Ready or not, here comes column No. 754.
Give or take a couple.
It’s the last one.
Nobody should be allowed to have this much fun. Think about it. One day, 29 years ago, an editor told me to write a column every other week for the Sunday Magazine. About anything I want.
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I figured it would last six months. A year tops.
Why would anybody care?
Why would anybody be interested in the time I got the business end of a Q-tip lodged deep in my ear? For a week, I was convinced I was going deaf. I was relieved when the doc laughed and pulled out the gross wax-encrusted fuzzball. Afterward, I could hear the doctor in the hallway loud and clear: “Man, he must have really been crankin’ on that Q-tip!”
Then I got calls and letters from other Q-tippers: “The same thing happened to me.”
I wrote about the time my sister and I were horsing around in the back seat of our Ford Fairlane on the way to Grandma Molitor’s house in Germantown. “I’m going to pull over and let you kids walk to Grandma’s if you don’t stop that right now!” Pop said. There were no seat belts. Seat belts were for jet pilots. Somehow, one of us bumped the door handle, the door flew open and I fell out onto the gravel road.
Mom spent the rest of the day picking gravel out of my elbows and knees with a needle, which my sister thought was hilarious.
Turns out a bunch of people fell out of cars when they were kids. “I felt so stupid, I never told anybody,” a teacher from O’Fallon told me.
I wrote about stopping when I see a turtle on the road. I get out, pick him up and move him to safety in the ditch. (I don’t do this for opossums.) Turtle Good Samaritans came out of the woodwork. Or, I guess you could say they came out of their shells.
I’ll be darn.
Whenever I’d write about our big family of eight kids, I heard from people who had treasured memories of being part of a big family. “My brothers left me stranded in a closet for hours after a game of hide-and-seek, too.” “My parents made us try head cheese and liver sausage, too.” Some even liked it. “I had to sleep between two brothers in the same bed, too.”
I wrote about simple things, like hand-cranking homemade ice cream or, as we called it, “doing the ice cream bucket polka.” Taking the family root beer jug to A&W for a weekly fill-up seemed to hit home with a lot of people. And what a wonderful feeling it was to wedge myself in between Mom and Pop when they sat on the backyard swing.
I thought I was pushing it when my column took a religious bent. “Greetings from Nazareth” was a Christmas card from Jesus’ Mom on his first birthday. “He was born on Dec. 25. I was hoping for a New Year's baby, but Joseph is counting his lucky stars for the extra tax deduction for 1 B.C.” Nobody accused me of blasphemy.
Same deal when I offered Joseph some rookie dad advice on Father’s Day: “When changing the little guy’s diaper, always cover him with a piece of cloth. Little guys are known to spout a ‘little guyser’ when you least expect it. Be careful or you might just get baptized.” Amen.
My favorite columns were the ones about my family. There was the time after our wedding when we took a wrong turn into O’Fallon City Park with our “Just Married” car filled with balloons. A policeman pulled us over for driving on the baseball diamond. “Where are you two headed?” he said, checking us out — me in my tux and my bride in her wedding dress. “Third base,” I deadpanned. He told us to have a good life.
Our two sons were a wealth of stories. The lump in my throat when son No. 1 graduated from kindergarten. How I tied his tie before his first prom. And the day the moving van came and took all his worldly possessions to Seattle for his new job, 2,099 miles from home.
A lot of parents rode shotgun with me as I taught Son. No. 2 to drive a stickshift on the church parking lot. I still feel a crick in my neck sometimes. And they understood how proud I was when his pre-school teacher named him the star student of the year and when he decided to go to SIU Carbondale, just like the old man.
There was a lot of goofy stuff along the way, too. Urging everyone to try skipping just because it’s impossible to be grumpy or sad when you’re skipping. Going up on the roof to look at the stars, much to Mom’s dismay. Getting two tickets for driving without a seatbelt. Everybody likes goofy.
My favorite column of all wasn’t goofy. The headline said, “The last time I saw Mom.” She had Alzheimer’s and she didn’t know who I was. She died 35 years ago and I was afraid I was beginning to forget her. The columns I wrote about her keep her with me. Same with Pop.
Pop was a wise man.
One of my favorite columns about Pop included sitting out in the yard on Sunday mornings reading the paper and waving to people driving by. When Pop came to the comics, I crawled onto his lap. Henry, the Katzenjammer Kids and Blondie were a lot funnier when Pop read them out loud.
Pop took the funnies very seriously. His favorite line, whenever I was leaving, was “See you in the funny papers.” When I went away to school, when we moved to Texas, and years later when I’d leave after visiting him in the hospital, it was always, “See you in the funny papers.” And it was Sunday morning all over again.
It’s time to leave now. I’m retiring.
People ask me, “What are you going to do now?” I honestly don’t know.
My editor kidded me that I could come out to his farm and shovel horse manure when I’m not busy.
I told him: “That’s what I’ve have been doing for 29 years.” Ha.
Thanks for reading.
I’ll see you in the funny papers.