I still have a Christmas card from Jasper hanging above my desk at work.
It’s a photo of him dressed in a red and white outfit, similar to a Santa suit but not quite, and he has a tall white fuzzy hat on. When I’m having a bad day I can always look at Jasper and smile.
Oh? Did I forget to mention that Jasper was an iguana?
Writing about Jasper, and his “mother” Robin Thomas, is one of the most memorable stories I’ve had the chance to tell. It is rare to meet someone who loves reptiles as much as I do. But Robin does. She dressed Jasper up, took him everywhere she went and even wrote a children’s book about his adventures.
Meeting them and telling their story had a lasting impact on me. I was still a fairly new reporter then, having graduated from college only a few months earlier. I remember it as being the first time I truly had fun with a story. How could you not have fun telling about an 8-foot-long, 15-pound iguana that wears clothes and sunglasses?!
And I’ll never forget Robin calling me in tears to tell me that Jasper had died. I then wrote my one and only obituary for an iguana.
I was a full-time reporter here at The Daily Citizen for three years before moving into a photography position. (Of course, I never stopped writing anyway.) I was the Murray County reporter and covered anything and everything that happened there.
Beginning next week, my focus here at the paper will shift back to reporting. I’ll still be doing photography some, too.
The best thing about reporting is getting to tell people’s stories, or in some cases, stories about places (such as the four-mile hike on the Emery Creek Falls trail or the Chief Vann House).
I have been blessed to interview and write about Desaray Carroll, a Coahulla Creek High School student with cerebral palsy who was elected homecoming queen this spring. Her story spread across the nation. (Thank you, Google news search, for making it easy to look up what other media outlets are running a story.) I hope everyone found her as inspirational as I did.
I’ve met numerous veterans and told their stories. I will never forget hearing Monroe Blackwell tell me about fighting in World War II, being there on D-Day, being treated as a hero in Europe, then coming home to face ridicule and hate because Dalton was still a racially segregated town and Mr. Blackwell was black. You learn about the civil rights movement in school, but that’s when it became real to me.
I’ve written about artists, sculptors, musicians, soldiers, wildlife biologists, people who work with therapy animals and rescue animals. I’ve written about people who have made a difference in our community, people who remember the way things used to be and people who are working to make a change for our future.
In Whitfield and Murray counties there are numerous stories still to be told.
• In other news, my favorite new Southern chef, Damaris Phillips, is this year’s winner of “Food Network Star.” She was announced Sunday evening. I wrote about Damaris in May because she has strong ties to Dalton.
I recently tweeted to her that I knew she was a star when I met her. And I did. I met her earlier this year covering an event honoring the memory of her grandfather, Maurice Phillips Sr., a Dalton police officer who was accidentally shot and killed by a trainee in 1956. Her father, Maurice Phillips Jr., was a native of Dalton and she still has many family members in the area.
Phillips, a food instructor from Louisville, Ky., won “Star” after viewers voted her their favorite contender. I may have been one of the people voting for her, like as much as the website would let me on as many devices as I could get my hands on. You’re welcome, fellow foodies.
As the winner, she has been given her own show on the Food Network, though details are still being hashed out. She told the Los Angeles Times that we will see her cooking modern Southern food, and chances are it will have a healthier slant than some previous Southern chefs.
Looks like I’ll have a new show to DVR. I’ve been a huge fan of hers from before this season premiered.
I wish Damaris lots of luck. And I still hope she considers having me on her show to help her do a Southern vegan, or at least vegetarian, segment one day.
Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN and on Twitter at @mistydwatson.