I love hard news, political deep-dives, on-the-ground reports, dogged investigative journalism and all the rest of the nitty-gritty that makes a newspaper so vital to a community’s health.
And then there are the “Hey Bertha” stories, as we used to call them.
These are the features that make a husband sitting down to breakfast at the kitchen table call out to his wife, “Hey Bertha, come see this” as he shows her a story in his local paper about some rarely seen facet of local life.
A strong, confident newspaper has all of the above as part of its unique role in connecting our community together.
The reporters go to the boring-but-important local meetings to find out what our elected officials and public employees are doing, or not doing. They send reporters into the middle of natural disasters or far-flung locales to get direct information straight from the source. They take time to dig through public records to find out the story that no one would otherwise know.
And when they get a call about a donkey who’s been alive since the Cold War, their ears perk up. They hop over to go get a story like the one reporter Isabel Vander Stoep brought us in The Chronicle on Sept. 17, “Bart the Very Old Donkey a Companion to Centralia Family,” a story about an animal estimated by its owners, Richard and Lynda Lennox, to be 36 or older.
These kinds of stories are a delight. They’re a breath of fresh air in this overwhelmingly heavy time. While they might be about animals, they show us what we have in common as humans. They also tell us how we can find extraordinary joy hidden in the hum-drum of normal life.
“I don’t know anything special about him, but he’s special to us,” Lynda Lennox said of her donkey, Bart, noting how he’ll bray to greet them when they’re out and about. “He’s sweet.”
The story brought to mind one written nine years ago by now-Chronicle editor-in-chief Eric Schwartz about an even more venerable animal — Ted the Mule, owned for 40 years by my good friends Herb and Bummy Yantis of Frogner Road.
Ted was about 10 years old when Herb and Bummy bought him at auction in the early 1970s, meaning this mule was now pushing 50. He had lost most of his teeth, so his doting owners would grind up carrots, bananas and apples for his morning meal.
As a treat they’d give him cough drops, which he loved.
At that time the story was written in 2013, the couple were about to celebrate their birthdays: Herb was turning 90 and Bummy 85. I attended their joint birthday party at the Newaukum Grange Hall. My wife and I danced, our kids enjoyed treats, we celebrated the simple good life with neighbors and friends. We also all shared carrot cake in honor of Ted the Mule.
I’ve done my best to check in with Herb and Bummy over the years. It was hard during the pandemic, but I saw them over Christmas last year.
I’m glad I did, as Herb Yantis passed away last month just shy of his 100th birthday.
It was hard to believe. I thought I’d have him around forever. I treasure the laughs we had — every time I’d see him, his wide smile, ready stories and quick wit couldn’t help but boost a guy’s spirits. And Bummy Yantis has a warmness and authenticity that has been such a blessing to me since I met her half my life ago. I hope to visit her again soon.
Herb, born in a logging camp, survived a naval bombing in World War II and lived a remarkable life, far more than I can tell here. His obituary took up full half page of the newspaper — the same newspaper that carried his delighted smile years earlier as he showed off his mule.
Whether old mules or old friends, these little snippets of the good life, like facets on a diamond, remind us of all we can have and cherish in even the most ordinary day. We simply need to open our eyes to the simple goodness around us.
Brian Mittge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.