When we moved to Johnson County over seven years ago, my husband and I didnt know a soul. Like many who call this beautiful county home, I had lived in the same county my entire life, but in the hectic suburbs of Washington, DC. I was at a loss in those early days and would often head back up Route 81 for more familiar stomping grounds. It wasnt until I began to write for The Tomahawk and immerse myself in the community that I began to have a sense that I was indeed home.
My travels around the county for the paper took me to chicken auctions, government meetings and interviews with some amazing people. I investigated sinkholes, covered parades and benefit events. I know there are folks out there who remember me looking at them as if they were nuts when they talked about feeder calves. To be honest, I am still not quite sure what they are. They laughed with me when I looked at them with a puzzled expression when I couldnt understand why someone would paint their horse, that bees lived in hives and not in honey pots and that there are no such thing as hale bays (hay bales).
When you cover meetings, the goal is just to get the facts. Its objective reporting. However, writing a feature piece on someone, getting to know them and get inside their heart and head is what I love best about working for the newspaper. There are people I have met over the years who have made an imprint on my heart, those who so willingly told me their story and trusted me to deliver their message for them. It is difficult to try and listen to someone bare their soul without becoming emotional. For those of you I have interviewed, you have seen me cry right along with you, even if I have just met you for the first time.
It didnt take long once I began writing for the paper that I realized that the people I met accepted me for who I was, and even more important, they trusted me. My phone at home would ring with updates on various situations, calls from another state from a man who realized his father and mine served together from an article I wrote, and even an early morning inquiry as the caller wanted to find out what I was wearing to a community meeting. I began to realize I truly was home, that these were my people, regardless of where I had been born and raised.
The other day I received a message that a man I had interviewed off and on for a long time passed away. We had many conversations where he told me his fears and his worries during a particularly difficult time in the life of his family and his community. He would often call, just to catch up and fill me in on what was happening in his corner of the world. He always spoke about his family and it was evident what an important role they played in his life.
Several months ago, he called me one evening at home and told me that he didnt have long to live. I had hoped that his diagnosis was wrong. It was then my heart broke when he told me he had always considered me a friend and that he would be honored if I came to his memorial service. As we both fought back tears, I tried to convince him and myself that the doctor could be wrong and he needed to continue to fight.
This Saturday, I will be at the memorial service for my friend, Tony Barry. Although I knew him just a few years, his memory will always remain with me. His caring and concern for his wife, children, friends and neighbors in his beloved Shady Valley community never ceased.
Rest well, my friend.