September always makes me think of how I got here

Last week I shared my annual “it’s September; Christmas is around the corner” thoughts so this week I want to share with you what September really means to me.

The weather starts to shift from insanely hot to only moderately hot about this time every year. It’s the first time we can see the start of Fall. I’ve had a lot of good times in September, and a lot of heartache in this month. Since I am optimistic, I focus on the good things.

In 2006, I lost my job at Winston Furniture in Alabama. I had been employed there two years as a credit analyst. Basically, I was a bill collector. If a contract customer, which was made up of apartments and hotels, didn’t pay their bill within the terms of sale, I had to call them and get the money.

I hated my job. I spent a lot of time on the phone calling customers, and their sales representatives in order to get the bill paid. I remember printing out an aging every single Monday and using it to make calls the entire week. I’d make notes on their accounts of when I’d call. I’d also send out invoices when something shipped, filed invoices in their files and also print statements once a month.

I hated the job, but it kept my family fed, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. The Monday after Fourth of July in 2006, Kristi, our credit manager and my boss, came into my office and said James, our controller, needed to see us in his office. I never saw it coming. I was 28-years-old and had never been fired so when Kristi told me my position was being eliminated by the corporate office, all I could do was cry. They told me I had to keep the situation quiet to not disrupt the work environment, but that at the end of July, I’d no longer have a job.

Going back to work like nothing happened was the hardest part, but I managed to pull myself together and get through the day. I worked through Aug. 4 and it was over. Everyone was sent a memo about my position being dissolved one week before I left.

Either they were happy to see me leave or sad about my departure because on Aug. 4, the staff at Winston gave me a going away party complete with all kinds of food, cake and gifts.

Before I left that day, James came into my office and offered me the full time switchboard position.

I simply said “no. I hated sitting up there when I’d have to fill in. It’s time for me to go.”

He said he understood. While I filled in a time or two after that, Winston Furniture became a part of my past.

I filed for unemployment for the first time in my life, and began looking for a job.

Money was tight at my house so I needed to find something pretty quick. I spent every day on my computer looking for jobs. One day a news reporter position had been posted onto a website I was using to search. When I clicked on it, I got an error message so I figured it had been an old ad that had already expired.

The position was 25 minutes north of where I lived in Franklin County, Ala. I had applied there several years before and got nowhere.

When Jimmy came home from work that day, I told him about it and about how it must have been an expired ad. He said I should call anyway. Every day that week, he asked if I had called yet. I said “no” because I’d applied before and got nowhere. He said I should try again.

So by Friday, he annoyed me enough that I decided to make the phone call. When I left a message for the publisher, I was certain I was wasting my time. When he called me back after lunch I was surprised.

His name was Jason Cannon, and he’d just become the new publisher. He was from a sister paper in Clanton, and he didn’t know anyone.

I had a long conversation with him. He asked for my resume so I sent it to him. Based on our conversation, Jason said he wanted to meet with me the next Wednesday morning. I knew then that I had the job.

I met with Jason and he offered me the position.

I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said “you and I are going to be doing this together for a long time.”

Jason was referring to me and him, putting several newspapers together every week. I started that next Monday. It was Sept. 25, 2006. He showed me to my desk and told me to write the news. I said ok and I did it for nearly four years.

I had worked there for about six months when Jason came out of his office one night. We were working late on the paper. He came to my desk and said “Melissa, I have to know?” I looked up confused about what he was talking about. He said, “I’ve got to know how you knew I was looking for a writer when you called?”

I laughed and told him I’d seen an ad online, but I thought it had expired because when I clicked on it, I got an error message.

I asked him why. He  replied by saying “it had to have been an old ad because I didn’t place an ad for a reporter.”

Jason went on to tell me that he had only been named publisher the day I called him. The company announced it to the staff that very morning. In fact, that was his first day at the paper. When he was announced to be the new publisher, his managing editor and staff writer resigned.

Their first day gone from the paper correlated with my first day. When Jason told me all of this, I knew my position was a work of divine influence. I knew God had made it happen.

I really loved what I did for the first time in my life, and I was grateful for that.

Jason was my publisher until June 2008. Most of the people at the paper said he was mean, but he always treated me with respect.

I was on vacation when the company announced Jason’s move to Demopolis. I cried for a week. Not because I didn’t like the general manager they’d just named publisher but because I really worked well with Jason. In the end I had no choice but to let go.

So every September I think of my first few months on the job. I learned a lot during that time. I had to find my own way because I was too proud to admit it was sometimes a challenge.

That doesn’t mean Jason didn’t teach me anything. He taught me more than I think he even realizes. I have based my own career on something he said to me early on, “We find a reason to say yes instead of an excuse to say no.”

That sentence is community journalism in a nutshell. We specialize in “refrigerator journalism” meaning we want our readers to cut the picture or article out of the paper and hang it on the refrigerator. That’s the biggest honor we can have because it means something we published was worthy of display.

That sentence is the reason I say yes to everything I can. It’s the reason I work weekends and at night. It’s the reason I do the things I do. It’s the reason I love my job.

It’s been eight years since I made that phone call. Since that time, I’ve managed to work consistently.

My time at that paper was like the infancy of my career. I look back at it as bittersweet. I loved the work and the people. By the time my position was eliminated in favor of another reporter, I was ready to let go and just be a mother to little Gavin.  

So that’s what I did. I didn’t miss his first step or his first word like I had once feared. I was there with him for those special once-in-a-lifetime moments. God blessed me in the gift of being there. It wasn’t long before a smaller, competing newspaper wanted to run my column.

So I freelanced for the competition and wrote about all those special moments I was experiencing with little Gavin. The readers loved it and so did I.

After nearly a year of freelancing, this community welcomed me and my family with open arms. We love it here in Monticello. We are proud to call this community our home. We look back and where we’ve been and every step we’ve taken brought us to here. They brought us to you.

<em>Melissa Cason is a staff writer for the Advance Monticellonian. She can reached at 367-5325</em>.

The Advance-Monticellonian

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