Friday, December 7, 2007

Week of difficulties

Snow fell quickly minutes before the Christmas parade began Saturday afternoon. Penny Wirtz, left, watched the sky warily as yak names Zak and Megan Shea waited for the parade to begin. Their float was a live Nativity scene for the White Stone Community Church in the town of Summit.

This week has been a very difficult one for me from a reporting standpoint. I had to do three stories that turned out to be the most difficult in my journalism career thus far.

first story
On Saturday, Dec. 1, I covered the Oconomowoc Christmas parade. The snow began to fall that morning and it was bad. The wind was blowing it sideways and it was coming down very quickly. As I looked out my window and saw few cars on the road, I thought the parade would be cancelled for sure. As I drove into town, there were people lining up to be in the parade, as well as, people standing along the parade route. I found a parking spot, got out of my car and began to interview people.

The reason this story was so difficult to do was for purely technical reasons. My paper kept getting wet and my pen kept freezing. I had to try so hard in order to write anything and what was written was barely legible.

Another aspect that made the story difficult to do was the snow and sleet that landed on my camera and in my camera bag. Trying to keep myself, my paper and my camera dry were very difficult tasks.

Although, I froze and was wet by the end of the parade, I had a lot of fun. It will definitely be a story that I will never forget.

second story
There were two other stories this past week that proved especially difficult for me, but for different reasons that those for the parade

On Sunday, Dec. 2, three high school senior boys were killed in a car accident on their way back from Wisconsin Dells. Although we learned about the accident on Sunday night, the staff at the Freeman wasn't able to much of anything until Monday.

As soon as I got in on Monday, I was told that I would have to go to the high school in Mukwonago where the boys attended and try to talk to family and friends. I bypassed the school, instead going to the h families' homes.

At the first home, I was allowed to come in. As I looked around, I saw little kids laughing and running around not understanding what was going on. The kitchen island was covered with bowls of food. In the living room, stood many family and friends crying and hugging. The story became very real for me. Not surprisingly, the family was unable and unwilling to talk to me, so I left my business card.

The second address I had turned out to be incorrect and the third family I reached by phone, but was also too upset to talk. The father, in fact, could barely eek out any words as he was so choked up when he answered the phone.

I returned to the office with no information, but managed to piece together a story through interviews with coaches and talking to three friends who knew all three deceased boys well.
There were more complications than that during the day, but in the end all that mattered was that I was able to get a really good story put together that covered nearly all the important points.

I was so relieved to be done with that story at the end of the day. It was emotionally and physically exhausting.

third story

I was concerned when I learned that I would have to attend one of the boy's funerals.

First, I had to borrow some clothes from a co-worker because I was wearing hot pink.

I arrived later at the church than I had wanted to because of getting lost in rural Mukwonago. As I entered the church, all I heard were sobs. Both high school boys, girls and adults were hugging, their faces red and tear-stained. The sobbing made me even more aware of the sobs that broke through it.

I was one of the last people to get into the long line into the sanctuary. I had to walk past four tables loaded with untouched sweets and past five boards with photos of the deceased boy. The photos showed him at all ages and doing the things we all love to do like dressing up for Halloween, spending time at Grandpa's and sitting on Santa's lap. I started to feel really emotional standing there absorbing the sadness around me.

I had to stand for the service, but once it began and I discreetly took notes, I felt better. I had something else to focus on. A teacher and an uncle spoke about Derek and his wonderful personality.

I know that after someone dies, the people who knew him always says what a wonderful person he was. These were truly wonderful young men who loved their family and friends and who gave so much to their school. I didn't expect to be so deeply moved by what I heard or what I saw this week.

This week definitely made me tougher and stronger as a journalist, yet, I still felt pain and sorrow. I hope that my stories were able to help readers feel connected and to remember how important our lives are.

"Today is always here. Tomorrow, never."
--Toni Morrison (Beloved)