Cherished Words

There’s no music in this piece today. Instead, there’s a plastic tub that I brought up from the basement shelves yesterday.

The tub was labeled clearly: At the bottom were my long-saved copies of newspapers from the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and similarly saved newspapers from the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in July 1969.

Those I left at the bottom of the tub, not certain what I’ll do with them. They’re in decent shape, having been handled rarely and always with care during the decades since I tucked them away in my closet on Kilian Boulevard. What I did pull out of the tub yesterday was a series of manila envelopes stuffed with original clippings and photocopies of pieces I wrote for various newspapers over the years, newspapers in Monticello, Eden Prairie and Osseo, Minnesota; Columbia, Missouri; and Cheney and Goddard, Kansas. (There are very few pieces from the newspapers based in those last two small towns; I lived in Kansas for only three months.)

These aren’t clippings that I tucked away. These are the pieces that my folks thought worthy of saving or sharing with their friends during my newspapering days. And they make the job of clearing things out of the house just a little bit harder. I’ve already set aside for ruthless sorting and eventual recycling a large box of entire papers and tearsheets from my Eden Prairie days, and a similar box of work from my Monticello days is on the shelves in the basement, waiting its turn on the table upstairs.

It’s hard to be ruthless, though, with the stuff my folks thought important. They subscribed to the Eden Prairie and Monticello papers during my years in those two cities, and I occasionally mailed them copies of the other papers where I worked when I thought something I wrote might interest them. And it matters a lot to me that they set some of my work aside over the years and kept it long enough that it eventually came to me when Mom moved out of the house on Kilian.

Having wondered many times when I was young – as I imagine most of us did as we grew up – whether I could ever do anything well enough to please my parents, I find it touching and gratifying twenty or more years after the fact to fully realize that they enjoyed and respected my reporting work enough to share it and to keep it.

I’m sure that during my newspapering years, we talked briefly about some of my pieces in conversations long lost to time. I do, however, remember one of those brief conversations with my dad.

In early 1995, I got to thinking about the approach of the year 2000, with its impressive array of zeros, and the year 2001, the first year of the twenty-first century. I knew that as those two years approached, we’d see many, many pieces in every medium thinkable about the meaning of those years. And I wanted to do it first. Maybe I was a bit early, but I wanted to do a piece about the approaching millennium shift before it became a cliché, which I was pretty sure it would (and I think I was right about that).

So I talked to a professor of history at a nearby community college and I talked to three ministers in Eden Prairie, with their theologies ranging from mainstream Protestantism to hard Fundamentalism, and I wove together a piece that looked at the coming calendar changes through those four lenses.

Toward the end of the piece, I offered some comments from the history professor that the last time there had been three consecutive nines on the Western calendar – in the year 999 – few people in Europe were educated enough to be aware of it. Among those who were, the professor said, there were many who thought that the world would end as we hit 1000. It didn’t of course, and I was left with the task in my piece of bridging the gap with some kind of transition from the year 1000 to the year 1995, to set up my closing bits.

I decided on a brief history, and this was the paragraph that my dad mentioned later. I wrote:

The 11th Century dawned. The thousand years since have brought the Crusades, Genghis Khan, Notre Dame cathedral, Joan of Arc, Leonardo and Michelangelo, the Spanish Inquisition, the destruction of America’s native cultures, Mozart and Beethoven, political and industrial revolutions, the U.S. Bill of Rights, Karl Marx, Harpo Marx, pasteurized milk, Susan B. Anthony, the assembly line, Emma Goldman, Gandhi, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, Mao Zedong and footprints on the moon.

Dad called me from St. Cloud after he read the piece and said he’d liked my brief history of the second millennium. (He also said he’d had to look up Emma Goldman.)

I won some writing awards over the years, getting plaques and certificates from various organizations and associations. I used to display all of them in a hallway, but somewhere along the line, I trimmed that down to one plaque on display and the rest in a box stuck in one of the closets. That box will come to light during our winnowing process, and I imagine I’ll keep all the awards.

But I honestly – and if this itself is a cliché, so be it – cherish Dad’s brief sentence of praise more than all of those awards.

2 Responses to “Cherished Words”

  1. bing stills says:

    If you have access to a scanner, scanning and saving the clippings electronically will let you keep the documents without taking up any physical space. Just a thought.

  2. Rena says:

    I appreciate, lead to I discovered exactly what I was looking for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have
    a nice day. Bye

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