Let me start by saying this: if you are anything like high school students, the one thing that you will probably remember about this blog is that I once held a job as Chuck E. Cheese. Yes, as in, the giant mouse in the
horror-filled, horrendous, er, extremely stimulating children’s pizzeria, that happens to serve more beer to adults than it does pizza to children.
I tell you this because I was recently invited to the high school’s journalism class as the subject of a mock press conference. Instead of feeling all snazzy (as in, hey, I must be interesting if these kids want to talk about me for an hour), I immediately went into that last-picked-for-dodge-ball mode of “holy embarrassment.”
The idea of having to stand in front of a group of high schoolers and pretend I have a fascinating enough existence (did I tell you I am learning to knit? Or that my goal is to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle in a day? Or that the bane of my social existence is book club?) was nothing short of mortifying. And yet, as the senior correspondent (mostly retired) of our community newspaper, I felt that obligation to agree. And so I did.
Within the first five minutes, I told them about my job as a giant mouse, about my distaste for a certain former president (whose name rhymes with forge push), and my obsession with long winded, run-on sentences packed with semi-colons. It only got worse when the first question they were able to edge in went something like this:
Student: “What was one of the strangest stories you ever had to write?
Me: “Well, there was this one family who adopted a pig and actually kept it in their house as a pet, and we did a story on it—it even wore a bow for its front page photograph—and a year or so later, someone hit the pig with their car, and I had to go do a pig obituary for it (laugh).
Another student: “Um, that was my pig.”
Ah, the beauty of living in a small community. While I’m sure my face suddenly matched the color of my hair (which is red), I did have a bit of an epiphany at that moment about exactly I should be talking about: community.
Each question they asked about my job, my volunteer work, my family, all began to echo back to that one word. I began to ramble, and they began to furiously scribble notes—or doodles, but I’m pretending notes for the sake of my pride—as I spoke to the joy of working at a small, family-owned weekly newspaper in northern Michigan. Each story I have written is like the squares of a quilt; the personal profiles ranging from the summer resident who was in the Pentagon on a blue sky September day that changed everything to the middle school girl who broke barriers playing football, just because someone told her she couldn’t; the political fights and dogged determinism of those working to protect what is sacred about our sense of history, place, and open space; the hope woven into the missions of the many non-profits that call northern Michigan home. This quilt is what I have come to wrap my family into for safety, warmth, and love.
The Harbor Light Newspaper is owned by a family—one that lives just up the street from our office—and the dedication to communicating to neighbors needs, issues, and stories that make up who we are, runs as thick as the black coffee brewed there each morning.
When I joined the paper, I did so because the “family first” motto rang true to my heart. I stayed because their family became my own. We broke bread together, went through pregnancy and births, rallied and worried about various town causes, celebrated the passing of the seasons with subscribers’ summer and winter address changes and with an eye on the past and a pen on the future. For me, and so many others, that paper has become the heartbeat of the community.
And as I spoke, I wondered if these children—if my own children—know how amazing it is to be part of the words, the sentences, the moments, that are northern Michigan. I felt the emotions swell—perhaps because I was realizing for the first time just how much it means to live in a place still rooted in local business, still small enough to care about the little things, say, for example, dead pet pigs. Ahem.