Perspective From the Newspapers

The first roll of microfilm threaded through the library’s reader as if it were on a mission to be viewed.  I smiled, hopeful that with a new set of film covering five months of the 1965 Green Bay Press-Gazette from there would be some clue about my childhood accident — was there even a fire call?

I’d already viewed a year of Green Bay Press-Gazettes from 1964 and found absolutely nothing.  This didn’t completely discourage me since my mother had made entries in my baby book about the accident’s dates as both November 1964 and 1965.  Other than those baby book entries, the stories I’d heard and the whispers behind cupped hands, the only empirical verification I had of my burned leg accident was the leg itself.

“Annie, why are you looking for this stuff?” my friend Mr. Baum asked me in his endearing but quizzical manner.  “Are you not quite right in the head?” he chided.   As a reporter, Mr. Baum asked questions for a living for more than 40 years.  They were questions worth posing.

Even though I felt confident that the stories I’d heard about burning my leg on a stove at age two were probably right-on-the-money accurate, I couldn’t help but look for some verification outside of the pool of relatives who served as my sources.

“There are some things a person just wants to know.”  It wasn’t the most scientific of answers but it seemed to quiet Mr. Baum, at least for the time being.

The microfilm reader hummed as I paged through images of the newspaper from 40 some years ago.  My mother’s entries in my baby book said that in August I put my hand to the stove and burned it, a spooky foreshadowing of the larger injury to come.  But the August newspapers didn’t carry a fire call and it was more likely than not that this burn was treated at home or the doctor’s office.

As the November dates approached, I felt tension.  Would it matter one way or the other if there was a news item or fire call on Tuesday, November 23rd?  I knew it wouldn’t but kept paging through the microfilm just to check.  “Clearing and cold tonight.  Low near 23 degrees,” was the weather report for that day.

An annual solar eclipse occurred November 23, 1965. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth.   Depending on which literature you read, “eclipses are dramatic tools the universe uses to create change (http://www.astrologyzone.com/eclipses/).  A solar eclipse is always a new moon and in astrology tends to mark new beginnings,” explains the astrologer Susan Miller.

Solar eclipse of November 23, 1965
SE1965Nov23A.png

Any news of my accident was eclipsed as well.  There was no mention.  Not on the November 23rd, not on the 24th and not on the 25th, which was Thanksgiving Day.

For a moment I felt sad and stared ahead at the microfilm reader, only half-reading the Thanksgiving Day editorial.  “On Thanksgiving Day, Americans need to give thanks for weathering national perils, and for the victories we have achieved over disease, hunger and the inhumanity of war.  America has come a long way since that landing day in 1629…..Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof.”  If you took the 1965 date off the editorial, it would have been just as relevant today.

In my case, the morrow indeed took care of itself.  I’ve been blessed with good health, good work and good friends.  My accident shaped me but never defined me.  I couldn’t say the same for my parents, gone since the 1990s.  From everything I learned, the accident changed them and their relationship for the rest of their days.  I was oblivious to it until I started searching around for clues in the last couple years.

I thought of what their Thanksgiving Day 1965 would have been like, with a child in the hospital and no assurance she would live.    I couldn’t imagine it.  I didn’t want to imagine it.  When I started searching microfilm, I was looking for my own perspective.  But the newspapers found a way to give me theirs.

It didn’t seem to matter much that I hadn’t found a news item or fire call in the newspapers.  In fact, now I was kind of glad none appeared.  My heart ached for my parents.

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Research: The Last Leg(s) of the Process

When I started my book project, the concept of research seemed counter-intuitive to me.  Why would I have to research my own story?  Didn’t I know my own story well enough to write it?

In short order, my pesky assumption unraveled.   Even though I know my own perspective, I wanted to interview relatives, find medical records, seek out old letters and documents and as the proverbial “last leg” of the research, investigate newspapers from back in the day to see if any empirical evidence of my accident on the stove existed.  That is, was there even a fire call listed in the paper that day? 

The need to fill in the lines brought me to micro film and an intra-library loan (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/intra-library-loan-time/).  When I arrived at the Harold Washington Library and headed up to the intra-library loan department, I received eight small cardboard boxes, each held tight with a rubber band and each containing a month of the Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1964.  Microfilm readers are cumbersome boxes reminiscent of ancient technology.  For many years however they were the best way to preserve newspapers, rare books and other culturally irreplaceable material.

I hadn’t used a microfilm reader since high school and asked for help from the reading room librarian.  Pulling the roll of film out of the box, she showed me how to load it on to the reader like you would an old reel-to-reel movie on a projector.  Once the film loaded, she showed me the various controls to move from page to page and to size the film on the screen. 

As I hand-scrolled through the newspapers, I got lost in the details of the day.  High taxes were an issue.  St. Joseph Academy and Premontre were hosting a joint Catholic college night.  November weather was partly cloudy with a low near 28 and a high projected at 50 degrees.  The Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys on an upcoming Sunday (they won 45-21) and the comic pages contained Marmaduke, Ponytail, Kerry Drake, Beetle Bailey and Blondie.  President Kennedy had died the year before.  Johnson was President.

There was not a single fire call or news item that mentioned me or my accident.  I put the last roll of microfilm back its box and returned it to the desk. 

By now, I’d interviewed a number of relatives, received as many medical records as probably existed, found old letters and my baby book with my mother’s hand-inscribed account of the accident (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/happy-burn-iversary/). That seemed enough to complete my research even if there was no record in the local newspaper.  Or was there? 

Since the stories said that I was variously 2 or 3 when the accident happened, maybe I searched the wrong year for the newspaper. 

I returned to the reference desk and ordered the Green Bay Press-Gazette on micro film for 1965 and 1966.  If this is the last leg of my research phase, I’ll need to be thorough.