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Goodbye to my favorite newspaper

My heart was broken the day I packed up my desk to leave The Bolivar Commercial for the last time. Moving was not in my plan and leaving my position as a staff writer in 2018 wasn’t either. When I applied for the job I had no idea what I was doing. I figured, “I can write. Why not try this?”
Little did I know that I would learn more from Denise Strub and Diane Makamson in five years than I ever did in a traditional school setting. 
From my first interview ever with Judson Thigpen to many many board meetings with Mayor Nowell to life lessons with Chief Buster Bingham and Fire Inspector Greg Jackson, I learned about my community in a way that many aren’t blessed with. 
I was able to ask questions, know secrets, learn things first, go behind the scenes, and have answers to every single question people posted on Facebook. 

Not only that, but I was able to see how a small business can give back to its community. Never did I see the Bolivar Commerical not jump at the opportunity to help another person. 
One Christmas, we got a letter from a child that wouldn’t be receiving presents--a few weeks later, Santa dropped off an entire Christmas at the paper for those children and we were able to celebrate with them. 
When a reporter’s mother passed, the entirety of the BC staff took up two pews in the funeral home. That was the first funeral I ever attended but it allowed me to see another glimpse at the family I’d become a part of. 
We celebrate holidays, birthdays, and new babies all with food and excitement. 
James and Spencer helped me fix random things I should have known how to do on my own, taught me all about the weird machines in the back, and made me laugh constantly. 
Sharon, Brittany, Caroline, and Coretta kept me in check in more ways than one all while ensuring that the happy birthday song was never missed for anyone in the building. 
Sharon “mommed” me in times when I didn’t know I needed it. She told me hard truths. She loved me even though she’d never admit it. 
That family was always in my corner. When my own family had hit rock bottom and thought we were completely alone, I remember driving straight to the newspaper. I didn’t go home, I didn’t go pick up Nana from daycare, I drove to the paper. I was met at the door, where I cried and was told everything would be okay. Then, of course, I was told to stop crying because Diane only lets you have a pity party for so long. 
I made one of my very best friends through a fishbowl window, where we talked about our community, our hopes, our dreams, our fears, and our love of cheesy TV shows. We prayed together, we did devotionals together, and I taught her to love planners with me. We drank coffee, always figured out “what’s for lunch” and had each other’s backs. 
The Bolivar Commercial is so much more than a newspaper. These people have always been there. When Bolivar County became an iceberg, the paper was published. When the city flooded, the paper was published. Anytime anyone was asleep, rest assured, Diane Makamson was not. She was awake, had already run through her emails, and why weren’t you in the newsroom yet, don’t you know deadline is at 10? 
For 100 years, The Bolivar Commerical informed, supported, and even took beatings from readers who didn’t like to read difficult truths. Yet, it still printed. It still pressed on. 
I have no doubt, every single person that made up that paper will continue to do the same. I hope, with its final printing, some will realize the legacy that was left behind and appreciate all of the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly love, that was put into The Bolivar Commercial. 
I love you all. Thank you for loving me. 

An open letter to the coach I love the most

I see you after football games. Your mood oftentimes a direct reflection of the numbers on the scoreboard. You know you’re about to have to face parents and those conversations may good or bad but the parents are what make or break you more times than not. 

Sometimes you’re told you’re the worst coach ever and anyone could call a better play than that. 

Of course you could, from the stands. We all could. 
You stay at the school hours after everyone else has gone home, drawing up plays and making lists. Those are the same plays and lists I find on scraps of napkins as I turn out pockets to do the wash. 
On days when you feel defeated, both on the field and off, I want you to remember for whom you coach.
It’s so easy for you to believe that you’re coaching for the administration that hired you.
But that's not why you coach. 

It can sometimes feel like you coach for the parents--ever so careful you don’t say anything that might upset them. Might make them think you’re pushing their child too hard or being too unfair. 
That’s not why you coach. 
You don’t coach to ensure their child gets the same amount of playing time as everyone else.
That’s not why you coach. 
You can even think you coach for a school, a mascot, colors on a banner, or another coach. 
None of that is why you coach.  
You coach to ensure their child understands that their playing time is a direct reflection of what they do in their off time. 
You coach for the group of boys that show up to school an hour early, smaller and younger than everyone else but lifting heavier weights than some seniors. 
You coach for the college freshman that texts you every single holiday to tell you how much he appreciates all you did for him his senior year. 
You coach for the college freshman that looks into the stadium seats to find you. Because he knows you’re there whether he steps onto the field or not. 
You coach for the player that runs into your room to show you camp letters, college letters, and recruitment texts. 
You coach for the players that find you in Wal-Mart as we’re out shopping to tell you how much they love you. 
You coach for the babies that wanted a Pee-wee football team. 
You coach for the Okra Campers that needed someone as enthusiastic and goofy as you as their leader. 
You coach for the elementary kids that walked up to you at church and said “hey, Coach” with a deep Southern drawl. 
You coach for the cafeteria workers that always slipped you extra snacks “for Coach.” 
You coach for the little boy still inside you that stood on the sidelines all through elementary school watching the big boys play football. 
You coach for the little boy that said, “Throw the ball, Daddy,” when he was still learning to run well. 
You coach for your own little girl who asks every Friday, “Are we going to see Daddy’s game?” 
You even coach for me. 

And most importantly, you coach because it’s what God made you to do. You coach because He gave you a passion. A fire. A true gift to be a light to every player you come across. To show them what humble looks like. To show them what Christ’s love looks like. To show that God never gives up on them and neither does their coach. 
There will be wins and losses. That’s life and football. Hopefully, there will be more wins but I pray we have enough losses to appreciate the wins when they come. 
But as I see you come home and drop your soaking wet shoes at the door, hang your whistle and hat on the wall, and love on our daughter with tired eyes I’m just grateful--along with hundreds of others. 

I’m so grateful that you coach.


This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial. 

Teachers and the things they say

I went out to dinner with my family the other night and my mind started to wander. For some reason, within a few minutes I was back in high school math classroom talking to a friend about my first date. 
I was 16 years old and was asked to eat supper with a boy in my grade. I was so excited. We went to a local wings place where we ate, talked, and mutually decided we would like to remain friends. It was one of those dates that wasn't bad, but was very clear by the end of the evening. 
The next day, a classmate asked how the date went. 

Let me back up and set the scene here. 

Class was over. Students were chatting and waiting for the bell. The teacher was at the front of the room. 
I told her that it was nice, but we decided not to go out on another date for various reasons, mainly that our choices of extracurricular activities didn't exactly match up. We spoke quietly when suddenly the teacher, we'll call her Mrs. Smith, said in front of the entire class, "Courtney, you need to stop. I'm sure that he didn't want to date you and you're fabricating things. All of the faculty know you're a liar."

I was stunned. I was 16. She said this in front of every single one of my classmates. Another student sat down behind me and said, "Oh my gosh. I can't believe you didn't say anything. Or leave." 
At the time, with a mouth like I had, I'm sure I had plenty to say but now as a teacher, I know why I didn't. She was my teacher. I really liked her and considered her "safe." But when she said that, and basically told me the other teachers I admired talked badly of me outside of the classroom, I was devastated. I felt unwanted. 

I'm 30 years old and still remember that. I could even tell you what she was wearing and where everyone sat. 
What that teacher said mattered and stayed with me long after graduation. 
Years later, I sat in my senior writing or poetry class in undergrad. I loved writing and was so excited to take a writing class from someone I thought highly of because of their position at the university. 
Unfortunately, he did not think so highly of me, for reasons I'll genuinely never quite grasp. However, I do remember listening and taking notes one day only to have him ask me a question I couldn't answer. "I'm not sure," I replied. He asked me what I was doing on my computer and implied I wasn't attentive. 
"I'm taking notes. I'm listening. That doesn't mean I know the answer to your question." 
That was the beginning of a tough semester. 

A few weeks later, I entered the classroom and felt a familiar pressure on my chest as the anxiety of being in this room and feeling inadequate and disliked settled over me. Nervously, I chewed my nails and watched the clock, waiting for class to be over with the understanding that it was one step closer to graduation.
Looking straight at me from across the circle of desks, he said, “I was once told that when a person chews their nails they are essentially chewing on the dead skin cells they’ve scratched from their body. Chewing your nails is a disgusting habit.” 
The entire class was silent. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. 
It wasn’t until two years later, after my acceptance into an amazing children’s literature graduate program when a published and award-winning author and professor sat me down in her office once summer that I realized the impact these comments had on me. 
“Who did this to you?” She asked over her cup of tea. 
Many years after that I received a letter from that same undergraduate teacher applauding one of my columns and my teaching in general. I saved it--this was the first time I’d ever heard something positive from him in regards to anything I’d done. 
What we say to our students matters. It stays with them years after they leave our classrooms. What if every comment we made about something appeared on their skin somewhere? How would what we say about those we lead define them? I told my husband the story of the high school teacher and he was shocked. “Why haven’t you told me that before? And why are you thinking of it now?”

I didn't know why I was thinking of it at dinner in a Mexican restaurant but the point was that it was on my mind. 
I want to be on my student's mind. But I want to be on their minds because of the good things I’ve said to them. I want them to remember the costumes, the glitter, the books, and the hot pink microphone. 
What have you said to those around you lately that they will remember?

This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial.

John Ford: Thank you for the fascinating days

I never thought I’d be good at reading, or even be close to liking Shakespeare however, every once in a while we have someone come into our lives that has the ability to change even the strongest of opinions.
Mr. John Ford was that person for me.
When I read of his passing, I immediately thought of my first interaction with him.
He accompanied his wife Dr. Susan Allen Ford on the Delta State Ireland trip and I couldn’t help but admire his love for absolutely everything he encountered during our time there.

Another student grinned as she told us that evening how Mr Ford came into the lobby and said “Today was fascinating.”
It seems that’s how he viewed all things—or at least any experience I happened to be witness to. Everywhere we went as we explored Ireland, the Fords held hands. They did this in Cleveland and I often saw the two of them strolling the sidewalks as I drove home or to Charlie’s house.
Their love for each other meant a great deal to me. From the outside, it seemed so kind and genuine. He spoke of her with the utmost respect and she spoke of him the same.

Their love for each other inspired me. Their kindness and respect towards one another was my example as I navigated how to treat my own spouse.
Shortly after his retirement, I had the opportunity to interview Dr Ford about her and her husbands teacher careers. In that interview I asked a question I always had. Why is it you call Mr. Ford “John Ford?” I noticed it when I took Dr Fords advanced comp class for the second time. It was something so cute that I copied it making Brettwarren a habit that has stuck for the last 8 years.
Her answer made me appreciate their relationship even more. She said there were several men named John in their family so the need to differentiate was important. She also said that with his personality, “One name just wasn’t enough.”
That got me. It was so true the more I thought about my classes with him and times learning from both of the Fords. One name just wasn’t enough.
I had the privilege of being a part of his last class at Delta State. By then, he was a man of few words but each word he spoke was an important one and never fell on deaf ears. Our class loved and respected our professor so there was never a time where his students did not wait patiently for him to gather his thoughts and teach us about each play we read.
He was a little put out with my bringing our giant collection of Shakespeare to class but also using a No Fear Shakespeare right alongside the text. He said I should be able to read the plays on my own with confidence. I remember giving him some song and dance about how I’d get there but in reality I was more intinimated in that class than any other.
I was in good company with students that excelled in the English department, which added to my intimidation. However, with each class I was met with encouragement and insight from not only Mr. Ford but also my classmates.
I later learned during my Spotlight interview that Mr. Ford felt some nerves in regards to preparing for our class. He was worried we wouldn’t grasp the material or understand what he was trying to convey.
On the last day of class as I sat with my No Fear beside my massive textbook, in the second row second desk (my favorite desk) Mr. Ford looked at me and said quietly and slowly, “do you think you can do it on your own now?”
I answered yes, because he’d made it so.
Years later, Dr. Ford cleaned out her husband’s office, offering up some of his books to former students and fellow teachers. I made the time to swing by and choose a text. 
So, in September when I stood before a group of junior high school students, preparing to present to them Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I had a realization.
I couldn’t do it alone.
As I taught the play and did my very best to recreate the excitement for Shakespeare Mr. Ford gave me, I kept him in the back of my mind.
I stood at the front of my classroom clutching his very own copy of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," filled with is own scribbled notes and revelations. I clung to it like a life raft.
Mr. Ford got me through a 400 level Shakespeare.
I didn’t expect him to also get me through a junior level Shakespeare as well but I am forever grateful.

We all have those teachers that leave something on our hearts. Many of mine were loud and excited, bringing costumes to class or treats or taking us on trips.
But Mr. Ford stands out for the exact opposite. He was quiet, he was thrilled, he was fascinated.
I can only hope I give my students even a small piece of an appreciation for literature that John Ford gave me.
I can only hope I approach and end each day with the same thought he did. “Today was fascinating.”

This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial. 

Some photos borrowed and saved from fellow DSU students.
Read more about John Ford's life and influence on those around him.

Glitter shoes and a bright heart

I guess every person has their “thing.” My things are writing and all brightly colored organizational tools.
I’m beginning to think Nana’s thing is shoes.
I have never seen a little one get so excited about a new pair of shoes.
Recently, we went to the huge Flea Market in Canton to explore and buy plenty of things we probably could have lived without, except for a pair of shoes.
I turned a corner and there they were--glitter sneakers.
They sat glimmering in the sunlight on a table but what made it even better was when I picked them up, I was facing a smaller table with matching baby glitter sneakers.
Friends, I think that’s a sign.
My sweet mother-in-law is also a shoe girl, maybe that’s where Nana gets it from, purchased the shoes as gifts for both of us.
When I brought them home, I let Nana open the box all by herself.
I loved watching the joy she got as she realized “mama! Nana!” had the same shoes!
She slept in those shoes that night and has wanted to wear them every day since.

Yesterday, when I got us both in from school, I walked into my closet to change out of work clothes.
Nana walked right in behind me, my little shadow.
She pointed and said, “Doc? Doc! Doc!”
Doc is what she calls my dad, whom we talk to every afternoon on Facetime, so I assumed that’s what she wanted to do.
When I looked down, I realized she was pointing to my Birkenstock shoes, the same kind my dad wears every single day.
She very rarely sees his feet, and hasn’t seen him since we visited last month but I was shocked that she could pair a style of shoes with a person.
Watching her do this really gave me pause as I realized how much she’s paying attention to what’s around her. She loves looking just like Mommy and she’s watching what we do right down to our shoe choices.
How often have I watched her change a baby doll’s diaper or say “Good Girl!” any time she does something she thinks is good or pleasing? It all clicked as I stood in that closet--she’s mimicking what she sees.
My next thought was HOLY BANANAS I better pay more attention to what I’m doing!
Oh how this little one has turned into a parrot. She loves to repeat words, she watches what we do and comments on our actions, and she even mimics us with her own toys.
This got me thinking of what she sees versus what I want her to see.
I want her to see me pray. I want her to see me love others. I want her to see me holding hands with her daddy so knows how friends should treat others and how men are supposed to treat their wives.

I want her to see goodness, kindness, happiness.
I want her to also know how to handle sad and dreary days.
I want her to want to be like Mommy because Mommy is a good person and set a good example.
I want her to be able to follow in footsteps that guide her straight to Christ. So, here’s to lacing up those glitter shoes and taking the right steps for all of those that are watching us.