I can't remember how old I was when I first started writing.
It is as though it has always been a part of me. When I was about 9 years old, I started sneaking away to a perch I had in the woods with a view of the lake near my house so I could write alone. I especially liked to go there after it rained, so I could write stories about the sound the water made as it rushed down the mountain. Years before that, I had already started carrying a notebook and pen around with me everywhere I went so that I could write if I got bored, for entertainment.
It was ingrained in me.
Eventually, when I was in college, it dawned on me that I should follow a career path that involved writing. I chose newspapers.
Over the years, through experiences that have been exciting, enlightening, personal and painful, I've come to love newspapers like family. Which is to say, I care for them deeply — but sometimes they bug me. Sometimes I wonder if I should have chosen a different profession back when I was an idealistic college student (one that isn't in a field that people sometimes refer to as "dying," for example).
But I had an experience recently that renewed my awe and appreciation of newspapers, and rejuvenated the sense of honor I have at being involved with this industry.
The story begins with the power of family history and the printed word.
My grandma, Fleeta Choate, who died before I was born, loved newspapers. She avidly read them, clipped stories and recipes out of their pages and saved them for posterity. She was the second youngest of nine children, with a little brother who was two years younger.
When Fleeta's mother died in 1915, Fleeta's baby brother was just 2 years old. As the family story goes, the childcare workers in Kansas at the time didn't think Fleeta's father could care for all nine children, so they took the baby. He was adopted, and Fleeta's family lost contact with him.
For years, the family tried to find the boy. Fleeta's oldest sister, Mabel, wrote the institution in Kansas where he had been taken to find his whereabouts, but to no avail. In December 1931, the Kansas Children's Home replied only to say, "If it is possible for you to be put in touch with him, we shall notify you." My grandmother kept the response on a now-yellowing piece of plain paper in a keepsake album that my uncle has to this day.
Next to the paltry reply in the album is another piece of paper with a different story. It is a clipping from a newspaper called the Coffeyville Journal from November 1932, with a headline that simply says: "Orphan hunts parents."
The short story describes a man searching for his parents, the Moritzkys. The orphan contacted the Coffeyville, Kan., county clerk, who must have contacted the newspaper, which ran a story that was seen by a relative of the family the very next day. That was a Wednesday. By Friday night, the family was reunited at Mabel's house.
After 17 years, their lost brother, now named Chester, was found.
The next newspaper clipping in the album has a headline that says, "Item in journal reunites boy and his family." It tells the story of how Chester wasn't actually adopted until he was 5 years old. He spent years in an orphanage before finding a good family.
Ultimately, he found two.
I am astonished that his story has a happy ending, and that newspapers played a big part in that happy ending. It restores my understanding of the fantastic power newspapers can have for good, and my appreciation of the legacy that comes with my chosen profession.
It would have made Fleeta proud.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.