It’s the little things about Newt that I’ll miss

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It feels a bit like “the day the music died” here at the Express. The Winters Express without Newt Wallace? It’s a bit unimaginable. But… there it is.

I guess I didn’t believe this day would actually come just yet. I was absolutely certain Newt would be at the next Friday the 13th party and he’d rally, and before long, I’d be writing the front page story on Newt’s 100th birthday. Life – and death – are what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Newt has been a fixture in our office since the day I began at the Express more than 25 years ago. He was often the first one I’d see in the morning, and lately the days often began with the morning eyedrop ritual.

“I can see for one more day,” he’d say every time after I’d dispense his drops.

There will be many in the community who remember the big things Newt did in the course of his lifetime here. I think it is the little things I’ll remember — and miss — the most… how much he looked forward to Friday the 13th parties… and the children’s St. Patrick’s Day parade…  how he grew that mysterious okra in his garden behind the old office…how he’d always say that “Santy” Claus was coming when Christmas Eve rolled around… that horrible, nasty brown-stained coffee cup he had at the old office… how he quietly gave me some Sucrets (do they even make Sucrets anymore?) one day when I was struggling with a hacking cough… how he’d announce excitedly that tapioca pudding was on the Senior Citizens Club lunch menu as he was heading over… buying him a good bottle of scotch every Christmas… the tappitty-tap-tap of his trusty Underwood typewriter…

Some may be stunned to discover this, but Charley was never my role model here at the Express. It was Newt. I think the nuance and value of what he brought to the Express, and the town, really sunk in the first time I watched that U.S. Information Agency documentary about him. Distributing the news really mattered to him and so, it mattered to me as well. The Express isn’t just a product to put out. It’s the recorder of our local history, and the one thread that strings us all together. It’s where you can turn if you need the truth and the facts about something. In other words… a community newspaper isn’t really about the news at all. It’s about trust. And, it was Newt who established that spirit of trust, and I like to think that I carried that baton for a bit.

One of the most amazing things about Newt was that encyclopedia in his head. I’d ask him some random question from 40 years ago, and he’d have the answer. If he didn’t, he’d often grumble that he couldn’t recall, but sure enough, give him 20 or 30 minutes and he’d come up to my desk with a photo or story that held the answer.

I think my favorite times with Newt were back in our old office. Charley put Newt in the far back room because he got nervous when the public came in needing assistance or information, due to his trouble hearing them. I got moved right back next to him because it was better for all concerned if someone else waited on the public if I was in the middle of writing a column or difficult story and had to drop what I was doing to take a garage sale ad. Newt, however, was a comforting presence. He’d often push the door between our space open just a bit so he could see if I was at my desk or not, and I found that kind of comforting, like it mattered to him somehow if I was there or not. That’s what it all really boils down to, I suppose… that it matters to somebody if you’re there or not. It mattered a lot to me that Newt was there every morning, which is why it matters so much now that he’s gone… but never forgotten. May there be an endless supply of scotch and tapioca pudding in heaven.

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