[As published in Nashville Life magazine, April/May 1998]
The Monday morning radio report came as a jolt: The news meant that a part of my life was ceasing to exist. After 122 years, the Nashville Banner was stopping the presses forever. My disbelief was quickly supplanted by an overwhelming sense of loss — not so much for the silencing of the afternoon newspaper, but for the elimination of an irretrievable link to my past.
For nearly 30 years, the Banner seemed to occupy its own chair at our family dinner table. My father, Pinckney Keel, worked there as a police reporter and later, managing editor. After donning his uniform of open-collared white shirt and blue pants, Dad would climb into his red Dodge Duster and head downtown to the dingy brown newsroom full of discarded papers and oversized computer terminals. In case of emergencies, he kept a pre-knotted necktie behind his office door. Later, few were surprised when I followed in dad's wing-tipped footsteps and put in eight years there myself as a business reporter and columnist.
Dad's passion for journalism was sparked by a pilgrimage in his early 20s to the Mississippi home of William Faulkner, who patiently told his red-headed disciple that if a man wanted to be a writer, he should join a newspaper. Later, it was a meeting with another Mississippi legend that secured Dad's immortality in journalistic footnotes. After interviewing a young, brash, black-haired singer who shared his penchant for Cadillacs, Dad coined the moniker "Elvis the Pelvis." When the nickname caught on, my father was hooked. He became a beloved mainstay in the hectic newsroom for what was, unfortunately, half of his life.
On Good Friday 1984, my 54-year-old father was retrieving a column from the Duster when he collapsed against a fence in the parking lot, cracked his thick, black-framed glasses on the pavement. and died from a heart attack. Ever the company man, he expired in time for the Banner to report his death on the front page: "Longtime voice of Banner dies." His last piece, an eloquent Easter editorial, inspired from years of listening to the Baptist preachings of his father, appeared the next day.
The following year. I joined the Banner while in college, eager to view the world my father had known. Many in the newsroom knew me only as Pinckney's daughter; I took that as a compliment. He was still there, and I felt at home.
I spent the next seven years growing up in that newsroom, developing a voice and style of my own. With equal parts attitude. Tennessee accent, and big bleached hair secured in place by repeated applications of Paul Mitchell hair spray, I became a Southern version of Lois Lane, confidently chasing down stories like racial discrimination at Shoney's and enjoying job perks such as cruising with race car driver Bill Elliott and dining with singer Don Henley. In 1993. I left for a country music job and never looked back, until recently.
This year, while covering the funeral of Carl Perkins, I spotted Elvis bandmates D.J. Fontana and Scotty Moore. Moore confirmed what Dad had always told us: Elvis hated the nickname. This encounter ignited a frantic quest to uncover any insights into my father's life. I knew him only as a daddy, not as a man. My childhood memories have created an idealized, mythical figure without flaws. I longed for just one adult conversation: Would he have been proud of who I had become? Would he have hated my boyfriends? Would he have liked my writing?
Four days after the radio report, I visited the Banner one last time to witness the final press run. When my eyes teared, I wasn't mourning the loss of an institution so much as grieving for my father all over again. Yet I realized something else that day. My life has evolved far beyond the newsroom that was full of young faces I no longer recognized. The newspaper that died that day was not my father's, any more than it was mine. If anything, I had initially glorified my own Banner days until I remembered the long hours, questionable management decisions, and small pay-checks that prompted my departure. I had once envied the senior writers and their $30,000 salaries. What could they possibly do with all that money?
As it turns out, my father had similar feelings. During Dad's last conversation with his brother, he told of plans to leave the paper. My sister recalled an afternoon when Dad sat quietly on our plaid sofa, embarrassed to have just celebrated his 25th anniversary at the paper. The good old Banner days that I had envisioned never existed.
Living without the Banner, like living without my father, would soon become a natural thing. Afternoon newspapers, much like rotary phones and typewriters, have become obsolete relics of an era when news cycles were controlled by days instead of minutes. The Banner's legacy will continue as my friends join publications that reach larger audiences. Meanwhile, my faded yellow columns will rest forever next to Dad's in the relocated archives. Yet these long forgotten columns are no more a part of me than Dad's are of him. It's not the Banner that defined Dad, but how he loved us. I don't need a 50-cent newspaper to link me to my father. I've got his eyes.