I’ve written this column in my head several times, but putting it in writing is harder.
How do you sum up 35 years in one column? How do you say goodbye to the only career you’ve ever loved?
I thought I would work at newspapers until I keeled over at my desk at age 100, but life — and priorities — change.
I’ve decided to retire, a word that makes me feel really old.
It seems like yesterday that I was an excited, nervous, eager 20-year-old on my first day at the newspaper in Jonesboro. I was still three months away from graduating from Arkansas State University with my degree in journalism. My momma took a picture of me, all dressed up, just like she did on my first day of school.
It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t need to wear a dress every day to work because I might find myself tromping in the woods with a county sheriff to see a meth lab, interviewing a basket weaver at his home while his baby pig licked my leg or sitting in a little wagon attached to a four-wheeler while an elderly man drove me around his yard to show me the irrigation system.
Oh, the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve met.
A story that will stay with me forever is the murder-suicide of a young man and his two sweet little children, a girl and a boy. I saw the authorities carry out their small sheet-covered bodies from the home in rural Faulkner County.
I was pregnant with my second son, and I interviewed the man’s widow while she screamed and cried over the loss of her babies. I remember my tears hitting my notebook as I wrote. I woke up shaking that night and crying.
I also interviewed the man’s mother, which was also sad. I was the only reporter those two women talked with, and I was honored by their trust.
I’ve walked through the rubble of tornadoes and seen a body removed as the neighbors were picking through the remnants of their lives. My husband stayed with me at the office until almost 2 a.m. as I wrote story after story of tragedy and the resilience of the residents.
I wrote about the University of Central Arkansas shooting a few years ago, after I made sure my son, a student at the time, was safe.
I’ll never forget covering one of the downtown Conway fires and the Detco chemical-plant explosion, which made national news. I later interviewed a young man who was severely burned in the explosion, and I sometimes wonder how life has been for him.
I’ve had my share of scoops through the years. I wrote a story about a man in Conway who was running for state representative, but I was given a tip that he had been arrested more than once for exposing himself to children. I could not confirm it with law enforcement. One night, I dreamed that I called him and asked, and he told me the truth.
The next morning, I went into the newsroom early and called him. I asked him if he’d ever been arrested, and he said, “Yes.” When I asked him what the charge was, he said, “I’d rather not say.” I told him what I’d heard, and he quietly answered, “Yes.”
I took no pleasure in reporting it, and he withdrew from the race. My goal has always been to be fair and accurate, and I’ve tried to go the extra mile to do that. I’m not perfect, but I try to be.
I’ve done lighthearted stories, like the Bigfoot sightings in Jonesboro many years ago. My brother and his friend went to the area where Bigfoot had allegedly been seen, and they found a piece of fake fur. Somebody had been playing the prank, but I don’t think we ever found out who it was.
You never know what people are going to say or do. A 90-year-old demonstrated how limber he was by taking off his shoe and bringing his foot to touch his nose as he sat in a chair in a room in the retirement community where he lived.
I’ve highlighted students who have made perfect scores on the ACT, and I’ve interviewed Santas, superintendents, breast-cancer survivors and politicians galore.
I’m proud of the awards I have won through the years, including those from the Society of Professional Journalists and sweepstakes awards from Arkansas Press Women and the National Federation of Press Women. I’m proud of the instant citation from the Associated Press I received for work I did on a story about a kidnapping in Conway.
But it’s people like the couple who run a food bank in Russellville who said my story inspired a Fortune 500 company to give money toward the new building that mean the most.
“It was an answer to prayers,” the wife said.
Although I worked from home for a few years while raising my younger son, I continued to freelance for newspapers and magazines.
I’ve written a weekly column since just after we moved to Conway, when our 30-year-old son was about 1 1/2. I’ve documented many of life’s moments and family milestones in this column, like giving birth in the car to my younger son, Scott, on the Fourth of July, and “forgetting” our older son at camp — twice. (In my defense, we remembered he was there; we just got confused on the pickup date.)
My best role now is as Mimi to my amazing 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy.
Work used to be my life, but lately, it seems to get in the way of living to the fullest. This is a stressful way to live, always on deadline and trying to track down people and details.
As I told my boss in my resignation letter, I will always write and ask questions, because being a journalist was never just a job; it’s who I am.
Thank you for reading and going on this journey with me.