Jeff Wallace

Jeff Wallace

“When did we last use pay stub banks?” came the question.

The look on my face must have said a lot. The question was repeated. Still, I had no clue.

I had returned to the Aiken Standard office for the retirement reception of longtime friend and colleague David Boyd.

The question came a third time. I searched in my mind for any time we even had pay stubs, much less pay stub banks – whatever they were. Nothing was clicking.

As age creeps up, memory issues have been increasing. Remembering the names of acquaintances I’ve known for years is sometimes problematic. Finding the right word when speaking or writing takes a few seconds or longer. Fortunately, in writing, the time doesn’t matter. Not so when conducting a conversation.

The two who were talking started describing the “pay stub banks” and it finally occurred to me that they were referring to something that was in use at the newspaper when I first darkened the doors more than 40 years ago: pasteup banks.

In the days when newspapers were put together a strip of type at a time, the pasteup banks were the tables where pages were assembled. At the Aiken Standard we had more than a dozen with each table holding two pages for the next edition scheduled to print. A dummy (map outline) for each page showed the composing room individual exactly where each story, headline and picture were to be placed.

The sudden question about “pay stub banks” had caused my mind to go in a direction far afield from the old composing room. All I heard was something about pay stubs. It’s funny that the ear and the brain don’t always synchronize when it comes to the sounds they encounter.

Fortunately for my sanity, a friend in the room overheard the conversation. She came up to me a few minutes later and asked if I understood the discussion to be about “pay stub banks.” She is a much younger journalist who heard the words the same as I. She had never worked in the pasteup world of newspapers.

Years ago when our middle daughter was 6, she got excited when a certain song came on the radio. “Pumpkin wings,” she said when the music started playing.

No, there was no song called “Pumpkin Wings,” but that is what she heard. The Mr. Mister song that reached No. 1 in 1985 was “Broken Wings.” But that is not what our daughter’s brain registered.

What we think we hear and what is actually delivered are often quite different.

Our oldest daughter learned at 2 or 3 the patriotic song “God Bless America.” She belted it out in her best toddler voice all the way “to the oceans white with foam” where her ears told her something different. With great feeling and high volume, she sang “from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white befoam ...”

While the words “white befoam” made no sense, probably much of the song consisted of nonsensical sounds to her. She was a little kid who had never been to a prairie and perhaps not even to a mountain at that time. We make sense of what we hear based on our experiences.

In a world where many messages are coming at us in rapid succession, it is important that we take the time to listen, not just to hear. Listening requires that we understand the concepts and information being sent our way. If we don’t understand, we ask questions until we do.

At a time when messages of a political nature are being thrown our way daily, it is incumbent on us to listen, ask questions and not be confused. Whether it’s pumpkin wings, oceans white befoam or pay stub banks, our job is to pay attention and make sure we receive the message as it is intended.

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.