Robin Washington: He’s baaack — and reconnecting with pastIt’s an absolutely beautiful mid-September day and I am driving up the shore from Duluth to Two Harbors to the quaint – how else to describe it?
By: Robin Washington, Lake County News Chronicle
It’s an absolutely beautiful mid-September day and I am driving up the shore from Duluth to Two Harbors to the quaint – how else to describe it? – News-Chronicle office. The staff is at work and waiting for me, the latest in a line of editors and publishers coming to tell them what to do, even if they already know it. Community members also drop by to say –
Wait a minute. Is this one of those dreams where you’re suddenly back in school, taking a test, and you realize you haven’t gone to class all semester (I’ve had those)? It was indeed mid-September when I first drove up Waterfront Drive, but September 1986, before I left for big-city journalism in Boston the next January. Why am I doing this 23 years later?
Relax, I tell myself. It’s just temporary and, well, who else would the News Tribune and Forum Communications, now the Chronicle’s owner, pluck to fill in between editors?
My déjà vu experience follows last week’s departure of Holly Henry, who only a few months before succeeded longtime editor Forrest Johnson (who succeeded Robert Allen, who succeeded me, who succeeded Hugh Bishop, for those keeping track of editorial begats.) Some left by their own choice, some not.
And now one has returned.
“I know someone who knows you,” Dave Lukkonen, our 20-something advertising manager, tells me.
Though I have kept in contact with some friends from those days, I’m still surprised.
“Who?” I ask.
“My grandfather,” he says cheerfully.
That’s not what I want to hear. Father or uncle, I can deal with. But then again, Dave would have been 2 years old when I last labored in this building. My then-6-year-old daughter, who played among the CompuGraphic typesetting machine while keeping distance from the scary, now long-removed printing press, is three years his senior and a Boston newspaperwoman in her own right.
Nonetheless, I have to call Dave’s grandpa. The last time I saw him, Karl Aho and his wife Alene were taking me to a goodbye dinner, at the Pickwick in Duluth, I believe. During the meal he turned and said: “I know something no one else knows,” and preceded to recite from memory a 20-odd stanza poem of a long dead obscure poet.
“Hello Karl and Alene,” I leave the message on their machine, apologizing. “I have no good reason for not calling you for the past five years.” I assume they know of my return to the area, hardly a secret on the pages of the Duluth News Tribune.
It’s time to make other reconnections, even if some are being made for me. The newspaper is full of names I remember, or at least family names – the children, or grandchildren, in some cases – of townsfolk past. Klein. Bolen. Costley.
Not everyone is a stranger. I previously reconnected with then-Chronicle staffer Nesty Uppgaard, and her sons, one of whom wandered into my News Tribune column as a Katrina refugee in 2005. So too with our colleague Donna Carlson, who occasionally writes letters to the News Tribune. If there is more than one Donna Carlson locally, there’s only one with her strong opinions (which I recall once resulting in a hunter, fully outfitted, barging into the newspaper’s front room to have it out with her over an editorial. She more than held her own.)
But like with the Ahos, I had no explanation for not contacting Lois Lundberg, the Chronicle’s office manager for 27 years when I became her boss at 29. No big deal for her; by then, she had trained about a dozen editors and publishers.
She eventually retired after 35 years, and a little less than a year ago took to assisted living at Sunrise on Superior. I last visited her 20 years ago on a trip back and have corresponded a few times since, but not after returning to the area in 2004.
It’s tea time at Sunrise when I walk in. The girls (that’s how they refer to themselves), about 20 of them, and happy to see a “young” man, are seated at two long tables. I look to the right and don’t see her or whoever’s in charge. Then I turn left and –
“Hi Robin,” Lois says, as if I had just visited last Thursday.
She’s traveled a bit since retiring – Portugal, London, California – and really hasn’t slowed down. Sunrise named her senior of the month in June. And I’m humbled that she’s followed my columns and career; knowing the story already, I think, when I tell her of my encounters with a man who later became president of the United States.
Tea time’s over and Lois, of course, has things to do. We hug, and on the ride back to Duluth that evening, I replay the scene and laugh to myself. What had I been waiting for?
And it’s then I realize that it was on the expressway, not Scenic 61, that my fondness for the area solidified, leading to my return after a generation of worldly experiences. Then, as now, I lived in Duluth, and those rides home, into the brilliant September sunsets, were the chance to reflect on my quaint and quirky days in Lake County.
Under the more than capable tutelage of a woman who’d trained a dozen editors and publishers. This one, for one, is truly grateful.
Robin Washington is interim editor of the News Chronicle and news director of the Duluth News Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com