When describing his writing process, Langley Times columnist Jim McGregor referred to a story he once heard about radios.
He was told that words are like radio frequencies, and as a writer, his job is to tune in to the right station, reach up and grab them.
But when these stations come into clarity is completely out of McGregor’s control.
Sometimes, it’s when he’s stuck in traffic in the middle lane on a freeway. Other times, it’s when he’s asleep at 4 a.m.
No matter when the stories present themselves, he’s always managed to submit 575 words before the Tuesday morning deadline.
And now, after 11 years and 600 columns written for the Langley Times, McGregor, a retired Langley City fire chief, has published his favourite musings into a new book.
McGregor Says Special Days Make Lasting Memories is available for $15 online on Amazon and e-readers, KOBO and Kindle.
Hard copies will be for sale on the second floor of the Timms Community Centre on Saturday, Dec. 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The book — which features 90 short stories about Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Canada Day, and other holidays — is dedicated to retired Langley Times editor Frank Bucholtz, who initiated the ‘McGregor Says’ column.
“It started when I was fire chief, I used to do a weekly fire report, and it would say, ‘McGregor says it was arson, McGregor says it’s under investigation, McGregor says change your battery,’” McGregor explained.
“So then I retired, and about a month after I retired, Frank Bucholtz phoned me and he said, ‘We were just talking here about how we don’t have anymore McGregor says quotes. We’ve got some space on the editorial page, are you interested in writing a column?’”
McGregor submitted his first piece in January, 2007, and had planned to continue the columns on a trial and error basis.
He hasn’t stopped writing them since.
“They just kind of sprung out of conversations, or meetings in coffee shops, or maybe I would pick something topical happening in Langley today and then I would say, ‘When I was a boy in Langley,’” McGregor said.
“It’s exciting for me to do it. I’ve had people say they cut them out and send them to their mother in Australia, or their aunt in England, or back east, or whatever, and that’s kind of astounding to me when I hear that. Because usually, I have to have it in here (to the paper) by Tuesday morning, and sometimes on Monday afternoon I haven’t written it yet.”
His tag line, “at least that’s what McGregor says,” was added into one of the first columns as a precaution.
“I finished writing the column, and then thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if anyone is going to agree with that or not.’ There was room for six more words, so I put ‘at least that’s what McGregor says,’ and just left it at that.”
He continued to write one piece per week, until 2012, when he received a strange call from a man at the Okanagan Advertiser newspaper in Armstrong.
“He said, ‘My mother lives in Langley and she keeps cutting out your columns and sending them up to me.’ And she asks, ‘Why don’t you have somebody like this writing for you?’”
And so, for the last five years, McGregor has been writing a weekly column for that paper, too. It’s been a fun pursuit, as Armstrong reminds him of Langley “35 or 40 years ago.”
Between the two publications, McGregor hasn’t received much criticism for his work. But if he ever did, it was usually from his mother, Peggy McGregor, who passed away in April at the age of 99.
McGregor once wrote a column about growing up in Langley, and talked about how, when driving down 232 Street, he could still see the house he was born in.
“So the column came out and my mom said, ‘That house you pointed out, that’s not the house you were born in. The one you were born in is behind that, and it’s been torn down now.’
“And I said, ‘Mom you always said that when we went by.’
“‘Well that’s the property, that’s not the house.’
“I said, ‘You know what? The only two people in Langley who are going to know that is you and me.’
“And she goes, ‘Unless I write a letter to the editor. If you’re going to put stuff in the paper, it better be truthful. I’ve got a good mind to write to the editor and say, at least that’s what Peggy McGregor says.’
“I said, ‘Mom, let’s not be writing letters to the editor, let’s not do that. We don’t want to start that.’
“It probably would have been more popular than any of my columns.”
If his new book does well, McGregor plans to publish follow up editions with columns about the four seasons, and about holding on to small town values.
“It’s one of those undertakings where you roll the dice and see what happens,” he said.