As a little girl, I never set out to work at a newspaper one day. Sure, I watched "Superman" and thought it was neat that Lois Lane was flying off in a company helicopter to cover stories around the globe, but I never thought to myself, "I should do that one day!"
My aspirations would keep me closer to home, as I thought about going into medicine or being a veterinarian, since nobody seemed to be hiring any princesses. By the time I graduated high school, I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. During my college years, fear and frustration settled in my bones, like fog clinging to the top of a mountain, because the deadline to figure out what I wanted to do was nearing -- and fast!
I switched majors, then switched again, and yet switched again. I considered being a history teacher but at the time the market was glutted with those, so to speak, so I looked at social work, physical therapy and special education, to name a few.
Then a friend suggested we study journalism together, so I altered my course one more time -- but this time, it would be the last change. Writing was a natural fit for me.
I owe a lot to my first editor, Charles D. Nix. He hired me before I had even graduated and gave me a shot at a weekly newspaper in Harrisburg.
Right from the beginning I fell in love with the business although I would soon have to learn every facet of the job, from answering phones and delivering papers to building ads and laying out pages -- besides covering events, taking photos and writing stories and headlines.
It was a lot to have thrown at me at once, but I don't regret a moment of it. Working at a weekly, I got to learn every part of it. I even inserted ads by hand into the papers, and recall one time I stood as far back as I could as I had a meeting that afternoon with our congressman at the time, Marion Berry, and didn't want to get ink all over me.
Like me, Charles didn't set out in life to go into newspapers, but he married into a family who owned a weekly and he took to it like a duck takes to water. It was my first lesson that a college degree doesn't have to make you an expert, that writing news is a trade that could be learned like any other.
I came to the Guard in 1999 after my dad saw an ad here for a reporter. In some ways, it was more of a calling than a job, as I found myself in a position to write about things that would make a difference in people's lives. Oftentimes, it made a difference in mine.
Being a reporter, you get to be a jack-of-all-trades, covering any topic you can imagine under the sun. I learned more about government, schools, wastewater treatment and diseases than most people, and learned how important it is to get people's names right, whether they are a centenarian or an infant. And I learned how to spell centenarian (although I still stumble over accommodate)!
I've got to meet a lot of people and travel and do things outside my comfort zone. There are days this job is a lot of fun, and there are days where I've had to write stories that made me cry as my fingers flew across the keyboard. A few are still with me, and I am now very glad I did not go into social work.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention how big of a role my partner in life has played in all this. I have dragged him to countless conventions, meetings, dinners and events I have covered. Some, like the county fair and fall festivals and concerts, were fun; others, like attending the awards banquets, weren't, at least for him. He's held my camera bag, notebook and anything else I handed to him without batting an eye. He's walked a thousand miles beside me as I chased stories, and watched more than his share of pageants and other contests without knowing a soul competing. He's amazing.
Gary has supported me every step of the way and even moved away from his family in Jonesboro to Batesville for me, and I have repaid him by writing goofy columns about things he's done over the years. I only stopped (or at least slowed down) because we had Kaylee and it turns out, the things she does are goofier than her dad's!
But they are both my heart and soul, and I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to share this journey with them. Writing will always be a passion and I hope to continue in the future.
I will take away a lot of good memories and the people who have worked beside me aren't my colleagues or even my friends -- they are my family, now and forevermore. We've been through a roller coaster in both our professional and private lives, and there could not be a more supportive, loving and understanding crew than the folks who have darkened these doorways.
All that is left to say is thanks. Thanks to everyone who's read my words and bought a paper or shared a kind word. And if I have ever impacted your world, given you a laugh or made you cry, done you a solid and put your kid or grandkid or dog in the paper, or wrote a story or a column that held some meaning for you, I'm glad. It's truly been an honor to get to do this for more than half my life. I won't sign off with the -30- used by journalists to indicate the end of a story because I don't feel "done." Instead, I'll use another bit of newspaper jargon and say I've put it to bed.
Andrea Bruner can be reached at email@example.com.