I don’t normally share personal things about myself. Mainly because I don’t want anyone to share their own with me. If I want to know something personal about you, I’ll ask you. If I don’t ask, then I don’t care and I’m not interested. Many people I deal with regularly don’t understand this, no matter how frequently I feign death when they begin to speak to me.
So, in the interest of fairness, since what I’m about to share is personal, and since you did not ask for me to share, if you therefore choose to ignore me I will not be upset. Although watching you feign death would amuse me.
1984 saw the ’80s recession coming to an end locally and my mother looking for work. As a 4-H leader, she’d frequently write up the monthly club report to submit to the local newspaper, The Republican News. She’d heard they were looking to hire another reporter, and armed with nothing more than determination and that smidgen of writing experience, she walked in and asked the editor, Don Sincell, to hire her.
To her surprise (as well as his, I think) he did just that. While this wasn’t her first job, she hadn’t worked in years, concentrating instead on raising her kids. But times were still hard, and she set out to do what she had to do. She went looking for a job; she ended up with a career.
Years later, Don said he was torn between hiring my mother and another person, so he asked Jack for advice. Jack was a disabled man who worked in a back room of the newspaper office, doing mysterious things and never seeming to leave. He was also known for his wisdom, and he told Don to hire who he thought needed the job the most.
So, my mother became a reporter. Two years later, so did I.
Not really. When I was 16 and between grades, my summer job was only on weekends and I needed more to do. Don believed in hiring family first, so I landed a job at the paper. That first summer, I worked in proofreading, helping Elsie Sincell. Elsie was in her 90s, and really didn’t need help- what she needed was someone to watch her so she didn’t fall out of her chair when she fell asleep.
The next summer, I helped out in the pressroom. The summer after that, I moved into editorial, typing up press releases and covering the results of circuit court. I also wrote my first feature story, which was probably not nearly as good as I thought it was.
That was my last summer at The Republican before leaving for college, but I can proudly say I left my mark – quite literally, in fact, as I was walking back from lunch one day and tripped over a can of red paint being used to re-coat the curbs as I was crossing the street. I hurried away, sure no one had seen me, leaving what looked like a murder scene on the road behind me, but when I returned to the office, somehow everyone knew what I’d done.
The paper knows all.
My sophomore college year, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. To say she handled it like a saint would be to give saints far more credit than they deserve. I never heard her complain, and The Republican accommodated her as well as they could.
For a few years, she could still manage the steep stairs to the second floor offices (the bottom stair had a strip of white tape on it so Elsie could find it with her poor eyesight,) but when she could no longer take the stairs, she rode the conveyor belt that ran beside them, used to haul packages (and now my mother) to the second floor from the pressroom. A few years after that, when she needed a wheelchair to get around, she rode the freight elevator.
By now, she was farm editor for the paper, as well as working sales and designing her own ads. By now, I had graduated college with my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I spent one last summer doing the occasional work for my first newspaper, mostly photojournalism, before moving on to the Chesapeake Bay area and other publishers and papers.
As the years passed, I worked different papers in different areas before ending up where I am now. I can’t remember when my mother retired, but throughout the years, one special thing she and I had was that we could always talk shop to each other.
When she moved to a nursing home for care, her subscription to the Lander Journal followed her, and quickly became popular with the residents, passed around through many hands after it arrived by mail. When I last visited her, in April 2010, I was surprised to hear a hint of quiet pride in her voice (for what child ever feels they’ve fully lived up to their parents’ expectations?) as she introduced me as her son, “the one that works for the paper.” So many people already seemed to know me.
We spent hours in her “greenhouse,” a room full of plants she’d taken in after their owners had passed on, talking of the paper industry and trials and tribulations of the career, such as clients convinced their home-built ad was better than anything that I, a professional designer, could possibly come up with. While I can’t politely repeat here the phrase I used with my mother describing these ads, it involved eating a box of crayons and squatting over a sheet of paper to make something that looked just as good, if not better.
We talked of deadlines and styles and beats and the smell of the press and now-obsolete equipment and cranky editors and crankier readers. We talked of life and careers and opportunities and happiness and how, while I may not know what the future holds, I know I can make my way through it, which I think she found reassuring (for what parent ever feels they’ve completed raising their children?) We talked until it was time for me to go. We talked until it was time to say goodbye.
One year ago this month, she died.
After her death, I discovered that she and my grandmother had saved clippings of my work from various newspapers throughout the years, including that very first feature story I’d written. Surprisingly, while it still may not be as good as I thought it was at the time, it’s not nearly as bad as I expected it would be, either.
I’ve worked in the newspaper industry for 25 years now, with the occasional break here and there. I’ve worked for some great editors and publishers, but it’s my mother that got me started. And for all the accomplishments of my siblings that have overshadowed my own, I’m the only one “that worked for the paper.” And secretly, I think that meant just a little bit more to her. Because it was something that only she and I had.
A year ago, Mom put her paper to bed. I’ve got awhile to go until I meet my final deadline. While I regret that she isn’t around to read these columns, I’m fairly certain she would have enjoyed them.
All right. Story’s over. I’m done now, so for those of you trying to ignore me, you can open your eyes, stop holding your breath and get up off the floor. You look silly and I know you’re faking.
But thanks for the laugh.