While many of my friends grew up playing on the field for a sports team or performing on stage in a music group, I usually sat on the sidelines in a pile of dirt, book in hand.

A quiet, introspective kid, I preferred to sit back and observe. Although I didn’t have a term or phrase for it yet, I liked people-watching. I loved sitting with the grown-ups at family gatherings, listening to them talk. And I loved stories.

My childhood shelf of classics included books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace. I loved that when I read about the time and space their characters occupied, I felt like I was there, too. I wanted to write like them. I spent many summer nights sitting on top of our swingset, hunched over a little composition notebook, writing until the sun went down and the side of my right hand was smudged pencil-gray.

I was drawn to true stories. Stories passed down through generations. Like the one where my grandmother, the child of Italian immigrants, drove cross-country without a driver’s license to the army base where she would serve as a nurse and meet my grandfather. I liked collecting facts, too — I would regularly check out the same dog breed encyclopedia from the library and read it nightly before I went to bed, mainly so I could try to use my knowledge to persuade my parents into getting another family pet.

My middle and high school years brought me out of my shell (and out of my swingset), but I didn’t leave behind the part of me that loved words and was curious about people.

I wrote a lot of really bad poetry, made several attempts at blogging and kept reading voraciously.

In my first years of college at Bethel University, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, a children’s pastor and a slam poet. I remember feeling frustrated that my friends were finding their “thing” while I had a mile-long transcript from changing programs.

The fall of my junior year, I stumbled my way into the newsroom of Bethel’s student-run news publication. It was there that through a variety of conversations and connections, I began to realize that my fondness for words and knack for remembering details about people could make a career in writing a good fit.

The following summer I interned at a community newspaper in Stillwater, the town where I went to high school. I was captivated by residents’ care and commitment to their city, businesses and schools.

While news at the national level is often forced to paint in broad strokes, community papers get to write about real people doing life, in both big ways and small. I wholeheartedly believe those people — and their stories — matter.

This spring I graduated from Bethel with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, and a commitment to finding a community to plant roots and tell stories.

After a summer of interning with Southwest News Media, I’m thrilled to be joining the editorial staff full-time as a reporter for Jordan Independent.

The town itself is set in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. This past week I got a chance to drive around town for a bit. I walked along First Street and went into a couple of shops, and of course, swung by Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store on my way out of town, where I may prove to be a frequent visitor.

I’m looking forward to listening in on what’s happening in Jordan, but I won’t be sitting on the sidelines in a pile of dirt. Everybody I’ve met so far has been nothing but welcoming and warm, and I hope to earn a spot at the grown-ups’ table someday soon. I get the sense that Jordan has a rich, colorful history and that it has some of the best stories to tell.

I’m excited to learn them. I’m excited to get to know the people that make up this place. In the meantime, if you spy out a quiet kid with a camera in hand, don’t be afraid to say hello, and if you have a good story idea, give me a call.

Jaimee Hood is a reporter for the Jordan Independent. She can be reached at jhood@swpub.com.

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