There’s something to be said for a close-knit community.
This month marks 21 years since an uneducated, military wife, misplaced transplant joined the team of the Oakdale Leader.
It would take a handful of years, a few missteps and some true humbling of what this “City Girl” thought she knew to know the true impact of that lead sentence. “A handful of years,” may be an overstatement; however, in a day and time when Oakdale just inched over 10,000 residents, transplants were hardly a favorite of longtime community members.
Simply put, I had to prove myself not just to the powers that be who offered me the part-time position, but to the town. I had no idea what I was walking into at the time. Ignorance as they say is bliss, just as knowledge is power. As my story goes through the story of this paper, both would hold true for me.
There are several memories which are still very vivid in my mind. I would be lying (as many of you can attest) if I shared I remember all my stories. I don’t. In my current state of memory, I’m honestly lucky to remember one from last month, let alone last week; welcome to chemo brain.
I do, however, vividly remember a few months into the job, finally being released from typing press releases, birth announcements, engagements, wedding announcements and obituaries (yes, I got all the good stuff) being sent out to interview a few Oakdale Lions who had returned from one of their many mission Mexico trips.
As I introduced myself, I was quickly asked if I was a “Hammond” in relation to the well-known Oakdale family. I shared I wasn’t. I was then asked where I attended college for my journalism degree. I shared I had a Merchandise/Marketing degree with an extensive retail career I had left for a simpler life.
I’m laughing as I type this, first at the thought of who was doing the interview in this instance; me or the Lion? The second at my honesty and the simple fact that the interview proceeded, albeit with a bit of hesitancy. My gift for gab and reassurance paid off that day and for many years to come; the Oakdale Lions (as well as many other service clubs) maintained a priceless relationship.
Proving myself became the name of the game and while I recognized I had no “proper” training – not even in high school – I did have three things. A high school English teacher who had shared I had a gift I was wasting if I did not use it, an editorial team who trusted me (as well as my inexperience), and an innate curiosity, as well as gratitude to all these strangers who were trusting me with their story.
Learning the rhythm of a weekly paper would also take some time, as there truly isn’t a given structure. It’s far from a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., not to mention our calendars are always a week at minimum ahead of everyone else’s as we’re constantly looking to the next issue.
There was also the area of personnel, as our staff was bigger and experience seemed to swarm around me. It was a great cast of characters back then, complete with a sports reporter who would nap between early deadlines and late night sports, a cheerful front desk clerk who is now an Ad rep and a crotchety office manager who I was rightfully warned to simply make sure to have my time sheet complete and on time.
The crotchety office manager, by the way, happened to be a pretty amazing and loving lady. I learned a lot about taking a few after hours moments to listen to a colleague back then. Her story leant itself to her misrepresentation. Quite simply she was very similar to those I had left in my previous career, short and to the point, all about business when on the clock. While a stark contrast to a town where you can’t go anywhere quickly, I respect that.
Of the many lessons I learned as I would slowly learn what it meant to be a journalist; the napping sports reporter gave me some solid advice.
With no experience to my name, there was a lot to learn. Our then-managing editor would drop all three papers on my desk each week and direct me to read them, cover to cover. Our papers were a bit larger back then and read them I did, each and every week, including sports.
I grew a fondness for sports features and complimented Sam the sports guy on his gift for telling a good story. Being the trained pro who loved his beat he gave me my favorite tip.
“Good quotes make a good story,” he shared. “All you have to do is bridge them all together.”
Brilliant! To this day, I am uncomfortable when receiving compliments of any type for writing a good feature. Often sharing back, “you told it, I simply transcribed it.”
I still feel that and feel equally lucky to this day that people still trust me with their words.
So, here’s to 21 years of typing words, sharing stories and being welcomed into so many homes and businesses. What a ride it has been. I love this town and this space could quite easily go on for many more paragraphs of so many memories etched in my mind and heart.
Yet my editor has a job to do and taking too much space on a deadline day would make her cranky. So for those who have trusted me, thank you; for those I have yet to meet, I look forward to sharing your story and lastly for those who have adopted me as an honorary Oakdalean; you I have never forgotten and I thank you. Here’s to more years of community news. Cheers.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 209-847-3021.