Indianola, Mississippi, and the Moon


One of the biggest things I learned at The Enterprise-Tocsin in Indianola, Mississippi is that the world is a small place.

Our job was to cover Sunflower County, Mississippi. That’s it. Not Ukraine or New York or DC or Greenwood, Mississippi. Just our one county – the longest in Mississippi and the birthplace of B.B. King – and it’s 30,000 inhabitants.

And yet, someone, in the process of covering our little postage stamp of native soil, as Faulkner put it, we covered the world. The exchange student from Ukraine. The local native who fled the World Trade Center after the planes hit.

Indianola was a relatively small city of 12,000 people, and yet somehow those 12,000 people were connected to the entire world. For a young kid fresh out of Ole Miss, it was a powerful lesson to learn.

This week, because the world is a small place, I’m on the front page of The Enterprise-Tocsin.

I was back in Indianola a couple of months ago, and, of course, visited The E-T, and talked with Bryan Davis, the Editor currently very ably stewarding the community’s newspaper, and the topic of space may have come up.

It turns out that expats of this tiny Mississippi community had connections to putting people on the moon 50 years ago, and, now, to putting people on the moon again.

The front page of The E-T this week has stories about Indianolans who were involved in Apollo, about Sunflower County native Stephen Clanton, who’s at Marshall today, and about a former news editor who went on to do space stuff.

Stories like this aren’t unique to Indianola. You can find people anywhere connected to anything.

Because this blue and white orb we all live on really is a small place.

Not a bad lesson to learn, whether you’re in Indianola, Mississippi, or looking back at it from the moon.

One Day In September


I never saw the twin towers.
 
On the day they fell, I was working in Indianola, Mississippi as News Editor of The Enterprise-Tocsin newspaper. I’d been to upstate New York, but had never been to the city.
 
My managing editor woke me up that morning with a phone call. (In those days, we worked well into the night and often started late in the morning.) The call made no sense to my groggy mind. Something about two separate planes hitting the World Trade Center. I heard something about unrelated incidents. I was picturing Cessnas or something. Certainly a bizarre coincidence, but I didn’t understand why he was calling me.
 
He told me to come to the office. I did. I understood then. We watched the towers fall.
 
The Enterprise-Tocsin is a weekly newspaper in a small town in the Mississippi Delta. To this day, it’s a great example of community journalism. The content is entirely local; there are no wire stories in The E-T.
 
I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do. Generally speaking, The E-T focused its attention fully within the borders of Sunflower County, Mississippi, and ignored anything beyond the county lines.
 
This was far far beyond our county lines.
 
This was not a thing we could ignore.
 
We would use no wire stories, but we would cover the events of that day. We began working on a local reaction story, capturing how these events had affected our community.
 
But, very quickly, we learned that it was a local story.
 
By the end of the day, I was on the phone with a young man from Indianola who had been there that morning. He was freshly out of college, at his first day on his new job at Morgan Stanley.
 
Hours before I talked to him, he had been making his way down stairs. Not long after, his new workplace collapsed into rubble.
 
I learned something that day about what “local’ means. Regardless of what city you’re in, what county you’re in, there are times local is far bigger than that.
 
There are days the entire country is local.
 
There are days the entire planet is local.
 
The anniversary this year is slightly different for me.
 
I never saw the twin towers, but I have stood where they stood.
 
Rebecca and I went to New York City two months ago; the first time for me.
 
We visited the pools that fill the two iconic squares that mark the boundaries of where the towers once stood. We visited the memorial; heard, saw and experienced the story of what happened there that day.
 
It was real for me in a way I’d never understood before.
 
But, this, too, was real:
 
We stayed in a hotel a short distance from the site.
 
Our window was filled by One World Trade Center.
 
We took the elevator to the top. We looked out over the city.
 
It’s a beautiful building.
 
I never saw the twin towers.
 
I’ve seen the World Trade Center.
 
My experience of that day 17 years ago was defined by connection. By the realization that the world is much smaller than I realized. That distant events are much closer than I knew. No man is an island, nor is any county in Mississippi.
 
My experience this year is informed by what I saw in July.
 
Devastation is not defeat. So long as we endure, hope endures. So long as hope endures, there is resilience.
 
We fall.
 
We rise.

I Had A Dream


From a Plinky prompt: “Have you ever had a recurring dream?”

 


My longest ongoing recurring dream started not long after I began my current job.

Prior to that, I worked in newspapers.

I assumed I always would.

For me, being a newspaperman wasn’t so much what I did as it was who I was. I had the proverbial ink the veins, and, all too often, the literal ink on the hands.

Leaving newspapers to come to work for NASA was a big deal. I wanted the new job, and was excited about it, but the move involved some loss of identity. It would be cool, but involved giving up a little bit of myself.

But I did it. And was glad I did.

However …

Not long after I started the new job, the dreams started.

In the dream, I realized that I had made a mistake. A terrible mistake.

I was a newspaperman. I wasn’t supposed to be working for NASA. I was supposed to be working for a newspaper.

So I went back to work for a newspaper.

In the dream, I would go back to Indianola, and resume working at the newspaper there.

That part was pretty much the same every time I had the dream.

There was a little bit of difference in the next part.

I would realize that I had made a horrible mistake. I would realize that I wanted out. I would realize that I had romanticized newspapers, and that NASA really was much better.

The difference in this part was how long it took. Sometimes I made this realization the next day after I went back to the newspaper. Other times, I didn’t last that long.

Fortunately, in the dream, almost invariably, I never, technically, quit my job at NASA. I had just gone back to the newspaper without letting anyone know.

So, thankfully, I was always able to just go back to work the next day as if I’d been sick or something the day before and pick up where I left off with no one the wiser.

The dream was a good thing for me.

Leaving newspapers really was hard. And I really did have second thoughts some times. The dream let me live out those reservations without having to actually live out those reservations. It gave me a picture of the “what if…” scenario of going back that rang pretty true.

I was happier at NASA. And my rational mind knew that. But it was good for my heart to be able to experience that as well.

Newspapers were a very important part of my life, and I’ll always have fond feelings of that part of my past.

But that doesn’t mean that the present isn’t much better.

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