Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Sentinel

Silver Creek’s answer to the New York Times was the Silver Creek Sentinel. Known to every kid in town as “the Senile,” it was a true mom-and-pop operation that was written, edited, formatted, printed, and delivered by Keezer and Edie Palman.

Keezer’s claim to journalistic experience was limited to writing a weekly “new recruit” column in the Ft. Dix newsletter while a medical clerk in WWII. Edie had a natural flair for gentle humor but a deplorable lack of attention to detail, which made each week’s issue a haven for unintentionally hilarious headlines and stories and howling misspellings. For example, after a rash of car break-ins the local police offered a reward for information. The Sentinel posted this news under the headline “$50 Reward for Car Thefts.” Which made it sound like a quick way to pick up $50. Notable typos included stories about the fundraising “carp wash,” a review of the high school’s production of “Our Twin,” and a fire at Birningham’s “Cry Cleaners.”

The heyday of juvenilely funny headlines came during the five years when Thomas Hooker was mayor. Every week there would be a story such as “Hooker Speaks to Kindergarten Class,” “Hooker Lands 20 lb. Trout,” and my ultimate favorite “Local Bishop Visits Hooker.” When you’re 12-years old, this is great stuff.

The rest of the paper was made up of such useless information as the attendees at a child’s birthday party, an out-of-town guest visiting some local citizen, or an interview with exciting luminaries like the postmaster and the head librarian. And, of course, each issue included must-read features such as the week’s menu in the high school cafeteria and a run-down of the local police blotter. The latter was where Edie really shined. I still have a clipping that reads: Mrs. Philip Carpenter of Blossom Road was mystified by finding one of her three garden gnomes repeated tipped over. Police identified the culprit as Lucy, the cocker spaniel of neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grover. Lucy has been sentenced to several days of “bad dog” and the withholding of milk bones.”

One of my favorite features was “Simon Sez,” which highlighted quotes by Simon Lang, the requisite odd duck and our own Yogi Berra. Simon was known for his incomprehensible homilies, nonsensical statements, and imponderable observations on life. Nearly every issue of the newspaper included at least one of Simon’s statements. “Sweaters don’t grow on trees,” “It takes a pigeon to see a statue from all sides,” “George Washington didn’t need a wife,” (which seemed highly unfair to Martha), and “If you don’t want the truth, don’t talk to the cat.” Many of these wonderfully weird comments became catch phrases in our family and to this day one of my brothers still says, “having pants don’t make you a man.”

When I was a little girl, every woman in town that received a mention in the Sentinel was referred to by her husband’s name. It was always Mrs. Louis Feldman or Mrs. Daniel Shaefer. Never Mary or Lorna. This always bothered me, but that was the way of the world back then. Married women had no identity other than that provided by their husband. Unmarried women were allowed to be Miss Jane Doe, but as soon and Jane married she magically lost her first name. Even if the woman were to be the center of the story, it would still be Mrs. Husband. “Mrs. Erwin Haefner Beaks Leg in Supermarket,” or “Mrs. Ralph Meeks to Visit Paris with Sister.”

Like most families in Silver Creek, our family received its share of column space. My siblings’ birthday parties, my sister winning a spelling bee, my father getting a promotion. All was considered public domain.

The one thing that always perplexed me was the inexplicable, invisible line drawn by the Palmans when it came to bad news. I could never understand why a wedding got a mention, but a much gossiped about divorce never did. Funeral notices were reverent and sanitized. A “lengthy illness” was always mentioned but anything tragic wasn’t. When Libby Rossman was killed in a skiing accident there was a brief news story with very few details, but her obit was full of phrases like “taken too soon,” and “unfortunate tragedy.” Even though we all talked about nothing but the grisly details, the Sentinel remained coyly silent throughout.

They were also careful not to name names of the guilty in the police blotter or short news pieces. When the Fowler twins were found to be responsible for setting fire to Mr. Meerson’s garage, the paper stayed mum about whodunit, despite the fact that we all knew. And Floyd Paulson’s penchant for public drunkenness was mentioned only as “a local tippler” although half the town had driven him home when found wandering around town.

Sadly the Sentinel closed down before I was out of high school. But it lives on in lined drawers all over town.

1 comment:

Fo said...

Love that one. Silver Creek rules!