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Friday, Sep. 19, 2014

Changing the story

Posted Friday, January 27, 2012, at 3:13 PM

Christmas 2007 Marshall Democrat-News reporter Maggie Menderski's Aunt Kitty, front and center, is just days away from her 96th birthday. She's pictured with her great-great nieces and nephews back, Andrew, Molly and Maggie. Front, Maggie's older brother Jim.
I won't be in the newsroom Friday afternoon, I have a century to celebrate.
The matriarch of my mother's family turns 100 this week. 100

That's as far as I got with that post. I started writing it shortly after the new year and intended to finish it before my Aunt Kitty celebrated her 100th birthday on Jan. 20, 2012.

Even though the first 25 words don't allude to it, I had planned to research Saline County buildings and legends. In honor of my aunt's centennial, I wanted to prove she was sharper than a century-old story on yellowing pages and sturdier than an antiqued building.

As my deadlines began to pile in early January, I worried I wouldn't actually finish the centennial blog post. That document sat in our "To Be Edited" folder. Untouched.

The Friday before her birthday, the 25 words glared back at me. The blinking text bar mocked me with every pulse. With each movement the bar seemed to say "get-it-done-girl." I still hadn't gone to the genealogy room in the Marshall Public Library, nor had I successfully turned this remarkable St. Louis-based woman into something worth publishing in Saline County. I had seven days though, certainly, I'd finish it. I closed the document and returned to the news.

I never finished the blog post.

Five days before her 100th birthday, I wrote my aunt's eulogy instead.

Two weeks before her centennial, my aunt took a tumble. We were going to have to buy her sunglasses for her birthday. A lump with more colors than fun-fetti cake wasn't going to match the beige three-piece birthday outfit. My mom said Aunt Kitty maintained her spirits though, feisty as always.

The same Friday afternoon that text bar terrorized me, I contemplated a journey home. I thought I might be the pick-me-up Aunt Kitty needed to get out of the hospital and back into her assisted living facility--shiner and all, she had a birthday party to attend in a week.

"You know you're going to go," Eric told me, as I tried to talk myself out of driving all the way back to St. Louis. The holidays had forced me home four times in the past six weeks. Driving up Interstate 70 seemed silly when I'd be returning the following weekend for her birthday party.

To no one's surprise, I drove home.

My Aunt Kitty died just hours after my arrival, and I had the privilege of holding her hand as she passed.

As the writer of the family, once my aunt finished her 99th year in good health, everyone expected me to compose an article dubbing her a centenarian. Before she passed, I'd promised myself I'd finish something, whether it be for my "Out of Ink" blog or the article the community newspaper in St. Louis had requested. I would write something.

That Saturday, I sat in a regal funeral home writing something. An obituary.

After the funeral, I returned to the newsroom to find "AUNT KITTY'S 100TH BIRTHDAY" in big bold letters on my desk calendar. In my desk drawer, I found a yellow Post-it with my aunt's address scribbled on it. Some people take smoke breaks, I used to take a few spare moments in my day to write my aunt. Lately, I've been drawing instead. Fortunately, the newsroom has embraced my coping mechanism. I drew Marcia a picture of her horse, and a few swift motions turned our news clerk into Super Girl. As I worked through my daily duties, the "To Be Edited" folder mocked me with this very file. I'd started a story, and I'd never finished it.

Eric reminded me a few weeks ago that sometimes the story changes as you write it. Sometimes you have to make adjustments to a work-in-progress to cope with reality. This is true in journalism, and this is true in life.

I never truly tied this remarkable St. Louis-based woman to Saline County, beyond that there's a Marshall-based reporter who misses her a lot.

Forgive me for not writing the story I'd originally wanted to tell you, it changed before it was done.

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My condolences, Maggie.

It sounds like your Aunt Kitty was a wonderful woman, and she was blessed to have family who loved her dearly. I'm sure she'll always be in your heart.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Fri, Jan 27, 2012, at 12:24 PM
Thank you very much for your kind words. Best, Maggie.

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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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