My main takeaway from my hike on the trail was the understanding that no matter what the circumstance, “the trail always provides and that there is a reason for everything.” The trail is a giant metaphor for life.  

Another lesson I have learned over the years is that we’re all connected — usually far more than we realize.  

In 1990, I moved my family from St. Louis to Alpharetta after we purchased a local, twice-per-month newspaper called The ReVue from Melonee Bates who had started the paper in 1983. I recall my first trip to Alpharetta to meet with Melonee and to “look over” the Alpharetta market. I liked what I saw — lots of car dealerships and a number of comfortable looking subdivisions.  

“We can do this,” I thought. “Automotive” was one of the primary advertising categories in newspapers at that time, as was real estate. 

We leased a house on a farm “way out” on Hopewell Road. A woman named Dot Benson owned the farm. The house ended up not working out for us, so we decided to look for something to buy. The problem was that at that point we had spent most of the money we had made from selling our house in Miami to purchase the paper and only had about $3,000 left in savings. We had two children under 2 years old and were living in a farm house that, well, let’s just say that farms attract critters and leave it at that. Staying there was not an option.  

“No worries” we thought. We just need to find a house with an assumable loan where the owner will take $3,000 or less down and also pay the closing costs. (Were we really that naive?) 

Fast forward and we spot a for sale by owner sign in front of a nice house on a cul du sac. I told Christina that I would keep the kids in the car and she could see if the owners would let her look at the house. They did, and she came out about 20 minutes later. 

“I like it,” she said, and the owners said they would work with us — and that there was an assumable VA loan!  “Then let’s buy it,” was my response.

A short time later we bought the house and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the house was when I saw the inside for the first time.

Fast forward about five years and we have survived a recession, are still in business, and happy — but tired — and now with three children. As the only salesperson at the paper, I was managing to sell a fair amount of auto and real estate, especially with Northside Realty.

One morning, I happen to run into an agent for Northside somewhere in town — Brenda Shamel — and tell her that if she would spend just a little bit more money that surely it would boost her listings and she would sell more real estate.  

Brenda was no slouch. 

“I’ll tell you what Ray,” she said jokingly, “If you’ll buy this house I have just listed, I’ll buy a full page.”

Now, I’m no slouch either, so I followed Brenda to the house off of Milton Avenue. It was run down but had great bones. The house sat on a wooded acre, and in the back was this great big in-ground pool just off a deck. I grew up with a pool and loved to grow things.  

“How much do they want for it Brenda?” I asked. She replied, $135,000. I told her we’d take it.

Fast forward another 25 years. Christina and I are still publishing. Our children are adults, and our oldest, Hans, is now running our newspapers, with the help of his brother Carl. Hans now too has three children, 5 and younger.  

This week Hans sold the house that he and his family have lived in almost 10 years and bought our house. We have moved to a lovely townhome just a couple blocks away.  

Hans’ children will now grow up in the house that Hans grew up in. His son will be in the same bedroom that Hans slept in. The house that Brenda Shamel sold us that Hans is going to live in was built in 1963 by Ralph Kirby who started the first theater in Alpharetta and the bank. Ralph’s son Bob, who became a local attorney, slept in the same bedroom that Hans slept in. Long before we bought our house from Brenda, we had retained Bob Kirby to be legal counsel for our newspapers, and he represented us until he died. We still get a fair amount of real estate advertising in our newspapers even 30 years after we bought The ReVue. 

I mentioned recently in one of my columns that if you listen hard enough and are patient, a path forward will almost always be found. Believe this: You must have faith. Nothing, I have come to believe, in life is random. There is a plan. We’re all linked together somewhere, some way. Know this.  

Remember this now — especially now — because today we all collectively and individually desperately need a path forward out of this divide and out of this place we find ourselves that is so toxic and that has led us away from who we are and, OK, made us simply forget to “love thy neighbor as they self.”  

We need to remember that there are some things in life more important than party, politics, or money — far more important. We’ve got to get back to where we belong.

Next week I’ll write about what Christina and I are going to do about a house for us…

Ray is the Publisher Emeritus for Appen Media and the Herald newspapers.

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