One more visit before exiting stage left

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As I write this column the countdown has begun – one more deadline Monday, three more workdays at the Monitor, the last pound puppy photos and more. I imagine that my car has worn ruts in the road driving back and forth for 30 years to the two locations the Monitor has called home.

When I started at the paper for the second time, 30 years ago, it was at the corner of Broad and Pacific Streets where Mineola Mercantile is now.  Our sons were 2 and 4 years old then. I say second because I worked here in high school. That was when my eyes began to open to how interesting media people could be.

On my first day my boss Publisher Dan Peacock, sent me down the street to Sharp’s Hardware to get my own scissors. We labeled all our scissors and it was imperative we didn’t grab his. I find it funny that I now am very watchful of things like my own scissors. Back then I typed stories, things like the Hainesville and Silver Lake columns, on a Compugraphic machine and ran strips of photographic paper through a processor to develop the stories.

I remember when one of the new bosses bought a new midnight blue truck which my co-worker and friend Lori Allen (now Miller) and I got to drive to make our deliveries. The only problem was, it was a standard shift that neither of us really could drive, and that pretty little truck sputtered and spit and frog-hopped all over town as we delivered papers to businesses and the post office.  

As a teenager I didn’t realize the value of my home and the quality of the people here until I moved away and lived in large cities for a few years. When I returned to the Monitor in 1988 as a cub reporter we saw empty windows and vacant and deteriorating buildings. I took a photo when the Meredith Foundation donated the salary for Mineola’s first Main Street director, Ashley Warfel. I got to work with all of the other directors as well. I watched and reported as many selfless people turned the destiny of this town around into what it is today.

From those days our process has changed drastically and I’m grateful to those who helped ease us into the 21st century.  In 1995 J. Tom Graham told me he thought I would make a good editor and so I moved to that desk and the bags under my eyes evidently came with the job. Shortly after he made Joyce Hathcock our publisher; she and I have been comrades and friends through thick and thin together over all these years.

It’s almost impossible to sum up what this career has meant to me.

There have been many great stories that I was privileged to get to write and tell.  Even this week’s edition has the timeless and heart-warming story about Charyn Baker (who, with her husband, owns only rescued dogs and cats) discovering her birth family, almost incidentally. I suspect stories like this resound with many people for several reasons, including anyone who was adopted who felt the same way, anyone who has gone through what must be agony in putting a child up for adoption and anyone who knows a person in either situation.

One of the most resonating stories for me was the story about Charles Long who I met at a friend’s funeral and consequently wrote a story about. We hear regularly about the importance of donating blood but I find myself guilty of brushing that off. Mr. Long has not donated just pints of blood and platelets all of his life, but over 100 gallons. That story became very personal for me when, just a month later, one of my daughters-in-law needed a platelet transfusion before an emergency C-section. That’s no small deal to me and I will never forget its potentially life-saving impact.

Quite a few people have come and gone during my time here. One example of that is a woman who found her way to my desk at the old office many years ago. A newcomer, she wanted to get involved but didn’t know how. I was delighted to tell her about the many organizations that do wonderful things for our town. That was Mary Lou Doyal who ended up being a board member of the Lake Country Playhouse and a member of the Kiwanis Club for many years before she moved away.

Another person who found his way to my desk was the founder of the Tiger Creek Refuge who wanted us to help him increase awareness of the decreasing number of tigers in the world. So one day I even found myself cuddling a tiger cub thanks to my job.

There have been many eye-opening experiences and acquaintances. Probably the most eye-opening for this East Texas girl was a telephone call I answered one day at lunchtime. The caller was a woman who thought we should know how the folks at the swingers club (until this point only rumored to us in the building east of our office) had broken some of the rules of that lifestyle. The conversation spanned much of the lunch hour and I remember feeling sort of queasy when it was over.

There were many more positives – like having reasons to get acquainted with some spectacular people who helped our town in a myriad of ways. I’m afraid to start naming names for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or leaving someone out. I remember a few years in to my career I marveled that I remembered all of the people and their names. But the years kept coming and that ability soon faded.

Besides loving what I’ve done and feeling like it mattered, the people with whom I’ve worked were a central part of why I stayed. They are people who have your back, who have integrity, who give it their all, who are talented and creative beyond measure as well as being smart and funny.  I’ve been fortunate to be a very small part of an amazing team on which each person’s talents and abilities mesh with those of the other ones.

I have visited towns where there are no community newspapers and the lack of the sense of community is tangible. A town newspaper is the binder between many of the different facets of the community. My wish is that people realize the vital role of newspapers, not PR newsletters, to our community and our democratic society.

So this week I will clean out my desk and carry my plants out of the office that has felt like home for so many years. My fellow newspaper folks will keep the stories, photos and ads flowing and I will soon find my way as part of a new team serving Mineola as its new Main Street director and historic preservation officer. I’ve been told my institutional memory is valuable. I choose not to think that’s another way of saying I’m old, and I suppose that’s far better than being told I should BE institutionalized. One more thing, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has had a part in helping me in this amazing career. It has meant so much to me.

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