I wear boxer briefs, actually. (Sometimes I don’t think she knows me at all.)
Regardless, 16 years ago my first column appeared in Siuslaw News, along with my first stories and photos as the news sports editor. I had returned to my hometown after a 16-year absence, working as a chef in Texas and Atlanta. Writing wasn’t new to me, but journalism was. I still marvel at my good fortune of being chosen over two journalism grads from the University of Oregon by then-editor Bob Serra, who saw something in my writing that spoke louder than my lack of experience or college degree. Or perhaps it spoke of a drinking problem.
Whatever the case, I still remember the mixture of excitement and terror as I opened that first issue and saw my name in print, along with this photo accompanying my first column…
“There’s no turning back now,” I heard Bob say from behind the folds of his newspaper. “They know what you look like.”
That first column was titled “Suddenly 16… Again,” and spoke of what it meant to be home again, walking the fields and pathways of my youth while listening to the footfalls of my first child on those same grasses…
The stands are empty. Chalk lines are scuffed. No numbers illuminate the scoreboard as seagulls and crows scrimmage over candy wrappers and stale nachos beyond the 30-yard line. From the empty Viking bench I look across the field to the stands where VIKS is proclaimed in blue against shiny gold…
… And I’m suddenly 16. A sophomore, watching as players in mud-stained jerseys rip through a homecoming poster squeamishly held in place by cheerleaders. I remember prowling the sidelines for yearbook photos, the smell of “Coach Lutero Burgers” and a lanky senior quarterback named Dodson. From the stands, “Go! Fight! WIN!” echoes across the field.
Across the years.
I’ve changed a lot since then. The mustache I couldn’t grow as a teenager is now something I fidget with when I write. A wedding band sits on my finger. I get bills with my full name on them. If I don’t work out I get fat. “Barney” is no longer a bungling country deputy but a terrifying, purple dinosaur. I no longer consider 30 to be “middle aged.” And after living in places like Atlanta and Dallas, Florence is truly home.
It always has been; I’m just a slow learner.
The wind picks up, stirring my thoughts back to the present where, in the end zone, my daughter has found something shiny. Walking toward her, I’m struck by the notion that we’re sharing a moment that’s about as close to time travel as I’ll ever get. Where I once stood as a teen, hooting and howling, making my first awkward conversations with girls, now stands my own child.
“It’s a penny!” she says excitedly, and readily hands it over.
I check the date and smile in amazement. It’s 1984, the year I graduated from Siuslaw.
“Can I keep it?” I ask.
“I’ll share it with you.”
“Deal,” I say.
In the years ahead, I look forward to sharing this small corner of the newspaper with all of you.”
In the same way my writing and column have evolved and changed over the years, so have the mugs that accompany them — and like both, some have been a little better than others…
The same goes for some of the promos that have appeared over the years. All of these are from 2006. Parental discretion is advised. In fact, you may even want to warn your pets…
As I’m sure you’d agree, my humor has clearly become more sophisticated since those early days.
Ok, maybe not. And maybe that’s why, after 16 years, I still feel the same excitement and anticipation whenever I sit down at the keyboard in hopes of making people laugh. Part of me is still that same goofy 16-year-old, while other parts have matured and grown. I can’t really show those parts here because of my “PG” rating. And in another 16 years no one is going to want to see them anyway.
Even so, I still hope to be at the keyboard stringing together words that elicit a few laughs.
When I’m “Suddenly 16… Again.”
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at email@example.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)