Passing faces in ‘Remember when’
The Mirror would be like a day without sunshine were it not for the addition of Billie Aye's "Remember When" column.
Through this column we learn more about the footsteps that have gone before us, their individual lives and the society in which they lived.
It is work to compile a column like this. First of all the bound volumes are the unwieldy size of a newspaper page. They are heavy. One volume contains one year's worth, or 52 weeks, of issues.
The newer volumes are still in good shape with the newspaper pages still pliable. But the older "volumes" sometimes are more like stacks of brittle newspapers, perhaps once bound, but now held together in a large flat plastic sack.
It is these volumes that no matter how careful the user is, inevitably suffer when used. There is little one can do about it, and to the researcher such as Billie Aye, who understands all too well the value of the printed words inside, it is a challenge to turn the pages gently enough so they don't fall apart.
But she perseveres, and does her work admirably well.
Earlier this year, Aye shared her work with me, pointing out tidbits of information she's come to collect over the years she's been writing the column, she's come to know our community's past.
If there's ever a person around who knows where all "the bodies are buried," it's probably Aye who didn't move to the area until she was an adult.
(Of course, there are local historians such as John Lenahan, the oldest businessman on Fourth Street, who know the community's history first-hand, having lived it, as well as researched it.)
But for Aye, most of her knowledge of the area's history has come from the pages of Mirrors of the past.
Her writings help bring history to life, for herself as well as for others.
She writes this week about a local farmer killed when struck by a runaway team of horses. The accident happened 100 years ago. It's one thing to know that a century ago there were no cars, it's another thing to realize the dangers of using horses for transportation.
Aye's columns tie the past to today.
She recently wrote that in 1901, 35 telephones had been installed in Tonganoxie. The Mirror's phone number, she said, was 22. Today our number is 845-2222. Could that be a carry-over from a century ago?
It takes tact and a general awareness of a community to write a column such as Remember When.
For instance, take marriages. Aye shies away from writing about wedding anniversaries unless she's certain the marriage is still intact.
People take these columns seriously. When I wrote such a column for a paper in central Kansas, we received a letter from someone pleading us not to mention the date of a long-ago wedding we never knew why this request was sent, but of course we did as she asked.
And some people take these columns lightly. Again, in central Kansas, we mentioned in the 75-year-ago column the name of a man who was convicted of stealing horses. Unknown to us he had descendants of a different surname who still lived in the area. One of these laughed about the errant relative and purchased extra copies to share with family.
Life and death were written about differently in the "olden days."
We have frequently read in Aye's column that a Tonganoxie resident was ill and "not expected to recover." Hopefully, the subject was also too ill to read that week's newspaper.
We read that funerals included flower girls as well as pall bearers and the services were often held in a private home.
We read that women couldn't vote and that in the workplace they yearned for equality with men in regard to pay.
In short, through Aye's Remember When column, we realize a picture of life that history books don't tell. We see the every day happenings. And, more importantly, we realize that despite massive changes in technology and society, perhaps beneath it all, we're really not so different from those who have gone before.