Community, Memoir

Mourning the loss of local newspapers

I have a new cause.

I want to revive small town newspapers.

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I know that’s beyond my capacity, and that hometown papers are quaint relics now,  but I wish I could wave a magic wand (or hit an old typewriter key) and restore them in all the small towns across America.

The demise of these papers has left a void that large newspapers (also sadly failing) and social media can’t fill.

Social media doesn’t create or sustain a sense of community like a town newspaper.

Scrolling through a Facebook feed and seeing an occasional, brief newsy post does not come close to holding a newspaper in your hands and reading about everything happening in town.

Now, keep in mind, I majored in journalism back in journalism’s heydays, right after Nixon and Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein. Back then, strong, robust, independent newspapers were the norm.

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Every town had its own newspaper. Seems quaint now — like back in the “olden days.”

If you can imagine it, we even learned about things like “objectivity” in journalism classes.

It was drilled into our heads that reporters should tell both sides of a story.

We learned the difference between news stories and opinion pieces.

Yes, it was a different world then.

While a student, I spent a summer as the editor of The Springville Herald, my hometown newspaper. Then, I became the editor of the university’s student newspaper — The Utah Statesman.  

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Yes, that’s Geraldo Rivera back in the 70s, teaching us about journalism as the institution of social change.
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This is how The Statesman looked back in the 70s. 

I loved the newspaper world — all of it.  I loved the concept of gathering news, trying to present it fairly, and making the university or the town seem smaller, more intimate, more unified by keeping people informed about what was going on where they lived and worked.

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After college, I worked in the press department for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah. One of my favorite parts of the job was traveling around the State of Utah, visiting small-town newspaper editors. It gave me a sense of not just what was happening, but what mattered to people in different parts of the state.

It was always abundantly clear by these visits and by reading the different papers that what people cared about in Beaver, Utah was different than what mattered to people in Tremonton. Each different newspaper captured the essence of its people, its geography,  challenges, and unique personality.

After I quit working on the Hill, my mom always gifted me an annual subscription to The Springville Herald. I loved when it showed up in my mailbox.

I loved knowing about everything happening in my hometown —  who was celebrating a first birthday, who was getting married, the issues before the town council, who won the local golf tournament or football championship, which couples were celebrating big anniversaries, and who was running for office.

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This is a photo from The Springville Herald of the football team — Snow Dairy — that my dad sponsored and coached. My dad is in the upper left corner. My brother, Kelly, is #62 in front of him.

Since my mom passed away a few months ago, I keep running into old family friends who didn’t know she died. They all say, “I miss The Springville Herald. That paper always kept me updated on things like that.”

I miss The Springville Herald too — and all the other newspapers that have folded. I miss the local flair, the feature stories that capture the flavor of a town and its people.

When I worked at The Springville Herald, I wrote a feature story about a local character named Ivan Tryfonas. I called him “the town crier” because he roamed the town keeping everyone informed about what was happening.

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“At a glance,” I wrote, “Ivan looks as though he could fill a doorway with ease and take on the biggest of athletes without hassle. But, Ivan uses his strength to work for the betterment of the community.”

His size and omnipresence on Main Street often made him an intimidating figure in town. But, the article personalized him, and helped people see the gentle side of someone they may have feared.

I heard he couldn’t stop smiling after that article was published. He died five years later of a heart attack. I’m glad I captured his one-of-a-kind presence in our hometown.

Personalizing a man like Ivan is just one of the benefits of a local newspaper. I always liked reading about the new businesses, art exhibits, and plays in town. All of that often seems to go unnoticed now. A banner across Main Street hardly does the same thing as the full story and photos in a newspaper.

Some towns have tried to make up for the loss of newspapers by putting a few local stories in a newsletter that’s tucked in with the city bill. But, that hardly serves the same purpose, and is of no worth at all to those who pay their bills online.

When we first moved to Herndon, Virginia, there were at least three newspapers — The Observer, The Connection and the Times. They made our town tucked into the sprawling Washington, D.C. suburbs seem homey and unified. It gave us a separate identity from the broader D.C. metro area. But, one by one, they all went out of business.

You can still get a taste of the value of old newspapers, by visiting newspapers.com.

You’ll be surprised at the gems you can find there. (It is primarily a genealogy site.)

I found the actual story about Ivan and a lot of stories about my family — including a story about my parents’ wedding that described my mother’s dress in great detail and even listed everyone in her wedding party. These are priceless gems.

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Yes, I’m mourning the loss of newspapers.

I know it’s unrealistic to hope for a revival of  small town newspapers, but an old journalism student from the 70s can hope and reminisce, right?

Anybody with me on this?

 

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Welcome to Utah

Since moving to Utah, we have noticed a few things that are uniquely Utah.

Take this…

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Just a mountain lion in the back of someone’s truck. I’m guessing a taxidermy craft project…

Or this…

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This is an invitation to the our church’s summer activities for women. Yep, hand-delivered to my porch because nearly everyone in my neighborhood is Mormon. 

And this…

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American flags lining the streets for every patriotic holiday.

And one of my all-time favorites…

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This sweet lady rode her scooter to Swig for a soda on a 112 degree day in St. George. Utah is the Soda Capital of the Universe.

I am slowly getting educated on the soda culture in Utah.

I’ve seriously never seen anything like it –places like Swig,  Sodalicious and Fiiz everywhere. These are small soda shops (sometimes nothing more than a small shack) with drive-thru windows that sell sodas with flavor shots.

Seriously, I’ve seen cars lined up there at 8 in the morning. And, it’s not as simple as ordering a Diet Coke at McDonald’s.

And each shop has its own lingo. Try saying, “I’ll have a 32-ounce Big Al with extra ice” or “Give me an 16-ounce Endless Summer please.”

What you’ll be ordering with the Big Al is a Diet Coke with a shot of coconut and lime. An Endless Summer is Mountain Dew, Powerade with a shot of coconut.

Yes, Utah is Soda Land. 

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Oh, and this cute lady rode up a pretty steep hill, waited in the line at the window on her scooter, secured her drink in her lap, and then drove back down the hill and into her rehab center. (Yes, we followed her!) Then, she sat under a tree and enjoyed her drink in the shade. I told her she was my hero of the day. She said, “Hey, I can’t drive so I take my scooter and go to Swig every day!” 
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My daughter Annie (right) even worked at Sodalicious, but since I didn’t know how to order, I rarely went there. Trust me, I’m learning…

And finally, there’s this…

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The scenery is so different from one end of the state to the other. We can see lush green mountains on one end of the state and red rock canyons on the other. And, it’s all uniquely beautiful.

Welcome to Utah.

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A Gradual Goodbye

I realize my blog can sometimes carry themes — depending on what I’m experiencing in life.

Loss is the theme for my recent blogs because that is what is consuming my life right now.

Of course you know, my mom died suddenly in March. And while the grief is profound, it is eased by knowing she was ready to go, and that I’ll see her again someday.

A lot of my time since her death has been spent cleaning her house and getting it ready to sell.

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It’s been exhausting and sometimes sad, but also it has been tender, therapeutic, memorable, and sweet.

As I’ve stood in each room  of that house– steaming off wallpaper or cleaning out cupboards, I’ve been swept up in a lifetime of memories.

There is a memory in every corner of that house.

It’s hard for me to believe that Doug lived in 18 different homes before graduating from high school.

I lived in the same home until I went to college and I’ve been returning to that home ever since.

Standing in the small upstairs bedroom, I remembered being in first grade and learning to read. I thought of the thrill I felt running upstairs to sit in my bedroom with a new stack of books.

I remembered going to the public library with my mom every week and gathering armloads of books and hauling them upstairs to that bedroom.

That reminded me of returning mom’s last library book just after she died.  I knew I had to get it back to the library as soon as possible! She never, ever had an overdue book.

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Cleaning out her kitchen cupboards, I thought about her love of dishes. She had her own wedding china, a great grandmother’s china, and various sets of dishes she had purchased over the years.

I remembered the “club” meetings she had with her high school friends and how she pulled out the china for some of those dinners. Then, I remembered that for one Easter, she had a brown bag picnic lunch in the house and moved all the furniture back and put quilts on the floor. I tried to imagine her 12 lady friends sitting in circles on the floor enjoying their brown bag Easter picnic.

In the kitchen, I remembered Mom’s reaction when she found a Playboy magazine in one of my brother’s dresser drawers. Oh, that was a classic Mom Moment. You can check out that story here.

While sorting through her Christmas decorations on the patio, I looked around at her sprawling back yard and remembered how many parties I held back there over the years.

I could hear her saying, “You always begged me to host your friends’ last-night-of-school parties in the backyard, and you swore you’d only have about six friends coming. And, every year, the whole school showed up!”

It’s true. I couldn’t help myself. I invited every friend I had every year. It was the perfect backyard for big parties!

That house was my mom’s “corner of the world.” She always said she just loved sitting on the porch watching the world go by.

She was a homebody if there ever was a homebody and she never understood what she called my “go-go-do-do” ways.

Nate Berkus said, “Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love.”

My mom lived by those words.

Her house was a collection of everything she loved –cherished notes, her life story in a scrapbook, stories, family memorabilia, photos, photos and more photos,  flowers, and plants, books, books and more books; and more thread than I’ve ever seen in my life for her embroidery projects. She loved decorating for every holiday, especially Christmas.  I think I counted five Christmas trees!

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She had some of her favorite quotes in places where she could see them regularly.

One of her favorite quotes that has become one of my favorites was a quote from Ezra Taft Benson:
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More than anything else, cleaning out her house has been like a gradual, tender goodbye.

I have felt wrapped up in her “corner of the world” for the past couple months — folding her quilts, steaming her wedding dress, discovering the baby quilts she made for her future great grand babies, dusting off her dishes and boxing up her china, sorting out her Christmas tree ornaments and collecting her mail.

It’s been like a slow goodbye and while it’s been tiring, it’s been kind of a sweet melancholy, a last chance to feel her around me through her perfectly personal home, and all of her belongings.

The more I take out of her house, the more I realize she is gone.

And, while I don’t enjoy the goodbye, I certainly savor the way that cleaning out her house has kept her here for just a little bit longer…

 

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Goodbye to the Mom of All Moms

Some blogs are easy to write and some blogs are hard.

Today’s blog is the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.

I’ve started it about 10 times.

The thing is, my mom died.

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At 82 years old, she just didn’t feel well, had a weak pulse, went to the ER, and died.

Doug and I were vacationing with friends at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

My mom and several other family members were in southern Utah to help my sister, Sallie, move to a new home for a new job. 

At the end of the day, I called to see how the day went.

Sallie said, “Well, we’re actually in the ER with mom and the doctors said things are going south fast.”

“What?”

“What is even wrong?”

She said they didn’t have a diagnosis, but eight doctors were in her hospital room trying to figure it out.

I quickly made plans to get back to Utah as soon as possible.

This involved getting off Hatteras Island, a remote strip of land in the middle of the ocean, and to an airport where there are no direct flights to Utah.

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I got to the hospital the next day — in time for a doctor to ask me for a copy of her living will and for me to tell her goodbye.

She was calm, serene and fearless as she told me she was 100 percent ready to go.

No regrets. No unfinished business. No questions about anything other than, “Are you okay with this?”

My head nodded yes while every emotion in me vigorously shouted, “No!”

That was on a Monday afternoon.

On the following Thursday, she took her last breath.

I was surprised at the word that came out of my mouth after she died.

“Congratulations,” I whispered as I kissed her cheek for the last time.

And that’s really how I felt — like she’d given life everything — left it all on the field to use sports vernacular.

There was nothing morbid or morose about it. 

In fact, the few days with her in the hospital were sweet, tender, and sacred. We talked about how lucky we were to have her as a mom.

She was the mom of all moms — loving, smart, tough, fun, hilarious, just the whole package. We couldn’t ask for more. She was everything.

As we shared stories about her life — her sayings and crazy antics — sometimes we couldn’t stop laughing.

Oh, there were tears — plenty of them because we wondered how we will live without her, but there also was so much joy because we knew she was ready.

She knew where she was going and she was looking forward to it.

She couldn’t wait to see her husband again and the son she lost when he was an infant.

She was tired of the world and she didn’t like that her body wasn’t cooperating with her anymore.

And don’t even get her started on Donald Trump.

The doctors probably still regret that while testing her mental acuity, they asked her if she knew who was President of the United States.

For months, she warned us that she thought she would die soon. We just didn’t believe her.

She told my brother he needed to go into her basement and find her funeral insurance policy.

She told her friend at the church library to get her own library key because she didn’t think she’d be back the next week.

She told her walking partner she didn’t think she’d live after my sister moved.

I think she really saw it coming. We just didn’t want to believe her.

On the day she died, I posted a picture of her on Facebook and said, “It was the honor of my life to be her daughter.”

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And, it truly was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I hope every heavenly reunion is even sweeter than you imagined.

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What I Know For Sure

My daughter Annie wrote a blog about what she knows for sure.

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She was inspired by Oprah’s book “What I Know For Sure.”

And, the inspiration continues because Annie’s blog inspired me.

I loved Annie’s honesty when she wrote, “What I know for sure is that I need more time to figure out what I know for sure!”

Don’t we all?

She’s dedicated to figuring it out and sharing what she knows for sure in her health coaching blog.

So, she got me thinking today while I’m at the beach…What do I know for sure about the beach?

So, here it is…

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And one more thing I know for sure about the beach…

I’m never ready when it’s time to go home…

What do you know for sure about the beach?

 

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Old Letters, Old Selves

For the last couple months, I’ve been working on a writing project with my friend, Lisa, that involves perusing our old journals and reading old letters we wrote to each other.

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Lisa and I started writing to each other after we spent a summer working together on Capitol Hill in 1979. And, surprisingly, we both kept most of those letters.

We’re not sure why we stopped writing letters except that the letters seemed to slow after the advent of email.

As we have shared portions of our letters with each other, we have laughed, rolled our eyes, blushed, and marveled at who we were and what we shared with each other.

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In some ways, these journals and letters feel too personal and a little incriminating. They run the gamut from the silly and emotional to the cerebral and the eerily prophetic. And, it’s all there — the very real facts about who we were and what was happening in our lives.

They do not capture the glossy, social media versions of our lives, but the real stuff in our hearts and heads — everything from religion and politics to dating, marriage, family problems and everything in between.

Tucked in one of my old journals was an article I saved on letter writing from a 1981 Time magazine by Roger Rosenblatt.

“”Why write letters?” he asked. “To create at least a few moments in life where thought and deed are amaranthine, and will not be fudged or withdrawn like spoken language with ‘I said no such thing’ or ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’ You meant it all right. And that way. “

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I had to look up the word amaranthine.

It means immortal, unfading, of undying quality. And yes, those old letters of ours are amaranthine, definitely immortal. They’ve boomeranged back to remind us of exactly who we were in our 20s and 30s.

They are proof that — yeah, we meant what we said and we meant it that way.

I have wondered and asked Lisa and my family about whether I should blot out some parts of my journals or tear out a few sections.

Annie said, “Then we will wonder what secrets you didn’t want us to know.”

There aren’t really any secrets — just my life so crystal clear, and me, so flawed, human, and real.

In a world full of posed selfies, perfectionist bloggers, and carefully crafted optics, these journals and letters make me feel unusually vulnerable. They aren’t the pretty version of my life that capture some smooth, buttery arc, they are my unedited life with all my disappointments, angst, worry, analysis, second-guessing, complaining, and wonderings; and also joy — lots of pure fun, learning, new experiences, and just plain joy.

In the end, for now, I’m keeping all of it. My poor daughters will have to decide what to do with the volumes of journals and the stacks of letters. But, one thing is sure: they will know the real me for good or bad.

If you’ve kept old letters or journals, take some time to dig them out and read them.

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It will introduce you to your old self, but it will also remind you of your old life and the many wonderful people who were part of it. You will be reminded of your worries and fears, but if you keep reading, you’ll see things usually got better. Things generally worked out.

I believe the words of one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, who said, “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not…We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

Yes, there is no going back and rewriting or reshaping all those old letters and journals to make me appear to be someone better, smarter, wiser or more mature. But there is great value in being on nodding terms with the person I used to be.

It’s helped me remember things I thought I’d never forget and reminded me of who I was. When we remember who we were,  how we felt, what we thought and believed, we can be reminded of who we are now and who we’ve become.

 

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Mom Stories

I’ve been texting my brother this morning about some Christmas returns that we need to make.

Then I told him I have a new computer and wondered if he wanted my old one.

“Yes!” he texted, “if mom doesn’t give it away first like she did the last computer you gave me.”

I forgot about that.

I gave him a computer a few years ago and mom saw it in her house and gave it away to someone else.

She’s been known to give away some pretty big things.

Several years ago, she really wanted a dog.

My aunt and uncle had a shitzu that she adored. She decided she had to have one. “They’re such cute little things,” she said. So she asked my aunt and uncle if she could have one of their puppies next time their dog had a litter.

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She was so excited about getting one of those cute little puppies. She waited for it to be born, debated names for it, and counted down the days until she could welcome the furry little pup into her home.

When the day finally arrived, she quickly developed pet buyer’s remorse. It was too much work, needed potty training, and so much attention.

She didn’t have the patience to for it, so she abruptly gave it away.

My sister’s friend wanted a dog so that was the perfect solution. She packed up the dog and all its belongings and off she went to hand it off to someone else.

“I’ve never been so relieved in my life, ” she said, “I can’t have a pet. They are too much work and a pain in the neck. Remind me next time I say I want a pet that I really don’t.”

A cat showed up at her house a couple years later and took up residence there. She tried not to feed it and make it feel at home so that it would return to its owner, but it never left.

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So, she started to feed it and care for it and finally decided to adopt it.

“Mom, remember you don’t want a pet. You asked me to remind you that you can’t have pets. They are too much work.”

“I know but this cat is different. It’s here all the time anyway. I might as well take care of it.”

Then, one day she got tired of it.

In fact, I had proof of her pet meltdown on my voice recorder.

She didn’t realize she was still being recorded after she left me the message to call her back, so I heard quite a rant about her “damn cat.”

“Oh, you little beast,” she screamed. “Stop wrapping yourself around my ankles every time I turn around.  Oh, stop it! You’re driving me crazy! I can’t go anywhere without you following me and thinking you can just wrap your furry little self around me every five minutes!”

Knowing her track record with pets, I knew the cat was on its way out.

When I called her back, she said, “I couldn’t stand that cat for one more minute. So, last night I called Becky (my pet-loving cousin) and told her I was bringing it over to her house. It was late, and I was in my nightgown but I couldn’t even wait until morning. I just scooped up that little beast and drove it over to Becky’s and said, ‘here! It’s yours now.”

“I’ve never been so relieved in my life,” she said.

(Except when you gave away the dog, I thought, but did not say.)

A few weeks later, mom’s neighbor came over to her house and said, “I haven’t seen my cat for a few weeks. She used to hang around here a lot. Have you seen her?”

Ah oh.

Yes, she gave away the neighbor’s cat.

We have devised a plan for the computer. I will label it with my brother’s name and he will not leave it anywhere in her house where she can see it because you never know what she’ll decide to give away.