The night was hot and humid, but not so humid the fireworks weren’t spectacular. In old school newspaper style, Harry, the night editor, had the office girl get some beer and she came back with a 30-pack of Budweiser. Most of the newsroom climbed up the back staircase to the roof of the old Union Leader building on Amherst Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, to watch the show.
Once the fireworks were over, fellow reporter Paula Tracy and I stayed up on the roof, drinking beer and talking. I don’t remember most of the conversation. We were single and 27, so you can imagine. But I remember a lot of laughter as we sat against the brick wall, the city below us, the night sky above us. The beer was warm and the night was humid, but we were kids and we didn’t care.
I’ve thought about that night on and off over the years — a slice of the good old days. A couple weeks ago, as my 33-year journalism career came to an end, a moment from that night came back to me with sudden clarity. Me saying something like, “Aren’t we the f—ng luckiest girls in the world?” and Paula saying, “We f—ing are.” We clinked our beer cans in a toast to ourselves and laughed.
At the dawn of our careers, we were already a couple of old veterans telling war stories, but it was underscored by the giddiness that came from being young, knowing we were kicking butt. Possibility and wonder rolled out ahead of us forever.
We were kids charging at the world full throttle and it was ours to take. We were too young to know it would ever come to an end and wouldn’t have cared or believed anyone who told us it would, because that’s what it means to be that age and hold the world in your hand.
And we were Doing Something Big. Don’t roll your eyes. It’s true and we knew it. The obligation to readers and the community was always there with me, whether it was a feature story about a pumpkin carving contest or a look into why the alderman’s buddy got the paving contract, and everything in between. I grew up in a journalism family and I took the responsibility seriously. Not a day went by when I didn’t feel honored to be part of the absolute foundation of our democracy.
Paula (who became Paula Tracy Cowie soon after) is now a television and freelance outdoors reporter. She’s one of many from those heady days to peel off to forge a different kind of career as the industry changed. When I mentioned that night to her today — by Facebook message, of course — she remembered it clearly. “We had a 30 rack of Bud and watched the fireworks.”
She added, “Getting the job done without cellphones; knocking on doors and asking to use the phone; dictating copy with notes only.”
“Those were the good old days.”
I had a summer job in 1978 at the Bath-Brunswick Times-Record updating the clip file when I was 17. I was a correspondent the summer of 1981 at the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and had a full-fledged reporting internship at the Portland Press Herald the summer of 1982. The day after my last college final — May 11, 1983 — I started at the Biddeford Journal-Tribune. We were a wild group of really young kids that included photographer Bob Bukaty, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, and Joe Battenfeld, who has been a political reporter for the Boston Herald for decades and has won three New England Emmy Awards for reporting. Those two, like many from that era, are still doing great journalism every day.
I worked at the Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette, the New Hampshire Union Leader and most recently the Kennebec Journal (again and where my dad was once managing editor) and Morning Sentinel in Waterville.
And yet my decision to break from journalism comes with no regrets. I’m not crying in my (after work long into the wee hours of the morning way past last call arguing laughing gossiping) beer. I’m thrilled to be a published mystery writer, a new career where I can tell a different kind of truth and work a part of my brain that has been patiently waiting its turn all these years. I also don’t mind doing something else to pay the bills — something that’s not journalism and I can leave behind when I leave the workplace. In fact, I embrace it. Three decades of helping to carry the torch day in and day out can wear a person out.
Newspapers have changed a lot over the past few decades. You don’t need me to tell you that. Those years where we tumbled like puppies through car accidents and puffy features, presidential primaries and city elections, floods and power outages, fires and murders (sometimes both at once) were a lifetime ago.
There’s a lot that can happen when you work at daily newspapers for 33 years straight. Inspiring journalism and shake-your-head-awful crud. We had lots of laughs, but also heart-shredding moments, things that chewed you up and spit you out then stomped on what was left just to make sure.
Despite the wild ride, one thing never changed. Every single day, no matter what the job was, where it was or what was going on in that newsroom, when I walked in I was still that 27-year-old girl who sat on the roof that night drinking warm beer and laughing at a future that seemed as endless and full of possibilities as the New Hampshire night sky, knowing I was one of the lucky ones.
EVENT: Maureen will be one of a dozen mystery and crime writers reading from their works at Noir @ the Bar, 3-5 p.m., Sunday, November 6, Bull Feeney’s in Portland. Also reading will be Brenda Buchanan, Gayle Lynds, Gerry Boyle, Jen Blood, Barb Ross, Lea Wait, Bruce Coffin, Jessie Crocker, Brendan Rielly, Dick Cass and more!. Kelly’s Books to Go will be selling books at the event by all of those who are reading. Come on over for a great afternoon!
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Facebook at Maureen Milliken mysteries, on Twitter at @mmilliken47, and check out her website, maureenmilliken.com for information, events and to sign up for email updates. Cold Hard News and No News is Bad News are available through S&H Publishing and all online outlets. Ask for them at your local bookstore!