Newspaper clippings bring the past alive
One of the endearing traits my wife possesses ‘— and one that leads me to believe that there’s some sort of cosmic synchronicity out there ‘— is that she, like me, collects old newspaper clippings. Last week she was rummaging through one of her boxes and, for no apparent reason, handed me a yellowed clip from the Greensboro Daily News. The story was on the bottom left of the page, so there’s no dateline, but from the clues in the column and what I happen to know about Greensboro, it must have run in the early 1980s. Once again, it reminded me of not only why I love newspapers (if not always the business itself) but also of why their value does not always diminish into nothingness by the next day.
The column was one I remember, called ***Tar Heel Talk***, by a journalist I also remember, if not well, named Malcolm Jones. The subject of the piece was one Mel Cambareri, whom I remember not at all but after reading the story wish I had. Janet did, however, which was her reason for keeping it for posterity. Mel had helped Janet’s dad set up their pool table after the family had moved here from West Springfield, Mass. Several years later, after her dad had died prematurely, their paths crossed again and Mel made the statement that her father would be proud of her. Janet never forgot those kind words, hence the reason for saving the story about him all these years.
Mel, as is evidenced by the sparkling piece Malcolm Jones did on him, was clearly one of those characters columnists dream about. As some locals may recall, Mel owned a small cafÃ© on Market Street, half a block off Elm. My guess is that someone in the newsroom tipped off the columnist that Mel was getting married, so Jones wandered down to the cafÃ© to interview him. On the morning of his wedding, Mel was merrily decorating his own wedding cake, whistling while he worked. Turns out, one of the reasons he made such good column fodder was that he was the winner of the 1979 Spivey’s Corner whistling contest.
The further I got into the story, the more I realized what a brilliant writer Malcolm Jones was, and, I’m sure, is. The tapestry he wove on this lovable and colorful chef was one of those rare works that you know is good when it starts inducing chill bumps. It draws you into the subject’s life and makes you want good things to happen to him.
But it also passed the chill-bump test in its description of downtown Greensboro circa 1982. If you’re not aware of just what a desolation row Greensboro’s downtown had become, read this depiction of a three-block walk from the newspaper office to Mel’s CafÃ©:
‘“Downtown Greensboro on Saturday is a wild and lonely place, where stand the works of man with no men to fill them. You can hear the click and hum of stoplights at the intersections. The usual crowd huddled waiting for the bus in the Market Street doorway of the old Belk building is nothing but a reminder that downtown is but a stopover on Saturday, a place to drive through, to make your transfer to another location. Down by the bus station you can stand across the street and hear the hollow voice over the loud speaker announcing arrivals and departures. People are coming and people are going. No one is staying.’”
Now that’s some top-shelf prose, brothers and sisters.
But more than that, it’s a perfect example of the appeal of newspapers, sadly the thing that is becoming increasingly lost today. What people miss about newspapers is that they are not to be tossed after one day, that there is writing in virtually every issue that is timeless, at least for someone.
Every day there is a snapshot of a place and time. There is a story within and behind a story. There is more than a recitation of facts surrounding a fire or a wreck or a war. Each and every day there is a drama being played out in black and white, and shades of gray, and lately in living color. There are always other Mels out there and other Malcolm Joneses to track them down.
The element that takes newspapers from the topical to the timeless can be found in this one article. Now my curiosity is piqued to the extent that I really need to find out what happened to Mel Cambareri. Did he and his bride live happily ever after? Did they have kids? What happened to the cafÃ© and what sets at that spot now?
And equally imperative, whatever happened to the bespectacled young writer with modishly long hair named Malcolm Jones?
This is why I trudge out to the road every morning to pick up that paper. What if there’s another Mel or Malcolm in there and I miss it?
Ogi can be reached at ogi@yesweekly, heard each Tuesday from 9:30’–10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen most Fridays on ‘“Triad Today’” at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. on WXLI and WUPN, respectively.