What was, and what’s left

Indianapolis Star photo by Greg Griffo

Indianapolis Star photo by Greg Griffo

This is the Indianapolis Star building, which until a few weeks ago stood at 307 N. Pennsylvania St. The newspaper called it home for some 100 years before moving to what used to be a department store at Circle Centre mall downtown. For a relative snippet of time, I called it home, too.

My dad, Tom Crowe, worked there from 1960 to 1990, as an ad salesman, advertising director, and finally as vice president and general manager. Long before Take Our Daughters to Work Day was a thing, Dad was taking me with him to “the plant” with the rich, sharp smell of newsprint and ink and the inky footprints in the first-floor hallway. I peered over the desks of God knows how many poor souls trying to get their work done as I followed Dad around the building. He almost always whistled. The place reminded me of a Chutes and Ladders game, with ramps, steps, and corridors going off every which way. That’s what happens when you morph two or three old buildings into one.

The mailroom was the best, because you could watch and hear the presses running. The stories the people on the second floor had written — wrapped around the ads the people on the third floor had sold — were all coming out on those big sheets of paper rattling through the machinery. The finished, folded papers that came out on the conveyor belt would then go into homes all over the city. People read the paper. They talked about what was in it. Printed words mattered.

Many drawings and homework assignments were completed at the small conference table in the office Dad moved into after being promoted to general manager. It was off the New York Street entrance — just out of the frame in this photo. There were no windows, and while the daylight addict in me hated that, I never felt anxious or claustrophobic in there. Decades later, during an energy healing session, I was asked to picture myself in a place where I felt absolutely safe and at home. I went not to a beach, shady grove, or cozy fireside, but to Dad’s office, puzzling through social studies or perhaps just reading the comics in that day’s paper while he worked.

We were a large, often dysfunctional extended family. Charlie Simmons, one of Dad’s coworkers in the advertising department, sat with Mom and me through several of Dad’s heart surgeries. Other employees confided in Dad about their battles with depression or alcoholism, or their confusion over decisions their own children had made. We went to one another’s weddings and funerals, watched the fireworks together at the Fourth Estate employee park every Fourth of July, and knew at least something about what was going on in one another’s lives.

When I went to work in the business office during the summer as a college student, Don Bates in personnel — a sideline photographer who had taken my baby pictures — took the photo for my ID badge. “No bearskin rug this time,” he said, grinning as he clicked the shutter.

I could not have asked for a more educational, and fun, introduction to the working world. Wednesdays in the cashiers’ office were hectic, as all the circulation district managers brought in their checks, cash, and money orders. Frazzled after totaling everything up and balancing on one such day, we got into a rubber band fight. Without even trying, I managed to loop one over a sprinkler head. About 15 years later, when I stopped by for a visit, I happened to look up and that same rubber band still hung there.

At the News during another break, I got to practice the copyediting and headline writing skills that would become a large part of my career. Bo Connor at the Star helped me get my first full-time journalism job at The Republic in Columbus, Ind.

Dad passed away in 1994, just four years after retiring. The first phone calls I received that day — after Mom, telling me the news — came from 307 N. Penn.

A few years later, the News closed down. Then the Star was sold to Gannett. Then came the move to Circle Centre and the sale of the building. Then came the demolition.

Nothing stays the same, and really, nothing should. Not all change is for the better, and often more change is needed because of it. If we are smart, we learn. Dad, who kept a brick from the old Detroit Times building in his office, would be the first to tell me it’s OK to let go of what was and make room for what will be.

What can we pull from the past and retrofit to work for us now? That’s a question we in print media are going to have to figure out. Most days, I think it comes down to caring about what we do and why, and caring for one another in the process. That’s probably a gross oversimplification, but it’s a place to start.

In the meantime, after we make our next deadline, I just may fire off another rubber band.

Elephants, moms, and memories

UnknownAfter starting Jodi Picoult’s novel, “Leaving Time,” I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish it. A reference to an elephant named Mary being tried and hanged for murder in 1916 in Tennessee led me to look it up to see if this really happened. Sadly, it did, and it haunted me.

I was drawn in by the story, though, and couldn’t resist a tale that included a stumbling, self-doubting psychic. So I forged ahead.

Thirteen-year-old Jenna is a solitary soul who reminded me a little of Tatum O’Neal’s character in the movie, “Paper Moon.” Jenna’s mother, Alice, was an elephant researcher with a particular passion for studying how elephants grieve. Her brilliant, mentally ill father, Thomas, ran the New England elephant sanctuary where they lived and worked.

The novel hinges on what happened, or may have happened, on a night when Jenna was  three and Alice disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As a young teen, she’s busy working the missing-persons sites on the Internet and poring over her mother’s old journals, longing for the mother she both remembers and never knew. On the fringes of her life are her grandmother, with whom she lives, and her father, who now calls a psychiatric hospital home. Jenna finally hires jaded private investigator Virgil, who worked on her mother’s case when he was a police officer; and disgraced former celebrity psychic Serenity.

A precocious child, a boozy ex-cop, and a psychic with a past. Cue the cute music, right? The three form an uneasy, unlikely alliance as they try to piece together what happened that night, what led up to it, and who might know. Another sanctuary worker, Nevvie, died — accidentally trampled by an elephant, so the police report said — the night Alice disappeared. Was Alice responsible for Nevvie’s death, or did Alice herself die at the hands of her increasingly unstable husband?

The hardest question is the one Jenna has to face: If her mother is alive, why did she leave Jenna behind? As Virgil and Serenity draw closer to the answer, they increasingly want to protect her from it. Until Jenna takes the case back into her own hands and hops a bus for Tennessee.

And that’s just the humans. The elephants themselves, one named Maura in particular, have their own bonds and losses. Elephants are exemplary mothers; mother and baby elephants are part of a complex social structure. When Maura’s calf dies, Alice — both as a scientist studying elephant grief and as a steward and friend of the elephants — stays with her as they all process what has happened.

Grief is an experience of all creatures great and small. I had two peppered corydoras catfish in my aquarium, and when one died, the other stayed by his body for several hours.

Back to the book. The story resolved in a way I probably should have picked up on earlier — but I’m kind of glad I didn’t. You may find yourself, as I did, going back and reading earlier scenes.