Albany Civic Theater, Albany, OR, October 2020. To be continued.
This week sees the publication of a story I’ve wanted to run since the beginning — since before the beginning, actually, when I was still interim Entertainer editor at the Albany Democrat-Herald. But I wanted to give the family space. Little did I know I was only weeks from my own medical emergency: two hospital stays for the better part of a month-and-a-half, then a midlife career switch upon my return. As a result, the piece was never pursued.
When I launched Mid Valley Noise this fall, Kay Roth was on my mind, more than musicians, more than the pandemic, more than the snark endemic in my scrivenery. She was well-loved, with a long history in the area as both resident and chronicler of its lives. I have my own memories of her at the Democrat-Herald office, where she worked in many capacities but built a reputation foremost as a writer, one I greatly admired. I enjoyed the pleasure of interacting with her daily, marching to her partitioned desk near the advertising department, where she held sway and maintained the flow of daily obituaries, a task that, from experience, I did not envy.
My job as editor and designer was to ensure the next morning's edition could accommodate the required load of tributes. If not, I’d have to barter for page increases, not a fun task for a beacon on a convulsing budget. So when she saw me coming, she’d playfully duck from view. But I always found her. We'd gab about work and the theater, a life I used to love, though I never got involved with productions outside of high school or LBCC. (A lifelong Groucho freak, I considered auditioning for an ACT Cocoanuts run in the mid-’90s, but my fear of rejection was immense. Though a theater kid at heart, I couldn’t make the commitment.) I jokingly told her I wanted to play Roz in her 9 to 5, if the character existed in the musical. Great role, I thought: Swallow hooch and belch “Atta girl” atta desk for two hours, like in the movie. No singing necessary, unless they didn’t mind her sounding like a Doobie Brother.
I relished our afternoon banter; she was a loving, calming force. In November 2019, I feared the worst after Lee Enterprises laid off my editor, Mike McInally, and I stopped seeing Kay. Had we lost her to cuts, too? No, I was assured. She was just in the hospital and would return to work shortly. But she never did. She became a Facebook voice posting updates from her recovery. Then she fell silent. Then the most sorrowful news: We’d lost her. All of us, her many extended families, were devastated, disconsolate. At the newspaper we passed a condolence card and, for the first time, struggled with words. What I wouldn’t have given to speak to her at her desk again, all the “scares” behind us, to watch her hunch down when she saw me coming. Her absence devoured what normalcy remained. I still miss her very much.
So when I began Mid Valley Noise, I wanted to create a space for her, to give her the farewell she deserved. And I knew just the writer: Jennifer Moody. She understood that intimate world much better than I ever did and was 512 times the writer, as she’s proven in the quarter-century we’ve known each other. She would do it justice. She would take the necessary time.
When she finished the story a few nights ago, I scotched my ridiculous year-end issue plans. We didn’t need another two-sticked kiss-off to 2020; it was a year we all hated. Instead, I thought it better to remember an auld acquaintance we lost in the maelstrom, a rare jewel shimmering in an otherwise pitiable darkness. We have Kay Roth again, and a place to go when we need the light she shone.
We love you, Kay.