I covered the Tipton County Pork Festival the week after I started working at the Tribune. A stranger, hearing I was an out-of-towner, strode over to a little concession stand and presented me with what was, at the time, the oddest gift I’d ever received. (Because a future boyfriend wouldn’t give me a video game chair as a Christmas present for three more years.)
In her hand was a lump of meat shoved onto a stick and wrapped in a giant piece of tinfoil.
“You have to have a pork-chop-on-a-stick,” she said. “Welcome to Indiana!”
It made me laugh at the time, but years later, I can look back and realize that one gift of meat on a stick epitomized this place for me: the willingness to love a stranger and make her feel like she was at home, even though she looked different, even though she was clearly an outsider.
I should have been more touched than I was, but I was a different girl back then.
But that’s that kind of uncommon love that made my “one-year stop” in Indiana eight beautiful years here and counting, the kind of love that has shaped me as a person.
And you readers have been with me through all of it. You were with me through break-ups and first dates, through the loss of family members and the births of friends’ children, through the preparations for marriage — right to today, my final column for the Kokomo Tribune. Most of you already know that I have accepted a position with the YMCA and look forward to telling all kinds of new stories there, but I do that with more than a little sadness.
In a way, I found out who I was, week after week, in the pages of the newspaper. I am endlessly thankful — and OK, sometimes a little embarrassed — that you were there with me. But you all saw me for who I was and read along anyway.