Recently someone asked me to tell some stories from the time I worked at the newspaper. I always told the publisher, who was the best boss ever, that if a TV producer brought cameras into the place it could be the most popular reality show ever!
Newspaper had a mystique that I fear is disappearing. Someone actually yelled, "I'm going to publish", to which we responded, "Publish!", meaning that we had finalized everything we were working.
Back in the pressroom the huge Goss press would run at full speed and was a wonderful sight to witness. The pressmen would sometimes catch glaring errors and they would actually stop the presses. I always wanted to run back there and yell "Stop the presses!".
If you've seen the Spiderman movies then you've experienced our publisher, a larger than life character, overflowing with confidence and knowledge, barking orders and generally making the place what you'd expect a busy newspaper to be. Have I mentioned that he was the best boss ever?
The problem with working at a small town newspaper is that you probably know everyone involved in a news story. The reporters worked the evening shift, finishing stories and covering late breaking news before putting the paper to bed. One morning I arrived, grabbed my copy of the paper only to find the front page story was about a late evening car accident that took the life of my friend's youngest daughter. I rushed up to the newsroom to get the details because not everything is published.
There was a police scanner in the newsroom and someone would monitor the calls. One day a couple of reporters fly out of the building after hearing a report about a woman driving her car off a bridge. At this point I was thrust into the role of being a "source" because I knew both the woman driving the car and her daughter, who was a passenger.
I was in a complete state of shock when the police reporter revealed the identity of the woman and the circumstances. It was Betty Whitten and she'd stabbed her daughter with a kitchen knife, put her daughter into the family car and driven it off a bridge, landing on a concrete pad just short of the riverbank.
To say I was in shock at this news would be a gross understatement. Stabbed her daughter? Surely they were mistaken.
As details emerged I told the young reporter that if she researched the story well and put the facts together she could have a best selling book. The story is strange and compelling.
I'd known Betty for years, she was a customer when I managed the fabric department of a local store. Her daughter Kiki was mentally and physically disabled, having lived her entire life confined to a wheel chair. I could not think of a single time when I saw Betty without KiKi. She was her sole caregiver for 34 years! Kiki was always perfectly groomed and I often wondered how difficult it must have been to life her from a wheelchair into the car or bed or anywhere! Betty was a tiny woman, probably 100 lbs soaking wet.
Nothing made sense to me. Here was a woman who clearly cared for her daughter. I told the reporter that Betty was involved in the community and organized the local Snugs for Hugs event where people would gather to knit and crochet hats and scarves for those in need. She was always giving to others, both her talent and her time.
I joined a chorus of people in disbelief at the news.
Details emerged. She'd been depressed and had sunk so far that she was hearing voices. Believe me, I understand deep depression and the dark and dangerous places it can take you. The consensus was that she'd simply snapped under the pressure of caring for a severely handicapped person for 34 years. She tried to do what she thought was right. S
The reporter never did dig deeper, she never did write the book. That's too bad because the tale was one of love and madness. I often think about Betty and wonder how she is coping with prison. Her daughter is dead, that is true, but the tale calls for compassion for a woman who did too much, who gave everything away. In the end both lives were ruined.