It surprises me how many people come up to me and tell me they have been reading this column for 30 or 40 years. I know it must seem like that many to a lot of people, but actually, this month marks the column’s 20th anniversary.
Back in 1994, when I was a correspondent for the Hooksett Banner newspaper, which actually was called the Suncook-Hooksett Banner in those days, all of the correspondents also had to write a weekly summary about community news and events that were happening in the towns they covered. My towns were Allenstown and Pembroke.
Every week, as I was writing about an upcoming church dinner or the elementary school’s spring concert, I’d try to sneak something completely out of character into the summary, just to see if anyone would notice it.
For example, I’d write something like, “And the guest speaker at the meeting will be Ann Smith, who will discuss quilting.” Then I would follow it with, “Is it just me, or does anyone else think the elderly female manager at the Family Dollar store makes you feel as if you’re committing a criminal offense whenever you try to return an item?”
That particular manager hasn’t worked at the store since the 1990s, thank goodness, but I can remember trying to return a blouse one time and even though it still had all of the tags on it, she insisted it was obvious I had worn it. Then she flung it at me and told me I couldn’t return it.
Anyway, the flood of mail I received agreeing with me about her (one guy even told me she’d accused him of shoplifting and then had frisked him!) encouraged me to keep adding personal tidbits to my weekly summary. I even once mentioned that most of the guys on the Pembroke police force had such great physiques, they looked as if they should be moonlighting as Chippendale dancers.
Finally, Jeff Rapsis, who was my editor at the time (and now is a co-owner of The Hippo newspaper) called me into his office. I was positive he was about to put an abrupt end to my unsolicited comments.
“I have the feeling you’re getting bored writing about local events,” he said.
“Well, it’s been 20 years now,” I said. “So I’ve been trying to liven up things a bit.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said, laughing, which I took as an encouraging sign.
“You know what I think?” he asked. “I think your real desire is to write humor. I think it’s your true passion.”
“Actually I haven’t really thought much about writing humor,” I said.
“Well, I definitely want you to think about it,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been thinking you should try writing a humor column about your daily life. We could call it something simple like, ‘My Life.’”
I remember thinking it was just about the blandest title I’d ever heard.
To be honest, I was scared to death. After all, the thought of writing a weekly column and putting myself “out there” for everyone to see was pretty intimidating. And what, I wondered, would happen if I gave the readers my best material and no one thought it was funny? Would the newspaper hand me my walking papers? If I failed, would my only association with the paper after that be when I used as a blanket because I was jobless and had to sleep on a park bench?
And so, back in August of 1994, my column was born. When I first started writing it, I had a seemingly endless mental library of topics and crazy experiences to write about. But now, nearly 1,000 columns later, there’s hardly a subject I haven’t touched. You name it and it probably has made an appearance in my column – everything from hairballs and hair dye to senior proms and senior citizens. Twenty years ago it used to take me only five minutes to think of a subject to write about. Now it takes me five days.
But I have loved, and I know I will continue to love, every minute of it. I have met so many wonderful people because of my column, I can’t imagine my life without them. And I’m constantly amazed at the variety of people who follow my weekly antics – everyone from priests and professors to my junior-high English teacher. And they range in age from 12 to 95.
I’m hoping to still be writing my column for another 20 years. By then, I’ll probably be discussing things like hernia trusses and Metamucil or how I’m constantly losing things like my keys…and my teeth.
But as long as I don’t lose my sense of humor, I think I’ll do just fine.