Strong stories

Every weekend, I drive down to Montgomery County to cover stories for their local newspaper, “The Courier.” For the most part, I write about community events like church barbecues or a hometown soldiers’ return from Iraq.

When my articles are finished, I lay out the obituaries page for the following day, and before I leave every night I upload new stories and photos to the paper’s online edition. They pay okay and it’s been great for my portfolio, but usually they’re just cutesy fillers for the paper.

But every once in a while I cover a story that touches me, and it’s on my mind even after the day is over and I am lying in bed trying to go to sleep. I call these stories “The Clingers.” Sometimes they’re strange, other times fascinating and some are just really interesting.

Like the time I drove out to Lake Conroe to cover a party thrown by some rich couple from California. They had recently had a $5 million dollar home built on the lake, and they were throwing the party as a way to thank all the workers who helped build their home, which took a little over a year to complete. This was around the time of the Hispanic Rights protests going on around the country, and since most of the workers who built the home were Hispanic, I guess my boss thought it was “timely.” The couple was Hispanic as well.

The home was beautiful; a sprawling 10 bedroom home equipped with an elevator and a guest house that was bigger then every other house on the street. These people were rich. There was a sauna, pool, fitness room and cabana. They even had a room for their live-in help, who had moved with them from California.

They were a sweet couple in their late 50’s and were the nicest people you could ever meet. The wife, who coordinated the party, spared no expense; she had hired an authentic mariachi band for music, had security verify all the guests and the seafood dinner was one of the best meals I had ever had in my life.

I had no idea what these people did. I was still new on the job at this time and wasn’t sure if that was an appropriate question to ask. After all, my feature was about the party, not about their wealth. So I never asked. It didn’t affect the article, so I just assumed they were in the oil business. However, when I got home that night, I still thought about the couple, so I “googled” their names.

The pair, Gilbert and Pamela Bazan, were formerly a middle class couple from Sacramento, California. That is, until they won an $88 million dollar jackpot in the California lottery. The Bazans chose to receive a one-time payout worth roughly $44 million and moved to Conroe, Texas.

But unquestionably, the story that I’ll always remember took place at a little church just outside of Grangerland, Texas. I was sent there to do a story on a Major General of the United States Air Force who was visiting the church. They must not get a lot of visitors in Grangerland, Texas because they held a reception fit for a king. The church had a small gymnasium and everyone brought something to contribute to the afternoon picnic.

“I’m Ronnie’s friend,” a little boy said to me. He couldn’t have been older than six. He reminded me of the little boy from “Jerry Maguire” – the kind that introduces himself mid-conversation as though we were picking up from previous dialogue. “My hat is too small for your big head,” he added.

“Yes, it is,” I replied. I’m not big on “non-sensical” conversation, so this was my way of trying to end one.

“This is sausage,” he explained as he opened his mouth and pointed to the chewed remains of an undercooked hotlink in his mouth. “You chew it and you eat it and it comes from a pig. My dad said that.”

Just as I was about to suggest he go sit with his family, a little girl sat next to him. “This is Ronnie’s seat!” he yelled. Clearly defeated by the deafening scream of a pre-schooler, she walked away, head down. I called her back and gave her my seat, as I was finished anyway. I got a few quotes from the Major General and headed back to my office.

That night, there were two obituaries, which were a little less than average for the weekend. One was of an old woman who had died in her sleep outside of Conroe. The other, a seven-year old boy named Ronnie from Grangerland, Texas.

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