Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 7, 2012

Vanessa McCray: Goodbye more than packing up

By Vanessa McCray

---- — I'm writing this column on Friday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m.

It's the last hours of my final day at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, and I'm sifting through a stack of yellowed newspapers from my 10 year career at this paper. The cubicle must be emptied, but first there're memories to revisit.

A Northern People story about a longtime music teacher transports me back to a snowy drive to the edge of Old Mission Peninsula and the trudge down a tiny two-track. That's where my car got stuck. I might still be there were it not for the help of a passing stranger. The woman I interviewed had made this trip for years — on snowshoes.

In each drawer and on every shelf hide city commission packets, old phone directories and 66-and-counting notebooks full of my impossible-to-read scrawl. At every turn, a story.

Next up: the celebrity pile. Michael Moore (of course), Madonna, Tom Brokaw. The newsy stack: Research on a proposed (now dead) parking deck and mixed-use development, city zoning maps, teen pregnancy stats.

The quirky ones: Roller Derby girls, burlesque dancers, ghost hunters, a fruitcake baker. The how-to reports: How to prepare for winter, how the elderly can prevent a fall, how to use native plants to attract birds, how to survive holiday stress, how to get divorced and remain friends. The routine stories: weather reports, gas prices, election results.

There's the story from the Royal Wedding, in which I and hundreds of hat-wearing ladies waited in the wee morning hours to watch on the State Theatre screen as two strangers got married across the ocean.

And, there's the heart-breaking stories. Parents who welcomed me into their homes the day after their child died, relatives searching for a missing loved one, gambling addiction, suicide, brain tumors, poverty, death and destruction.

I'm thankful to every person who let me tell their story, who whispered a tip in my ear, and even those who mailed my stories back — clipped out and dotted in red ink. Storytelling is what I love most about my job, and your stories are what I'll remember most about my time in Traverse City.

I want to bring that love to my next newspaper job and hope to encounter as many intriguing and welcoming people.

As I approach the bottom of a towering newspaper stack, I find the single story that was picked up by more news agencies than any other. And wouldn't you know, it's about a turkey. A 25-pound turkey that flew through the third-story window of a Traverse City man's bedroom, leaving a trail of feathers and blood in its path.

I file it in the quirky pile. It's quite a town I'm leaving.