Once upon a time, there was a little city (well, small-town anyway) boy who wondered what it would be like to live on a farm in the rural Midwest.
Fueled by old black-and-white "Lassie" reruns and my grandmother Melson's copies of Progressive Farmer magazine (far as I know, she never lived on a farm...), I pictured myself riding around on a tractor in a rolling wheat field, throwing around hay bales and milking cows. Being a child, the financial side of farming never entered my mind.
Those daydreams disappeared as I grew older, though I've retained a healthy respect for those involved in such an important profession.
But, on Friday, I was unexpectedly transported back to my youth -- at, of all places, a conference center in big-city Nashville.
T-G colleague Sadie Fowler and I were among many Tennessee journalists who judged the 2008 Nebraska Press Association contest.
Stacks and stacks of contest-category envelopes containing newspaper pages awaited us. "Just grab any category you're interested in," Robin Gentile of the Tennessee Press Association and a woman from the NPA said.
Because I design the Times-Gazette's front pages, I first grabbed an envelope which read "Front Pages" or something similar.
Then I noticed the circulation category: "Weeklies Under 1,000 (circulation)."
To put things into perspective, there are some entire counties in Nebraska with fewer people than some individual Shelbyville subdivisions. And those counties have newspapers, at least one which only publishes four pages a week and many which are tabloid-sized.
Imagine Bell Buckle or Wartrace in our county with their own newspapers and you get the idea. Tennessee simply doesn't have newspapers that small.
Rural Nebraska in print appears to be about two things: High school sports (especially football, to be expected in Cornhusker country) and farming.
Many of these newspapers had nameplates, even page designs, which resembled those of many years ago. And the Page 1 category specified entries from the week of Sept. 17, so high school homecomings were on page after page along with massive farming coverage.
It was small-town Americana at its best. I loved it.
And I also saw many examples of journalism in the categories I judged which stand up to anything you'll find in much larger cities. Nebraska apparently grows writers and photographers well, also.
But what really struck me were the people and events being written about. It seemed like Mayberry transplanted into the 21st century Midwest. Decent, wholesome people making their way through a seemingly less complicated life than those of us in Middle Tennessee.
Those newspapers reminded me so much of those farm daydreams I had when I was growing up. Let's see...now where did I put those overalls and keys to the tractor?