They say God blessed Texas.
And now, the man upstairs has blessed me with an opportunity in the Lone Star state. Everybody knows the Lord works in mysterious ways — I’ve accepted an exciting job offer and will be moving to Texas before the end of the month.
The amount of time I stared at a blank page to write this column is not representative of my time spent working for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. and living in Alexander City.
My loss for words doesn’t match up with the thousands of words I’ve written, read, edited and placed on a newspaper page or exchanged with readers and sources the last three and a half years.
All the people I’ve met, the countless lessons I’ve learned and the unforgettable memories I’ve made are truly invaluable.
I remember my first day in Alexander City like it was yesterday. My former editor Mitch Sneed — the man, the myth, the legend — had met me a few months prior at a journalism conference and just wouldn’t quit bugging me until I came to see this awesome little town of his at the lake. I had just graduated college, was newly single at the time and had absolutely nothing to lose, plus Mitch was magnetic, so I said sure and drove to my interview through some winding, country lake roads I’d soon put a lot more miles on.
From the moment I walked in through the doors of TPI, I was home. Sweet Ms. Linda Ewing, our beloved receptionist, welcomed me in with a glass of water and the busy newsroom was hustling and bustling as it always is. It just felt right.
After my interview, Mitch tortured me with the pressure of sitting at his desk and designing a newspaper page from scratch. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, but I guess I made it look like I did because he soon hired me.
Then, Mitch took me to the most Alex City establishment he could think of — Buck’s. And we weren’t leaving until I tried their world famous cole slaw. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I won’t eat slaw unless it’s made with my mama’s hands using hardly anything but mayonnaise and black pepper, but I was on a job interview after all, how could I turn down this famous — or infamous — cup of slaw?
After picking around the slaw and enjoying what I’d later find out is some of the best fried chicken in Central Alabama, Mitch took me on a tour of this itty bitty city he’d raved on so much.
It didn’t take me long to understand Alex City was special.
I remember covering my first event, shaking like a leaf and sweating on a cool October night, nervously fidgeting with my camera and standing in a corner, too timid to speak unless I absolutely had to — which, as a journalist, you kinda absolutely have to.
I remember my first Election Night on a busy production Tuesday, soon learning I’d stay late that night for many elections to come but at least we’d always get pizza. Apparently, some journalists get into this field specifically for the free food — even if it’s been sitting in a conference room somewhere and passed on to us as pity food or is hours old from being forgotten on our desk while our fingers go to work on the nearby keyboard. But something about a cold, leftover ham slider or room temperature pizza will always make my heart warm — it epitomizes all the hard work put in and reminds us there are many rewards in this field, both big and small.
I think of all the people I’ve encountered and can’t help but swell with tears.
I’ve gotten so many phone calls from readers I’ve never met who feel they know me from my articles and just wanted to give me a compliment or tell me a story. I’ve heard from people who have chronic health issues like me — one man whose granddaughter actually has my same rare condition (POTS); another lady who has been through the ringer of years of doctors’ appointments, empty test results and unknown diagnoses — and just wanted to thank me for spreading awareness and being a voice for others like us.
A sweet older gentleman once sent me a fancy jar opener because I casually wrote I refuse to ask for my fiancé’s help when opening the always-difficult pickle jar.
My precious faith columnists have grown to be ladies I admire more than I can explain. And Bro. Wayne Cowhick and Dr. Gerald Hallmark, I’m talking to y’all too. I’ll never forget when Bro. Wayne stopped by the office to pray for my newsroom after we lost Mitch. Nowhere but in Alex City would someone walk in the door just to pray for you.
The city officials, organization leaders and directors have supported me as much as I’ve tried to support and help them — and they’ve put me in my place a time or two, too, which has also helped me grow.
The high school athletes and standout students, most of whom I’ve never met, have no idea how proud I’ve been of them as I’ve sat and cheered them on from my desk chair that’s practically become a body part for nearly four years.
The handwritten thank you cards and thoughtful emails have never failed to remind me of the rewards journalism can bring.
I even have to thank the ones who have called me to complain, curse me out, bend my ear or teach me a lesson. I wish it didn’t take as many fingers on my hand as it does to count the amount of people who have walked in the office looking for the “person in charge” to find little ole me — a young female. Those instances made my confidence grow more than I would’ve expected, even if it did sting the first couple times.
There’s not enough room on a newspaper page to thank all the people who have simply been kind — a rare trait these days, seemingly everywhere but Alex City.
Every single person I’ve met or spoke to has impacted me in a way I could never measure. My words fall short, but this community never has.
They say God blessed Texas, but I’m here to spread the message — God blessed Alexander City.
Santana Wood has served as managing editor of Tallapoosa Publishers’ newspapers for more than a year. Prior to that, she served as assistant managing editor and formerly as design editor since she was hired in 2017. If you’d like to stay in touch, she welcomes you to send her a friend request on Facebook.