Tossing Lines: Writing can lead to unexpected journeys
Community Editor Lee Howard often invites the public to write for the Times, and I highly recommend it, as 10 years of writing Tossing Lines has led me on an unexpected journey.
In 2012, then-Community Editor Ann Baldelli saw something she liked in my writing being published in The Day. She invited me to write a monthly column for the Times, so I signed on.
Over 160 columns and articles later, with free rein to pick my own subjects, I’ve covered a crazy array of topics: books, reading, cycling, famous musicians, submarines, cruises, tourism, sports, human foolishness (including my own), and all manner of things.
I’ve written of aging, regrets, death, and other quandaries of life.
My long, contemplative bicycle rides, especially pedaling alongside inspirational cancer survivors while raising funds for cancer research, never failed to evoke a column.
My curiosity in the name of research has taken me to author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville, Maryland, and the site of the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival in Bethel, New York. I visited unsung Connecticut submarine inventor Simon Lake’s home in Milford, and a Mystic funeral home to study caskets.
I’ve expounded upon places like The Jolly Beggars (an old Mystic pub), beautiful Enders Island in Stonington, the other Waterford in Ireland, Alaska, Venice (Italy), the Salem Herb Farm, Groton’s Griswold Hotel and the famous swimming pigs of Exuma.
I’ve interviewed interesting local people: a young, female New London mortician, business owners, a disc jockey, authors, artists, a college professor, a doctor and nurses.
An old Joseph Lawrence School of Nursing yearbook once found its way to me from a home being cleaned out in Quaker Hill. The previous homeowner, the late Eleanor “Ellie” Taylor was in the book, and I wondered about her life. I found her obituary and discovered Ellie had been a caring and beloved nurse in our community.
I contacted Ellie’s husband Robert in Pennsylvania. He was touched by the opportunity to bring Ellie’s memory to life, and after discovering he had worked closely with my late brother, so was I. It completely changed the interview. We suddenly became friends.
I’ve met and continue to work with authors, historians, researchers, and archival facility staff members who graciously assist me.
I’m flattered and humbled that folks have called some of my columns “brilliant,” “wonderful,” “beautiful,” and “touching.” One column was described as “absolutely stunning and moving. It literally brought me to tears.” Such warm tributes are writing’s priceless rewards.
But after years of creative diversity, heeding my editor’s hints, I turned toward history, and I took it personally.
Having grown up on Fort Griswold and around historic Groton Bank, I sought to discover who Colonel William Ledyard really was. I was long aware that no one knew the man, and that history books had long ignored his personal life.
So I began a search to hopefully illuminate the Colonel’s humanity and soul, and that of his wife Anne, along with their nine children, through researching and learning about their short lives.
Seventeen columns later (with more in the works), my Colonel Ledyard series is unquestionably the most meaningful product of my decade of writing for the Times. I never would have taken this project on without the Times, and it seems to have brought my life full circle, returning, in a way, back to my childhood roots, filling a historical void I’ve long felt needed attention.
The Colonel’s legacy has long been incomplete, lacking his life events and his personal ties to the Revolution that help suggest his motivations. I’m honored to be involved.
My research and writings on Ledyard have led to a public lecture series on his life, as groups have asked me to speak to their membership and the public. It’s wonderful to be re-opening the conversation on William Ledyard, and sharing new perspectives on our state revolutionary war hero that no one knew a thing about until now.
But all that aside, there’s another emotional component to my writing for the Times. As I once wrote in a column some years ago, though my father was a good man, I never truly knew him — his hopes and regrets. Too many kids, too little time. He died years younger than I am today.
I hope that when my kids are cleaning out my house after I’m gone, they pause at my very thick binder of columns before they toss it in the dumpster. I hope they sense its value as a key to who I am, a gift few of us get from our fathers.
None of this would have existed were it not for Ann Baldelli and the Times. I cannot find contact information for her, now that she’s retired, so I’ll say it here: Ann, I can’t thank you enough.
So would-be writers: heed Lee Howard’s call to participate in the Times, and prepare yourself for an unexpected journey.
John Steward lives in Waterford. He now lectures on the life of Colonel William Ledyard. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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