By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Yes We Can

It’s hard to put into words what kind of year 2020 was (largely due to some of those words being unprintable). I’ve never seen anything like it. I hope to never see anything like it again.

But there were definitely memories, and I wanted to highlight stories, both mine and around town, and talk about what’s coming this year (yes, a new year) for the Navarro County Gazette.

Who knew the Bowie Elementary School “Relay Recess” would be the last “normal” story I would cover for the year? At the time, COVID-19 was this intangible thing in the background. I think like everyone else, I initially largely dismissed those early reports as one of those viruses that would come and go like Ebola or swine flu.

That’s the thing about working in the reporting business. You find out all the background information first before the general public, and there was an uneasy air about this story that wouldn’t go away. By the time March 13 rolled around, the Missus and I were sitting at a restaurant for dinner, and we both knew something was about to change.

And so it did. Schools went on the longest Spring Break of all time, its empty rooms sat for months filled with snowflakes of an ending winter, and shamrocks from a St. Patrick’s Day never celebrated. Toilet paper became this weird, near impossible to find treasure people were actually making bids for on eBay. Hand sanitizer felt like it had become the period of every sentence. We learned new terms like “social distancing,” “shelter in place,” and “six feet apart.”

On March 25, local businesses adopted the term “We Can, We Will, We Must,” the phrase taken from the Navarro College Cheer team, having enjoyed its own success from its Netflix show. I spent most of my time covering local businesses, trying to highlight they were in fact still open, and how they were serving customers. In the midst of it, I was furloughed from my old job, a job I would have gladly stayed at until I was a little old man and had written my last story.

Several months passed, we were all still waiting for some return to normalcy. I waited for a return to my normalcy. My business trips to Las Vegas were canceled. My personal well-being was kept in check by Animal Crossing: New Horizons, The Mandalorian, and The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs. But I missed writing. It had become too much of my identity here, and if you’re reading this now, you see how I ultimately chose to deal with it.

With a WordPress site, a best friend as a business partner, and enough people who gratefully believed in me, I’ve been able to continue writing stories of my hometown. I consider myself back to where I started, now on my own terms. It’s the continued support that has allowed me to keep going, and the understanding that the Gazette was going to be more than “just some fan blog.”

We all have our things we remember from this past year. I wanted to highlight a personal few that resonated with me. Bear in mind these were my personal moments, and certainly not everything that happened or deserving of a spotlight is covered.

The local businesses – I drove around the night before the shelter in place began and took photos. Most businesses carried messages and signs of “We Can, We Will, We Must.” It was a strange combination of pride in my hometown and a profound sense of grief for what was to come, but in that moment, there was a notable sense of unity in an incredibly difficult time.

Dr. Kent Rogers – I interviewed Dr. Rogers during the early stages of the pandemic, and he didn’t hold back on what was happening, and what would happen. He wasn’t wrong. Even now, he uses his Facebook to provide nightly updates of what’s going on, and how to stay safe. He’s been a benefit to Corsicana’s public health and a respected member of the health community.

Monica Aldama – The Navarro College Cheer coach starred in not one, but two television shows in 2020. For “local pride,” Aldama has remained a continuous positive message, and a bright spot through a complicated and dark year.

Dan Nesmith – Not one to be in the spotlight in any way (Apologies in advance, Dan), Nesmith was a longtime history teacher of Navarro College until he retired this last year. His passion for history, mixed with his thick Southern drawl and a penchant for taking zero crap off of any disruptions in his class will be long remembered. He was a brilliant professor, a dear and longtime friend of my father’s, and a lifelong friend of mine. I’ll keep this short: Thank you.

BattletoadsWho knew after 26 years this video game series would get a sequel? While Tradewest has long moved on from the local business landscape, Rare’s newest entry was a nostalgic reminder of Corsicana’s past technological innovations. Maybe it’s my age range, but I will always think it’s really cool this small town once made Nintendo games.

Corsicana Daily SunI know: Speaking well about a “rival” publication? What crazy world do we live in now? But the paper turned 125 last year, and 125 years of anything is a big deal, and an important historical milestone. If you ever visit the library’s genealogy department, reading past issues of the newspaper provide invaluable local history. Working on that anniversary edition was one of my last issues, and a personal highlight of my time there.

The Warehouse Living Arts Center – I got the opportunity to direct my first play, The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, before the world went crazy. It was fun, fast-paced, and gave no indication of what was to come. One of the few “normal” moments of the years.

Of course, credit to the teachers, medical professionals, first responders, and the City people who worked to keep us safe and moving forward. The Class of 2020’s sacrifices should be acknowledged for having to graduate in the middle of a pandemic. And the residents who were simply trying to make it through their days this year deserve acknowledgement.

2021 is starting better. We had a few wins towards the end of the year that will help restore some of the long missed normalcy (go vaccine), but it’s still a work in progress to fully get there. This year is also going to be big for Corsicana in terms of historical milestones.

Among those highlights:

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church – 150 years
  • YMCA of Corsicana – 135 years
  • Oil City Iron Works – 135 years
  • Collin Street Bakery – 125 years
  • Salvation Army of Corsicana – 125 years
  • The Palace Theater – 100 years
  • Old Mexican Inn – 80 years
  • Navarro College – 75 years
  • Warehouse Living Arts Center – 50 years

And to add one more for the list (since it’s not a business), the Battletoads franchise is also hitting 30 years old in June. There truly is a little bit of everything for everyone.

We also lost a few businesses such as Bealls, VF Factory Outlet, The Taco Station Restaurante (the food truck is still serving up Mexican food near Atwood’s), and Butcher Block Market and Café.

Our world has changed, and it’s not going to be fully like it was in the “before times” no matter what anyone’s stance on the matter is. I do think some things will go back to normal, some things will be close enough, and the optimist in me believes some things will have the potential to be better. It’s taking time, but we are getting there.

As for the Gazette, I may end up staying here until I become a little old man and one day write my last story. I plan to cover more of Navarro County proper this year. There’s still numerous people and businesses I haven’t spoken to yet, and all of those history milestones alone are going to keep me busy with weeks of research and interviews.

We made it through 2020. Here’s looking to a better year for all of us.

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