“I had no idea what I was doing. I just always had this feeling that I had something to say, and that I should write it down.”
I’m talking with a writer who is sharing her origin story — and the audacity of just doing it.
That we crossed paths for an hour last week was a bit of serendipity, beginning with paging through this newspaper and coming across a guest column with a name and a face that was so familiar. Could it be? A few emails and a phone call later, I’m talking to Vicki Bahr, a columnist I first read 40 years ago when I was in high school and she was a young mom writing a column for the old Suburban Journals called “In This Together.” And we’re laughing, reminiscing and talking about writing.
We grew up in the same North County neighborhood parish. Her mom, Shirley Blell McDonald, had been our church secretary and was one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
“Sweet Shirley,” my dad called her. Every time Bahr appeared in our newspaper, my mom would say, “Oh you have to read that Vicki Bahr again. Shirley must be so proud!”
And so I did, reading stories of her family — funny, endearing and relatable. I remember thinking it would be the coolest thing to be a newspaper columnist. If she could do it, maybe I could, too.
“It all started because Reader’s Digest published a joke I sent in,” she said.
And then the young suburban mom got the bug. Beginning in 1981, Bahr became a regular contributor to the Suburban Journals and a freelance writer looking for markets when she could. She’d write in longhand when her four kids were sleeping or in school, then painstakingly type them up, put them in the mailbox with a self addressed stamped envelope and wait for a reply.
“I didn’t know getting published was supposed to be hard,” she said. “I didn’t know about query letters. I would just write what was in my heart, type it and mail it.”
And her kids?
“I embarrassed them all the time,” said Bahr, laughing without a hint of regret. “God bless ‘em, I made a little bit of money off of them, too. But they got a few Happy Meals out of it.”
She wrote a column for 12 years, but as her kids got older, she went to work full time in corporate sales. Now, she and John, her husband of 49 years, are enjoying retirement and nine grandchildren — and she’s writing again. She calls it “Still In This Together.”
“Sometimes, you just have this feeling that you have to get what you’re thinking down on paper,” she said. “It’s a part of me.”
I know the feeling. And on some days, when inspiration you barely remembered finds you, you realize we really are still in this together.