I'm not from here, but Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Free Press have always been a major part of my life.
My father was born and raised in Sale Creek on the northern fringes of Hamilton County, and his father toiled away in one of Chattanooga's old foundries until his heart gave out at an early age.
Before he passed away, my grandfather moved his family closer to town so he could be nearer to work, and my dad ended up graduating from Red Bank High School. One of my favorite pictures of Dad is an old 1960s black-and-white newspaper clipping from a baseball game between Red Bank and Central High. He played first base and was jumping, arm outstretched, trying to catch what appeared to be a wild throw from somewhere across the infield as a batter from Central tried to reach base.
When my grandmother — affectionately called Mama Dean — was widowed, she moved back to Sale Creek and split her remaining years between there and Mowbray Mountain. But no matter where she lived, she always took the paper. And, of course, it was the Free Press. Or, as my dad's family called it, "Mr. McDonald's Paper."
The Free Press was always in the house whenever we visited Mama Dean, and it served as a portal through which I learned more about Chattanooga on those visits. The way the pieces fit together from my point of view was that Chattanooga and the Free Press were always a part of one another, a package deal.
Which is why writing for the Free Press for the past few years has been a delight. I never meant to be a columnist. I've actually referred to myself as an "accidental columnist" while I've done this.
Roughly four and a half years ago, on a whim, I submitted an opinion piece to the paper. To my great surprise, it was published. In the years since, I've had the chance to do much more writing, including a weekly syndicated column; a handful of articles landed in some national publications. Still, to this day, those bylines with my name on them seem out of place.
Writing columns has been one of the best self-discovery processes of my life. Though I've always been close to politics and government — my father, a college roommate of former Congressman Bart Gordon, tinkered at politics in Knoxville, where I grew up, and I've always considered Congressman John "Jimmy" Duncan Jr.'s family as an extension of my own — writing a regular political column has required me to dig deeper into my own political ideals than ever before.
Editorial composition is no easy chore, and I have infinite respect for the writers who churn out work at a great frequency. Not only is it an incredibly tough task to fulfill, but there is also something unnerving about the idea that tens of thousands of people are going to consume and critique the words you type. That unease, however, doesn't take away from the fun of it all.
But I'm putting this weekly column of mine to rest. For now, anyway.
As a contributor, I manage a career outside the Free Press. Thankfully, that career is getting busier by the day, and I simply don't have the time in my schedule I once did to draft what I'd consider passable work. And you, dear reader, don't deserve any slapped-together columns comprised of my half-baked ideas.
So, thanks to the folks at the Free Press for giving me this weekly spot. It's been a dream, really. Thanks too, of course, to you readers for tolerating me.
All fun things come to an end.
And with that, good friends, adieu.
Contact David Allen Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.