Have I come “full circle,” back to the beginning when my parents took me (age 15 months) out of Omaha and into the smalltown where I was to live for the next 15 years? And here I am in another smalltown (though bigger than my first smalltown), writing for the local online newspaper. It’s exactly what I wanted to do when I stopped the editor of my first smalltown and asked him “hey, Mr. Carpenter, can I write for your paper?” He told me when I could spell Omaha to come back and reapply. I was likely seven or eight.
The local newspaper was a very important part of life. Even then I must have sensed a certain importance, a certain light, emanating from each page. Oh we had quite a paper. It even included a recipe for “Sparrows on Toast.” And when the terrible slaughter (by axe) of eight sleeping in our town occurred, the paper became a memento mori. The language back in those days was elegant and formal, with here and there a twist of Mark Twain humor. It was not a gossip sheet, but it could affect change.
My smalltown was a rural farm town where farms and farmers ruled. And just like you, we had a smalltown movie theater, and a river ran thru town…there were churches galore, and mom-&-pop stores, and Wal-Mart had yet to arrive. If we wanted to shop big we went to Omaha, but mostly we shopped small. The money earned in the area tended to stay in the area. Thus were bonds formed.
The paper is still publishing, lo all these years. It is now owned by a Korean War orphan who was adopted by a local farm family. She recently announced the offices will soon be moved out of her dining room to south of the town square. Originally, the offices (over a century ago) were also south of the town square. I used to look in the big glass windows and wonder what it meant to be a typesetter working at a complicated machine.
Of course these days the paper is still weekly, but delivered now by electronic media. It’s still supported by ads and subscriptions, though the base line is growing dim what with a town filled with oldsters and not enough youngsters staying around after graduation from high school. A few lingered to farm, but not many. The four-square Carnegie Library is still in town, and you could say that it played a big role in my love of reading and later because of that reading…writing.
Today I had a surprise email from a chap whose mother was our town librarian. He saw my article in WCI and wrote to congratulate me on capturing the essence of a smalltown post office, noting that postal workers were in his family and that he sure did recall “Ray,” my postman neighbor from years gone by.
I started writing a weekly column (City Mouse) for my smalltown newspaper about six years ago. It was thrilling in many ways, more thrilling than writing for big publications in Milwaukee. It was intimate (sometimes too intimate for if I misspoke, my publisher’s ad revenue would drop). I misspoke as often as she’d let me, which was every issue. The “other” columnist was a rock hard no nothing chap who imagined he was a “writer.” He was green with envy and took every opportunity to bash me in his column. I had to finally ask the publisher to tell him to knock it off. One does not bash their fellow writers when they are writing for the same publication.
He was really a rube at heart and when he died I was relieved, but then I lost my enthusiasm for writing the column. He seemed to be the nasty fuel that fired my energy. But it was a good ride in any event. Eventually I excused myself and stopped the column. A writer needs to love what he/she writes. It has to come from their heart and soul; otherwise the words are dead on arrival. I should add that writers tend to fall in love with themselves.
So here I am in West Bend writing for the Washington County Insider and I thank Judy Steffes and Sweet Creations where we met over a cup of java and I think a big fat doughnut. I could tell she was and is a writer. This is her adopted community and she’s wildly connected and respected.
As Columbo used to say, “One more thing,” I am just starting to read a huge book about the 1950s, a compilation of fledgling authors whose work was published in The New Yorker Magazine back in the day. You perhaps are familiar with Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). He authored a New Yorker piece about Marlon Brando. Written when Brando was still a young star and was filming Sayonara in Japan, it is a great piece about Brando and his philosophical bent. Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
So was I. What that means I’m not sure. I read this morning that the pedestrian bridge is in the process of coming down, and as soon as the river’s water level drops a bit, work will became a reality and a new bridge will rise. So many bridges. So much rain.
Looks like El Nino will cause Santa to arrive on a surf board. xxxxooo