Until I started working at my current job, the only recognition in plaque or certificate form I’d ever received for my writing consisted of two things: a homemade sheet of card stock on which the Relay for Life rep in the county where I was editor wrote that I was awesome at covering the event, and a really nice plaque from the mayor of the city council I covered in the small town. It says how I did a great job covering the city and they wished me luck in the future. The mayor’s name is at the bottom. That is only important for me to tell you because you should know his name. His name – well, nickname, but it’s the name he goes by in the phone book, at the church where he’s pastor and FOR CITY BUSINESS – is Milkweed. Only in Kentucky, kids. I should note though, that he’s also the kindest and friendliest politician/city/county official I’ve ever met as a reporter.
Last year, when time came to turn in our entries to be judged for state press association awards, I didn’t think I’d win a thing. I had submitted stuff both years from the other paper and never won. But then again, I’d also had no other eyes on my writing except a 60-year-old proofreader’s and no big drama/really great stuff to write about. When I got to my current job, suddenly I had someone to not only run my stories by, but to give me FEEDBACK? I’d almost started believing that word only meant that sound when you get the microphone really close to the amp and it makes that horrible noise – like on that SNL skit where Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer are like, “Hot mic, that’s a hot mic.” So yeah, someone was finally reading my stories and telling me what was good and what was bad. I started getting what I hadn’t gotten at the first paper, a chance to learn how to get better. And I did get better.
When the letter came back that said “Here’s who won stuff at your paper:” I was sad to not see my name listed. I thought I’d done some good work and I’d definitely entered tons of stuff. Then, a couple weeks later, I cheered up – a box of entries had gotten lost in the mail and just turned up. Among them, the Best General News Story category. Who had won first place in that category? YOURS TRULY. First place means a plaque and imagine my excitement when I opened that up after the banquet to see my name – well some form of it, my last name was spelled wrong – on an award for writing. Finally!
And that was just the beginning. In the past year, I’ve also won awards for feature writing, column writing and photography. Yes, photography. The girl who got a B or lower on every single photo assignment in Basic Photo in college can apparently take pretty great pictures sometimes. But you knew that, right? I’ve told you already here and here and here and here.
Our state press association awards banquet was last week. They tell you you’ve won, but they don’t tell you what. It’s a complete surprise, especially when you find out what it is and you try to rack your brain and remember which of the 50 entries you submitted was in that category. I won third place in our class – we’re grouped based on circulation numbers – for page design on our lifestyles pages and won third place for Best Feature Photo, which you all have seen before and is probably my favorite picture I’ve ever taken for a newspaper.
I won second place for column writing, getting me that much closer to someday being a famous columnist like Carrie Bradshaw only not writing about sex and with nowhere near the fashion sense – so basically nothing like Carrie Bradshaw at all. For the contest you send three columns to be judged together, and I’m proudest of the three that won, which is why I sent them together. One you’ve read before, about how I’m not a runner. Another is about how I’m apparently older than Santa, because when I interviewed kids last year for our newspaper’s Santa letters one of them said Santa was only 23 years old. I was 24 at the time.
Apparently I’m a year older than Santa
At least, that’s what a 5-year-old implied when during an interview, I asked how old a group of kindergartners thought Santa was. One little boy said 23. Who knew? I sure didn’t. But I have to say, even though I’m older than Santa, I feel pretty good for my age.
Besides Santa’s age, I asked Oldham County kindergartners what Santa could name another reindeer – should he need to get a new one – and how he deals with getting into homes that don’t have a chimney. It’s a feature included with our letters to Santa in this week’s issue.
Before I began working for The Oldham Era, I was an editor at another LCNI paper in northern Kentucky, The News-Herald in Owenton. Not long before Thanksgiving one year, I got an idea: we should interview some kids. With all the news that fills our pages and even the features, you hear more from adults than kids. But what would I talk to them about?
Then I figured it out: ask them something adults would know, but see what they think. Thus, the kids’ photo poll was born. I went to the local elementary school and talked to a few kids from each kindergarten class, asking them all the same question: “How do you cook a turkey for Thanksgiving?” and boy, did they tell me.
They told me cooking times from 10 minutes to 60 hours, adding that, of course, you have to pull the feathers out before you cook it and if you just add some ketchup or some juice, it will turn out beautifully. Accompanying those recipes were pictures of the kids with their best five-year-old smile, missing teeth and all.
The next week, the pictures and answers ran on our front page and we got such a good reception, we did it for a few more holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Easter. So when we were talking about planning for our letters to Santa at The Oldham Era a few weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to interview some local kindergartners about Santa, because if anyone knows the important stuff about Santa, it’s 5- and 6-year-olds.
This is why last Thursday, I spent the day driving through the county to interview and photograph some very smart kids about everything Santa-related. I heard a lot of Christmas lists and know Santa can expect some delicious treats – lots of chocolate chip cookies will be left for the big guy – on Christmas Eve. I found out how Santa makes it to every house in one night and the best ways to make sure you stay on the good list. And if you’re looking to get Santa a present this year, apparently all he needs is $8,000.
I saw silly smiles and some who tried to stay serious for the camera. One kindergartner even helped me write my name in my notebook. Some were shy and every single one of them spelled their first and last names out for me to make sure I got them right when their pictures ran in the paper.
For a reporter who spends much of her time at meetings and writing news stories, it was nice to get to do something completely different. All day Thursday, my job consisted of talking to kids about Christmas and taking their pictures. It was so much fun and I appreciate the schools letting me disrupt the day for a few minutes to get to talk to these kids. The students were all so excited to get to tell me what they knew about Santa – what they’d heard or read in one of their books. And they know their stuff. I mean, do you know what Santa does the rest of the year? I didn’t. I hear he’s a busy man.
I couldn’t do what he does, but then again, he’s younger than me.
The final column in the group is one I wanted to write – I think I express myself a million and five times better through writing, um, duh, why do you think I started this thing – for a while after my grandpa passed away in the summer of 2008, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it until about three months after he’d passed. I’m proud of it and it sums up exactly what I was feeling at the time and still feel some days when I think about him.
It’s been three months, to the day.
On July 16, my grandfather passed away. He’s the first grandparent I’ve lost, and that day and the ones that followed are the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to deal with.
I come from a large extended family. My mom’s the youngest of six, and my dad’s the oldest of seven. It was his father who died.
Family has always been important to me, but it’s become more important since my grandfather’s death. In the first few days following his death, we were all together. Whether it was at my grandmother’s house, going through pictures and sharing stories or just being together, it helped. There was a lot of hugging, a lot of crying and lots of stories.
I heard things about Grandpa I’d never heard before during those days, and I still hear some on occasion. Before he passed away I never knew he’d spent time in the Navy, or that he’d driven a school bus when he was a high school senior. The story goes that the farthest family on the school route had to drive the bus, so when he was a senior he had to pick all the kids up on his way to school and drop them all off on his way home, and keep the bus at his house.
We heard stories we already knew, too, like the one he told all of us – his kids and his grandkids – when we were little. About how he’d fought a groundhog for hours and hours one day, and when Grandpa kissed the groundhog’s tooth, the fight was over. He’d kissed the groundhog’s sweet tooth, he’d say, and it killed the groundhog, because Grandpa was so sweet.
Recently, my family spent some time together for really the first time since the funeral. It was out on land in Taylorsville that Grandpa had bought for each of his kids to have. Now, part is owned by one of my aunts and another by one of my uncles. Some of my family camped out there on Saturday night, and the rest of us went out there on Sunday. My uncle was making burgoo – one of Grandpa’s favorites, using some mutton Grandpa had ordered but never gotten to eat. When it came time to eat, my uncle, Chuck, got the first bowl.
“This is Dad’s,” he said.
Grandpa played the harmonica, more so when I was younger. In search of pictures to display during the visitation, we found pictures of me – I had to be younger than three or four in each of them – watching as he played the harmonica. The pictures are in my living room, right by the picture that ran with his obituary, a picture taken at his church in one of his favorite shirts. He’s smiling his crooked smile, one that my younger sister has inherited.
Not too long before Grandpa died, my dad and I went to visit him in the hospital. He was having trouble breathing and doctors had told him he would need heart surgery.
He had been in an out of the hospital several times in the past year. He was tired. He was tired of not being at home, not feeling better. He told me during one of my last visits to see him in the hospital that he wanted to stay out of that place until he was at least 81. When my dad saw him after the open-heart surgery that we thought would make him better, Grandpa told him to tell me he’d make it to 81.
I don’t think I will ever forget that night, or the days that followed. It’s been hard for me to deal with at times, there’s still a song I’ve heard at church a few times since that I don’t want to sing, because it was played at his funeral.
I know he’s in a better place. I know he’s happy, and he’s not in pain anymore. He’s watching over us.
But it is still hard. And I don’t know when it won’t be. It’s hard to go to their house and see the brown recliner where he always sat.
It will be hard to go through our big family Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and not have him there to say grace.
It will be hard to sing “Twelve Days of Christmas,” our new family tradition at our Christmas party. He and my cousin Aaron were “10 Lords A’ Leaping.”
I wasn’t sure if I could write about him and what happened, and I’ve had a column opportunity since. But I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t easy to write this, but I felt like I needed to.
I miss my Grandpa. I think about him every day. It’s still hard to think that he’s gone, and I don’t think visiting the cemetery will ever get easier, at least that’s how it feels now. I have good memories of him – he always liked to hear from us, what we were doing, how things were going. The last time I saw him, in fact, he asked about how my job at the paper was going and read some of the most recent issue I’d brought for him.
This weekend is what would have been his and my grandma’s 50th anniversary. They’d rented the clubhouse where they live and planned to have everyone get together.
We’re still going over there on Sunday to be together. We’ll toast to their 50 years and know that even though it won’t be the same, he’s still there with us and he always will be.
So anyways. I wanted to share this stuff with you all because you’re my friends and you’ve supported me and the feedback I get from you all about this blog and my writing in general means more to me than you know. I second-guess myself A LOT and wonder if I’m any good at this whole writing thing sometimes, but I’m starting to think I’m alright at it.
I don’t go around telling people I’m awesome and that you should read the stuff I write – with the exception of when I post these links on Facebook, but that’s just to let you know new stuff’s up – but in this case, I will, because I’m pretty dang proud of myself. I’m awesome.