It’s a little odd, of course, us getting together on this festive day, especially if you are among the few thousand readers of this column with whom I have never had an actual conversation.
Nevertheless, I am so glad you chose to share a little of your day with me again.
As you know, tomorrow will be the first day of the year 2019.
And 2019 will feature the 50th anniversary of when this newspaper published my first story.
Have you been reading those stories for half a century? I know, kind of takes your breath away when I put it in those terms, doesn’t it?
But there is no arguing with the math. In August of 1969, 22-year-old me wrote a story about a big motorcycle race in Columbus and, for some reason, thought that everyone would be interested in it. I typed it up on a Sunday evening at my parents’ home in Wakeman, put the story in a manila envelope, drove to Norwalk and slipped it under the side door of the Reflector.
Eventually, of course, I learned that only perhaps one out of a thousand readers cared about that race (or, for that matter, any motorcycle race), but, hey, I had to start somewhere.
Jack Brown, the editor of this newspaper at the time, published it the next day. Not, I see now, because anybody really wanted to read it. Rather, he did it to set the hook in a kid he wanted to recruit as his Wakeman correspondent. I am sure it would not work on everyone, but seeing that story in print was heady stuff for me. My story. With a headline. In the newspaper. Yes! I liked the feeling.
My uncle, Jay Greulich, a former editor of the Reflector, had told me that local newspapers were hungry for stories from small town correspondents, and he helped me get started.
Use everyday words in short sentences, he told me. Put no more than two or three of those sentences in each paragraph. And submit pictures with a story whenever you can; they attract more readers, and the paper will pay more for a story with pictures.
So I bought a camera. And darkroom equipment. And hung around the Reflector darkroom until I learned how to develop film and enlarge photographs.
Little did I know, it would lead to me spending New Year’s Eve with you 49 years later.
I had fulltime employment elsewhere for most of the intervening years, of course. But when I was earning just over $100 per week as a teacher and had my summers free, the newspaper income was a welcome supplement.
And I earned it via the most grassroots method: I attended council meetings and school board meetings and township trustees meetings in smoky rooms; I covered high school sporting events in rain and cold and steamy gymnasiums; and I wrote feature stories — with pictures! — about everything from night-blooming houseplants to roller derby fund raisers.
As with many things we did nearly five decades ago, the memory of it all has a warm glow attached to it now.
But I really was getting paid peanuts for the correspondent stuff. So when I left teaching for a job that paid an actual living wage, I told the Reflector I was done.
Once again, perceptive old Jack Brown knew I was not going to go that easily—I had writing in my blood and he knew it.
He asked if perhaps there wasn’t something I would like to contribute on a regular or even irregular basis.
With very little hesitation I said (and you guessed it): how about a column.
He said yes. And 41 years later — more than 2000 Mondays ago—I am still writing it.
And you — I can hardly believe it! — you are still reading.
That’s how we ended up together this New Year’s Eve.
I can’t thank you enough for sticking with me all this time.
You’ve learned a lot about me over all the years.
So I am certain you will understand when I tell you I’ll be turning in about 10:30 tonight.
You can email me about how great the ball drop and fireworks were tomorrow. Or not.
Either way, have a happy new year!
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.