I’ve been gone from this town of under 3,000 for almost forty years, but one thing I took with me when I left for college, and have had ever since, is my hometown weekly, eight (sometimes twelve) page newspaper, The Florala News.
I rarely know anyone featured in the paper anymore, unless it’s an obituary. In the newspaper that arrived yesterday, I saw my fourth grade teacher had passed away recently. RIP Mrs. Evans.
The newspaper is family owned and (at least) the third generation is now running it. The current publisher is a year older than me and produces not only this paper but a sister paper in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. He had three younger sisters, two the same ages as my sister and me. Being friends with the children of the local newspaper owner’s children was problematic from time to time.
Their mother wrote a column featured on the front page. Called “Just Ramblin,’” it was much like a personal or human interest blog today. Naturally, many of her stories centered upon her children (and their friends). If something was done or said that she thought was amusing, she might write about it, but other parents might not have been aware of the event … well, you can see the issue. There was the same problem with school. Students weren’t supposed to leave campus during lunch, but if a carload went home with her daughters during lunch and something happened like, I don’t know, the plumbing got backed up, and she reported it in her column, there had to be official punishment, even if the principal, their next-door neighbor, had been the one to remedy the problem in the first place, but had let it slide until the newspaper came out.
I remember once, at an “away” football game, the band marched in a monsoon. When we left the field my tiny majorette outfit was soaked and I was having chills. It just so happened, this columnist’s sister lived nearby, so she, her sister, and my mom took me to her sister’s nice, warm house, got me out of my uniform and wrapped my in blankets. It was reported (and probably true, I don’t remember) I wanted to put the wet uniform back on to return to the stadium to cheer my team on to defeat. I can’t imagine why.
For a couple of decades, she stopped writing her column, but several months ago began it again with the name Ramblin’ Rose. Positioned right there on the front page, it’s the first thing I read so I can learn how many tomatoes they’re planting, if any of their children (and now grand and great-grandchildren) have visited, or if she and her husband have fed any stray ducks (or dogs or cats) that week. Though sometimes reported elsewhere in the paper, you can count on her to let you know who has grown the biggest turnip or has an exceptional crop and she’ll relay who she’s seen or what she’s done in the prior week. Several times, I’ve thought about dropping her a note to tell her how happy I am she started her column again, but I’m afraid she’d put it in the paper as a letter to the editor. Similar note have ended up there or either been quoted in her column.
She doesn’t do include these things to be petty or gossipy as it might seem if others did it. When she reports things, no matter how minute, she somehow makes them seem like news. I can remember on the day the paper hit the streets hearing, “Wonder what ‘her first name’ has to say this week.” She is adored by the community.
The funny thing about small-town papers–they are mesmerizing. Hubby’s been to Florala half-a-dozen times and met a handful of people. Yet there are weeks when he reads the paper cover to cover and will ask if I saw where ‘a frequent letter writer’ had written another letter to the editor… He knows some of the people in my hometown (by reputation) better than I do. What’s really amusing is his largest client, a trucking company, runs ads in the classified section of this small weekly. But my favorite has to be the notice about a weekly AA meeting that, until recently, not only told where and when it would be held but also told who would be the speaker. Anonymous??? Not so much.
I have few connections to the town I spent the formative years of my life. But once a week, I get a reminder of those roots. And you know what? Every childhood friend I keep up with, who has moved away, has a subscription to The Florala News.. I guess you can take it with you.