When I was a young reporter, I worked for a weekly newspaper that had “community correspondents.” Country folk of a certain age will know what the term means. Every little community in the county had a correspondent, usually a longtime resident and almost always female, who would write up an account of the goings-on in the community for the week: church suppers, visitors in and out, illnesses, revivals, and occasionally items of greater news value. Their payment was typically a free subscription.
My job was to convert the correspondents’ reports into usable copy. This task varied from one person to another. Some correspondents sent neatly typed reports, correctly spelled and punctuated, leaving me little to do besides check for style issues and insert paragraphing where needed. Other columns arrived in wadded bundles of notebook paper, scribbled out in ancient handwriting, nearly indecipherable.
Such was the news from Turkey Creek. The Turkey Creek community lay in the east end of the county, far from any towns. It had lost its post office and school some years back. But it was still a voting precinct; on election night, Turkey Creek was usually the last to report, with its thirty votes. And it still had its community correspondent, whose name was Dees.
I never met Mrs. Dees, but she reported in from Turkey Creek faithfully, her handwritten message arriving every week. Things were slow on Turkey Creek most of the time, but she did her best to liven up her column with observations about the changing seasons and the condition of the roads. She always referred to herself in the third person, following some notion of proper style, and appeared to travel everywhere with a daughter, or perhaps a granddaughter, who went by Teenie. Perhaps that was her actual name. Mrs. Dees and Teenie traveled to Poplar Bluff and Greenville, and they visited neighbors. Teenie spent overnights with friends. And all was duly recorded in the News from Turkey Creek.
As a young college-educated smartass, I regarded Mrs. Dees’ news of Teenie with mockery, although I never let it show around the office. The owners knew the family and respected them. But at night, over beers with my friends, I would laugh at the tedious, inconsequential doings of Mrs. Dees and Teenie. The pinnacle of humor came with a three-week sequence of columns in which she took note (first week) that a dog had died just above the low-water bridge, and that the county road crew needed to come out and take care of it. Second week, the dog remained, and had become increasingly foul. Mrs. Dees expressed horror and again called upon the road department. By the third week’s column, Mrs. Dees had stopped the car and gone over to inspect, informing us that to her great disgust the dog had swelled to the point that a person could no longer tell if it was male or female. Fourth week, no report. Either the county or the scavengers took notice.
Only in later years did I reflect on Mrs. Dees’ column and its significance. Turkey Creek had been a logging community, building up after the turn of the century to decent size, with its own tram line to Greenville, where a person could connect to the larger world. After the log boom came to an end, Turkey Creek and its sister communities on the east side of the county began their slow slide to oblivion. After the post office and school were gone, what was left? The Baptist church, the polling place, and the weekly newspaper report.
What I thought of as silly nonsense was the last assertive echo: We are a place, we are people, we are still here, we mean something. Nowadays I don’t laugh about the travels of Teenie. I cherish them, and I wish Mrs. Dees had told us more.