I have been in the newspaper business my entire life.
I began working at the Iowa Park Leader when I was around six years old – apparently the age of viability in my family – with my brother and sisters, helping our parents hand-stuff grocery store inserts into the paper on Wednesday nights.
I helped out like that for around 12 years, with my pay being a place to live and my Mom’s good cooking.
My parents started this newspaper in 1969, boldly moving the entire family – which included five kids aged four to 12, and two dogs – from the Texas Panhandle to Iowa Park to start the Iowa Park Leader. I was the four year old.
Child labor laws notwithstanding, it would be a full 15 years before I began receiving a paycheck for my work at the Leader. Which means, this week is my 30-year anniversary at the newspaper my parents began.
And, this month is the Iowa Park Leader’s 45th anniversary in Iowa Park.
I was hired as a college student in 1984 to write what we in the business call “canned copy.” I also took out trash and did anything else they asked me to do.
As my writing chops improved, I began writing real news stories and feature stories. After several years I shifted to the advertising department, and began writing this column. I’ve also been a photographer, accounts receivable clerk, circulation manager and occasional whipping girl.
My resume is dysfunctional, yet functional.
I have a lot of memories growing up in the midst of paper and ink.
Sometimes in the newspaper business, the rewards for your work are karmic and deeply personal. It has never been a secret that a journalist might starve to death before she gets to her 100,000th word. In that way, it’s a passion and a calling. And any journalist who tells you otherwise probably works as an anchor on the Today Show, and as such, cannot be trusted.
With that in mind, I’m sharing some of my favorite memories from the past 30 years.
• Hearing my Dad pound away on a manual Underwood typewriter, striking the keys faster than a hard rain could just so his fingers could keep up with the story he was simultaneously writing in his mind.
• Going to the printing plant every year to watch the Christmas issue roll off the presses and taking in a big breath of ink and press lubricant. I knew early on that ink really, really was in my veins. I still love that smell, and would love a candle called “Newsprint,” if any of my really crafty readers happen to also make candles.
• My Mom and Leader Publisher Dolores Hamilton gave me perhaps some of the best advice of my life in my first year here: “Don’t ever learn to do something in this place you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.”
That actually applies to most things in life, not just at work, and I think about it all the time. Because, really, it could mean a bad habit; doing laundry; or telling somebody that you thought an Andy Griffith Show episode was pretty good one time. But it also applies to every single job I’ve had here.
• On pressdays when the entire office would stop working for 3 1/2 minutes to sing Jerry’s Jeff Walker’s “You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’” every time it came on radio. “I was drunk the day my mom got outta prison.” Good times.
• Early in my career a teacher came into our office one August morning just after the school supply lists came out in the paper. This teacher was very upset that we did not use the word “Prang” in front of the word “watercolors” on her class’s list. Dad explained to her that it was against the law for schools to specify name brands on products, and in fact, if they require a specific brand the school district is required by law to supply it. This did not satisfy the teacher, who in between blowing snot and high pitched screaming requested to see a copy of this law. My Dad, a mostly reasonable man who already would have knocked any one of his own five children into tomorrow for behaving this way, said simply this: “Lady, I know murder is illegal, and I don’t have a copy of that law in my office either.”
• Getting to meet Texas governors, US Presidents and First Ladies. I’ve also met numerous other politicians. Several of whom made my skin crawl, but a handful of them (Kinky Friedman being one of them) restored my faith in humanity, if only for a short while.
• This job has afforded me numerous opportunities to raise money for some of the worthiest causes, including the Iowa Park Food Pantry, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the IPHS Scholarship Fund and Friendly Door, to name just a few.
• Very selfish highlight: Our newspaper winning first place in the nation with an ad my brother, Kevin, and I collaborated on that was very divisive when we ran it, but was actually brilliant. I still stand behind that ad.
• To my knowledge, the Iowa Park Leader was the first weekly newspaper in the state of Texas to go to desktop publishing. With that said, we were probably also the last to get a fax machine, internet and to accept credit cards – which we now do!
We also have a Facebook page and I’m about to force Kevin to get a Twitter account (who’s with me?!?!)
There are more good memories than room to share them, which is a good thing.
Many, many thanks to my advertising clients – both past and present – and you who read what I write each week. You make doing what I do worth the ride.
And to my co-workers Dolores (also known as Mamala), Kevin and Sherrie, thank you for your love of the craft and also for ignoring me when I’m behaving in a (what you call) weird way.
I don’t know that I have another 30 years of the newspaper business in me, but I’ll probably see you next week.