The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

August 28, 2010

Reporter's Notebook: Stories bring back memories

Daily Star

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Sometimes when reporters cover stories, a topic strikes a personal chord and brings up old memories.

When I was told to write a story about life in a trailer park, it brought back the three times in my life that I found myself living in a trailer.

When I was 5 years old, my mother inherited a good-sized travel-trailer from her uncle. At about the same time, my father decided he wanted to retire and wanted to move to Florida to purchase property.

Although I was very young, I have vivid recollections of traveling along Route 1 down the coast, long stretches of which were under construction, and getting the trailer stuck in the red mud in Georgia.

When we got the trailer to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., my father purchased an unfinished house, and our family of four lived in the small trailer until the construction was complete. It was an adventure for my 3-year-old brother and me, but my mother didn't have fond memories of that year.

My next trailer experience came when I headed for Phoenix when I was 20 and found myself managing a trailer park. It was unique in my experience because the man who owned it set up 30 brand new trailers in a park and rented them like apartments. Unfortunately, I soon found out we were in the worst part of the city.

I have never been the enforcer type, so getting transient families to pay late rent before they disappeared into the night was not my strong suit. After six months and a couple of drug busts in the park, I rented a U-Haul and headed back to New York.

When I got married, my new husband and I had an opportunity to purchase an almost-new trailer that had been abandoned by a doctor's son whose marriage fell apart in weeks. We got a great deal, and the trailer was set up in a beautiful setting next to a brook. After three years, we resold it at a profit and used the money for a down payment on a house.

None of these experiences was similar to many trailer park settings, where you own your own coach and have to deal with a landlord who may or may not hold up his end of the deal.

The second story that hit close to home was about Nan Nichols, the woman who worked 20 years as the Sidney Daily Star bureau reporter who died recently.

As I talked to her son about his recollections of going with his mother on stories, it occurred to me that my own sons might have similar memories of my early years as a reporter at a weekly paper. In fact, as they got older, I sometimes pressed them into service as photographers and taught my youngest son how to run the darkroom.

Alan Nichols comments about his mother racing to catch the bus to send her stories and photo plates to Oneonta also rang a bell.

When I became the Walton bureau reporter, we had already advanced to sending the stories via over the phones lines and soon after via the Internet, but it was still necessary to get my film to Delhi to catch the 5 p.m. bus to Oneonta.

When digital cameras came along and everything began to be transmitted on the World Wide Web, it may have been too easy to forget how far and how fast things have advanced in our fast-paced world.

It is also easy to forget that I too am now a veteran reporter, with more than 20 years of experience, stories and memories of my own.

Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at