Twenty years, 1,040 “Sights and Insights” columns, and too many words to count. This week marks my 20th anniversary at The Missourian, the happiest two decades of my working life employed by a newspaper that heartwarmingly serves its community.

When I was given the privilege of writing a column for The Missourian, I set a goal – to write what I thought about and experienced and not to miss a week or repeat a column. Mission accomplished.

Two decades of columns later, tearsheets that were once organized by date are now strewn in plastic containers in our basement. Lord help our daughters when Spark and I kick the bucket. That basement was supposed to be cleaned out when we moved into our house 25 years ago; instead we accumulate, heap and stack the mishmash.

Off to a Good Start

At the beginning of my column writing days, I kept each column under plastic, in a three-ring binder, the date clearly labeled. The first column was about yard ducks, the fowl you used to see more of on people’s front porches. With weather changes and holidays, the ducks would be dressed in fitting getups.

When the second week of my new job rolled around, I froze. What was I going to write about — I didn’t have a clue. Suddenly the reality of what I’d signed on for hit me. I’d have a deadline week and have to come up with a fresh topic to write about.

That conundrum remains my biggest hurdle, but I do have a panacea for my panic. Now I trust that something will present itself, a colleague or person will call and suggest a topic, my husband will come through, or a tiny kernel of thought will arise from my gray matter, and I won’t ignore it. Instead I’ll turn it over in my mind and consider its possibilities.

Often these bits of thought morph into memorable columns.

The Downside

No doubt I’ve repeated myself countless times in columns, have written pieces that people haven’t liked or just completely ignored, and have bored myself to death because I get so tired of hearing my own writing voice in my head. I’m also dogged by wondering if what I write is remotely interesting. Will anyone identify, or will they find fault and keep their opinions to themselves — you hope readers will because a writer’s confidence teeters on stilt-legs, criticism threatening to tumble you down.

I haven’t heard much from readers, but occasionally, like a brilliant bolt out of the blue, when I most need it, I’ll run into someone at the grocery store or at an event. “I really like your column,” or “I never miss your column in the newspaper,” they say. I gush a sincere thank you, and we exchange pleasantries, but when we turn to part ways I’m walking on air, reveling in making a difference, in providing a smile through my column, or highlighting a person for a contribution they’ve made.

Positive comments buoy and encourage me to an extent that’s almost unimaginable. Our egos are so fragile, you know.

Much Has Changed

When I first started writing “Sights,” my family subject matter was far different than it is today. Our youngest daughter Katie was still in high school, and grandchildren were just a pleasant imagining. Now we have five “can’t-live-withouts,” and our firstborn grandchild, Miles, is almost as old as Katie was when I started at The Missourian.

I remain passionately grateful for the opportunity that Bill Miller Sr. gave me, and Ed Pruneau too, the now-retired managing editor who was in on my job interview. I’m thankful to work for a newspaper family who really care, and other employees who work hard to get it right, issue after issue. It’s been a brilliant 20 years, and hopefully there will be many more.

You see retirement isn’t anywhere on my radar, in the near future or beyond. I love my job too much for that, a position that also includes reading and writing about books.

It seems I’ve already died and gone to heaven.