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Archive for June, 2017

People who ask me where I grew up sometimes then ask, after hearing my long answer, whether I’m an Army brat.

Those people may not be aware of where military bases are, or maybe they can’t think of any other reason for someone to have such a nomadic history.

I was born in Columbus, Ohio; when I was 2 my family moved to Blacksburg, Virginia; when I was 5 we moved to Greensboro, North Carolina; when I was 9, after my parents divorced, we moved to Durham; when I was 11 we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. For college I moved back to North Carolina. After college my jobs took me to Lenoir, then to Wilmington, to Florida, back to North Carolina in North Wilkesboro, to Winston-Salem, to Virginia and back to Lenoir again.

I’m not rudderless, but my rudder shudders.

So the past four a half years here in Lenoir, the same place where my first job was, from mid-1987 to early 1988, has been a bit of a revelation to me. For the first time in my life, I am learning what it’s like to have a personally experienced sense of history in a single place. It’s much different than the sense that comes from just visiting a place where I used to live. When I visit, I don’t feel a part of that place, I feel apart from it, like I stepped into the frame of someone else’s photo.

So on Thursday after work, as the News-Topic newsroom staff lined up in downtown Lenoir for a group photo on the next-to-last day at work for one of our reporters – Briana Adhikusuma, who is getting married in two weeks and moving to southeastern Virginia – I felt pangs of memory. I looked back at a similar photo from nearly 30 years earlier, and I found myself thinking about the lives of not just the people in the photo but people here in Caldwell County who grew up here and every day are confronted with reminders of their past, what has changed and how they fit into it.

In the 1987 photo, seven members of the News-Topic’s newsroom staff stand atop a stone wall in downtown Blowing Rock in front of what used to be Tijuana Fats, where we sometimes went on Fridays after work. I’m on the far right, the most junior reporter on the staff, just a few months out of college. Second from the far left is the editor, Lee Barnes. I have long hair, combed to the side but hanging down over my forehead. It’s a black-and-white photo – our press couldn’t print color, so the staff photographer shot only black-and-white film – but if it were in color my beard would be rust-colored. I’m skinny.

In the 2017 color photo, we stand near the square in downtown Lenoir. I’m on the far left, now the editor of the same newspaper where I started. Everyone else in the photo is at least 25 years younger than I am. My hair isn’t as long (I need a haircut), it’s graying, and it’s swept back from my forehead. My beard is gray.

Looking at the two photos together, I feel the presence of the many dozens of people who have passed through this newsroom during the intervening 30 years, though I never met most of them.

I think about where the people in the 1987 photo have gone – Lee to Florida; the sports editor to far western North Carolina; the city reporter to the Charlotte area; the city editor to South Carolina; the lifestyle editor to New York; the photographer, who took that photo but wasn’t in it, also to New York. The education reporter died a few years ago. Most have changed careers.

I think about where the people in the 2017 photo might be in a few years. One just left and drives off Saturday with her fiancé, and I already miss her.

Reflecting on it too long, as I write this column about it, I feel a creeping sense of mortality that blends with the permanence of this place, like standing waist-deep in the ocean as the rushing current pulls at you. It takes effort to hold your place, and though where you are is the same as when you got there, everything about it is moving, swirling, shifting, even the grains of sand under your heels.

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