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Celebrating a writing milestone

Published October 10. 2009 09:00AM

This week marks a personal milestone for me. I'm celebrating 30 years of writing Warmest Regards without missing a week.

Actually, I would have missed one week - the week in 1984 when I was hospitalized for neurosurgery. My boss, Fred Masenheimer, wrote my column that week and few things have touched me more than the tribute he wrote.

I joked with him that he only said all those nice things because he never thought I would make it through surgery. But truth be told, Fred has a knack for always saying the right thing at the right time and it's always been a joy to work for him.

Thirty years ago, when I was a recent transplant to the area, I knocked on the door of his office with samples of columns I wrote for other papers. He agreed to let me write for the Times News.

Right from the start, the columns took the form of a letter to a friend. In early years I started the column writing, "Dear Friend," and ended with "With Warmest Regards."

While the salutation was eventually dropped, the format of column has never changed. When I sit down to write, I do so as if I were writing a letter to a friend.

I think that's why I'm able to be so candid in my columns. If I thought I was writing for thousands of readers, I would never be as free as I am with my thoughts.

My very first columns were about what it's like to be new in town. I also wrote many slices of life about being a wife and mother.

My two daughters tell people they grew up in the newspaper. "I couldn't have a hole in my sock without seeing it in print," said my daughter Maria.

That's true. The exploits of teenagers and the pain and pleasures of parenthood gave me unending material. In turn, the column also gave me leverage over younger daughter Andrea who is especially strong willed, just like her mother.

One day, when I wanted Andrea to spend the weekend in Shamokin at her grandparent's house instead of going out with her friends, she uttered those famous teenage words: "You can't make me."

Fine, I told her. I'll write about that attitude for my column this week. "No, anything but that," she said, as she climbed in the car for the trip she didn't want to make.

She made a point of never reading the column. She still doesn't. My guess is some day she will wish she had them because they chronicle her growing up years as well as those of her children.

Years ago I went to a national writing conference on column writing. I asked the syndicated columnist: "How honest should a personal columnist be?"

His answer: "As honest as you dare. Just slice your wrists and bleed honesty, if you dare."

Taking his advice, that's exactly what I'm done over the years as I've shared the painful experiences of having my father on a ventilator before his death and watching Alzheimer's disease steal my mother away, one gut-wrenching piece at a time.

The toughest columns to write, the ones that induced tears while I was writing them, were about my husband's 12 year battles with two strokes, three cases of cancer, then eventually a feeding tube.

Through all that, many readers were part of my support system, writing to me and keeping Andy in their prayers. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that it was the power of prayer that kept Andy alive for so long.

I remember one time when Andy and I were waiting in a doctor's office for his oncologist. Another oncologist, who had treated Andy years before, did a double take when he saw my husband sitting there.

"I never would have given you odds that you would have lived this long," he said. Never discount the power of prayer.

If my columns sometimes have a spiritual bent, that's because a personal column reflects the values as well as the thoughts of the writer.

Sometimes, though, a writer doesn't communicate what she means. Once, I wrote a column about going away on vacation with a "loving stranger."

I wrote about how much more I enjoyed being with this fellow than I did with my husband at home. I thought I was making it clear that my husband and "the stranger" were one and the same. Having the time to relax on vacation released my husband's fun-loving side.

But some readers thought I was writing about having an affair. A few said they were going to stop reading the column because I was "a hussy." The following column was about the dangers of being misunderstood.

I've been more than lucky that through the years Warmest Regards has been cited for writing awards.

But the biggest reward of doing the column is not awards. It's having the feedback of readers. The open, honest responses you send make it all worthwhile. Email from readers makes my day.

As most of you know from my columns, I am now living in Florida where I also write for two papers here. At times, it gets to be too much and I think about cutting back on my writing.

But it seems that every time I'm tempted to think about not writing Warmest Regards, I get more encouraging feedback from readers.

So, thank you, dear friends, for your encouragement and support over the years.

And a special thank you to those of you who have remained faithful readers for the past 30 years.

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