I was just a kid when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I had this vision of me in fancy shoes and a brief case living in a big city where I would get into heated debates with the corrupt city leaders.
The only thing I got right was that last part.
I started my newspaper career at a small weekly where I wrote stories about school spelling bees and new police cars and I while I was excited to be getting paid to write something, it was at times disappointing.
"I want to write about things that matter," I said to my mama on the phone one day.
"These things matter to your readers," she replied.
I wasn't convinced.
That until I met Mrs. Vanwinkle.
She walked into our small newspaper office with a photo of her son and a handwritten "in memory ad." She wanted to pay a few dollars to run an ad for her son's birthday. He had been dead for nearly a year.
But when I heard her story I felt compelled to write it all down. Her son, Shannon Vanwinkle, died attempting to save the life of another man and a little girl.
Sadly, all three of them died.
But Mrs. Vanwinkle was desperate for someone to remember her son for his bravery.
"He wasn't perfect," she told me. "But he had a good heart."
That is it. The heart of each story. It might not be a big story. It might not be what you as an author thinks matters. But it matters to someone.
A few days after Shannon's story ran in the paper I got a floral arrangement form his mother. It came in a big coffee mug with a big yellow smiley face printed on it.
I still have that mug. I take a sip from it I remember Shannon Vanwinkle.