Remembering Burton Hillis

27 Aug

I’m always amazed at how we are affected by unexpected events in our lives. Even the expected events can cause unexpected reactions.  We believe that we have weathered specific storms without undue damage & in most cases that seems to be true. Children, however, are very different. While outwardly they seem composed, accepting & adapting, inwardly unexpected events can cause trauma that lasts a lifetime.

As a 6-year-old who very suddenly lost her 40-year-old dad to a heart attack, I was affected in a number of ways; not merely by the loss of a parent but by the abrupt changes that loss brought about in my life.

My mom & I moved in with her mother; my grandmother. A woman who raised 8 children during the depression & gave birth to 9 (one died in infancy), my grandmother had her own traumatic baggage. She became my caregiver while my mother worked. The family dynamic was unusual & quite different from that of the kids I was friends with in elementary school.

Wanting desperately to be as “normal” as my friends, I invented a father & a little brother & shared anecdotes about them in first grade “Show & Tell.” I drew ‘happy family’ pictures of the 4 of us when we had “art & drawing time.” In today’s world a teacher or group of teachers would have brought my behavior to my mom’s attention with a strong suggestion that I receive counseling. But that happened in yesterday’s world & I lived out my classroom fantasies, desperately wishing they were true.

If you are a writer or a blogger or a freelancer – someone who writes stuff that is read by other people, eventually someone will ask you, “Who influenced you?  Did anyone’s writing style influence yours?” After recently having a short story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses someone DID ask me that question. I answered without hesitation, “Burton Hillis,” & realized I hadn’t thought about him or even his name in decades.

Back in the day, as one of her few luxuries my mom subscribed to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Since she had ingrained in me at a very early age a love of reading, I couldn’t wait for the magazine to arrive in our mailbox once a month. It wasn’t the pictures of gardens & beautiful homes that intrigued me. I would rush past those to the last page where Burton Hillis had a monthly column. I devoured every word.

Mr. Hillis wrote in a simple style that made it seem as though he were “talking” to the reader; telling you a story. And most of his stories were about his wife or his kids or his job… & once even about his dog. His stories were a window into the world of “normal” that I so fervently craved.

He wrote about a child riding a bicycle, his wife cooking a meal & leaving out an ingredient, his dog jumping on the table in the middle of a family picnic. His style was conversational & intriguing & he made even the simplest experiences exciting or funny…relating to the reader life as he saw it.

I absorbed every word & loved the way reading his columns made me feel like he was speaking directly TO me.  No flowery descriptions, no innuendos or guessing games, he spoke directly to me through his written words in a way that I clearly understood. Once a month his columns gave me an almost personal tour into his life &, more importantly, into “normal.”  I loved those columns, the way they made me feel; the special gifts Mr. Hillis gave me once a month from the last page of a periodical.

After answering, “Burton Hillis,”  to the question about my writing style & who had influenced me, I decided to do a little research into the man who had apparently helped me in some way to achieve a semblance of success as an author, freelancer & blogger.

Burton Hillis was a pseudonym for the author & columnist, William E. Vaughan. He wrote a syndicated column in the Kansas City Star, in Reader’s Digest & Better Homes & Gardens.

His folksy aphorisms (published in his “Starbeams” feature) are often collected in books and on Internet sites. (Wikipedia)

Mr. Vaughan, aka Burton Hillis, according to Wikipedia was also appreciated for his often repeated quotes such as:

  • “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”
  • “Size isn’t everything. The whale is endangered, while the ant continues to do just fine.”
  • “If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.”
  • “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”

Bill Vaughan died in 1977 of lung cancer at the age of 62. He is remembered as a columnist & author, for specific quotes & specific columns & the joy he brought to those who read them.

I remember Burton Hillis who took me monthly into HIS world & for a moment in time allowed me to play there in a make believe “normal” world of my own. Maybe in some small way his simple narrative came through to me as my dad talking to me; telling me a story about life & the way the world was supposed to be.

If any of my writing ability can be credited to Mr. Hillis, then I am forever grateful to him as an adult in my adult world. His columns wrapped warmly around me & sheltered me once a month from my unexpected reality.

Because of this, I wanted to write about him; to tell those who don’t remember him about him… to share how his columns helped a bewildered child.  Most of all, I simply wanted to remember Burton Hillis.

Bill Vaughan died in 1977. Burton Hillis lives on in my memory ….

burton hillis quote

 

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10 Responses to “Remembering Burton Hillis”

  1. John Irvine August 27, 2015 at 10:58 pm #

    That’s a lovely remembrance, Linda… a eulogy of sorts which I’m certain Mr Hillis would love. Your writing is pretty much the same: it’s readable and accessible. Great piece.

    Like

    • heimdalco August 28, 2015 at 12:17 am #

      Thank you SO much, John. Your opinion means so much to me & I’m glad you liked this piece. I think it’s especially rewarding if just one person remembers us positively.

      Like

  2. Teran Harrison August 28, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    Linda, I so enjoyed this article, especially the window into your childhood past. There is still some little girl in you. Hold her dear. Teran

    Like

    • heimdalco August 28, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind remarks, Teran. And as always, thank you for reading my stuff …big hugs to you both

      Like

  3. Willy Smith August 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    Now I can put a finger on why I’ve always enjoyed your writing … wonderful! I may have enjoyed his article as well but the Sears catalog caught my eye with bicycles and later on the bra section (hey, I was learning).
    Keep on writing, your constant readers enjoy and comment when the story strikes the right chord.

    Like

    • heimdalco August 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks, Willy. National Geo & Sears helped a lot of us grow up & learn about anatomy of the opposite sex ….

      Love U

      Like

  4. Anthony Moshonas August 30, 2015 at 2:07 am #

    Thanks Linda, :)Very poignant …Tony ” ) .

    Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2015 20:48:54 +0000 To: blueflame54@msn.com

    Like

    • heimdalco August 30, 2015 at 2:28 am #

      Thanks, Tony … just something I wanted to write to remember someone special

      Like

  5. margaretha March 26, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    Found you when I was looking for information about Burton Hillis.
    I will return!
    Margaretha

    Liked by 1 person

    • heimdalco March 26, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

      Thank you, Margaretha. I hope you enjoyed my blog entry about Burton Hillis. He was significant to me in a very special way as a child.

      Like

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