Open Roads was born January 2007 after an eighteen-month gestation period. For 25 years, my friend, Lynn Coffey, was the publisher of a local monthly newspaper, Backroads, which focused on the folks and happenings in and around the Blue Ridge mountains of Central Virginia. Many of these folks were members of my extended family. When Lynn decided to retire, she called me to discuss the possibility of passing the baton on to me. On one level I was surprised. On another, I felt the “click” I’ve come to recognize as the signal that my life is about to get interesting.
Over the next few months we had a number of discussions about how this might work. I had many moments of thinking it was the grandest idea ever and as many thinking what, have you lost your mind? We talked about how things would be different. Lynn’s paper was a celebration of mountain life—a way of keeping things simple as the world around got increasingly complicated. She shared stories of individuals, families, and communities that survived by sticking together, recognizing that their well-being depended on loving your neighbor as yourself. Backroads was Lynn’s passion and her calling. After sitting with the proposition for some months, I realized I felt called and passionate about the idea so I made the decision to step up and through the open door.
That’s when the fun started. Lynn promised to teach me everything she knew about making a paper, but true to her form, she did it the old-fashioned way—cutting and pasting, physically driving the finished product to the printer some 40 miles away. She eschewed anything having to do with a computer. I, on the other hand, love my computer so much I’d marry it if it were legal. But neither my love nor my technical savvy included experience with any, hear me, any desktop publishing—not even a poster. True to my form, I never let a little detail like “I don’t know how” stop me when I’m on a mission.
So, in June 2006, I began the walk to Volume 1, January 2007, Issue 1. I started kicking around ideas for a name, and my dear friend Patty Wallens proffered “Open Roads.” Voilà. The name perfectly represented my publication’s mission—a bridge, if you will, between old and new. I began researching Desktop Publishing programs and talking with friends who had experience along those lines. Fortunately, I had enough sense to know how much I didn’t know, so I started working on the first issue five months in advance of my deadline. For all the trips down a wrong path, I really enjoyed the learning and feeling of accomplishment when I finally hit the “send” button on my computer, releasing the very first issue of Open Roads into the ethers. I got the thumbs up from the printer and within a week I drove off with a pile of papers, the inky perfume of success permeating my car.
A word here; I stayed with Lynn’s printer, X-High Graphic Arts (Elkton, VA,) and have never for a moment regretted that decision. Although, for a probationary period, I was referred to as Lynn Jr., I was eventually upgraded to Becky Lynn Jr. At some point, I graduated to Becky. Let me just say that bunch has saved my bacon more than once, and the depth of my appreciation to them goes on and on; they’ve got my back. If you’re publishing something on paper, that’s the kind of printer you want in your corner. If you just want a laugh, call Jennifer—she’ll dig til she finds your funny bone and then hold you down and tickle it unmercifully.
I tagged along with Lynn a couple of times as she delivered papers so she could introduce me to her patrons (whom I hoped would become my patrons.) At each stop, she chatted with the folks, catching up with the details of their lives. She’d tell me a little story about each one. Later, when we were having lunch, she said to me, “You’ll get rich doing this…and you might make some money, too!” We both fell out laughing, but beyond the joke, I knew she was telling the truth.
Some five years later, I continue my endeavor to carry on Lynn’s tradition of sharing stories of individuals, families, and communities that survive by sticking together, recognizing that their well-being depends on loving your neighbor as yourself. I’m called to journey from the back roads to the open roads, from my back yard and my family of origin, to collect stories from the big wide world and the family of man; from the micro to the macro, as it were. And this open road through cyberspace surely presents unlimited opportunities for gathering such tales!