A couple of months ago, a pleasant high school girl came to visit me. She and her classmates had each been assigned to interview and write about a “local person of influence.” I’m guessing that she drew the short straw. She got my name.
As we sat in my study, the first question was from me to her: “When you say influence, to you mean for the good or the bad?” Confused, she blushed prettily and said, of course, for the good. This narrowed the topic usefully and got me wondering seriously about what use I’ve been around here in about 30 year’s residence, first in dear Fly Creek and now in Cooperstown.
Further, beyond the young lady’s assignment, I had another good reason for my examining my conscience on this score. Next month, my odometer kicks over to 80. That’s a sound, round time for taking score of one’s life. And so:
My first and perhaps most important contribution to local life is what I’m doing right not: fiddling away at a keyboard, albeit these days with shaky hands, writing still another message to you — all you fellow humans who read my columns.
Back in first days of “From Fly Creek,” I’d go each Thursday morning to the Fly Creek General Store to get a genial critique of what had just been published. Of course that wonderful crowd of coffee hangers-on would always begin by some chop-busting.
“Just what the hell were you trying to say this morning?” But then would come a reaction precious to me, one that often presented my next topic or two.
“You know, you reminded me of something that happened right in this store, maybe 30 years ago. On a really hot day, a rotten pumpkin on the top of a display pyramid of them, literally exploded. It was up high, just a foot below a ceiling fan. The fan flung rotten pumpkin flesh all over the place — and all over a lot customers!”
Now, where do you get memories like that except from geezers gathered over coffee? They’ve provided one source over the years for endless columns.
How many columns? Well, for a couple of decades they ran every week, each just about a 1,000 words, or 5,200 words a year. In those 20 years, that’s a million and 40,000 words that I’ve poured into the community reservoir. And. of course, maybe a million more since.
My neighbor Ralph Snell, loves to sit on his porch or mine, tinkering with words or numbers, a delight to us both. When I mentioned this word tally to Ralph, he immediately began tapping away on his calculator, figuring how long a line those words would make, stretched out end to end. A useless fact, really; but I was as curious as Ralph.
I forget just now how many miles that turned out to be, but Ralph’s next calculation was where, around the globe’s circumference, that word line could stretch and still have the ends meet. It turned out to be at the latitude of Keflavik, Iceland.
Oh. Anne and I once spent some nighttime hours in the Keflavik airport, waiting to be flown on to London. Outside plate glass windows we could see acres of ice. But inside, perhaps demonstrating gruff Icelandic humor, walls were covered with mural of tropical plants and flowers.
I understand that the airport since been torn down, murals and all, and replaced. I guess too few enjoyed the joke.
But never mind that! The important thing to end with here is that the vehicle for almost all those millions of words has been The Cooperstown Crier. From Bill Gates, its first editor, to Greg Klein, his present fine successor, the Crier has kept faith with its goals of telling the community about itself and giving the community a voice of its own.
And so I told the bright young high school girl that if I’ve been a local influence (for the good!), it’s been through sharing in the Crier’s mission.
That mission is weaving people into a community.