Here’s a sentence I never expected to write: This week marks my 20th anniversary writing a weekly column. The first “Idyll Banter” column appeared in this newspaper’s living section on Feb. 9, 1992. Actually, it wasn’t called “Idyll Banter” then. It was just my name and mug shot and 675 vaguely incoherent words wondering why the Green Mountains — a land of maple syrup and cheese — had brands of coffee and salsa.
When I first agreed to write a weekly column, my hope was to last one year. Find 52 things to say. Then, after a year, I expected to throw in the towel. I’d been writing for the newspaper since February 1988, but nothing as demanding as a weekly column. I had started four years earlier with a monthly column: Business advice. Then, in 1989, I started scribbling occasional essays for the living section. Candace Page and Steve Mease were the first Free Press editors to take a chance on my work. Juli Metzger and Ron Thornburg were the editors who actually gave me the column. So, if anyone’s to blame for “Idyll Banter,” it’s the four of them.
But in 1992, the notion that I’d be writing a weekly column 20 years later seemed as improbable to me as Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, or — coming soon to the smart phone in your pants — Toaster Glock, the first game that combines our national passions for handguns and carbs. (Okay, I made up Toaster Glock. Expect instead Tebow-zo, the first smart phone game to combine football and clowning.) Only twice in the last two decades have I not had a column in this paper on Sunday morning. That means I’ve written 1,038 columns — or roughly 700,650 words. That’s the equivalent of seven novels.
Just for the record, of those 700,650 words, about half have been “turd” and “hockey.” I have written about my cats a lot. You probably know way more about them than you need to.
Obviously an enormous amount has changed in the last two decades in my beloved Lincoln, in Vermont and in our world. When I began this column, my wife and I hadn’t any children. Now we have a daughter in college. In 1992, my parents were alive and healthy. So was my mother-in-law. Now they’re all gone. Likewise, you don’t need me to chronicle the ways the digital age has flattened the globe or how much reality TV has added to our culture.
But as grateful as I am to Kim for providing occasional content for “Idyll Banter,” the column was never really about her. It was about my family and about my neighbors. It has been, I hope, about those dreams and desires that remain constant across generations. In my case, that has meant being a husband, a dad, a brother and a son. If “Idyll Banter” has been about anything, it has been, first and foremost, about family.
Young writers ask me often if I keep a journal. I don’t. I have notebooks that hold research for my novels, but I have never kept a diary. Why? Because “Idyll Banter” has been my diary. This column has been where I have tried to make sense of the loss of close pals and parents, and where I have celebrated the wondrous joys of marriage and fatherhood and friendship. Likewise, it has been where I have chronicled the unremarkable but universal moments that comprise every day of our lives. The first snow. The last leaf. The swimming hole. The ice jam.
And I have enjoyed it more than you know. This column has been a great gift.
Will I still be writing it in 20 years? No idea. I have no idea if I’ll even be alive in 20 years. In the meantime, however, I will continue to be here every Sunday. Or, at least, most Sundays.
And so the two most important words I can leave you with this morning (other than “turd” and “hockey”) are these: Thank you. Thank you so much for being a part of my life — and allowing me to be a part of yours.