Thursday, January 3, 2013

A new look at some old news

Even when I'm on temporary assignment over a thousand miles away, I do my best to stay in touch with the sweet little slice of midwestern pie that I call my hometown. We share tidbits with friends and neighbors, including the friendly, down-the-street cat wrangler, who makes sure the recalcitrant housecat named Max is well-fed and reasonably content (more about this later.) I'm also a frequent reader of both the Star Courier and the weekly Galva News in their online and Facebook versions, plus I even subscribe to a cyber-gadget called a Google News Alert that is suppose to let me know when either Galva or Kewanee are mentioned in the media.
Suffice it to say, neither The City of Go nor The Hog Capital of the World make too many international headlines, but I keep looking, and am often rewarded with news and information that I might have otherwise missed. One such piece of info that came my way recently involved one of my favorite places, the Galva Public Library.
It seems that the venerable 102-year-old institution has made another giant leap into the digital universe by scanning their microfilmed collection of 132 years of Galva newspapers and posting them on their website
What? Wow! Really? Cool!
If you are, like me, an ardent fancier of local history, or even if you just like the idea of being able to take a gander at a page from the past that somehow trips your trigger, the ability to quickly search--by name or subject--for a news story from the Galva News and its predecessors, the Galva Semi-Weekly News, The Galva Standard and The Galva Weekly News, without the eye-wrenching experience of wheeling through miles of microfilm, is a true example of a way technology really can make life better. Plus, you can narrow your investigation by year or month, which makes finding things like your great-grandfather's obituary, your mother's class picture or even that halcyon day you finally made the Galva High School honor roll simple searches, indeed.
According to Library Director Melody Anderson, there were several options for making the newspaper archives more user-friendly, but digitizing seemed like the best one, mainly due to the indexing feature that allows name/subject searching, and the fact that patrons would have the ability to conduct their searches from home. Or even from North Carolina.
Once I discovered the new tool, my spouse's comments quickly evolved from "What are you looking at?" to "You know, you're going to have to take a break to eat sometime" in short order.
I was hooked. But, who could blame me? I admit, it can almost be a little unsettling to see both your family's highest points and lowest moments put down in black and white, but for the most part, I really like the way those back-in-time news stories and ads have the effect of making dusty, sepia-toned photographs come to life and old stories come really true at last.
I saw pictures of my brother with both a football and a raku pot, and my sister as a homecoming queen and a new bride (not at the same time, thankfully.) I read the sad story of my paternal grandfather's sudden death when my dad was just 13 years old, and the depressing series of ads and stories regarding my mom's father's forced going-out-of-business sale during the great depression. But I learned more interesting things about both men than I had ever known before, things that made me realize that I truly am an apple that did not fall too far from the family tree.
I even stumbled on a news-to-me story about a vacation trip my mom and dad took together to Washington D.C. and other parts of the east coast nearly two years before they were married, an innocent, I'm sure, event that still must have garnered considerable interest and raised eyebrows back in 1936. I read about births, deaths, weddings and arrivals. And yes, I found my name on that 1968 honor roll.
I even dug back several decades to read about the birth of a new baby at Kewanee's St. Francis Hospital. His name was John, and he was the son of Keith and Alice Sloan of Galva.
Hard to believe, but the story wasn't even on the front page.
So, what's new with Max?
Frequent readers of my column may remember that Max is my cat. I speak of him once in awhile, but too often, it's in tales that include incidents of calf-biting, hand scratching, fish-breathed face-purring and midnight door-hanging that make it clear why his full name has been Mad Max ever since he made his arrival on our front porch as a scruffy, feral, park-born kitten on the Fourth of July several years ago. Max has never really given up his wilder instincts, which is the reason his invitation to join us as a traveling cat had to be regretfully withdrawn. Luckily for him, he has friends of his own, including Shannon from down the street, who has generously agreed to walk over daily to provide him with his daily grub and a modicum of companionship. Eventually, he got it through his pea-brain that she might have more to offer than a helping of LIttle Frisky's Dead Carp Delight and a scratch behind the ears, and began following her home, where he lounged on her porch and occasionally lined up with her own pets when it was time to tie on the feed bag. I don't know if it was the recent rash of rugged winter weather or just a sudden burst of unexpected intelligence on his part, but we got some startling news from Shannon during a recent phone call.
"Max has moved in," she said, which was surprising, indeed, when you consider his general aggressive resistance to anything resembling domestication. But it got even more amazing when she sent a picture of the mighty Mad Max contentedly  stretched out on her bed, wearing a cat-sized, cape-like garment made of pink, knitted wool.
Who knew? I just wonder if he'll bother speaking to me at all the next time he sees me.

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