Wednesday, April 05, 2017

`To Paint the Dreams of His Manhood'

These are the final words of “Departure,” the final story in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919): “. . . the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.” Anderson based the fictional town of Winesburg on his childhood home, Clyde, a town seven miles northwest of Bellevue, in north central Ohio. I moved to Bellevue in January 1981, about a week before President Reagan’s inauguration, and went to work as a reporter for The Bellevue Gazette. I was twenty-eight and this was my first daily newspaper. Previously I had worked as the editor of the weekly paper in Montpelier, Ohio, about two hours to the west, near the Indiana and Michigan lines.   

The Gazette editorial department had a staff of four: the editor, sports editor, society editor and me. I was the city reporter. We haven’t stayed in touch but I remember all of their names (the society editor went on to a career writing romance novels). I covered city council and court, the mayor’s office, the police and fire departments, and anything newsworthy that happened in the four-county area. We published six days a weeks and there were no such things as overtime pay, health insurance or Christmas bonuses, though one year they gave us canned hams. And no one seemed to know anything about Sherwood Anderson, not even in Clyde, which is home to the Whirlpool Corp.

I’ve just learned that The Bellevue Gazette closed last year after almost 149 years in business. Its owner, Civitas Media, switched to twice-a-week publication in 2015 but couldn’t keep the paper afloat. Its circulation was about 1,000, after peaking at 4,300 in the late nineteen-seventies, just before I got there. Civitas Media also owned and closed The Clyde Enterprise.

George Willard, the character leaving Winesburg on a westbound train in the passage quoted at the top, was also a newspaper reporter. Like him, I remember incidentals, small things, like meeting Pat Boone, and the smell of Aramis, the “men’s fragrance” our publisher seemed to apply with a paint brush. George’s memories are folksier than mine:

“He thought of little things—Turk Smollet wheeling boards through the main street of his town in the morning, a tall woman, beautifully gowned, who had once stayed overnight at his father’s hotel, Butch Wheeler the lamp lighter of Winesburg hurrying through the streets on a summer evening and holding a torch in his hand, Helen White standing by a window in the Winesburg post office and putting a stamp on an envelope.”

1 comment:

Jonathan Chant said...

Lovely. Good to reminded of a great book and learn of your connection with it.