Peo­ple mat­ter

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Sports -

To be a mem­ber of the ed­i­to­rial team of a com­mu­nity news or­ga­ni­za­tion is to be aware that it’s not a nine-to-five job.

Whether you’re shop­ping for gro­ceries or tak­ing your kids for play­time in the park, you can never re­ally shut off or shut down.

Peo­ple will rec­og­nize you when you’re in the gro­cery store lineup, at the gas pump or wait­ing in the doc­tor’s of­fice, and will en­gage you in con­ver­sa­tions — of­fer­ing up story ideas, their opin­ions on lo­cal is­sues, or even throw­ing out a com­plaint about your work. I ac­tu­ally don’t mind it.

The best story ideas have of­ten come from those ca­sual con­ver­sa­tions. And there’s noth­ing bet­ter than an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion to help pass the time in a long lineup.

So it was that I was shop­ping in a lo­cal store one Satur­day af­ter­noon with my daugh­ter — who was seven years old at the time — when I no­ticed a man in the same aisle cast­ing strange glances my way.

On this par­tic­u­lar day, I was en­joy­ing a “girls’ day out” with my child and aim­ing to try not to be in­ter­rupted by too much work-re­lated chat­ter.

And this man was act­ing pe­cu­liar enough to give me a bad vibe.

I tried to ig­nore him and carry on with my shop­ping.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him walk­ing straight to­wards me.

He stopped, hes­i­tated, and then asked, “Are you Bar­bara Dean-Sim­mons?”

The tone of his voice gave no clue as to whether this was go­ing to be a cor­dial con­ver­sa­tion or a con­fronta­tion. And my young daugh­ter was just a few paces away. I hoped this would not be the lat­ter, to ruin our day.

“Yes,” I replied ten­ta­tively. His face still se­ri­ous, he replied, “I want to thank you so much for telling Mr. Chat­man’s story.”

I felt a tin­gle go down my spine.

I had trav­elled to Can­ning’s Cove a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier to spend some time with Se­cond World War vet­eran Tom Chat­man and to talk to him about that time of his life.

Mr. Chat­man was a quiet man. He shared with me pho­tos from his wartime years, but he was very soft spo­ken and it was ob­vi­ous there were mem­o­ries that even then, nearly 60 years on, were too ter­ri­ble for him to speak about.

He showed me pho­tos, but the snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion I got from him were just short sen­tences.

He grew emo­tional as he re­called how he and two other young men — Wil­liam Pitts and Maxwell Chat­man —walked out of Can­ning’s Cove on a Septem­ber day in 1939 to catch the train at Leth­bridge to head to St. John’s to en­list; and how when they walked back into Can­ning’s Cove af­ter the war ended, Pitts was not with them. Tears blurred his eyes. He kept shuf­fling through his pho­tos, telling me bits and pieces; names of sailors, the ships, dates.

I kept press­ing, gently, won­der­ing how I would be able to build a story on scant de­tails and mem­o­ries that ob­vi­ously bur­dened him.

“My chil­dren have asked me to tell them about it but I haven’t said any more … than what I am able to tell you today,” he said, his eyes clouded with sad­ness.

That he even agreed to my in­ter­view was, I re­al­ized later, a bless­ing.

I was hon­oured.

Thanks to Google I was able to piece to­gether in­for­ma­tion, link­ing ships, lo­ca­tions and dates of his pe­riod of ser­vice to try to add the de­tail he could not talk about.

As a writer, I was chal­lenged, but re­mem­ber­ing his face, the emo­tion that showed clearly in his eyes helped me write a story that was, I hoped, not just about facts and de­tails but how that ex­pe­ri­ence dwelled with him all these years later.

The story was fin­ished and a day later I was al­ready fo­cused on other as­sign­ments and sto­ries to meet the next dead­lines.

Un­til that man walked up to me in the store on Satur­day af­ter­noon and told me how glad he was that I had taken the time to tell Tom Chat­man’s story.

We had a short con­ver­sa­tion about sto­ry­telling; in par­tic­u­lar, how it’s im­por­tant to tell sto­ries so peo­ple don’t for­get the past.

He then thanked me again, told me to “keep do­ing what you’re do­ing” and walked away.

Once again, I was re­minded of the one thing that makes a story and val­i­dates the rea­son for telling it — peo­ple.

Many mo­ments stand out for me when I think back on the years I’ve been with The Packet — al­most 38 — and the 50 years’ worth of sto­ries in our ar­chives.

I have wit­nessed his­toric events, met and in­ter­viewed po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers, taught younger jour­nal­ists and learned from them as well, learned from col­leagues and men­tors, recorded the changes in our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, been on the re­ceiv­ing end of an­gry phone calls and come up against the road­block of si­lence in try­ing to un­cover the truth.

Yet, this past week, as I was re­flect­ing on my years with The Packet, that sin­gle mo­ment of a heart­felt thanks for telling that story stands out.

As long as The Packet re­mains fo­cused on lo­cal peo­ple and their com­mu­ni­ties, I am cer­tain we will re­main rel­e­vant to our com­mu­ni­ties and the peo­ple who live in them.

With that, I think it fit­ting we start the begin­ning of our next 50 years with the words “keep do­ing what you’re do­ing” firmly etched in our minds.

Bar­bara Dean-Sim­mons Re­gional Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor

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