Pat Ausmus seemed to know who I was before I ever introduced myself.
When I first started out as a reporter for the newspaper in 2004, I walked in the Chatsworth-Murray County Library and I didn’t even have to tell her my name before she started spouting off to whom I was related. It astonished me to learn she knew exactly who I was and who I called family.
I found out over the years that’s just how Pat was. She knew the people in Murray County. I could call her and tell her someone I was looking for for an interview and by the end of the day she’d have a way for me to get in touch with the person.
She was branch manager of the library and involved in many historical projects in Chatsworth, including the restoration of the original train depot which was built in 1906.
Pat was so well-rounded, and so good to get people to help with projects. She talked to me one day, and before I knew what I had done, there was a photo of my grandfather and his father hanging on the wall of the library proudly displaying information about their military service. It wasn’t something I offered, though I didn’t mind sharing when she asked for it.
You didn’t say no to Pat, and it wasn’t because she bullied you or guilted you, but because you respected her so much you wanted to do what she asked.
Pat died this week at the age of 77 after a battle with cancer. It has me thinking. Who’s going to fill her shoes? And not just her shoes, but others in the community who work as hard as she did?
When you lose someone as valuable as Pat was to the community, you step back and say “What’s going to happen without her?” I’ve done the same thing when others have died as well.
It’s not that you want these people replaced, but that you need someone who will step up and carry on the work they started, and their knowledge.
Who knows all about the families in Murray? Who knows where to call for a photo of one of the old talc mines on Fort Mountain? Who can help save a train depot built in 1906?
My generation relies so much on Google, social media and texting for our information that we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation. We’ve forgotten how to learn stories about people, about our past, about who we are. Knowledge is lost because we don’t know how to gather it and retain it.
I doubt there’s much I can learn about my great-grandmother by searching for her name online, if I can narrow down which stories are really about my great-grandmother and which are about another woman with the same name. (Well, I can probably figure out the ones that were about Cleo Patra Dunn Caylor since there is no way that’s a common name. And yes, that’s the correct spelling.)
But if people don’t start closing their laptops, turning off Netflix, leaving the phone in the car and paying attention to each other, no one will ever realize the value in learning about our past.
The personal connection is missing from our lives. Being able to recall knowledge off the top of our heads is missing from our lives.
And each time we lose someone as valuable as Pat, I begin to fear where we’re headed.
Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and writer for The Daily Citizen. You can invite her to sit on your porch, drink sweet tea and tell her all your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org; facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN; or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.