Eric D. Snider: Boy Journalist (Part 3)


(When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a weekly column for my town’s free paper, The Lake Elsinore Valley Sun-Tribune, about news events at my elementary school. I’m reprinting the columns here with commentary. For more background on this illuminating series of historical documents, please see Part 1. See also Part 2.)

It was around this time, with four columns under my belt, that two things happened. One, I realized that even under the loose definition of “news” that applied to events at an elementary school, there was not enough of it to report. Or at least not enough that a 10-year-old had access to. An adult probably could have blown the lid off the PTA’s embezzlement of bake sale funds, but not me.

Fortunately, the second thing that happened was I got comfortable enough with the format to start trying other things. At no point did I ask anyone at the paper whether was I allowed to take such liberties with my assignment, but at no point did anyone tell me not to, either.

Here are columns 5, 6, and 7.


Teacher interviewed; ‘kidnap’ caper solved
Elsinore School Student

Every five weeks, I’ve decided that I’m going to have a spotlight on a certain teacher in the school.[1] This time, that person is — (the envelope, please) — Mrs. Avallone!

In my interview, I “beat”[2] out of her that she’s been teaching off and on since 1966. I also asked her if she likes teaching, but if she doesn’t, who has been forcing her to teach all this time?

Although she thinks most of her students like her, she says her favorite student would be someone who smiles a lot and who always brings back homework.[3]

She said that her pupils are teaching her to do the moonwalk and her four-year-old son is teaching her to pop.[4] She enjoys rock and roll music.

Watch for the Dec. 19th issue of the Lake Elsinore Valley Sun-Tribune for my next interview.[5]

Slumber Slowed

Nov. 2 was the day of,[6] “The Case of the Cabbage Patch Kid Kidnapping.”


Well, that day about 20 girls from Mrs. Valles’ and Miss Kennedy’s classes were having a slumber party at Christina Atkinson’s house with their Cabbage Patch Kids.

But, while both classes were out of their rooms, someone broke into the rooms and took all dolls, leaving a note saying that unless 100 pieces of candy were delivered to the office by two o’clock, the babies would be on the 3 p.m. fight to China.

Well, during lunch period, the kidnapper called the police station to see if anyone could come up to the school and play along with the — gag —[7] by questioning the young mothers.[8]

As it turned out, the culprits were Mrs. Valles and Miss Kennedy. They had thought up the whole thing.[9]

Talk about creativity! Einstein made a theory about that called the Theory of Creativity![10]


[1] Or, to phrase it grammatically, I’ve decided that every five weeks I’m going to spotlight a teacher. The way I wrote it here makes it sound like I made the decision every five weeks. I only made the decision once, and barely even that many times.

[2] Those quotation marks were added by editors, my deadpan assertion that I’d beaten Mrs. Avallone being too dry without them.

[3] I bet my question was, “Who is your favorite student?” and this was the weasel answer she gave. As a journalist, I shouldn’t have let her off so easy.

[4] Pop (intransitive verb): to jerk one’s limbs and extremities in a fast, rhythmic manner, often while breakdancing.

[5] Yeah, we’ll see about that.

[6] I see the copy editor adhered to the incorrect principle that anything in quotation marks must be preceded by a comma. It was wrong in 1984, and it’s wrong now.

[7] Here is a case where an editor should have corrected my punctuation but left it the way I submitted it, even though it doesn’t make sense. Why are there dashes on either side of “gag”? Because this was the first time I’d let on that the stolen dolls affair was only a prank, and in my young writer’s mind, I didn’t think I could just drop that detail in passing. I needed to underscore it somehow. Since it was not possible to wink in a newspaper column (emoticons had not yet been discovered), I thought, for some reason, that dashes would do the trick.

[8] They weren’t actually young mothers, of course, though some of them were by the time we graduated. Also, how messed up is it that when their babies went missing, the cops came and questioned them? Like they abducted their own babies! Unbelievable.

[9] This is a funny story, badly told. It was a Friday, and a bunch of girls from these two classes were having a slumber party that night, and they were going there straight from school. That’s why they had their Cabbage Patch Kids with them. As a prank, the teachers kidnapped the dolls during lunch, and pestered the local police department to see if a cop with nothing better to do could come play along with the joke. (There was indeed a cop with nothing better to do.) (Probably multiple cops, actually.)

[10] This is stupid. I desperately wanted to write something clever at the end of the story, and this is what I wrote instead.


Big celebration marks 100th school birthday
Elsinore School Student

Lake Elsinore School District was 100 years old Thursday. A big celebration took place, with food, drink, candy and games available.

Mrs. Sisco’s class sold “Qickles,”[1] Mrs. Valles’ class sold carameled apples, Mrs. Avallone’s class and Mrs. Leonhart’s classes both did square dances, and Mrs. Moss’ class hosted a bake sale.

There was a pie-baking contest won by Jeanne Gulley.

There was also a breakdancing contest. A team made up of Manuel Lojan, Genaro Molina, Jesus Areliz, Ruben Nieves and Phillip Santos won first place.[2]

Mrs. Margaret Hoole, the Altha Merrifield Memorial Library librarian[3], came to our school to present a slide show about old Elsinore.

The first slides I took notes on were about Franklin Heald.[4] He wanted to establish a colony, but didn’t have enough money so he teamed up with Donald Graham.[5]

Also pictured was the Graham house, the Heald home, an old train, the Jones Hotel, the Crescent Bath House (now The Chimes), the Bank of Elsinore (now the Ambassador Hotel), and City Park.

People picture were Charles Sumner Merrifield and Altha Merrifield Cauch.[6]

They had pictures of Amy Castle, of which Thomas Yarborough, the man who Yarborough Park is named for, was caretaker. Yarborough was the first black mayor of Elsinore.[7]


Now, a couple of riddles:

1. What did one heart say to the other heart?
2. Why did the elephant sit on his trainer?

If you can figure out one or more of these riddles, tell me[8] or telephone[9] me at [REDACTED][10] and I’ll put your name in my next article.


[1] Well, no. Our class sold pickles, which are a real thing, not “Qickles,” which are not. I hand-wrote these columns in pencil on a sheet of lined notebook paper, as was typical of 10-year-old journalists working at community newspapers in the mid-1980s. The “p” and “q” are similar, and I guess I accidentally wrote “q,” or at least wrote “p” in a way that made the editor think I’d written “q.” Where it breaks down for me is where the editor, instead of thinking, “Oh, he meant ‘pickles,’ not ‘qickles,'” evidently thought, “Huh! Mrs. Sisco’s class produced something new called ‘qickles’! It is probably a trademark and should be capitalized.”

[2] I defy you to show me a single instance of a school centenary that was NOT commemorated with pickles, square dancing, breakdancing, and a pie contest.

[3] Humblebrag: the local library was named after Altha Merrifield, who was my maternal grandfather’s aunt. Buncha stuff in Lake Elsinore is named after my ancestors, as the Merrifields were among the town’s first settlers. (First white settlers, anyway. You know how it worked in those days.)

[4] More journalists should be this honest. “I wasn’t paying attention at first, but this was the first thing they said once I started.”

[5] Donald Graham, of course, had all that cracker money.

[6] Charles Sumner Merrifield was Altha’s father and my great-great-grandfather. Sumner Street, where Elsinore Elementary School was (and still is), was named after him.

[7] I didn’t know this at the time, but Thomas Yarborough was actually the first black mayor of ANY city in California. Pretty much all racial issues have since been solved.

[8] “Tell me,” i.e., if you happen to run into me, a fifth-grader, around town.

[9] Surely I wrote “call me,” not “telephone me.” I don’t think I’ve ever used “telephone” as a verb in my life, and certainly not as a 10-year-old. I guess there was an editor who thought “Qickles” was OK but “call me” was simply too casual a construction for a professional news outlet.

[10] I have redacted this because it is still my parents’ phone number and I don’t want you jokers harassing them.


‘Pilgrim soup,’ ‘showdown’ highlight school’s week
Elsinore School Student

Mrs. Sisco’s class went over to Mrs. Warner’s class Nov. 21 to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast which included cranberries on crackers, cornbread with whipped cream butter and “Pilgrim soup.”[1]

Awards Ceremony

Nov. 21 was Elsinore Elementary School’s third awards ceremony. The first was Sept. 12 with Corky Pigeon and the second was Oct. 31 with a Halloween special television program.

The Nov. 21 ceremony was called a “showdown” and had eight events to be won.

Here are the winners of the categories: Standing on head, Phillip Santos; jumping rope, Canto By; pushups, Shawn Winters; limbo, Sam Neal; bubble gum blowing, Yolanda Lara; balloon blowing, Jason McLingberg; Hacky Sack, Soeub Thury, and standing broad jump, Jason Johnson.[2] Mr. Englehardt put all this together.[3]

Riddle Answers

The answers to my riddles from last week are: What did one heart say to the other heart? “You aorta be in pictures.”[4] Why did the elephant sit on his trainer? “Because he couldn’t see him.”[5] (That one really flattens me!)


[1] “‘Pilgrim soup,’ which I’m going to put in quotation marks because it’s a made-up thing, but which I’m not going to tell you any more details about. What’s in it? Screw you, that’s what’s in it.”

[2] Notice that they brought in a celebrity guest for the first ceremony; let us watch TV for the second one; and for the third one just made us do tricks.

[3] Must have taken him the better part of a minute, too!

[4] NO. I blew it. The answer is “Aorta be in pictures,” not “YOU aorta be in pictures.” This has bothered me for 33 years.

[5] This one I … don’t get? Is this a non-joke, where the answer is obvious rather than clever? (See also: “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because he was dead.”) I don’t think I was aware of such humor in fifth grade. Maybe the real punchline the parenthetical that follows it? I don’t know. All I know is I could have printed any riddles I wanted and THESE are the two I chose. You can see why I didn’t pursue a career in writing or comedy.