I’ve been a weekly columnist for a regional newspaper The Carillon for almost 27 years. I got the job quite by chance. I was an elementary school teacher in 1985, on maternity leave after the birth of my second child. I was having trouble settling contentedly into the role of full-time homemaker. My older son was in grade one and at school all day. My baby slept a lot. I was looking for an interesting challenge.
An opinion piece in The Carillon deriding daycare got me riled. My six-year-old had spent several happy years at a community daycare centre and my brother was a daycare director. I wrote a spirited rebuttal to the editor. Not only did he print my letter, but he also said he liked my style and asked if I’d be interested in having a regular column in the paper. I agreed to try.
Writing my first few articles was a frustrating ordeal. I sat despairingly for literally days in front of the typewriter – wondering what to write about and trying to develop a ‘voice’ for my column. I did dozens of rewrites using copious lengths of correction tape. It was often just hours before my deadline when I’d finally take my column to the newspaper office on Main Street.
Nearly 1500 columns later I’m still on the job. I rarely wonder what to write about now. I always have dozens of possible ideas jotted down in the small notebook I keep in my purse. After decades of practice and the help of my computer I usually finish a column and e-mail it to my editor in three or four hours.
I went back to teaching after my year of maternity leave but I always managed to somehow find the time to write my column. It’s called Viewpoint. There were years when the demands of two active sons, multiple community involvements and a busy career made me consider giving my column up, but I never did. The chance to reflect on what happened to me each week in a public forum became a reassuring ritual that helped my life make sense. I couldn’t let it go. My sons are adults now with jobs, partners and homes of their own and I’m still writing Viewpoint.
Unpacking boxes that had been in storage for years while we lived in Hong Kong I came across a stack of large brown envelopes filled with some of my old columns clipped from the newspaper over the years. I slid down to sit on the floor and began to read.
“I have 57 mosquito bites on my left leg” my eight- year old announced when I picked him up after a week at camp. His sleeping bag was soaked, due to a rainstorm and a leaky tent. I wrote a column in 1987 about my son’s first experience at camp. He had worn the same underwear all week. His pillow had lost most of its stuffing in numerous pillow fights. He had hundreds of mosquito bites. “I had the best time Mom,” he said. “I’m going back next year for sure!”
In 1998 I wrote a column about the death of my grade seven teacher. Miriam Toews gives a moving portrayal of her father Melvin and his struggle with depression in her book Swing Low. Melvin was my teacher, many years later my teaching colleague, and eventually my son’s teacher. Trying to explain his tragic suicide to my teenager who had always respected and liked Mr Toews wasn’t easy. My son and I attended his funeral together. I wrote a column about Melvin’s memorial service and his positive impact on the life of our community.
In 2006 my husband and I sponsored a refugee family from Rwanda. They shared our home for the first three months after they immigrated to Canada and I think we learned more about Rwanda than we would have if we had visited the country ourselves. I wrote a column about the family’s difficult experiences during the Rwandan genocide and the way the friendly people in our neighbourhood helped make their adjustment to a new country easier.
I’ve always been intrigued by what interests my column readers enough to make them talk to me about Viewpoint. Surprisingly many people were genuinely shocked when I revealed in a column that I rarely made my bed and considered doing so a waste of time. I couldn’t believe how many women approached me to commiserate after I wrote a column about the difficulty of buying a Christmas gift for my son’s new girlfriend. In one column I debated whether a woman in her mid-fifties like me should consider getting a tattoo. I was surprised with how many readers in my age bracket confided they had considered tattoos as well.
Reading my old columns. I relived for just a moment- the time I met Senator Sharon Carstairs in a public washroom, the day I realized my youngest son had learned to read, my kayaking whale watching trip in Johnstone Strait, the excitement when a pregnant guest at our older son’s wedding went into labour, the Saturday I got on the Jack Farr Radio Show and the Christmas I almost killed myself by being over-confident on the ski slopes at Banff. Re-reading my columns made me realize what a vital part of my life writing them has become over the years.
People often ask me how long I plan to continue writing my column. I thought maybe starting this blog would serve as an alternative, but I have to admit even after all this time it still gives me a little thrill to see my column in print each week. I have no plans to stop being a Carillon columnist yet.
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