A folder full of guidance for the future

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Sometimes introspection is thrust upon us. It happened to me recently in multiple ways.

Two weeks ago I read on my friend Greg Hilburn’s Facebook page that Chet Hilburn, brother to my late boss Wiley W. Hilburn Jr., had died unexpectedly the night before. Greg is Wiley’s son and Chet’s nephew. Journalism was a calling for all three – still is for Greg, who reports for both The News-Star of Monroe and USA Today. Wiley served as my boss in the Louisiana Tech journalism department for 34 years.

Seeing Chet’s face on Greg’s timeline, looking so much like Wiley, and reading about his accomplishments brought back memories.

As I told Greg, the first time I saw Chet was at a journalism conference many years ago, and without even knowing who he was, I knew who he was. It was evident he was Wiley’s brother, down to his shirt’s being halfway untucked and the way he ate.

Sometime after that, he dropped by the Louisiana Tech journalism office to visit with Wiley – and called back later that day to ask me out. We dated a few months in a low-key, pleasant relationship. I can’t really remember why the dating stopped. But I’m glad I got to know him.

Among other journalistic accomplishments, he had a long career at the Houston Chronicle, and – a die-hard Tiger football fan – in 2012 wrote a well-received book, “Legendary Tiger Stadium: The 30 Greatest LSU Football Games.”

To Chet’s family, I offer my sympathy during this sad time. The Hilburn family means a lot to me.

And actually, Chet’s passing prodded me to do something I’d been putting off. This is where the other introspection comes in.

For the past couple of years I had been wondering where my folder of high school poems and college creative writing papers had gone. I couldn’t locate it anywhere. Of course, when you can’t find something, you’re often tantalized by the thought of it.

Then suddenly, a few weeks ago, that beaten-up Columbia blue Louisiana Tech folder appeared – out of nowhere, like manna from heaven – on top of the cabinet in our hall. In truth, Hooshang had found it in his office. Still not sure what it was doing there.

Somehow, though, I wasn’t ready to read it. I wasn’t ready to relive those high school and college days, even though they were some of the best of my life.

The day I heard about Chet’s death, however, was different. I opened the folder and was immediately transported back in time. I devoured the entire 20-page journal I had penned for Wiley’s creative writing class when I was his student. I hadn’t read through it in decades, and I was mesmerized by totally forgotten incidents.

And the names … the names. The names of my friends from The Tech Talk. From the Christian Student Center. Oh, how I loved those people. What good times we had. Some of those folks I haven’t seen since we graduated.

I read through the poems as well. Funny thing. In some of the most intense, the most tear-laden – I can’t even remember who I was directing those feelings toward.

So what am I to make of this? Was all that emotion for naught? I guess as Wiley said in his commentary on my journal: “You are introspective. You think.” He liked that. Yet he also wrote, “You are a little too much inside yourself.”

Maybe so. But here’s what I’m thinking now.

If you care for someone, as I did – as I do – for my college friends, let them know. If you enjoyed knowing someone at some point in your life, as I did with Chet, touch base with them – just to say “hey.”

Because you never know what you’re going to read on someone’s Facebook page.

Sallie Rose Hollis is a Union Parish native, retired Louisiana Tech associate professor of journalism and Ruston resident. She can be reached via email at sallierose@mail.com.