It was December of 1975. My husband, Norman Lank, was a Realtor, with two dozen salespersons under his supervision.
He had received word that day that both local newspapers would be raising their classified ad rates for the coming year. But to sweeten the deal, the Sunday paper was about to start a real estate section. No more lumping real estate with the women's news. (Yes, there were women's sections in those days, full of recipes, society news and household hints.)
Now real estate would have an entirely separate section.
In those days, classified ads were the Realtor's biggest expense. The prospect of those raised rates had Norm so worried that he couldn't sleep. When he couldn't sleep, neither could I. I lay awake, and I got to wondering what kind of news the paper would put in that new section.
In my late teens, my folks lived in a small town, and during summers I was a full-time newspaper reporter there. During the war, with millions of men overseas, the local weekly was shorthanded. I was even the county correspondent for four city newspapers. I remember sending my typewritten articles (half of them carbon copies) off on the Greyhound bus that stopped at the village hotel every afternoon at 3 p.m.
What would they put in this new section? Something like Ann Landers' column — real estate questions and answers? Wider awake than ever, I finally got up, went out to my typewriter and thought about questions that had been asked in Norm's office that day.
I remember the first one was "Can a buyer take over a VA mortgage that's on the house?" Veterans Administration loans were a great deal. A vet could place one with no down payment at all, and it would be easy to re-sell someday because, yes, the next owner, if a vet (which many young husbands were) could just keep the existing mortgage.
I thought of three more questions, typed them with the answers and was even wider awake. So I wrote three more columns. I double-spaced them, one side of the page only, stuck them in a large envelope and addressed it to "Editor, New Real Estate Section" at the newspaper.
I got a phone call two days later! I remember being asked, "Do you think you could keep it up?" and how happy I was to answer, "I wrote a column in The Daily Orange at Syracuse University twice a week for two years."
The only problem was I couldn't use my own name in the byline — other companies might object to the exposure Lank Realtors would get. What name would I use?
I wasn't sure readers would take financial advice from a woman (yes, I know, but it was a long time ago). So I settled on initials and the name of my street. For that first year, this column was written by E. L. Hemingway.
And a few months later, I got to thinking that if the column was published in my city, maybe other papers in the state would take it, too. I sent off clippings. I remember seeking advice from local self-syndicators Doc and Katy Abraham, who had a column called "Green Thumb." "Don't mail four columns at once," Katy warned. "Some of those editors just lose them."
Newspapers were booming. Before long I had two dozen papers, and then the Los Angeles Times Syndicate took over. The column appeared in more than a hundred newspapers. I answered half a dozen reader letters a day, and I toured the country giving radio and TV talks.
But that was long ago. You don't need me to tell you that newspapers are dying — at least the physical ones I knew are. I'm 93 years old now, and things have changed. I've changed. Newspapers have changed. The world has changed. Younger readers can look answers up for themselves on the internet. Older ones still send letters (with SASEs — self-addressed stamped envelopes —included), but they're fewer all the time.
And I just missed a deadline — for the first time in my life.
So I guess this is my last column. It's been great.
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at [email protected] or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.
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