Community Editor Lee Howard often invites the public to write for The Times, and I highly recommend it, because 10 years of writing Tossing Lines has taken me on an unexpected journey.
In 2012, Ann Baldelli, then Community Editor, saw something she liked about my writing published in The Day. She invited me to write a monthly column for the Times, so I signed up.
Over 160 columns and articles later, with free rein to choose my own topics, I’ve covered a crazy array of topics: books, reading, cycling, famous musicians, submarines, cruises, sightseeing, sports, human madness ( including mine), and all sorts of things.
I’ve written about aging, regrets, death, and other life dilemmas.
My long contemplative bike rides, especially pedaling alongside inspiring cancer survivors while raising money for cancer research, have never failed to evoke a chronicle.
My curiosity in the name of research led me to author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville, Maryland, and the site of the famous 1969 Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York. I visited the home of unsung Connecticut submarine inventor Simon Lake in Milford and a Mystic funeral home to study the coffins.
I’ve talked about places like The Jolly Beggars (an old Mystic pub), beautiful Enders Island in Stonington, the other Waterford in Ireland, Alaska, Venice (Italy), Salem Herb Farm, Groton’s Griswold Hotel and the famous swimming pigs of Exuma.
I interviewed some interesting people from the area: a young funeral director from New London, business owners, a disc jockey, authors, artists, a university professor, a doctor and nurses.
An old yearbook from the Joseph Lawrence School of Nursing once came to me from a house being cleaned in Quaker Hill. Former owner, late Eleanor “Ellie” Taylor was in the book, and I wondered about her life. I found her obituary and discovered that Ellie had been a caring and beloved nurse in our community.
I contacted Ellie’s husband, Robert, in Pennsylvania. He was touched by the opportunity to bring Ellie’s memory to life, and after finding out that he had worked closely with my late brother, so did I. It completely changed the interview. We suddenly became friends.
I have met and continue to work with authors, historians, researchers and archival staff who have graciously assisted me.
I am flattered and honored that people have called some of my columns “brilliant”, “wonderful”, “beautiful” and “moving”. One column was described as “absolutely beautiful and moving. It literally made me cry. Such warm tributes are the priceless rewards of writing.
But after years of creative diversity, heeding my editor’s advice, I turned to the story, and took it personally.
Growing up in Fort Griswold and around historic Groton Bank, I sought to find out who Colonel William Ledyard really was. I had known for a long time that no one knew this man and that the history books had long ignored his personal life.
So I started a search to hopefully illuminate the humanity and soul of the Colonel, and that of his wife Anne, and their nine children, by researching and learning about their short lives. .
Seventeen columns later (with more in the pipeline), my Colonel Ledyard series is arguably the most significant product of my decade of writing for The Times. I would never have undertaken this project without The Times, and it seems to have brought my life to a close, returning, in a way, to the roots of my childhood, filling a historical void that I long needed attention.
The Colonel’s legacy has long been incomplete, without the events of his life and his personal ties to the Revolution that help suggest his motivations. I am honored to be involved.
My research and writing about Ledyard has led to a series of public speaking engagements about his life, as groups have asked me to speak to their members and the public. It’s wonderful to reopen the conversation about William Ledyard and share new insights into our state Revolutionary War hero that no one knew anything about until now.
But all that aside, there’s another emotional component to my writing for The Times. As I wrote in a column a few years ago, even though my father was a good man, I never really got to know him – his hopes and regrets. Too many children, too little time. He died years younger than me today.
I hope that when my children clean my house after I leave, they will stop in front of my very thick column file cabinet before throwing it in the dumpster. I hope they sense its value as a key to who I am, a gift few of us receive from our fathers.
None of this would have existed without Ann Baldelli and the Times. I can’t find her contact info, now that she’s retired, so I’ll say it here: Ann, I can’t thank you enough.
So budding writers: answer Lee Howard’s call to contribute to The Times and get ready for an unexpected journey.
John Steward lives in Waterford. He now lectures on the life of Colonel William Ledyard. He can be contacted at [email protected]