Frank Koselke had been the editor of The Village Press for as long as anyone could remember. Once it had been a thriving eight-page periodical, but as the population of the village of Flat Creek dwindled over the years the paper dropped to six pages, and then four.
No one knew how Frank kept The Press going. Not only was there little news to report, but also advertising disappeared when several local businesses shut down. Frank filled the empty add space with borrowed cartoons or quotes, but those didn’t pay the bills.
Still, Frank believed in his little newspaper and its ability to cohesively bind the community of Flat Creek together. The bi-weekly publication maintained at least a hundred subscribers who paid $12.00 a year to keep up with each other in print. The Press survived financially because of a generous discount offered by a nearby printing company, and the fact that Frank had no paid employees.
Front-page features included stories like, “Cat Blinds Dog’s Eye in Fight” and “Bridge Club to Meet Saturday.” A Purple Heart World War II veteran authored a regular column, and assorted editorialists offered their creative opinions about raising children, fighting obesity, and caring for geriatric parents.
It was a very real, tell-it-like-it-is, newspaper.
As an ex-writer escaping big city sophistication I wanted to retire where I could enjoy a simple lifestyle. Within a few weeks of moving to a modest bungalow in Flat Creek I read my first copy of The Press. Soon after I learned its office consisted of a small room at the back of the gas station called “Yummies” where more ice cream was sold than gasoline. On a Wednesday morning at about 10:00 I knocked on the door.
“C’m-in,” a deep voice bellowed.
I turned the rusty doorknob tentatively and peeked inside to see a messy desk piled high with papers. Old calendars hung on the walls like collector’s items that had accumulated accidently, one after the other, perhaps for decades. “Hello?”
Before me sat a gruff-looking Santa Claus-type, complete with unkempt steel wool beard and eyebrows sprouting inch-long white hairs. His red nose twitched with what I thought might be a hint of impatience as he held a dog-eared typewritten page with one hand and a pipe with the other.
“And you are … ?”
“Hello Mr. Koselke, my name is Ben Weatherspoon, and I recently moved into the area. I’m a retired writer.”
“Lookin’ for a job? I can’t pay.”
“Well, not necessarily a job. I’d be happy to volunteer if there’s anything I could do to help support your efforts with The Press.”
Frank stared at me as if trying to see through my body to the wall on the other side. Perhaps he thought I was a ghost of Christmas past.
“Volunteer?” He lifted the pipe to his mouth, bit down hard on its mouthpiece, and puffed until smoke billowed from the bowl like gray cotton balls rising from a miniature volcanic mountain.
“Yes sir. Write or edit stories or headlines. I’m decent at page layouts, too. I could bring you a resume if you’d like.”
He shifted his weight like a hunched beast unable or unwilling to entertain such an offer. Finally he pulled the pipe from his mouth. “Why? You don’t know the people here. They’re all like family to me – that’s why I keep The Press running. But why should you donate your time?”
I hadn’t expected this kind of challenge. “Well sir, I do care about people in general, and I … I love the written word. I enjoy writing fluently and creatively, and connecting with people at the heart level.”
The editor stared at the would-be volunteer, eyeball-to-eyeball, sizing me up one side and down the other, looking for evidence of solid character in this too-good-to-be-true apparition.
I continued my self-defense. “Your paper looks like a perfect place to share real life. I’ve been praying for God to lead me to a place where I can be part of such heart-to-heart connection.”
Frank puffed on his pipe and drummed his fingers on the desk as his face softened. “Be here Friday morning?”
“Sure - what time?”
“And … well … what should I expect?”
Frank Koselke stood up, and his six foot two inch barrel-chested body loomed over my smallish frame. His pointer finger jabbed at me like a striking snake. “Brother, we’ll pray … and see how the Lord directs us.”
That’s all I needed to know.
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