, my father’s education came from the School of Hard Knocks, the local newspaper, and The World Almanac. He kept a copy of the almanac beside his easy chair and studied it.
After supper some nights, he would play a game with us, telling stories, mixing in stuff he had read in the almanac with stuff he made up. Our job was to separate the two.
When I thought he was making it up, I would say, “I doubt that.”
[You never said, “I think you’re lying.” Are you crazy? Do you have a death wish? No one called my Dad a liar and remained unharmed.]
If I was right, he would change the story around, and move on. If I was wrong, he would say, “Go get the almanac. Go to page 212 [or some other page], about half way down. Start reading. No, not there. The paragraph above that one.”
What I read would be, almost word for word, what he had just said.
As it turned out, this was basic training for my life’s work. When I grew up I became a newspaperman, an investigative reporter.
I conducted hundreds of hostile interviews where people were often untruthful. I would listen carefully to their answers, looking for deception, and when I found it I wanted to say those words out loud: “I doubt that!”
Coming Monday: Running Wild