By Erin Shultz
— 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.
You made me one of your own, and you made me fall in love with the simple ways this town can be more beautiful than all the bright lights and the car horns I knew back home. The people here are honest and full of warmth and have taught me about the kind of woman and wife and mother and person I want to be. I am so much better for having been here.
I like to say that the most beautiful moments in life are the ones when you can’t figure out whether to laugh or cry. It’s that sweet spot where joy and sadness and memories and hope and fear and excitement all intersect.
That’s just how I feel when I think about that woman handing me the pork-chop-on-a-stick, back when I first started my life here.
And I guess, because I like to end my columns with a nod to how I started them, it’s only fitting that it’s exactly how I’m feeling today.
Thank you for letting me into your lives and for joining me in mine. I couldn’t have known it then, but the day that woman gave me a weird hunk of meat on a stick, she also gave me the best introduction to a place I am now proud to call my home.
former [friday] editor