On becoming 10

Uxbridge Cosmos, first edition, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005.
Volume 1, Number 1 – Uxbridge Cosmos, first edition, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005.

It sort of creeps up on you. You’re conscious of existence in the first few years. Important moments stand out. Some prove to be highlights. Others not. But, because it’s such a formative time, all the events in one’s first 10 years are instructive. I know. I was once 10 years old. And one thing I remember about becoming 10 was a first step toward adulthood.

“OK, Ted,” my mom and dad told me that July. “Here’s your first pet dog. She’s completely dependent on you. And you’re completely responsible for her well-being.”

This all may seem a rather odd way of looking at the first 10 years of a newspaper’s life, but since the Uxbridge Cosmos (the newspaper in which “The Barris Beat” is first published each week) has reached a decade of publication, I thought I’d consider our arrival at this journalistic milestone the same way I coped with arriving at the age of 10.

There are a number of similarities, not the least of which, as I learned from my canine acquisition, is coping with responsibility. A newspaper, like a boy becoming master to a dog, has to be on-the-job 24/7 feeding, exercising and connecting with a new environment. I’m happy to say, that first dog lived to a ripe old age (about 15) and brought great pleasure to all members of my family.

This photo of Mike Malott about the time he was my Grade 5 teacher, suppled by his daughter Martha Farrell.
This photo of Mike Malott about the time he was my Grade 5 teacher, suppled by his daughter Martha Farrell.

The other important part of growing to be 10, is finding the right nurturers and allies during those years, and seeking their guidance and advice. On my first day in Grade 5 – when I was 10 – at North Agincourt P.S., I met the first male teacher of my elementary school career. After four years of female teachers, I looked rather resentfully at Mike Malott (who couldn’t have been more than age 20 at the time, just 10 years my senior). It wasn’t too far into the first week of school when Mr. Malott was to deliver our first history class – a look at great explorers. It was after lunch and he hadn’t arrived for class yet. Then, without warning, the door flew open and in he came, dressed in a cape and waving his blackboard pointer like a rapier.

“I am Vasco De Gama,” Mr. Malott proclaimed, “off to explore the world for the King of Portugal,” or words to that effect.

Whether I wanted him or not, I’d found a mentor. Mr. Malott, sparked my curiosity for history. He taught me how to tell stories, and how to love the search for history as much as the discovery of it. But Mike Malott gave me just as much guidance on the playing field as in the classroom. He became my coach for baseball, hockey and soccer. He taught us the rules, how to win, how to lose and most instructive of all he helped us realize that no sport mattered unless we learned the value of teamwork. When Mike died, at his memorial I paid tribute to his unique perspective.

“Mike didn’t coach us to win,” I said. “He taught us tolerance, co-operation, teamwork and respect for every member of the team – theirs and ours.”

Likewise, Conrad Boyce, who launched the Cosmos, and Lisha Van Nieuwenhove who has taken over recently, have both chosen to listen closely to (in Conrad’s case) the board, to the stable of contributing writers, and most assuredly to the community. Furthermore, while it has worked aggressively to serve the readership and advertisers of the township, the Cosmos, to my knowledge, has always operated respecting the competition. And turning 10 won’t change that.

As tough as any economy becomes, as vital as scooping the other media may be, and as difficult as always doing better might seem, those assembling this newspaper still function on a foundation of respect and fair play. As we did on all of Mike Malott’s teams, we walked onto the field wearing the reputation of our school and our teammates. This newspaper does the equivalent.

My father, Alex Barris, began "The Barris Beat" as a column in the Toronto dailies in the 1950s
My father, Alex Barris, began writing “The Barris Beat” column in the Toronto dailies in the 1950s

I learned one other critical thing when I was 10. My writer father never demanded that I follow in his footsteps. In fact, he only asked me to complete a university degree (partly because in the 1930s he couldn’t). But he did whet my appetite for storytelling. Not a Sunday dinner was consumed, not a block party with the neighbours was assembled, not a “Barris Beat” column in his newspaper (the Toronto Telegram) was published in the 1960s without my father offering a well-crafted, good-to-the-last-sentence yarn – every one of them true, of course.

Both my sister (Kate Barris) and I – as professional writers – have followed in his very large footsteps. But neither do we ever profess to have mastered the art. I learned at age 10 (and keep striving as an adult) to accomplish what a mentor, a school coach and a newspaper editor expect: “Always aspire to do better.”

Both the Cosmos at 10, and I well beyond 10, continue to.

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