I love working at community newspapers.
Most of all, small-town newspapers are true reflections of the communities they serve. Those small towns and cities are all things hyper-local.
Everyone pretty much knows everyone else. Or if they don’t, they know “his brother’s sister-in-law’s son’s cousin.”
Move into a new neighborhood and don’t be surprised if a new neighbor knocks at your door holding a chicken-and-spaghetti casserole, offering a warm welcome and politely inquiring, “Have y’all found a new church home yet?”
And under the heading of “hyper-local news,” no newsroom can hold a candle to the kind of on-the-scene news coverage that happens on your block.
A couple of days ago, I was headed out on an errand. As I turned my car out of the driveway I spied two neighbors in my rear view mirror. Carmon and Paula were standing together next to Paula’s car, which was parked in front of Carmon’s house next door.
Initially I thought they were merely visiting and enjoying the sunset. It was a beautiful early spring evening in West Texas — sunny and calm, with winds only topping about 20 mph.
But then I noticed them frantically motioning for me to turn around. Something was up.
As I pulled up to them and rolled down my window, they motioned to a large number of vehicles parked on both sides of the street and then a house across the way.
“What’s going on over there!?” they asked in unison in worried tones. I replied that I had no earthly idea and asked why.
“I don’t know. We just came out and noticed all these cars out here, and everything is kind of quiet over there,” Carmon said, whispering as if she was afraid someone might overhear us.
“She’s just the sweetest little old lady,” Paula remarked, clearly worried. “I don’t know, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“We think she may have passed!” Carmon added.
I noted that I’d been out in my front yard only half an hour earlier but had not seen any police or emergency medical personnel.
“I would just hate it if something happened to her,” Paula said.
The conversation continued and ran the gamut. Who she was, who her husband was; how they moved in right after the Pages moved over to that new development near the country club. . . .
All of a sudden Carmon looked across the street behind me and signaled an alert. A woman had just parked her car and was walking toward the house in question.
“Hello! Hello!” Carmon called out, waving her over. “Say, what’s going on? What’s happening over there? Is everything OK?”
The woman gave a curious smile and replied, “Why, yes. We’re having a Bible study.”
Carmon and Paula told the woman of our concern and we all had a good laugh before she went inside.
“Oh, I’m just so glad she’s alright!” exclaimed Carmon.
“She’s such a sweet little old lady!” added Paula.
“I wonder what she is going to think when that woman tells her that her Bible study was supposed to be a bereavement visit!” I concluded.
We all laughed again and then talked about some more neighborhood news, which mostly focused on Paula’s report that Animal Control had come by the other day and caught all but one of the feral cats that had been living under that hedge at the end of the block.
Carmon wanted to know what a feral cat was, prompting Paul to explain that they were wild.
“Oh my gosh, you mean they’re wildcats!?” Carmon exclaimed.
“No, not like that – they’re regular cats that are wild – they don’t have a home,” Paula said.
“Oh thank goodness, I thought for a minute there we had bobcats or something like that living on our street!” Carmon replied.
With that, I figured it was time for me to go on about my errand. We bid each other a good evening and expressed relief – one last time – that the elderly neighbor in question was merely studying how to get to heaven. She wasn’t actually en route.
All’s well that ends well, I said, adding:
“At least now y’all don’t have to whip up a chicken-and-spaghetti casserole to take over there!”
You can’t make this stuff up – it’s what makes small-town living priceless.