When I learned in June 2003 that Cele Cummiskey, this newspaper’s much-beloved columnist, had died, I felt a pang of sadness. I then decided I wanted her job.
Mind you, I hadn’t written a column since my days as editor of my college newspaper. Now I made a living writing corporate annual reports and such. My portfolio contained nothing you might deem Webster-Kirkwood Times-worthy.
I did, however, have the eulogy I wrote for my father, who also died that month. I submitted it as my writing sample.
I’m pretty sure Dwight had his doubts. To be fair, I would, too. He and Don hired me anyway.
Back then, I made a deal with myself. I promised I would write only things that you, the reader, had not read somewhere else. I was also determined to make you think. Thinking is becoming a lost art, and I didn’t want to make matters worse.
Finally, I set a goal of making you smile at least once per column. Asking you to laugh seemed ambitious. But one smile — that seemed feasible.
How do you write humor? Larry David, a comedic genius, was once asked that question. His answer: “The truth is funny. If you want to be funny, tell the truth.”
I have tried my darndest to do just that.
One thing I learned is that not everyone likes to hear the truth.
I’m reminded of a column I wrote when my oldest son was in high school. He had just confessed that, back in first grade, he asked his class to pray for his dad. Specifically, he prayed that the judge wouldn’t find him guilty and send him to jail.
Just imagine the buzz in the teachers’ lounge THAT day! Just imagine my son’s surprise years later when he learned what “jury duty” actually meant!
Naturally, I wrote a column arguing that prayer should be banned in Catholic schools. I think I made a compelling case.
Let’s just say: the church was not amused.
My point is, you can’t win ‘em all.
My other point is that my skin is thicker than it used to be. For that, I thank all the readers who took time over the years to point out my personal faults, failings and questionable punctuation choices.
For the record, I still believe people need to hear the truth. Even when it isn’t funny. There is an awful lot of ignorance in the world, some of which is willful.
If you want to outlive the virus that has killed this treasured newspaper’s print edition, you must listen to people who tell the truth. I’m talking about scientists, medical professionals, educators, historians and journalists. Real journalists.
You should also listen to the soundtrack of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. It will give you courage when it feels like all is lost. I listen to it daily.
Conversely, you should NOT listen to anyone who deems himself an expert because his uncle once taught at MIT. You may know to whom I’m referring.
Some will say what I just wrote is political. Sorry. I made a promise. I tell the truth.
Thanks to my dad for a well-timed death.
Thanks to everyone at the Times, particularly the carriers who kept the bag out of puddles.
Special thanks to my long-suffering husband, Frank, and my three often-mortified children, who grew up having their most cringe-worthy moments shared with the greater Webster-Kirkwood community. They are the kindest, funniest and most forgiving people I know.
Finally, thank YOU.
While I’ve had many great teachers, the best writing advice I ever got came from an old engineer. “Imagine you are standing belly-to-belly with your reader,” he told me. (Full disclosure: This was before social distancing.) “Speak directly to them.”
I have tried. As my deadline approaches each issue, you have been there, coaxing me along in ways you’ll never understand. You have given me the opportunity to think, to laugh at my own stupid jokes and, most importantly, to be my true, feisty self. I love you.
And that, my dear friends, is the truth.
See you online.