Monday, June 13, 2016


I had a journalism professor who told us not to use the word “famous” in our stories. He reasoned that if someone is famous then the readers will know who he or she is. Certainly we know Bernie Sanders, Abe Lincoln and Johnny Depp are famous. No need to say so.

But famous is not all that easy to define when it comes to many other individuals.

I came from a small Northern Michigan town, and my family took our pets to a veterinarian, Dr. David Reath, who was indeed world famous. Visitors came from Australia and Japan to visit huge peony farm. Dr. Reath had even developed new strands of peonies which is why he was - famous.

Dr. Reath owned more property than Ben Cartwright the patriarch on “Bonanza,” the popular television program of that time. In fact, I used to call Reath’s farms the Ponderosa.

Now Dr. Reath was famous, but not everyone knew that. Maybe even some of his friends and clients didn’t know how famous he was. I went to college in a city distant from the Reath farms, but one classmate came from a family that owned a florist shop. She, of course, knew who Dr. Reath was.

Anyway I thought about Dr. Reath and that journalism professor as I was reading “Almost Famous Women.” It’s a collection of short stories about interesting women who were sort of famous.

Remember Butterly McQueen, one of the stars of “Gone With the Wind.” There’s a chapter about her. Allegra Byron, Lord Byron daughter, died while still a child, but the children of famous people have some claim to fame themselves. One story is a retelling of the “The Lottery,” a short story by another almost famous woman, Shirley Jackson, a writer, and maybe some of you have heard of her.

What does almost famous mean? It means we are known beyond our small communities. Fame has its degrees. As much as I loved my journalism professor. I do use the word “famous in my writing.