I look backward and I look forward as I write my last column for the Columbia Flier and Howard County Times. It's been a good run, a kind run that has allowed me to fill this space for, as I like to say, longer than I am old.
With you, I've shared my life and yours, my children and yours, my thoughts and yours. I've given your perspectives and mine, the twists and turns of life, laughs, sorrows, tears, joy, and I have loved virtually every moment of my time with you.
Initially, it'll be daunting to not be with you, my community, on this page, but it is time for me to focus myself elsewhere. Doing so feels like a rite of passage, a movement in a different direction that, at this point in my life, is right for me to do.
I started this journey when I was published at the age of 10 in a national magazine, the name of which I cannot remember. I wrote a story called "Be Yourself," and that has been my emphasis in every column I've written. They are short stories, really, that fit into very disciplined spaces, lately not to exceed 640 words.
This column evolved from a weekly I wrote for several years beginning in 1981, called "Shop Talk," and it was great fun. In one, I quoted my then-8-year-old daughter telling me when I asked her to do something, "No, children have evil rights too!" I laughed. "You mean equal rights, small person." That column was mainly about little memorable things that, if they were pictures, would fit nicely in a scrapbook.
Then one day, the paper wanted a face to go with the words, and this column was born. Together, we read about surrogacy in "Womb for rent — nine month lease," in 1993. In 1996, we ventured into a hospital room where a 14-year-old boy, deaf since birth, was fitted with a cochlear implant, enabling him to hear sound for the very first time. The boy's parents and I cried when the ebullient boy signed, "I can hear!", which became the title of the piece.
Last year, we read about a grandmother wanting others to wail in the streets for our children lost to crime and drugs. Before that, we learned about the painful legacy of Agent Orange; depression; the colored school in Ellicott City; peace people and peaceful people. Twice, we talked to inmates in the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup about their artwork and their jobs recording audio books.
We took trips to Baltimore's Harlem Square, where I grew up. We camped in the outback of Death Valley. With you, I shared my kidnapping at age 11. You took trips with me to Russia, China, Cuba and Borneo, where I witnessed the ritual slaughter of a water buffalo and found myself in a tribal wedding.
The evening I arrived as a copy editor at the old Howard County Times on Main Street, Ellicott City, in 1978, the African American custodian pressed his hand on mine, pleased that a person of color had been hired for a professional job. We were rare at newspapers in those days.
Promoted to reporter in 1979, the paper would not let me cover the first story on my list — a Klan rally in Carroll County. The group's klavern had left flyers on our car windows in an effort to recruit Howard countians. They sent a photographer instead.
How do you know when it's time to turn in the key? What I do know is that I count my blessings that I have the health and head to even envision a future.
I thank you all for your support of me all these years. You are a blessing to me. And I thank you for allowing me to serve you.