A Christmas Chat with This Newspaper’s Founder
It’s early Wednesday morning and it’s looking like I’m not going to get my usual Christmas visit from Calvin Stowell, the man who started this newspaper in 1887.
Calvin was a prosperous businessman and banker in Wyalusing when he decided the time was right for Wyalusing to have its own newspaper. He sold the Wyalusing Rocket to my great-great-grandfather seven years after its founding, but continued to play an active role at the paper. In the 1920’s, when he took an extended trip to the American west, Calvin penned a series of colorful stories about his adventure. Later, in the 1930’s, he would return to serve briefly as the Rocket’s assistant editor and was working in that capacity when he, well, moved to his current address.
Over the years, I’ve come to think that Calvin might be my guardian angel. I asked him one time, but he didn’t give me a direct answer and made a joke instead. “Now that’s a good one,” he said. “I’ll have to tell my wife that someone called me an angel today.”
Calvin usually stops by (make that appears) just before we put our final issue of the year to bed, but apparently not this year.
I glance at the weather map on my iPad to see if the approaching storm is still expected to bring rain and not snow. I’m looking at the map when suddenly Calvin appears on my iPad screen.
“I’ll bet you thought you wouldn’t see me this year, right?” Cal asks.
I tell him I was beginning to wonder and then he disappears.
“Well, I made it,” Cal replies, but his image is gone from the iPad.
“No, not there, look up here,” Cal says. When I look up, he’s sitting across from me at our kitchen table. He’s wearing the same tweed suit that he always wears. It reminds me of the way a banker in an old western movie would dress.
“You’ve become very high tech,” I tell Cal, reminding him how he used to complain that his newspaper was being produced with computers.
“It’s nothing special,” Cal replies looking just a bit embarrassed. “And by the way, you need to heed the advice that you offered to your readers about securing their passwords a couple weeks ago. It was a snap for me to hook up to your wifi.”
I tell Calvin I’ll take another look at my network security but suggest that he likely had some lofty help deciphering my password.
Cal quickly changes the subject. “Sure is odd here without the mill,” he says. “I can’t believe it’s gone.”
Cal’s talking about Welles Mill, a community landmark since 1820, which was demolished this year. He tells me about fishing at the millpond in the summer and ice skating there in the winter. “It was really a popular spot,” he says. “I never dreamed that it would be gone and barely a trace of it remaining one day.”
I tell Cal that the razing of the mill and other nearby buildings was but one of a number of major changes that came to our community during the past year.
“Have you been down to have a look at the new elementary school?” I ask. Cal says that he has and it’s an impressive building. I tell Cal that the closing of four community schools in the region is another huge change from the way things have been for generations.
“When I lived here, kids used to walk to school or ride on the milk truck,” Cal says. “Things change. Some people can’t stand it, but things just change.”
I remind Calvin that during one of his previous visits he lamented over the loss of Wyalusing’s rail depot. “Have you seen the Tran-Z terminal?” I ask Cal. I tell him there are likely more rail cars in Wyalusing now than at any other time in the town’s history. He agrees but says he still misses the passenger trains.
“People used to say that not much ever changes in Wyalusing,” I tell Calvin. “People who moved away would remark how little things had changed when they came home for a visit, but that’s not the case anymore.”
Calvin nods in agreement. “Got any hot coffee? I could use a cup,” he says. I tell Calvin that I used to know most everyone I would see in stores and on the street, but that’s no longer the case.
I head for the coffee pot and Cal keeps talking. “I’d say there are more changes taking place here now than ever before,” Cal says.
I agree. “Did you read our story about the former Honchell’s Market being torn down to make room for an annex to the Wyalusing Hotel?” I ask.
Cal starts talking about a bakery that used to be located in that part of Wyalusing and how great it would smell when he walked by. Then he mentions how he always thought that the flamboyant J. Morgan Brown, who built the Wyalusing Hotel and many of Wyalusing’s most prominent homes, would one day run for public office. “I always thought he would be a senator or our governor, but it never came to pass,” Cal says.
Just across the street from the former market is a small street that runs between Taylor Avenue and Gaylord Street called Stowell Street. It was named in memory of Calvin.
When I turn from the coffee pot and head back to the table, Calvin is gone. He usually ends our visits like this.
I place the hot cup of coffee on the table and notice something blinking on my iPad. It’s a message from Calvin.
“Sorry to run off but it’s a busy time of year for me,” his message begins. “And don’t worry about all the changes in Wyalusing. One important thing that hasn’t changed is the way people look out for one another. I saw that during the terrible flood earlier this year. I get around a bit, you know, and there aren’t many places that I look forward to visiting like I do my old hometown. Now put my newspaper to bed and enjoy Christmas with your family and friends.
“PS: Don’t forget to fix your network password. You have no idea who’s out there snooping around these days.”