National Commentary

Printer’s Ink in Their Veins

nfbenton-mugThere’s a famous phrase known to almost any scribe (the old fashioned word for a journalist) that has to do with “printer’s ink in the veins.” It references a seeming predisposition, interest in, and passion for the written word.

However one comes about it, it is to those who know the phenomenon an almost certain truism. This writer has it, but cannot attribute it to a specific lineage, except maybe that the legendary Kansan anti-fascist newspaper publisher William Allen White died just days before my birth.

One clear-cut case of it being passed on more directly involves my long-time friend and co-resident of our now shared home town, Falls Church, Virginia. A former press secretary to Vice President Walter Mondale and co-founder editor of The Hill weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., Albert Eisele has just come out with a new book that is unbearably enjoyable for those of us of the ink-blood lineage.

Eisele’s book, Northern Lights, Southern Nights: A Memoir of Writing Parents, will be released this spring and is a magnificent testament to the life-long love of his Minnesota-based farming parents, Albert Sr. and Susan Eisele, for one another, for their families and their true calling, as tireless and unceasing newspaper columnists, short story and poetry writers.

This new book will force revisions to the official history of Blue Earth, Minnesota, the farming town of 3,300 in southwestern area of that state which, until now, has been known for being the home to a gigantic Jolly Green Giant statue and the birthplace of a notable figure, David Deskey, who made his mark in New York after his attendance at the famous 1925 Paris International Exhibition on the Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts.

He was a key developer of art deco and art moderne design, designing many things including the interior of the Radio City Music Hall, many of the streetlights in Manhattan and a number of famous product logos.

But the Jolly Green Giant and Mr. Deskey henceforth must with this new book now make room for the Eiseles, mom, pop and son.

Al Eisele’s loving tribute to his parents is written in the same matter-of-fact, straightforward style as his parents’, whose columns, short stories and poems dealt with the day to day facets of life on the farm and enjoyed massive popularity.

Al’s parents met by way of writing columns for the same Iowa newspaper, with Al Sr. in Iowa and Susan in Tennessee.They began a long-distance correspondence commenting on each other’s columns, and they finally met in person when Al came visit Susan in 1926. They married two years later and began their life together on a 160-acre farm near Blue Earth. Al Jr., the third son, was born in 1936.

Both continued to write profusely, with Susan penning a weekly column for a daily paper in Blue Earth and then a column for a daily in nearby Fairmont in 1933 entitled, “With a Penny Pencil.” One of her columns won her national acclaim.

In 1936 she was named the nation’s outstanding rural newspaper correspondent that earned her a trip to New York and Washington, where, with newborn Al Jr. in tow, she met and was interviewed by the crème de a crème of the social and news scenes there.

Albert Sr. began a column called “The Post Chaise” that ran locally in Blue Earth and was also picked up by The Wanderer, a Catholic newspaper in St. Paul.

But his passion was the short story, and he had over 80 published in an array of Catholic literary journals and rural life magazines prior to his death at age 55 from cancer in 1951.

In 1940, Albert Sr. and Susan co-authored a “farm and home” column for the Blue Earth paper called ‘Countryside’ that was syndicated and appeared in some 30 Midwestern newspapers.

Susan lived to 1984, and penned over 2,300 weekly ‘Countryside’ columns alone. A loyal Democrat all her life, a “writer’s writer,” an admirer wrote, “The thread of middle American values runs through all her writing. It reflects home, family, church, the land and the democratic process…She’s American Gothic, 1980s style.”