The Newspaper Roundabout



The Newspaper Roundabout

By JIM ATWELL • Special to

Columnist Lidie Mackie passed the mantle to Jim Atwell in the 1990s.

I’m at a loss to find a good simile for my Cooperstown newspaper career. It’s been a bit like a ping-pong game, but played like a flow of molasses. OK, forget figures of speech:

Way back in the early ’90s, when I first moved north from Maryland, the redoubtable Lidie Mackie retired from her weekly Freeman’s Journal column about Fly Creek. She urged me to take on the job.

I had no hope of matching Lidie’s style. It was clear, factual, but sometimes carried a sly irony. For example: “Adolina Berger is just back from a week in Virginia, where her sister is losing ground to tuberculosis.” Then, in the very next sentence, “Addy has not been looking well herself.”

As I say, I could never match that well-honed subtlety! Of course people love to see their name in print, but I imagine they tried to keep on the right side of Lidie, too.

Anyway, I found myself writing for The Freeman’s Journal, a newspaper with a proud history that extended into the early 19th century.  But I wasn’t long in recognizing that it was now a paper in trouble.  Back then, the owner-editor back then was a man without principle or scruple, and he was driving The Journal into the ground. Which he did, and then fled the area, leaving behind dark clouds of unpaid bills and ill will.

But, thank goodness, The Freeman’s Journal soon came into ethical and professional hands and was restored to life. In the meantime, however, my journalistic career seemed over. (To use that ping- pong figure, I’d served low and over the net – only to have the ball burned back at me, past any chance of recovery.)

But no! Not the last breath! (Hard to kill a entity that’s been deepening its roots since 1808.)  The Freeman’s Journal arose, renewed itself, and carries on, even unto today.

Huzzah! And I’m delighted to be back with it, to visit with you every two weeks. And what are we going to talk about?

Well, if you’ve followed my columns at all across the last quarter-century, you know that mine’s a meandering mind. It finds interest and often delight in almost anything.  That’s surely not going to change, not at age 81.

My imagined perspective will be, not from Fly Creek, but from Anne’s and my front porch at 24 Delaware St. As I’ve told you, I love to sit out there, especially in in late afternoons, greeting school kids heading home and people out being walked by their dogs. The Journal’s editor is often among them (he lives just down the street), and so is our mayor, whose home is just around the corner.

And so is Tony Scalici, who’s served this village in so many ways, especially on the school board. Tony’s eyes are failing badly, but not his inner vision.  At my urging he’s shared with me some of his writing – and it’s splendid. Not only is he a vivid storyteller, but Tony has a rare gift: he intuits how sound and meaning can be fit together to rise, in his writing, to the truly poetic.

And he’s shared the work with me, mind you, right on my front porch! I hope he’ll let me quote some of it to you?

Well, as you see, as long as I have the porch as vantage point, I won’t lack things the pass on. Including, of course, year comments on the hundreds that pass the house on the way to Induction Ceremony. They’re mostly family groups, laughing and happy, hauling backpacks and coolers and folding chairs. Kids dance and chant, “Almost there? Almost there?”

And at our house, I can shout back, “You bet! Hang on!” (Well, they still have a bit more than half a mile, but why say that?)

The mood of that same crowd a few hours later is very different. They look battered, beaten as the Little Corporal’s troops retreating from Moscow. Kids are sullen, parents snappish, and very few are now hauling chairs.

What, wonders the old dude on the porch, happens to all those abandoned chairs?

Jim Atwell, Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

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