These might have been the most memorable six days of my teenage years. Between Friday, July 17, and Tuesday, July 21, 1998, Iris Long had broken the egg price-fixing story wide open; Raymond Cooper had quickly devised a sinister scam to convince his listeners he wasn’t involved in the price scandal; the good folks of the Valley learned that one of the biggest gospel groups of all time would be playing at the county fair in just four weeks; and both Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh had publicly rededicated their lives to the Lord during the contemporary service at the Lutheran church.
In case you are counting, that’s five days. Then there was Wednesday.
Iris Long knew Raymond Cooper’s cover story was a sham. It has been said all is fair in love and war, and Raymond had no time for love while he was still deep in the trenches of an election battle. Like any good journalist, Iris believed in the public’s right to know. She would include the facts on the front page, with her own thoughts on the Opinion page.
After writing and rewriting the lead story headline more than a dozen times, Iris finally settled on, "Cooper Lays an Egg Following Price Fiasco."
Many readers didn’t wait for copies to arrive in their mailboxes later in the day. They rushed to the nearest paper box, dropped in their quarters, took a moment to absorb the headline, then read and reread every word of both the front-page story and Long’s editorial on page 4.
Iris knew that most sentiments would remain unchanged. It would take more than a few words from the "biased media" for Cooper devotees to turn on their champion. Most "Raymondites," as they had come to be called, couldn’t understand why the media, which included only the Hometown News in Lennox Valley, was so prejudiced against their faithful, humble servant.
Didn’t Iris Long realize Cooper had a profound religious experience and faithfully attended the contemporary service at the Lutheran church each Sunday? And it wasn’t just Raymond. His example had led others, most notably Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh, to turn their lives to the Lord.
As hard as it is to imagine, there were folks in Lennox Valley who hadn’t even read the morning paper and had no idea who would be performing at the county fair.
As Claire Lapella sat across the booth from Sarah Hyden-Smith, sipping hot tea and memorizing the Hoffbrau’s breakfast menu, neither she nor Sarah had any suspicion this conversation would alter Claire’s life in so many ways.
Eventually, Claire lowered her guard enough to share her recent feelings of loneliness. Her soulmate’s memory wouldn’t go away. Every song seemed to be about him. Every TV show and movie increased her pain. Here she was, after one year, in a strange place with only one friend, Sarah, and no sense of hope in sight.
She explained to Sarah that her old life was much different. Before moving to the Valley, she had a good job. She was involved in several community causes.
"Claire Lapella," she said before reducing her volume to a whisper, "made a difference."
Jessie Orr had been a waitress at the Hoffbrau for as long as anyone could remember. She had that special talent for hearing everything without hearing anything. Along with this talent, she had the knack for knowing when to butt in and when to keep her distance. This was the perfect time to butt in, she thought.
"It says in today’s paper there’s still time for someone to get their name on the ballot for the mayor’s race."
Neither Claire nor Sarah understood the connection to their discussion.
"You’ve been here a year. You’re obviously over 28 years old. Maybe you should consider running," Jessie explained to her befuddled patrons.
Conversation stopped as Jessie took her time refilling the cups. Sarah and Claire paused to digest the possibility of a "Lapella for Mayor" campaign.
"You know," said Sarah, "that might not be as crazy as it sounds."
As Raymond, Elbert Lee and Marvin huddled together across the square at the radio station to read Iris Long’s editorial, little did they know that looming just over the horizon might be a bigger problem than a few cracked eggs.
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.