Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

July 7, 2014

Maybe the camera actually does blink sometimes when the time is right

— I didn’t intend to get emotional at the Mercer County Relay for Life event on June 28 at the Everette K. Bailey Soccer Field, but I did. I try not to think too much about cancer. Mom hated July because it was the month that dad had his massive heart attack in 1958 and that her daughter and son — my sister and brother respectively — Mary Margaret “Peg” Archer and Donald Wayne “Stu” Archer died on July 23 and July 6 respectively. I remember thinking mom was teasing when she asked me just to flip her calendar over to August after June was over. I’m not so sure anymore.

But at that event with my camera at the ready to snap some photos of the start of the “Care Givers’ Lap,” Wendy Wellman really got to me when she recited the care givers’ poem and asked care givers to look at their hands, arms and hearts and remember what they had given to help their loved ones with cancer. I was shook up, but when I automatically flipped the camera up to take photos, I saw people brushing away tears, and others just stoically letting the tears run down their cheeks.

It was such a personal moment that I didn’t want to see the photos when I got back to the newsroom. I put the card in the card reader and looked at the images on it, and the images stopped with the one photo of cancer survivors smiling as they took their lap. For some reason, the rest of the photos I took at that event disappeared. I didn’t care. I didn’t really want to see them, but their absence stuck with me.

I remembered Wendy Wellman from when we started applying the mailing labels to the Twin-State Marketer and doing the mailing in-house. When we first started out, a printer in Ravenswood did all the printing and preparation for mailing. My bosses — Mike Shott and Keith Blevins — purchased a labeling machine as a cost-cutting measure, but on the first mass mailing to every household in Mercer County and Tazewell County, Va., we realized the magnitude of the project and hired a bunch of people to assist with the labeling process.

I remember Bill Justice coming up to me and saying, “Be sure to watch the labeler closely so we’re sure to get Mike Shott’s mailing label in the right place.” We laughed about it, but I did watch closely when the last names starting with “Sh,” came up. Even with a lot of help, it was an incredible undertaking, and all of the temporary laborers worked the whole time they were there. I remember Mike saying, “Ned (Mike’s Uncle Ned Shott) would have loved this. All these people working.”

Wendy Wellman was one of them. I noticed her because she kept her head down and worked, even when the labeling machine jammed and everyone but the operators stopped, she kept working. I later found out that her dad was then-Mercer County Delegate Howard Wellman, and that Beverly Wellman is her mom. From the Marketer mail labeling ordeal, I met one of my favorite families and have enjoyed nearly three full decades of friendship with all of the Wellmans since then.

Wendy told me to go over to see her mom at one of the Relay for Life tents, but after the care giver poem and the tears, I just wanted to get out of there. Back in the spring of 1988, when my sister told me she had come out of remission after eight years, she told me to start driving back up to Pennsylvania every two or three weeks to see her so I wouldn’t be shocked by her dramatic weight loss.

“I know you and how you procrastinate, but if you don’t do this, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” I was talking to her on the pay phone in downtown Bramwell in April. At the time, the only money I had extra was my traveling expense money to take the (then) Observer up to Beckley where it was printed. I had a 1973 Comet and a Discover card, though, and I filled them both up between that day and the day that Peggy died on July 23, 1990.

Mom gave me some savings bonds she had been saving for me when Stu’s cancer was diagnosed. It took the financial pressure off, but the emotional pressure remains. It was 9:16 p.m., on July, 6, 1991, when my brother died in my arms — 23 years ago yesterday. It was such a blessing. He was suffering. I had done what Peggy told me to do. I had nothing to regret.

Wendy was my Hospice Compassus contact when my mother entered the final stages of her life. Those days were strange, too — feeding Mom breakfast, lunch and dinner daily for 18 months — but at that point, I was determined that I wouldn’t have any regrets. My hands, my arms and my heart were absolutely committed to doing everything I could for my mom just like I had for my sister and brother. I became a different person as a result of that 23-year period from 1988 to 2011.

I didn’t mean to cry that Saturday afternoon in Princeton. I didn’t care if anybody noticed. I was happy, though, that the photos I took of the care givers’ lap didn’t show up. Maybe I just didn’t press the button that time. I read somewhere that the camera doesn’t blink, but maybe that afternoon, it did. That’s OK with me.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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