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Times Past: Tackling deadlines as a young reporter from an unfamiliar, rustic abode

  • “In Warwick, I lived in a friend’s eclectic, hand-made hippie cabin, affectionately known by everyone as “The Teepee,” with no electricity, a dug well, and no heat.” — Roxann Wedegartner. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The Olivetti typewriter that Wedegartner worked on, known as “The Valentine,” is a design classic that occupies an honored spot in the permanent collections of the London Design Museum and MoMA in New York City. The Olivetti typewriter that Wedegartner worked on, known as “The Valentine,” is a design classic that occupies an honored spot in the permanent collections of the London Design Museum and MoMA in New York City.

  • WEDEGARTNER



For The Recorder
Friday, June 16, 2017

I was a city girl in 1974 when I first moved to Warwick, Massachusetts. Not just any city girl. I was a long way from home; thrust into a very different world. I left the city of Houston, Texas, a city of nearly 2 million people and 600 square miles of land mass for Warwick, population 600, plus or minus a few people and animals, and mostly covered by an uninhabited state forest.

“What on earth brought you here?” was a question I heard daily. What, indeed? Moving to Warwick and taking a job as a reporter for the Greenfield Recorder were step one in our family’s move out of the big city and into New England as “back to the land” hippies of a sort. I went first. Then, over the next five months came our 6-year-old son, then my husband after overseeing the sale of our business in Houston. There are plenty of small towns in Texas, you say? To that I say, yes, but they’re in Texas, and Massachusetts was the only state to vote for McGovern in 1972.

In Warwick, I lived in a friend’s eclectic, hand-made hippie cabin, affectionately known by everyone as “The Teepee,” with no electricity, a dug well, and no heat. We heated with wood in a wood stove, pumped water from the shallow well most of the time, and lived and worked by pretty glass kerosene lights. A propane tank fueled a gas cooking stove and a small water heater for a bit of hot water for showers or baths in the claw foot tub. We also had an outdoor sauna heated with wood and situated by a lovely stream that provided a gathering place for friends, our entertainment, and a salubrious hot bath when one was in the mood. It was certainly more relaxing and more risqué than television.

Knowing that my living arrangements and reporting and writing from this remote outpost would be challenging, and that I would be alone for several months, I brought along my sidekick, Rose, a lovely, goofy Irish setter; my lipstick red, portable, Olivetti manual typewriter (no electricity, remember), and a real can-do attitude toward the tasks at hand. Chop that wood. Carry that water. Meet the next day’s deadline.

A word about the Olivetti typewriter known as “The Valentine”: it is a design classic that occupies an honored spot in the permanent collections of the London Design Museum and MoMA in New York City. Mine occupies a lesser place at home in my office. Designed in 1969 by Italian designer, Ettore Sottsass, it was a gift from me to me as I contemplated a career reporting from remote outposts.

My assignment from The Recorder was to cover eastern Franklin County in its entirety. Specifically, I was responsible for covering municipal government for Warwick, Orange, Wendell, New Salem, Leverett and Shutesbury; four school districts, and Orange District Court. In short, a heck of a lot of territory to learn and cover and a wealth of characters, lives, and issues to write about. Most of those meetings were at night. The Recorder was an afternoon paper at the time and I had a deadline of 8 a.m. as I recall. So my one concession to technological modernity was installing a new telephone pole and a telephone. I could call in shorter stories, but the longer ones had to be typed and driven to the newsroom in time for or near deadline.

The Brotherhood of the Spirit in Warwick, as the Renaissance Community was known then, had been the hot news topic of the day before my arrival in town, but it had begun to scatter to Gill and Turners Falls, which was someone else’s beat at the time. The plan to put a nuclear power plant on the Montague Plains and Sam Lovejoy’s act of civil disobedience were also another reporter’s territory. Some reporters get all the luck. So, I had to scout out my own stories and was given a great deal of leeway from the newsroom as to what to write about. That’s as close to heaven as a new reporter could get.

Topics in the national news would read like today as the Watergate jury selection was underway and the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down. Congress was debating whether to change the credit card laws to allow women to have credit in their own name — 1974, Ladies and Gentlemen! School busing and all of its resistance fueled by racial ugliness was happening in Boston.

Locally, John Olver had competition from a Republican challenger, Gerald F. McCarthy of Leyden. We know how that turned out. Greenfield Community College got its first real campus and brand new building. Mahar Regional School, a district I covered, was attempting to decide whether to renovate or build a new building, in part to accommodate unfunded state mandates for special needs education, known at Chapter 766. And, The Recorder ran a headline, I’m sure without thinking twice about it, that stated “Classes Soon In Religion for the Retarded” at local area religious schools.

When I think back on that time, it doesn’t seem so very long ago. And, I know the experience helped make me the person I am today. The friends I made then who are still living are friends to this day. I would not have traded it for any other type of life.