As a weekly newspaper publisher, I clung to one mantra: keep it painfully local. A Minnesota Newspaper Association convention presenter offered that survival option. To understand it, you have to understand rural and very small.
Clinging to “painfully local” graced me with long horizon lines shimmering with northern lights as I shared obituaries, received first as letters and later e-mails, with readers. I held my breath as words downloaded, wondering whom we’d lost. Tears were shed on my keyboard.
I was challenged in 2013 to share the most difficult obituary of all – that of my mother Lois Wittman Matson. My parents published the newspaper before me, purchasing it in 1944 after returning home following the war.
She worked there ceaselessly until 2004 when macular degeneration forced retirement. I often teased her that I was the only newspaper with a blind proofreader. I often asked her about her own obituary. “It’s in the shop desk, right side, second drawer down,” she always replied.
That obituary was like my mother – practical, minimal, modest. It didn’t report that she was once the executive secretary to Munsingwear vice-president Clarence “Uncle Fogey” Tolg in Minneapolis or that she wrote a guest column for Cedric Adams in the Minneapolis Star in the ‘50s that drew some hundred fan letters. It didn’t report that she knew how to operate a Linotype and a Kluge press and keep readers entertained with her Pen ‘n’ Ink column. It didn’t report that once her sight faded and her local newswoman days wound down, the wind in her sails diminished, too. It didn’t even hint at the fact that she accepted it all with grace and peace and love.
Oh but what lovely light I now see each and every night in the prairie skies of southern Minnesota.