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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Led me home

by Mike Masterson | August 31, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

Editor's note: The original version of this column appeared in April.

During a coast-to-coast career in cities ranging from San Diego to Phoenix, Chicago, Ohio and New Jersey, I often pined for the charms of my native Arkansas.

The palm trees and pine barrens held their own appeal, but they weren't nestled deep within my spirit like the towering hardwoods back home. At times I even longed to return as a tree hugger, or to face the summer sky spread-eagled in an icy spring-fed creek.

I share this because, in the acknowledged mysteries of GodNods that affect our lives, the beyond-unlikely opportunity to return ranks high on my list of such inexplicable events.

In 1994 after completing the prescribed five-year term as the Kiplinger professor of public affairs reporting at the Ohio State, I returned to daily journalism as the investigative editor at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.

Having been in classrooms for five years, I felt fortunate for the chance to step back into the position I'd held at the Arizona Republic immediately before assuming OSU's endowed Kiplinger Chair.

I should have had an inkling what life in "Joisy" would be like when the executive editor asked me during our interview if I "had a problem with moving there." It didn't take long to understand why he'd asked. The rudeness factor was baked into the attitude.

Driving the Garden State Parkway to Asbury Park each weekday meant throwing cash out the window at toll booths every few miles. If I drove 10 miles over the speed limit, there was plenty of honking, lights flashing, and love-sign-flipping motorists zipping around me.

While we lived just 10 minutes from the nearest beach, a weekend trip took more than an hour each way in mind-numbing, stop-and-go traffic.

After a year in this unfamiliar and often hostile environment, I found myself again longing to return to the hills of my home state.

I badly wanted to again hug a tree, appreciate the verdant Ozarks and land another 17-inch brown bass in Crooked Creek.

So one night I offered a simple yet emotional prayer that went something like this: "Dear Lord, I'd like to go home to northwest Arkansas and hopefully make a difference doing what I do there rather than here. If that's your will and you open that door, I'd be eternally grateful."

I hoped my prayer was heard. Yet I also remembered what "they" say about unanswered prayers. All I could do was ask.

At that time, the journalism industry relied on the weekly Editor and Publisher magazine that covered national media happenings and offered classified advertisements.

When the latest issue arrived five days after my prayer, I flipped to the listings for job openings. My eyes widened when I saw an Arkansas daily paper was seeking an executive editor with experience. My earlier stints in that role at both Newport and Hot Springs fit the bill.

So off went the resume on a wing (stamped with that prayer) to the publisher of the Courier in Russellville.

Several days later the phone rang. The next thing I knew I was on a plane back to Arkansas for an interview with the Courier publisher. A day later I was offered the job and began making plans to see my prayer astonishingly coming true.

Things were to become even more interesting. George Smith, a career acquaintance and colleague who was managing the Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville, happened to contact me for another matter. I told him of the Russellville offer.

He said he wished he'd known I'd been looking and asked if I'd still consider coming to Fayetteville for an interview before reaching a final decision. So I found myself back on a plane headed for Fayetteville to be offered the executive editor's job there.

So, after the fervent appeal to be saved from all the East Coast ugliness and turmoil, my prayer to come home had been answered within days and with choices to boot.

On the return flight from Fayetteville I remember marveling that two positions had opened within days of my prayer. Why hadn't these jobs come available a month earlier, or six months later?

I wound up moving to Fayetteville in 1995 and stayed five years before becoming an opinion columnist for the Democrat-Gazette in 2001.

In the ensuing decades, I've landed untold scores of bass and trout in the creeks and rivers, enjoyed lifelong friends dating back to junior high, and returned to my hometown of Harrison, population 13,000, where simplicity of life and neighbors caring for others is a way of life.

Sure, there are the naysayers who believe this prayerful scenario that led me home was coincidence. That's their prerogative. I'll not "cancel" them simply because we disagree (a natural part of adult human co-existence.)

Instead, I regularly find myself frequently smiling while standing waist-deep in Crooked Creek as a red hawk screeches overhead, or enjoying the magnificent Buffalo, striking a golf ball with friends and yes, occasionally hugging a hardwood in secret.

Have your own our own GodNod experience to share, as many of us do, please email it to me.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Print Headline: Led me home

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