It’s another page of notes

Published 7:17 am Thursday, October 15, 2009

Truth be told, I envy working newspaper reporters.

They report life. They write the news. They tell stories.

It should be considered a privilege and enjoyed as a pleasure to chronicle events, record activities, develop a paper trail to history and to illuminate people and personalities for posterity.

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No matter how mundane, trivial, uncomfortable, unflattering or inconsequential it may seem at first glance, time will bring it all into focus and worth repeating.

A reporter has to learn to listen and strive to hear what is said with all due diligence to communicate today what will be remembered tomorrow. To pay attention to the nuggets could yield a golden opportunity for passing along footnotes of words remembered.

That’s why I paid attention when that old windbag Bob Stephenson called the other day.

Mr. Stephenson didn’t wait long to jerk me away from the quiet reverie borne of having nothing to do on an autumn afternoon and thoroughly enjoying it.

“There’s going to be a school board election next month, and I was wondering if anybody knows how much they get paid?” he asked. “And another thing I would like to know is this: Don’t you think the county commissioners are over paid?”

“When my grandfather Martin was a Mower County Commissioner, their main responsibility was taking care of roads. The five of them shared $850,” he said.

“Of course, that was 100 years ago, but a few years back, I went to a meeting in the basement of the court house where they were handing out some information about the cost of modern county government, and it was the size of a small telephone book. That got me to wondering how much county government has changed. Why does government cost so much today? Can you tell me that?” he asked finally pausing to take a breath.

By then old habits had returned to this retired newspaper reporter, and I scrambled for pen and paper to take notes.

It’s a fact that Stephenson, a retired businessman now 87 years old, has earned the windbag distinction. From first-hand knowledge he is unable to keep his own counsel; an affliction that strikes me infrequently.

However, I have never thought listening to him was not time well spent, so I told him, “Go on,” while jotting down more notes.

He next veered into family matters, Obama, Republican politics, the price of farm land, why so many PFC’s die in wars, his NW Austin neighborhood and back to local government before settling into a colorful account of Stephenson family history.

“Do you know who W.W. Cargill was?” he asked. Not waiting for my answer, he proceeded to weave a lengthy account of the founder of the giant company that bears the Cargill name and Cargill’s connections to Austin, Brownsdale, Sargeant and other Mower County communities. In between, he interjected his version of the Cream Can Bandits attempt to rob the Sargeant bank in the 30s.

When Stephenson stopped, I had filled another page with notes. I looked at the clock and more than 40 minutes had passed.

“If you ever want to write about any of this, let me know. I’ve got plenty to tell,” he said.

I’m not a newspaper reporter any more, and I don’t really know if there was any “news” in what Stephenson shared with me. I do know I listened to him and heard a lot.

It got me thinking and—if you are still holding this newspaper in your hands—it got you reading.