We are none of us new to shutting doors behind us. As I write this letter, I am on the open side of the door. Once I finish it, I shut the door on Bay Weekly’s long chapter of my life. For I have saved this letter to you as the last thing I will write as editor of Bay Weekly. I’ll not be able to open that door again except through memory. Fond as I am of memory, it is — another truth you and I both know — only a substitute for the real thing.
Nonetheless, memory and I have a lot to do with each other.
It and I often revisit the pasts behind other closed doors.
If I ever get to climb in a time machine — which is an apparatus I’ve wanted to try since I was a kid reading comic books under the covers after bed time — I’d go back in my life to the years when I was a youngish mother raising my own two kids.
I had divorced when they were little, Nathaniel 20 months and Alex seven years, and weeks after I had cried into the fountain of the Sangamon County Courthouse, I had to take Nathaniel with me to the settlement on the little bungalow I’d bought for the three of us. A wild thing, Nat was sure to add drama to the transaction, and my heart was already racing with the enormity of it all. But what was I to do? The Illinois State Fair Opening Parade marched between me and his Cookie Monster Cooperative Daycare Center.
In our 10 years in that house, the kids grew up. From a sweet redheaded softie, Alex grew through a morning paper route and little-brother sitting (too often literally) and Dungeons and Dragons and an alternative hippie school to an immovable force ready to go off to the University of Illinois. (This year, he’s had that role reversed.)
Nat grew wilder until, pushing high school, he could brag that he knew every corner of Springfield, Illinois, from explorations on his oft-stolen Big Wheels and bicycles.
We had bad dogs and families of cats — including our best cat ever, BBK — and households full of friends that the incorrigible German-beagle Slip Mahoney sometimes bit, when he was home from chasing the train or getting arrested at the Kroger meat counter.
Bill and I were finding we couldn’t do without each other, even as we flourished in separate lives. He was a rising star in Illinois statehouse journalism, and I had found my words in the Brainchild Women’s Poetry Collective.
That’s where I’d head my time machine: To not-very-exciting Springfield, Illinois, to rejoin the real time of boys who smelled like dry dirt, when I was the woman who counted most in their lives (then their grandmothers) and I saw a dogwood tree through my kitchen window and hung all our wash on a line. Any day would do — after I set the wish-o-meter on an hour when the good times weighed in way heavier than the bad. I wouldn’t for example, want the dogcatcher visiting on the day I returned back home.
In the minutes I had there, I would be sure to suffice myself in every mundane image — the way light fell through that window and curls fell on Lexey’s forehead when his hair, as usual, needed cutting.
When all that was mine everyday, I was too busy to pay close attention.
When the time comes when you close a door, already the weight of time has crushed each sacred day beneath the succession of days, compressing the features that once were oneness — the dinosaur as flat as the fern — into a mass of carbon. Finally from that mass, the diamonds of memory are made.
That time will begin for me, as the editor of Bay Weekly you may think of as your friend, after I finish writing this letter.
The process of transformation is 27 years underway. Only in pale memory can I reexamine the moments that made up those years. I can’t feel what I felt when that first issue rolled off the press. Yes, we were there, at Orville Davis’s Newsprinters International printing plant in Waldorf. (Over my shoulder Bill remembers, I didn’t mind taking the paper there to be printed because there was a good chance I’d buy a pool cue down there.)
That printing press or another — we’ve had five in all, though that includes our second run with our friends at Delaware Printing Company — photo-litho-graphed good impressions on the giant cylinders of paper that fed through its webs and came out ready-folded as your paper.
For us, time was moving too fast for one day’s impressions to stand out as different from another’s.
So I’m not going to tell you about all “the times when” … though throngs of them are crowding my memory in photomontage, yelling, “look here!” Even if I could, how would I choose one over another?
But I can tell you that above and beyond the tensions that can curdle your stomach, I have lived my role in deep satisfaction, as happy as when I was mother — if not always boss — of my little family homestead and mistress — though not often boss here either — of my destiny. Back then, thrive or fail they depended on me, and my work mattered deeply.
At Bay Weekly, the rules were the same. There’d be no paper to print if I couldn’t fill it with stories, and my work mattered deeply. All the better that there was nothing in the world I could think of that I wanted to do more than find stories that needed to be told. There was always a place to put them, and always you to read them. Now and again you’d write to tell me one you liked particularly. What more could any writer want — except a paycheck to reward honest labor, and often I got that too.
Better still, as Bay Weekly has been a labor too big for one person, I got to do the work I loved best in the best of company. A college writing teacher in my earlier incarnation, I could — indeed I had to — inspire other writers and would-be writers to join our story-telling force. They inspired my favorite metaphor: Newspapering is a lot like baseball. I got to be team manager, and all those writers — thousands over the years — were the talent: showing off what they could do, growing in skill, winning with the team.
Better still, because Bay Weekly is more than storytelling, I’ve gotten to work day in and day out with teams and players just as focused on their part of the game — ad sales, design, layout, business, delivery — as writers and I are on our storytelling. As in any good team, we’ve become one another’s friends and extended family, overlooking one another’s love stories, child- and dog-rearing, successes and traumas.
Best of all, I think, is the ride we’ve all shared on the electric surge of energy that pulses through a newsroom like a force of nature so that as you work — always chasing the deadline — you’re high on the buzz.
I’m riding that buzz now, sharing the high with a newsroom of people, each playing her or his own position, each just this side of panic over whether we’ll meet our deadline.
That’s the door I’m about to close. I know my memory will repay me in diamonds. I just wish I could tell you about what I’ll find on the door’s other side.
Next week, as we finish our era with 1,360 issues, I’ll thank you for taking us this far and preview what lies ahead as Bay Weekly joins forces with Chesapeake Bay Media on January 3, 2020.