My little hometown newspaper is published once a week. It contains little (if any) national news, focusing instead on local issues, commentary, and human interest stories. Until the mid 90’s it still published a cute little social/gossip column with items such as, “Mr. and Mrs. Steve Browning were dinner guests at the home of Joe Watson on Saturday the 17th. Also attending were Joe’s sister Martha, who drove down from Minneapolis, and the family of Ronald Jacobsen from Crane Creek. A birthday cake was enjoyed and guests departed around 8 p.m.” For the first 30 years of my life, the paper was appallingly full of grammatical and spelling errors as well, having been almost completely written and assembled by the same middle-aged (then elderly) woman within one week. This woman knew all 1,200 residents of our town and, despite her editorial clumsiness, she maintained the public record of our community for all those years.
When I moved away from home, my dad bought me a subscription to this paper, which arrived in my mailbox every Saturday. During my freshman year in college, my urbane friends from Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Boston greatly anticipated the arrival of my 12-page hometown newspaper. They revelled in its provincialisms and spent several Saturday evenings laughing loudly (I always remember them laughing loudly) with my newspaper spread across the single beds and desks in our dormitory. I laughed with them while defending the quaintness of my hometown. While they loved me and accepted me, I felt somehow different from these friends and thought maybe the newspaper helped me explain myself. In retrospect, we probably all felt different, but I’m still grateful for the help from my little subscription.
About 15 years ago the owner/publisher/editor/writer of the paper died and it finally changed hands, then merged with the paper of a nearby small town (population 555). The publication’s name has changed, and it no longer contains the neighborhood gossip column, and there are 3 or 4 part-time employees now, so the grammar errors are largely edited out. A really cool feature now is a “Moments in Time” photograph and description, usually of an old landscape, building, or group of people from the early part of the 20th century, like these:
Many of the names are the same as the names now, but the buildings then were prettier, the cars works of art, the trees more majestic, and the landscapes pastoral and undeveloped. Looking at these photos explains why Arbor Day had to happen. In the countryside, the farmers cut down ALL the trees and made farmland. In the towns, the developers cut down ALL the trees and made homes and cement. The area has not recovered. And instead of oaks, we now have elms and maples and boxelder. The Big Woods is no more. “Moments in Time” usually depresses me.
The newspaper now also features a “Looking Back” column, which is my favorite part. It summarizes a few articles published in the same community from 100 years ago, 75 years ago, 50 years ago, and 25 years ago. (A couple of times I saw my own name in the “25 years ago” section!) I love this really weird story that was first published back in 1937 (75 years ago) and summarized in the December 27th, 2012 issue of “my” paper:
A macabre mystery, centering about a Blooming Prairie stock buyer, John Crom, and his automobile, is attracting the attention of state officials and G-Men at Edina, Mo., following the finding of the vehicle in a roadside ditch Tuesday. When found the machine was a mass of flames, and within the tonneau was the body of a man, which later was discovered to be an embalmed cadaver. The Minneapolis Star last evening carried the following account of the gruesome find: “The body of a man that had been expertly embalmed as if for the grave and then abandoned in a burning Minnesota automobile on the roadside, was placed on public exhibition today in a funeral parlor at Edina, Mo.”
It’s unclear to me if the cadaver was the body of this John Crom, or was John Crom guilty of some crime related to the cadaver? Who knows? I’m tempted to google it, but it’s a fun mystery to contemplate, and we don’t have to know everything. I do love that my little newspaper still publishes words like “macabre,” “G-men,” and “tonneau.” Best of all, my little hometown newspaper is still a part of my life. It’s my community’s own Americana. If you read it for decades, you identify yourself as a small part of its ongoing, provincial, occasionally funny, week-to-week, sometimes weird, life.
It’s not new news, but sometimes Life imitates Art, and by living our lives, we’re creating them both.