Resigning from any job is bound to quicken the heartbeat but retiring from a career is downright frightening. I did just that at the end of November although I’ve been on medical leave since August.
After spending almost 50 years as a newspaper reporter and photographer, including the last 20 on the Escalon, Riverbank and Oakdale papers, scribbling endlessly away in a notebook and poking my camera into places where it often wasn’t welcome, this scribbler has quit.
That should not stop me from producing an occasional news story, well researched feature, even some meeting coverage in the future, I hope. But it does mean an end to unremitting deadlines, interrupted weekends and a feeling of always being on call.
Not that it hasn’t been fun. As a small-town reporter covering everything from traffic accidents to grass fires and from kindergarten stage shows to heated discussions at city council meetings, I’ve had a wild ride.
I will miss the easy camaraderie, intimate discussions and laughter of the newsroom, the friendliness of the townsfolk when answering my often impertinent questions and the unending patience of city officials in explaining yet again the details of municipal government.
I will not miss watching the clock tick inexorably towards deadline while stuck halfway through a story, leaving a warm office for the cold and wet outdoors to cover winter events, getting up at some ungodly hour to attend an Easter sunrise service or stifling yawns at some council meeting running close to midnight.
Some memories of a very human if somewhat undignified sort that I will always treasure; Rich Holmer baring his bony knees onstage at the Riverbank Community Center; Virginia Madueno whirling a hula hoop at Jacob Myers Park long before she became mayor; Scott Pettit wading knee-deep through downtown floods in search of drains; and a California Avenue School principal, a young woman whose name I can’t recall, kissing a cow for a bet made with her students.
More assignments that I found more serious and moving; youths parading the American and Mexican flags side by side at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Community Park; interviewing the son of a Crossroads area resident in the driveway where his father was shot down as he left for work; and hearing Scott McRitchie and his wife Marilyn speak publicly of their battles with cancer at a Relay For Life fundraiser in the Riverbank High stadium.
When I came here to work in 1989, covering first the Escalon scene and then Riverbank and occasionally Oakdale, I was already middle-aged and thinking about retirement. Previously I had toiled on publications in London (England), San Francisco, Watsonville, Placerville and Auburn. But in Riverbank the years flew by. I had never before had so many friends and acquaintances nor become so involved in a community. So I continued ignoring signs of age like weariness and failing eyesight.
Then it became embarrassing. At some events, young mothers with children in tow would come up to me to recall I’d taken their picture before, when they were running track in high school, performing onstage in middle school or even starting kindergarten. I’d known them almost a lifetime.
But a small town reporter’s life has endless variety. You know what’s scheduled in your diary. But you never know what the day will bring. So I stayed on and on. And it was well worth it.
Now, however, I surrender to the advancing years and am throwing in the towel. I want to take better care of my health and explore other interests and places. What do they call it – the bucket list? Tahiti and Thailand are on mine.
So, gentle readers, farewell and many thanks for the memories and a lot of time well spent.
John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at email@example.com or 847-3021.