There’s an odd picture of a child behind my office door.
It’s a composite made up of many smaller pictures of children, and the overall effect is – well – creepy. It used to be my mom’s, sort of.
A story goes with it.
Mom was a journalist. She wrote for the Richardson Daily News, our local suburban paper, raising five kids by herself on a journalist’s salary.
Her beat was local government, her evenings spent at city council and school board meetings in McKinney, Plano and Richardson — white-flight Dallas suburbs that bored even the people who lived in them.
Local government bores most people too, but it fascinated mom. “Look for the story,” she’d say. “Whatever they do, a story goes with it.”
When the McKinney city council debated zoning, mom wrote a story about poverty and whether McKinney was willing to protect the powerless from industries that would pollute their air and make them sick.
When the Richardson School Board bickered over free lunch and English as a second language programs, Mom told the story about whether we would welcome our population of Kurdish refugees, or treat them badly and hope they would go somewhere else.
She especially loved exposing the “stealth candidates” — people whose good haircuts and smooth talk concealed their desire to eliminate sex education programs and prevent the schools from teaching the bits of history they didn’t like.
“People can vote for whoever they want,” she said. “But they should know the real story.”
Here in Stoughton, a story goes with it too.
When our city council discusses a Starbucks, it’s not just talking about a coffee shop that serves expensive but tasty and rejuvenating cappuccino. It’s talking about change.
Is our story that of a community that welcomes change, or at least accepts it? Or is it a story of a community that wants to stay the same?
When we talk about development in Stoughton, we’re not just talking about houses, apartments, whitewater parks and businesses. We’re writing a story about our future.
Will we write the story of an insular community that chose to live in the past? Or will we write the story of a community that welcomed the next generation of families by building homes they can afford and creating things for them to do?
Our school board spends a lot of time talking about data — things like test scores. Data is boring.
But a story goes with the data -– the story of a district striving to teach our children the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. They tell a story about equity, too, because the data show that we need to do a much better job of serving our students of color.
The best thing about stories is that you get to pick the one you’re going to tell.
Like so many suburban papers, the Richardson Daily News closed, and mom was laid off. Then, the Richardson school district offered her a public relations job. She took it; the district paid much better than the newspaper, and she could be home at night.
She had worked in newsrooms all her life, so she would call her bureaucrat son for advice on dealing with the bureaucracy.
“Frank, there’s a creepy picture on the wall of my new office. Do you think I can take it down, or will I offend somebody?”
“I think you can take it down, mom. When there’s an empty office, people swap out all the stuff they don’t want. That’s why your stapler’s broken and your chair is uncomfortable.”
“How’d you know my stapler was broken?”
“That’s how it works, mom. You can take the picture down. Honest. It’s in your office because it’s creepy and somebody wanted to get rid of it.”
But she didn’t. Instead –- to avoid giving offense –- she hung it behind her office door and kept her office door open all the time so she didn’t have to look at it.
Mom’s time with the school district didn’t last long. She got sick, and she couldn’t work anymore. After she died, I found the box of things the school district had sent home: her photos, her clock, and, yes, the creepy picture she had behind the door so she wouldn’t have to look at it.
It hangs behind my office door now. Occasionally someone notices it and asks.
I tell them what Mom would have said:
“It’s a creepy picture of a kid. A story goes with it ....”