Newspaper offices - perhaps more than other businesses - tend to collect clutter. After all, we're in the paper business, thus we have more than our share of paper files, past issues of the paper and the assorted junk that somehow long overstays its welcome. So this week we decided to clean house and toss those items that have gone long-neglected and those that have outlived their usefulness.
We tossed, threw, shredded and lugged ancient machinery and archaic files. We found dust that has hidden since Roosevelt was president - Teddy, not FDR. We uncovered long-forgotten items and old photographs of young men with dark hair who are today old men with no hair. And I found a box filled with plaques like those presented to newspaper people from time to time to recognize our participation in some event or another.
Most of those plaques bore my name, not because of my efforts necessarily but primarily because of my position with this newspaper. I recall all of the wall mountings - some holding special meaning, others accepted with the knowledge that I somehow didn't deserve the recognition. But there they were, covered in layers of dust, slightly tarnished and all long-forgotten.
Once upon a time, those plaques covered my office wall. My ego needed those ornaments to somehow validate my participation in the community. Each new plaque was proudly mounted to tell visitors just how important I was. OK, so I was young. Forgive me.
I thought when my children were much older that someday those plaques would be held in high esteem so they could look back and see a visible reminder of just what their old man had accomplished. I assumed my kids would cherish those relics of my community participation with the level of pride that I felt. OK, so I was young. Forgive me.
This week I tossed the plaques into the dumpster with the other junk. I'm older now. And without getting too philosophical, I am a bit wiser - though that is subject to great debate in some circles. Now I finally know the true purpose of those plaques. And because I now know that purpose, I no longer need them to fill my walls like a chest full of medals.
The truth is my children would have little interest in plaques that have long since lost their meaning. You leave children memories and values and those don't come from plaques. Plaques will tarnish but not memories.
I have to tell you one quick story which, to me, illustrates the meaning of recognition plaques. I promise it's a true story. I once chaired a nameless community-oriented committee under the direction of the president and vice president of this particular organization. Time came when our work was done and we were to gather for an award ceremony. The ceremony was held during the lunch hour at a local eatery.
Well for whatever reason, just three people showed up at the ceremony - the president, the vice president and yours truly, the chairman. When the time arrived to make our annual presentation of awards, I was quietly asked to present a plaque to the president - which I did. The president, in turn, presented a plaque of appreciation to the vice president who, in turn, presented a plaque of appreciation to me, the chairman. Three people, three plaques. In short, everyone's ego was satisfied.
And just as I told you earlier, the plaque is long gone but the silly memory of that plaque-happy fiasco remains today.