This is the third time in my career that I've had to sit down and write this column. Experience, self-perceived wisdom, age and circumstance never lightens the load. This is hard.

 


This is the third time in my career that I've had to sit down and write this column. Experience, self-perceived wisdom, age and circumstance never lightens the load. This is hard.
It's really, really difficult.
I'm saying farewell to Leesville today. It's my last day here at the Leesville Daily Leader, a home I've shared with my employees, our readers and my friends for the last nine years. I'm walking through that big, ugly orange door for the last time as Publisher of the Leader.
We all have taken advice from "they," and they say you aren't supposed to reflect when one door closes and another opens. They say you're supposed to open the next door and walk through with a smile.
Whoever "they" is ... they can stuff it.
In 1999 I had to bid farewell to my hometown of Jennings through this same medium. I shed tears over my keyboard then, as I am now. In 2002 I arrived in Leesville. I must admit I knew very little about this town other than stopping at Price-Lo grocery store to stock up on goodies before shuffling off to Toledo Bend as a youngster.
I knew Fort Polk was nearby, but didn't know exactly where.
I knew the high school had a funny mascot ... and had no clue about the derivation of Wampus Cat, other than the football team put my Jennings Bulldogs out of the playoffs on a last second touchdown way back in 1983.
What I didn't know when I accepted the job here was that I would fall in love with the town, the people and Vernon Parish. I also didn't know Hwy. 171 was a one way until I turned the wrong way heading south out of the Market Basket parking lot my very first day. That was sobering — for me and the angry little lady in the white car. I swear she signaled to me that either I was No. 1 or I was allowed one mistake.
I knew I was going to have a lot of fun here the minute I began making friends — and I met a lot of good people while galavanting all over the forest attending basketball games across the parish.
I even enjoyed meeting Kirk Pellerin, who would become my Thursday morning nemesis during football season. I'll miss Kirk's constant badgering for a statue to be erected in his likeness outside the Leader office.
I came across Rick Barnickel, Sam Fertitta and Jeff Skidmore while covering football games. You couldn't ask for three better comrades who share a passion for high school football that has been a white hot inferno inside this scribe for more than 30 years.
It's ironic that Rick was one of the first people I met when I moved here and he is one of the last people I spent time with before leaving this week. Thursday nights won't be the same without our Gridiron Gumbo show Rick. And I'll miss you Kahuna. Sam and Jeff, hold down the pressbox this season and I hope you find someone to hand you stats during the game. If not, call me and I'll make a few trips up here.
There have been many coaches and players I've come in contact with over the years — way too many to name here. Just know that I remember every one of you and I hold fond memories. I do have to mention two men though. Robert Causey and Mark Mawae. It became tradition and maybe just a hint of superstition that I would arrive at the LHS field house at 4 p.m. every Friday afternoon.
I would sit in the coaches room and chew the fat with those two guys for a few hours before every home game. It was Mark who introduced me to the value of watching Telemundo. Muchas gracias a mi amigo. Mark departed Leesville a few years ago, as did every coach with the exception of Causey and Sedrick Clemons. Those two guys were here during my entire nine-year run. Robbie, I finally have the scoop for you ... I have no clue about half the stuff you said to me regarding defensive schemes. Sed is probably the friendliest person I've every met in my life.
Every week ... well, maybe not every week right Steve ... I would attend Rotary Club meetings at The Landmark. It was more than just a civic meeting. They are my friends. And I'll miss those meetings. If I would win a lottery jackpot, I would have all the happy dollars in the world — or at least a thousand for every one of you who made me feel like I was part of a family.
As the publisher of the paper, I came in contact with many, many people over the years in a professional capacity — business people, professionals and politicians the like. I met many members of law enforcement and shook a lot of hands. I've covered the terms of three mayors in Leesville and I've enjoyed getting to know each of them. Jim, thanks for the coffee and delicious food. Most of all thank you for the friendship and for respecting my position at the paper.
The newspaper business is very rewarding most of the time, but there are times when it becomes an unpleasant necessity. Covering stories that affect our community is a must, even though some of those stories can take a toll emotionally on us.
I remember every mug shot of soldiers we've lost to war over the years. I will never become accustomed to seeing the faces of men not so much older than my own sons who gave their life for my freedom. I always think about their families, often shedding tears for parents I've never met ... for wives and children I'll never meet.
Thank you all for your service.
Now the part I have been dreading. How do you say goodbye to family? My employees and co-workers have been like family to me. I spend more time with them than I ever have with my own family. I feel their emptiness when their husbands are in Iraq or Afghanistan. I take on their anguish when loved ones are sick or hurt. I appreciate their hard work each and every day, even though I didn't always verbalize that sentiment.
I've worked alongside Rachael and Nina (Brian is a pretty good name for a baby), and Tammy was my right arm. There were a few Jennifers, a Candy, a Kelly or two and I'll never forget Judy. I've hired a Trish, a Chrissy, a Becky, a Destiney and a Rosanna. I enjoyed the musings of Daniel and Willy T and admired Bonnie's passion for life. I took road trips with Curtis and T-Jay and exchanged put-downs with the likes of Kim and Theresa (who will cut my hair now?). I've admired the talent of Elona and I'll never forget April and Tiffany and my fishing trip with Archie. Man, the crawfish was delicious. Thank you for sharing Tracie with us. And Tracie, thanks for all the talks.
I've had a short time to know Traci B and wish all the luck to "The Kunk" in his promising career. Oh, and I'll hug Sarah as I walk out the door for the last time.
Thank you all for making my time here special. I take each and every one of you with me in my heart and our memories together are locked away for eternity.
OK Mr. They ... now you can close that ugly orange door behind me.
I'll only be down the road a bit, but it will feel like 1,000 miles.
Just as I'll always be a Bulldog, I will forever be a Wampus Cat.
Just as Jennings is my true home town, I also consider Leesville my home town as I drive out tomorrow. Thank you for a wonderful nine years and don't be surprised if I pop in from time to time for a visit. You can take me out of Vernon Parish, but you can't really remove Vernon Parish from my heart.
Au revoir, folks.