Each time I’ve sat down to try and write this column, among all the tangents I’ve gone off on, one always seemed to rise above them all.
During the past year, I have made a series of mental notes about special interactions I’ve shared with the people of Winchester.
And while these interactions are by no means considered to be “newsworthy,” they are indeed meaningful, and I think you should know about them. To know about the types of people that make up and lead your town.
Some notes are small acts of kindness that on particular days, for me, were the difference between a horrible day and a wonderfully surprising one. Others are small charms I’ve discovered in the most unlikely of places. Like, of all of them, the dry cleaners.
I’ll start at the shoe repair shop on Main Street, Janet’s Cobbler Shop, where, when I only had a credit card to pay her for fixing my regular work shoes, she told me not to worry about it and to just bring by the money at a later time. “I know you’re good for it,” she told me.
Then there’s the Clark County Courthouse, where one night I witnessed a filled courtroom celebrate a second chance for a group of individuals that had worked through their darkest times to earn. And a lot of people in the audience at the Drug Court graduation — I’m willing to bet — didn’t even know any of the graduates.
During the city and county government meetings, you can almost place a sure bet on which residents’ faces you’ll see at the microphone to give public comment. Mike Irwin of McClure Road, I think I have your address memorized from all the meetings you’ve sat through and commented on. And that is just awesome.
I showed up to the Strodes Creek watershed dressed in less-than-ideal clothes for a story during one of my first weeks because, quite frankly, like a lot of days in the beginning, I had no clue what I was getting into. When it was clear I’d be walking through the mud, Shanda Cecil, who I had just met, gave me a pair of her shoes to borrow (and I proceeded to get them covered in mud).
During a WMU Commission meeting I covered one night, I began to feel like I might pass out. Tim Smith of the radio station tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I was alright. Mayor Ed Burtner had seen my face and had texted him to make sure I was OK.
One night, after a particularly long and contentious county budget workshop, and after I dragged his night on even longer with a series of questions, Judge-Executive Henry Branham stood at the top of the courthouse steps to watch me get into my car because it was dark.
City Commissioner Kenny Book brings in old pictures or clippings to the paper to put in “the book” as we call it. Important pieces of Winchester’s history that he takes the time to find and give to us.
Sue Staton, the refreshingly honest and strong-willed lady who became my friend after an interview, told me that if I ever couldn’t make the drive home because of bad winter roads, I could stay in her spare bedroom. That meant a lot, because I knew she actually meant it. She was my “date” to my friend and co-worker Rachel’s wedding a year later, and became my Winchester “mom.”
One evening when I came into the office to work the Friday night shift, a thank-you note was sitting on my desk from the Humbles, who let me into their beautiful and imagination-filled home for a feature story. They didn’t know it, but my interview with them refueled me and reminded me just how lucky I am to get to listen to other people’s stories.
At Hart’s Drycleaners on the Bypass, there’s a lady who will remember your face and name just after meeting you once. After your first time in there, each time after, she’ll just see you walk in and know what you’re coming for. She makes you feel memorable and meaningful, just by remembering your name.
When I told Nancy Turner, director of the tourism commission, of my decision to spend the next year abroad, by the time I finished the walk from her office to mine, she had already sent me an email connecting me with her family member living in Spain.
One rainy Saturday, I watched as hundreds of Winchester residents lined the streets of downtown, holding American flags and saluting a young man who died serving his country. Patrons of downtown businesses filed out to line the streets and show their respect. The fire departments blocked streets off and hoisted a large American flag above Maple Street as the procession for Navy Petty Officer Second Class Taylor Gallant passed by.
There is a special group of veterans in this community who, although I’ve heard them acknowledge the problems in America, have more love, passion and respect for their country than most. If more people could get to their place, perhaps we would have more productive dialogue in the rooms where it matters most.
For these notes and many others, I am forever grateful. The people behind them — and their individual stories — have given me the confidence and faith in humanity to take my next leap of faith.
There’s a quote I’d like to share: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”
To tweak a phrase of Sun columnist Jean Brody, the view from Winchester is wondrous.
Contact Katie Perkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.