A few months back, my sister Rebecca told me she had looked up something in the online archives of The Madisonian, our hometown newspaper. I decided to log on and see what I could dig up. Investigative journalism, basically.
Before I tell you what I found, two notable facts about my hometown newspaper:
- The Madisonian is the nation’s oldest continuously-circulating newspaper west of Des Moines.
That’s a big deal! A guy named James Iler started the paper way back in 1856. Back then, it was only four pages and was called The Pilot! [That exclamation point is mine, unfortunately; every newspaper should put an exclamation point at the end of its name, don’t you agree?] I could go down the rabbit hole on fascinating facts about this paper — like how during the Civil War it was called The Red Hawkeye! — but I won’t.
- My dad worked at The Madisonian for a number of years as a reporter. My family’s interest in print and publishing comes from both sides, see.
The first thing I did was type “Fons” into the search box. What, like you’ve never googled yourself? (If you haven’t, good for you; it’s weird.) Searching the Madisonian archives was like that, just more…old-fashioned, but without the microfiche.
A lot of what came up was pretty dull, just town listing stuff or mentions of me or my sisters in the fall play or going nerdy state speech tournaments. My dad’s byline came up, of course, and it will come as no surprise there were lots of hits for Mom; she’s been a recurring “local gal makes good” story over the years. She didn’t even have to hire a PR person!
But there were other, meatier clips. Like the one up top, there. Unfortunately.
I hadn’t thought about Tractor Girls in ages, but there it was in a December Madisonian from 1996. Tractor Girls was a play — actually, a series of seven monologues for seven actresses — written by yours truly my junior year. My speech teacher sent it (did I send it??) to the Theater department at Simpson College in Indianola, a town about 40 minutes away. To my shock and amazement, the theater people decided to produce the freakin’ thing. Of course I was insanely happy, overjoyed, all that. And of course I invited all my friends to come with me to opening night. Super fun, right??
To this day, I am amazed I got out alive. Not because the play was bad; actually, I remember it being pretty good. The danger I was in that night was due to my friends’ collective murderous rage: I based all the play’s characters on them.
I know. I know. It’s so awful. It’s just the worst thing ever. Ever!
Pals, I swear to you, with my dumb hand over my clueless heart (which was even more clueless at age sixteen, no surprise), I meant no ill will! Truly, I didn’t realize how totally uncool it was to plumb my friends personal lives for material. I changed their names, didn’t I?? Oh, the shame! Even though no one from Winterset came to see the play and no one who did see it had a clue about my…source material, my friends were furious and had every right to be. It blew over eventually, but it took awhile.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes since then but I haven’t made that mistake again. Case in point: There’s another gem I unearthed in my archive search worth sharing, but I have to get my sister’s permission first.