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Community pride

Tim Croft

This newspaper business is at times quite a strange occupation.

Though, to be blunt, it is as much a Facebook or website business as it is a newspaper business right now.

In the end, though, they are all just different platforms with the same name.

And as I remind frequent commenters on social media and at the Port St. Joe Star website, Facebook and online is the free side of content: kind of one of those “one gets what one pays for” bargains.

Back to the point, which is that can be a strange occupation which as most anyone who knows me well finds that such an occupation fits me like an old T-shirt (of which I have no none, thanks Michael).

But even my five brothers and sisters would not hesitate, if writing a biography, to write that I was one weird duck as a youth.

As a testament to how far up I married, to my wife’s chagrin I have continued along the strange spectrum into adulthood.

As an example, many wonder or comment how I could tolerate the vast array of meetings I must cover, but to me it is just a continuation of my education.

My father instilled in me the belief that education, particularly in journalism, is an ongoing part of the job.

One can’t write about what one knows nothing about, unless you are Bruce Springsteen and “have become absurdly successful writing about things with which I have no personal experience.”

So, the meetings, I repeatedly tell people to looks ranging from bemusement to horror, is central to the job.

People, I hope and believe in my marrow, want to be kept informed about local government and one tries one’s best to fulfill that pledge.

It is a pledge to be taken seriously but as with any pledge, sometimes the effort falls short.

On the other hand, one of the joys of a small-town newspaper is the variety of subjects on which to write.

In my career in daily newspaper newsrooms, I experienced a variety of beats, or central focus of my day.

Sports, state lawmakers and courts, crime, business, education, I pretty much dipped my keyboard in all of them and more.

One theory was that I might have been pretty good: my theory is folks just didn’t know how else to acquire distance from the strangeness.

Either way, I would not trade some of the experiences; covering a trial at the Florida Supreme Court or the 1999 national title game, Florida State against Virginia Tech and a freshman named Michael Vick.

Although, to think of it, I did actually trade the remnants of those experiences, including a large bag of press badges, with Michael.

Eight days in New Orleans on a company account as the millennium changed, Talladega, Daytona, high school and college hoops and baseball, I had a ball.

But at the micro level, in a small town, the good stuff is off the charts and more than mitigates county, school board and city meetings that eat up way too much time.

And, at the risk of promoting my paper and my stories (or, cough, cough, to thank all those who relayed birthday wishes this past week), this week’s paper makes my chest puff.

Not that I wrote well, heck I am a hack at heart, but the subjects uplift.

On one side of Port St. Joe, there was a blitz build during which volunteers built a man a new home in three days.

Those volunteers were all white and few from the community.

They came together, in blistering temperatures, to work and build a home for someone, a Black man, they did not know.

That was just something to behold.

Another story this week involves fire training in South Gulf County.

In miserably hot weather, there was training transpiring (and perspiring) with a firefighter donning full bunker gear for nearly eight hours to certify as a firefighter to enter burning buildings.

Let that one sink in.

“Honey, my weekend is starting by strapping 50 pounds to me so I can learn to enter a fire in the hope I don’t get killed.”

“Have a nice day, dear.”

I have always been stunned, gob smacked, by the county’s volunteer fire departments, the dedication, the sense of community, found in every fire house, Beaches to Wewahitchka.

And that there are ordinary folks willing to answer that phone, regardless of time or circumstances, and know that call could lead to one’s never returning.

Don’t know about you but to me that is bravery at an elemental level.

There is much to fix in the community, starting with the impacts from the current pandemic and traveling past Hurricane Michael.

Issues of racial and income disparity, while certainly universal, trouble the local waters.

Rebound, recovery, restoration, words heard after Michael remain distant though much good work has been done by many.

Not just in by out-of-state volunteers and firefighters, but the long-term recovery committee, the churches and so many others lending a hand, or in some cases a hammer.

From all over the South.

Truly, that cliché about a community holds and we have much, much of which to be proud, that to an extent mitigates the troubles.

And that is what provides hope simultaneously to pride.

Even a strange little brain like mine can figure that out time to time.