The seven-mile drive south on U.S. 421 changes everything. Between Medaryville and Francesville you leave the edge of the once endless swamp and enter the still endless prairie.
The towns, once proud rivals, now proudly share a high school. They also share the working remnants of the railroad that created them, the rails that carried Abraham Lincoln to Illinois for the last time.
Most visitors probably are discovering the back way between Chicago and Indianapolis, or gathering to watch the sandhill cranes gather in corn and soybean stubble. The locals might be heading to the steel mills to the north or the dairy farms to the west.
Something important escapes the notice of both groups. At least, it’s important to me. Medaryville (pop. 565) residents can walk over to the Family Express and choose from among six daily newspapers and the weekly paper from the county seat. Francesville (pop. 879) residents can choose from three dailies, the county seat weekly, and one other weekly. I chuckled when I first saw The Francesville Tribune’s banner and read “The Only Newspaper in the World Interested in the Welfare of Francesville.” I chuckle less as each decade passes. The paper is a thin tabloid, and I think it’s still black-and-white. All that really matters is that it’s still on the rack every week, and that it still cares. I still congratulate both towns, but I wonder whether they realize their good fortune.
I made a similar observation on my first stop in McDuffie County, wandering between family in Ocala, Fla., and Saluda, S.C. When Thomson was still a dot on my still crisp, folded Georgia map, I exited Interstate 20 at Washington Road for a midnight breakfast. I bought and absorbed a nationally recognized daily newspaper. I also bought two local newspapers. I wondered how a community could support two papers. I counted the ads, and found it disquieting. I was surprised by the similarity of subject matter, but appreciated differences in presentation and style. And I congratulated Thomson, Ga., on its good fortune.
I formed opinions of both newspapers, never realizing that I might someday be given the chance to influence either publication. It has been a wonderful opportunity, but it has come to an end.
I’ve contributed news, photos and sports to The Augusta Chronicle. I’ve extended professional courtesy to The McDuffie Progress, and I’ve enjoyed the reciprocal respect of that newspaper’s staff. I’ve never asked anyone to stop reading any other paper, but I’ve worked to sharpen The Mirror’s focus and to keep it not only bright, but essential. I think it’s important to show that the newspaper is thick and colorful, but I also wanted to show that we care. In keeping with my dad’s counsel and the company’s policy, I’ve never settled for the cheap headline. If I’ve found the easy road one or twice, it’s been by accident, not by indifference. Like those at The Mirror before me, I’ve worked to reflect the community we serve.
In doing so, I’ve told of people who enjoy life and who work hard. As I fail to condense that list to a single page, I admit the futility of condensing it to a single paragraph. And even that list of stories told is a fraction of the stories yet untold. I will leave a long list of suggestions. I hope midnight visitors will enjoy breakfast as they read about those hard workers. I might very well be such a visitor. After all, all roads lead in circles.
Everyone we meet has two stories. There’s the story they we’re willing to share and the story they would rather not put into words. Each story has its joys and sadness. It has been my rare privilege to ask you to share your stories through The McDuffie Mirror. As for my own story, well, I’m still searching for the words.
It seems likely, though, that Jane and I will watch the migrating cranes. Jane will capture the swamps and prairies with the same appreciative lens that captured Thomson’s athletes, children, horses, hounds and camellias.
I will walk my high school track where coach Emory Harrison once walked, and I will think of Luther Welsh and Emory watching practice. I will attend a testimonial to a community leader, and I will struggle not to unfairly judge that person’s efforts against the likes of Mike Carrington.
And when the cranes are gathering and winter is rumbling somewhere across the prairie, I will buy a copy of a venerable newspaper that quietly shouts “we care,” and I will answer “so do I.”