Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Picture This

Thirty years can pass, and a single image takes you back like it was yesterday.

In my first job out of college, I worked as a reporter and photographer for a twice-weekly county newspaper in rural Northwest Ohio, about thirty miles from my hometown. At the age of twenty-one, I didn’t much appreciate the small-town atmosphere: one bar (that closed shortly after I moved there), no movie theater, and a seemingly different mindset than my own.

I worked long hours and was often on call. I covered barn fires in the middle of the night, tedious county commissioner and school board meetings, and news that often didn’t seem like news at all.

My first apartment was on the second floor of an old downtown building, above a realty shop operated by my landlord. Located next to a busy railroad track, the building shook every time a train passed. The train horns and subsequent rumbling along the tracks were so loud that I had to pause all phone conversations and wait for the train to pass.

My rent was $125 a month, including utilities. It was a fortunate bargain, considering I made $9,000 a year.

For the first time in years, I revisited Wauseon, Ohio, last weekend. I had volunteered to register voters, and the offices in Wauseon and west Toledo were equal distances from my current suburban home. I decided the tiny office in Fulton County could probably use my help.

I drove in early, figuring I’d scope out the area. While stunned by the new restaurants and stores lining the main highway into the town, I found my memory easily led me toward downtown.

I had heard the building that housed my very first apartment had been lost in a fire. So as I turned onto Fulton Street, I hit my brakes when I spied a familiar building across from me. Apparently the connecting structure, as apparent by a now vacant lot, had burned down. But the remaining narrow brick building, with the windows of my apartment looming above, still stood.

I parked and stood outside to gaze at it. In mere seconds, I was once again a twenty-one-year-old new college graduate.

It’s strange how the years render the past so hazy, but a single image sharpens your memories in other ways.

In that very first apartment, I learned to live on my own.

Over my next year and a half at that job, I sharpened my writing and interviewing skills. I learned to master the feature story and was told I had natural photography ability. I was taken far outside my comfort zone when I was sent out to cover a story about the dog warden and another one about Fulton County’s first murder in twenty years. That murder was never solved, and it was recently cited as possibly being linked to a very recent murder in the same county—by a potential serial killer.

I learned quite a bit about time management and meeting a deadline, skills that have aided me not just in my career but also in my personal life.

When I look back over all my life’s experiences, I realize that first apartment and job helped forge the path for a creative and independent life.

I didn’t truly appreciate their value back then.

But sometimes it takes three decades—and a virtual glimpse of your past—to understand and appreciate how much one place and one short time period in your life, has played a part in your life.

When I envision how I am who I am, I will now picture this.

What images have taken you back? What was your first real job? Why are you who you are?

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