Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pieces from the past

After 21 years at work on the newspapers I'd helped found and finally totally owned, a big, bad recession hit and poof! it was all gone, sold for just enough to pay the bills.

I moved on. Working in education took my mind off those wonderful years at the paper. Well almost, and I only occasionally pined for what I had lost.

When I left "my office" for the last time in 1995, the only vestiges of my long career there were about 25 boxes of back issues... one of each publication for each week they came out. As soon as each edition was safely on its way to the post office or the stores where they were available, either I or one of the office staff would count out five copies, add a sheet of paper with the date and put them into a cardboard file box. When the box threatened to burst at the seams, I would cull out the copies, leaving one per edition, until even then not one more issue would fit. It took 21 years to fill those boxes, which were piled high in a back room of the office building.

The new owners agreed to retain custody of the boxes since I had nowhere to store them. I put them out of my mind as I ran away as fast as I could from the painful knowledge I'd poured 21 years of my life into those newspapers and didn't have the business acumen to keep them alive. As far as I knew, the boxes were being safeguarded for posterity and I left it at that... until last week.

A faithful reader and friend, now heading up the Winslow Township Historical Society, sent an e-mail inquiring after the back issues of what he thought would be a great archive of local history. I contacted one of the buyers of my paper, who put me in touch with one of the buyers of the buyers of his company, who would have known where the boxes had been stored. It took about four hours yesterday to get the phone call. He was sorry, the stranger said, but about a year and a half ago, the boxes had been removed from storage and recycled. Every last one.

At first, I accepted the news almost calmly. After all, it had been 14 years since I walked out of the office for the last time... out the front door, not the back where I would have seen my work stacked high in the back room. But in just a few minutes, the impact of knowing the concrete evidence of all that work had been destroyed without so much as a call to inquire about its possible importance made me want to cry. Indeed, the tears lurked near the surface, threatening, for most of the day.

I didn't sleep well last night thinking of all those back issues. Finally, my psyche came to my rescue, as it usually does. I imagined someone opening the storage facility and finding 25 sagging, moldy boxes of yellowed, crumbling newsprint. Not wanting to pay for continued storage of the useless collection, they did the correct thing and summoned a recycling truck to haul it all away.

Even that rationalization hasn't helped a lot. It was my own lack of good stewardship toward all those newspapers that brought about this final result. Now there remain only a handful of important back issues... the very first and the very last... to remind me of the joy of publishing those newspapers every week.

One less tie to the glory days.