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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

My 25th anniversary

Friday, January 30, 2009

Twenty five years.

That's a long time. But that's how long my weekly column has appeared in the Piggott Times.

The date slipped my mind but Tim Blair, news manager, reminded me last week that my first column appeared on January 25,1984.

I was a newcomer to Piggott at that time.

My husband, Bill, and I had built a cedar home in the hills west of Piggott. It took almost two years, with help from our son, to complete the building project. Prior to that, we lived in Gosnell near Blytheville Air Force Base.

After we settled in, I decided I wanted to start writing again.

For several years I had written a column for the Blytheville Courier News.

So I took my short resume to the newspaper office in Piggott and left it for consideration. The nice lady at the counter took my resume and said she would be sure to show it to the editor, Ron Kemp. Her name was Louise Ellis. Her counterpart at the newspaper was Marie Hillyer.

Nothing happened so I went back to the Times office and retrieved my resume.

A couple of weeks later while I was in the waiting room at a local dentist's office, I saw that nice lady again. She recognized me too. She said Ron Kemp had been wanting to locate me for an interview. It seems my resume had disappeared. So an interview was set up and I was hired,.

I began writing a weekly column and also wrote feature stories.

My first feature story in February 1984 was about Piggott resident Ronnie Baker, a riverboat pilot. Today, Mr. Baker is.still in a tugboat wheelhouse, navigating rivers. He tows 200 foot long, 35 foot wide barges laden with tin, coal, alumninum, steel and other ores. He's looking forward to retirement.

The second feature was about gospel singer Bob Byrd of Piggott. His gospel singing had spanned 30 years with various quartets.Today Byrd is still a member of the First Baptist Church choir.

I guess I've enjoyed column writing more than anything.

I write about everyday happenings, funny and sad. It is an outlet for me, and I enjoy the feedback from readers.

Just last week I received a note from a subscriber in Florida who says she enjoys my weekly.column in the Times.

Over the past 25 years, I've won numerous first place awards in the annual Arkansas Better Newspaper contest. My first award in 1987 was a serious column titled The bluebird legacy.

It's still one of my favorites.

I also won a first place for a column about my mother. She was slipping away from me because of alzheimer's. She died at age 93.

The first column that appeared in The Times was The special plate on January 25, 1984.

Another early column was about Chip, our family pet. It was titled That confounded dog.

We got Chip when he was five weeks old,. He was a snow white bundle of wavy hair. Chip died two weeks shy of his 17th birthday. I taught Chip to perform many tricks; he taught me things about life and love.

There have been other dogs, but none matched Chip, our funny looking dog.

I diverge now and remember earlier articles written before I moved to Piggott.

One of my favorite personal features was an article about touring Air Force One, the president's flying Oval Office. I wasn't allowed to take photographs so I tried to memorize everything I saw so that I could write about the president's plane. The private tour was set up for me while I was vacationing in Maryland with my daughter. For security purposes those private tours are no longer permitted

During the Vietnam War, I interviewed military wives at Blytheville Air Force Base and wrote feature stories about their husbands who were killed or missing in action. This was at a time when everything was hush hush about the war and US involvement. Some of the wives didn't know if their husbands were in prison camps or if they had died in plane crashes. It would be months before some would know.

I sat in the living room of one of those wives. Just days before, her husband had been reported missing in action. She was holding the last letter he had written to her. Their one year old daughter played nearby.

On a table in the corner was a Christmas tree with several unwrapped gifts. She said she would not take down the tree until her husband came home. It would be years before she learned he had died in a B-52 plane crash when the aircraft was shot down by enemy fire.

It was an unpopular war with America divided, some demanding withdrawal. The stories I wrote were not welcomed by the military who preferred that all information be kept quiet. And when several of the crewmen were finally released from prison camps and were flown back home to Blytheville Air Force Base, I was there for a big banner waving welcome as they deplaned.

Sadly, some did not return.

A monument in their honor was erected at the air base and it is still there. Atop the engraved monument is a metal replica of a B-52 bomber aircraft. I inteviewed the airman who built that replica in the maintenance section of the air base. He painstakingly worked for months on the replica that honors nine crewmen from the Blytheville base who did not return from their Vietnam mission.

Stories like that were hard to write but, in retrospect, writing has been fun. I hope readers have found my musings worthwhile.

Twenty five years. Where did the time go?



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Peggy Johnson
From These Hills