Topic: Profiles

Paper Trails

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The office of Mel Allen, Yankee Magazine's editor, which is just a "tad cluttered."

The office of Mel Allen, Yankee Magazine's editor, which is just a "tad cluttered."

All photos/art by P Belliveau

I’m one of those people who keep things long after I’ve ceased to need them. For instance, my raw material for stories has long been the daily newspapers that come into the office from all corners of New England. I pore over the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Providence Journal; the Hartford Courant; the Cape Cod Times the Burlington Free Press; and others. I keep scissors handy, and whenever I find a story that sparks my curiosity to know more, I clip it and put it into a folder to look at later.

The other day I picked up some of those folders and found wonderful clips — from the 1980s. They make for fine nostalgia reading now, but I wonder why I never tossed them after, say, a decade or so. After all, the papers keep coming, day after day.

My office is legendary around Yankee for being, well, a tad cluttered. I always think I’ll regret tossing something out. Sometimes my obsession with holding onto stuff proves productive. For instance: A few years ago I was working late. The offices were dark and quiet. I found a shoebox of clippings I hadn’t seen for some years. I pulled it out. There on top was a story on child prodigies that I’d plucked from Parade years before.

The story profiled children from around the country with extraordinary intellectual gifts. One was a 12-year-old girl from Aroostook County, Maine, an isolated, distant pocket of New England. In the story the child, Daphne Brinkerhoff, tells the reporter that by the time she graduates from college she expects to win the Nobel Prize — perhaps in science, perhaps in literature. I looked at her words, which I’d highlighted in yellow nine years earlier, and wondered, what happened to Daphne?

I found Daphne living in Portland, Maine. Her life hadn’t turned out the way everyone had expected. The story Yankee published, “What Ever Happened to Daphne?” got a lot of attention from school groups, and whenever colleagues chided me on my boxes of papers that continued to clutter the space, I smiled and handed them my Daphne story.

Then, of course, I held onto things even more tightly — a cycle that leads, I suppose, to those stories we read about from time to time, where some old man or woman is found in a house with barely enough room to turn around, and every corner is crammed with newspapers from generations past.

Now everyone says that print is on its way out, that within a generation, we’ll get all our news from online newspapers. No more newsprint hands. No need for scissors. Every office everywhere neat as a pin. Just computer screens glowing in semi-dark rooms. What, I wonder, will keepers like me have to keep?


Yankee editor Mel Allen is the author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son.

  • I am not concerned that Mel is not going to have enough material to keep in the future. Even if the “paperless office” is not a fallacy, we will be overflowing with information in one form or another.


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