Chapter 40 — The Correspondents’ Lunch

February 23

It’s been a slow news week in Walnut Shade and in Miller County generally. The boy’s basketball teams at both high schools have been losing the last couple of weeks after getting off to a great start. On the other hand, the girls’ teams have been winning against everyone. Congratulations to the girls and we hope for a resurgence of the boys.

The correspondents from around the county met for lunch in Fremont on Monday and exchanged gossip.

Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins had a visitor over the weekend. Pat Metheny dropped in on Sunday after his concert at K-State Saturday night. Jim briefly played with Pat’s band back in the late ‘70s and they have stayed in touch over the years.

Rachel Watkins called from Paris where she is studying architecture. Betty says that Rachel spent a week in Eze studying the church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which was built in 1764.

Michelle Clemons reports that Holly House is booked for most of the spring and summer. She and Tom will be very busy until Labor Day.

The Convent is booked for a week-long retreat beginning March 22. A startup technology company from Overland Park is coming up to do a “creative thought process,” whatever that means. Jerry Hall will probably make some creative meals for them.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham and Jessica’s mother, Lillian, were the guests of Stan and Lois Adams for dinner on Sunday. Lillian is enjoying meeting people in town.

Lillian got a note from “Bobby” on Tuesday saying how much she was missed in Park City, Utah.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby had lunch with Sandy and John Cramer after church on Saturday. Les and John enjoyed seeing K-State beat Baylor. It’s been a frustrating year for the team, beating teams they were supposed to lose to and losing to team they were supposed to beat.

Speaking of which, Eddy Barnett is still smarting from Mizzou’s second loss to K-State this year.

Millie Bradford had lunch on Monday with Miss Cecilia Davenport. Hazel was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to stay home. Miss Cecilia reports that her cousin, Grace Estes, from New Haven, Connecticut, called while Millie was there and the three had a delightful conversation over Miss Cecilia’s speakerphone.

Craig Duffy spent Saturday afternoon with Bill and Pam Heath while Teresa was in Manhattan visiting a friend. Craig is looking forward to fishing in Bill’s “water retention structure” once it is full and stocked with fish. “Bill says it will be good to go next spring, but I don’t think there’ll be much meat on those minnows.” Craig is ever the pessimist. Knowing how impatient Bill can be, he’ll probably just buy full-size fish to put in there.

Everyone in town is excited for the St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and the delivery of the Erin Go Bragh cookbook, especially Dorothy Westover, who has put months into its preparation.

Dorothy, we salute you for your perseverance and I know that all of us who helped you by taste-testing the recipes will think of you every time we step on the bathroom scales and see how much weight we have gained over the last few month.

And adding another notch to my belt, I remain…

Your faithful correspondent


Several months ago, I described how I was recruited for this job. At the time, I thought it would be a nice way to spend a few hours a week chatting with people around town and writing a short piece for the Ledger for which I would be paid a handsome sum. For the most part, I was wrong about all of that. First of all, it takes an infinite amount of time to track down information about what is going on around here. Oh, don’t get me wrong; people are really good about calling to let me know what they’ve been up to. It’s a good thing I have an unlimited data plan on my phone because I probably use up a hundred gigabytes a week. No, what takes the time is figuring out what to use and what I can legitimately get away with not using. If Sally Fields (not her real name; well, it is her real name, but that Sally Fields doesn’t live in Walnut Shade) has had lunch with Cher (again, that Cher doesn’t live here, although I’m told she’s thought about it; probably just gossip) every Tuesday for the last two months, that isn’t really news. But if Sally Fields misses a week with Cher and has lunch with Meryl Streep instead, now that is news!

Second, about that handsome sum…

I have to admit, too, that I didn’t think I’d do this for more than a couple of months. I was pretty sure that Stan Hawkins would find someone more qualified (almost anyone in town) and that there would be a general community-wide groundswell to help him find someone more qualified. Now, Stan has never said anything about the first part, knowing how easily my feelings get hurt, but he has said that not a single person has complained about my being the correspondent for Walnut Shade. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t gotten comments about what I’ve written over the months I’ve been at this. That lunch Sally Fields had with Meryl Streep caused a minor tiff between her and Cher. Apparently, that part wasn’t for publication. Stan heard about that from Sally and from Cher. But Sally and Cher patched things up and now the three of them (Sally, Cher and Meryl, not Stan) have lunch every Tuesday, so that doesn’t get in the column.

Speaking of lunch, every two or three months, Stan has all his correspondents up to Fremont for lunch and a chat. Lunch is always good; the Pioneer is one of those county seat restaurants that has to cater to the local farmers and merchants at breakfast and lunchtime, and to the “big city” lawyers from places like Topeka and St. Joe and Marysville who are in town for court and who think they have refined palates. Jerry Waters, the owner, has been serving folks for forty years, so he knows his clientele and has his menus down pat: meatloaf on Monday; fried chicken on Tuesday; chicken pot pie on Wednesday (made with the leftover chicken from Tuesday, if there is any); smothered steak on Thursday; and, catfish on Friday. On the weekends, when mostly the locals eat there, you get whatever Jerry feels like cooking and those are usually the best, and sometimes most unusual, meals. I was there one Sunday when Jerry decided to do an English breakfast, for some strange reason, complete with eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, toast, marmalade and tea. Regular customers who come in every Sunday complained that there was no coffee that morning and there seemed to be a lot of beans left on plates when they finished, but the next Sunday, I’m told, everything was back to normal, with Jerry’s famous biscuits and gravy and all the coffee you could possibly want.

Stan has correspondents in all the towns in Miller County, which just about fills up the Ledger every week. Here’s the current lineup:

Sharon Miller — Blue Valley
Freida Miller — Donner Crossing
Lydia Marks — Guitar
Sarah Graves — Longwood
Ruth Harwood — McDougal
Joyce Hanks — Parkersburg
Sandy Miller — Spring River Crossing
Mabel White — Tillman
Patsy Buchanan — Willow Springs

Now you may have noticed a couple of things about this list. For one, it’s all women. I’m the only male correspondent in the bunch. The others treat me accordingly. In the beginning, they all kind of gave each other a look when I walked in for lunch, the kind that says “Well, he may be Stan’s friend, but he won’t last.” It took me about six month to prove to them that I could do the job and now they  think I’m just “one of the girls.”

The other thing you might have noticed is that there are three correspondents named Miller. Well, that’s only a little coincidence. You see, Sharon, Sandy and Freida are all sister-in-law, having married the three Miller boys from just outside Blue Valley. Sharon lives on a farm with Frank; Sandy’s husband, Gus, is a rural postal carrier; and, Marv Miller is the best auto mechanic in Miller County. Everyone always asks, but no, they have to connection to the person for whom Miller County was named.

Our occasional get togethers are supposedly to let Stan know if we are having any problems and to let him know if anything has changed in the way we are reporting the news from our respective towns. He lets us know if there are any issues at the Ledger and if he has heard from any of his readers about the job we are doing. But mostly, it’s just a chance to gossip about what’s going on in our little corners of the world.

Every now and then, Stan does hear from a reader about a column one of us has written. Usually, it’s to complain that we left out their names in the list of people attending the dance at the VFW or forgot to say that they had had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. X on Sunday. It’s easy to make those mistakes, but we usually only do it once.

“I once forgot to say that Muriel Sparks [not her real name] and her husband had played bridge with the Andersons [not their real names, either], and I heard about that for six months,” Sandy Miller said.

“Yes, and I heard about it for another six months,” sister-in-law Freida commented with a laugh.

“This is a really small county, so when something gets missed, several of us hear about it,” Joyce Hanks pointed out.

Sometimes, news travels from far away. I’m always amazed at how many subscribers Stan has that live in far-flung parts of the country. When people move away from here, they leave behind friends and sometimes family. Reading the Ledger keeps them up-to-date on what’s going on. Stan told me one time that he has subscribers in forty-nine of the fifty states (oddly, there are none in Nebraska; he has no explanation for that, but now that Hal Dane is living in Omaha and working at the Durham Museum, perhaps that will change and it will be a perfect fifty), and seven countries world wide.

Stan started giving free subscriptions to any college student from Miller County and he now sends papers to fifty-seven schools.

“I always wonder if those papers really get read, but every now and then, I get a note from a kid who has seen something about his or her hometown and it keeps them connected somehow.”

The Ledger has not yet gone to an on-line edition, so a written note is something special. The act of picking up the paper means that someone is paying attention.

One of the topics at every lunch is how to make sure that we get the news that’s really important to people.

“Most of the time, people call me to let me know what’s happening with them, but sometimes, I hear something second hand and it’s then that I pick up the phone and make a call. That’s usually when someone is sick or there has been a death. I hate to intrude, but I think most people appreciate knowing that someone is thinking of them.” Mabel White is one of the most senior correspondents, having reported the news from Tillman for forty-two years.

Self-reporting is usually about a birth in the family or extended family; weddings; trips; and lunches and dinners. The latter two get the most coverage in all our columns. I’m always amazed at how much people eat out, especially at someone else’s home. Some people, it seems never cook for themselves. That’s an exaggeration, I know, but only a little bit of one.

“There’s a woman in my town who once had lunch out every day in a month, with the exception of a couple of Saturdays when I suppose her husband insisted she fix something for him.” Now, I won’t identify which correspondent related this because then the culprit would know that she had been discussed. But maybe she wouldn’t mind. The only bad publicity is no publicity, right?

“What we do is keep a record of the history of our communities as that history is actually happening. People like sharing their everyday lives and stories with us. The headlines on the front page might seem to get most of the attention, but what do people turn to next? Our columns.”

Sarah graves, the second most senior correspondent, reminds Stan of this every time we get together, lest he get the funny idea to use our spaces for more ads. Stan always nods and says that he wouldn’t think of not including our contributions in his newspaper. And he wouldn’t. He’s been at this long enough to know what his readers want. Like Jerry, he’s got his menu down pat and he’s not going to change it. He’s not about to start giving people an English breakfast when what they really want is biscuits and gravy.


A little news from the past.

Donner Crossing, March 22, 1917 — Mr. Harmon reports that there was a big commotion out at his chicken coop Wednesday morning. It seems that a raccoon and a fox got into a fight over the chickens, none of which were harmed. Apparently the raccoon and fox were too tired from the fight and left hungry.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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