By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — As I rise this morn-ing, I greet this day as one of the most special of my life.
On this day in 1981, I began the day with the usual routine — the exception being a doctor’s appointment late that morning. I assumed this would be my final pre-natal appointment, as I was due to give birth to my first child on January 31.
I was experiencing some mild stomach pains, but was taken totally off guard when the doctor informed me I was in labor. I hurried from the examination room to get my mother, who was entertaining some children in the waiting room. When she seemed in no hurry to leave, I burst out that I was in labor. That sped her up!
I stopped by my aunt’s workplace to tell her the news. Partially laid off, it was ironically the first full workday she’d had in months. Then I stopped by the factory where my cousin Kathy worked to tell her. She immediately began yelling, “We’re going to have a baby!” and clocked out for the day. As she and my mother grinned, glowed and pranced in anticipation, we walked to the car and I drove them the two blocks home.
As we watched the live coverage of the Iranian hostages getting off the plane after months of captivity, the pains came more frequently and around 5 p.m., we headed to the hospital — this time with Aunt Maggie driving rather than me. She drove to the emergency drop-off circle to let us out while she parked the car. Kathy and my mother were so excited, they nearly ran to the door, leaving me behind to carry my own suitcase.
Unlike most first-time mothers, my labor was brief. At 6:18 p.m., in the midst of the celebration of the safe return of hostages, our beautiful LeeAnn entered the world — healthy — and life was beautiful. Her almost jet-black hair and round, newborn face was my own picture of an angel. In the years since, this child has brought immense joy and pride to my life, despite numerous obstacles that we have overcome on our way. This year’s birthday is especially meaningful, in that she is bringing a new life into the world this late spring and our family has another miracle of God to celebrate.
Fast forward to this same date in 2010.
There were mixed emotions as I walked through the door of The Sentinel-Echo to begin my first day. My storied history at my hometown newspaper is often the basis of jokes when people ask how long I’ve worked here. The standard answer is, “Which time?”
My first jaunt began on January 19, 1995 under then-publisher Darrell Hathcock. He liked my feature story about my 20th high school reunion and hired me. But in January 1998, I turned in my camera and notepad and walked out of the Sentinel-Echo in anger. Two days later, I started with The Laurel News-Leader, a weekly newspaper operated by Willie Sawyers. With an area saturated with three London papers and a revolving door of publishers at The Sentinel, it was good news when we learned Willie had maneuvered a merger between The Sentinel and The News Leader. So, 10 months after I walked out of The Sentinel, I came back in again — even back to the same desk I had vacated months earlier that same year.
But as the end of 2001 drew near, I said good-bye to my Sentinel family once more and pursued a career in the child development field. Although those years included meeting hundreds of wonderful parents and children, the desire to return to the newspaper was overwhelming.
It was on Martin Luther King Day in mid-January and I had been monitoring two pigs that were giving birth on a cold, winter day when I received the message to contact Willie for an interview. At the conclusion of that interview, days later, I knew that this “Prodigal Daughter” was coming home again.w
In the four years since that day, there have been many stories, many columns, many interviews that have held a place in my career and my heart. I look forward to the many more to come.