A farewell from a long-time columnist

A few years ago, my family was driving down Interstate 35W from a late summer vacation at Lake Superior. I was in the backseat with our two boys, and had just leaned forward to join the conversation with my father and husband, when I screamed, “Glenn, Glenn! Watch out!”

Had I shouted something less refined, it would have been appropriate. Glenn clutched the steering wheel with both hands and jerked to the right and then the left as he dodged a Porta Potty bouncing like tumbleweed toward us through the stream of traffic.  

He managed to navigate our van to the far left and screeched to a halt on the median, just feet from the large plastic box, now laying sideways in front of our van. We sat stunned in the car and watched the truck driver get out of his cab, scratch his head, look across the highway and then back at his long flatbed semi, which used to hold eight sea green portable toilets.  

I am no different than you, or at least that has been my premise for this column. I bet you could tell me a story of seeing something fall off a truck. We’ve both experienced this modern phenomenon and if we met at a party we could trade stories about flying objects and near misses.

I’d want to first know if your life flashed before your eyes, as mine did. I thought, “This is it … but at least my family is going with me.” I then visualized the undignified headline, “Five Flushed: Family killed by toilet.”  

If you’d never encountered these sort of interstate obstacles then our conversation might move to our summer vacations, perhaps to our shared love of Minnesota’s lakes and forests, or that school is about to kick into full gear and we wish the economy would do the same. There are so many topics that interest both of us. We likely see eye to eye on some subjects and have different perspectives on others.

My first Southwest Journal column in 1998 explored my challenges during a long winter as an at-home mom wondering how my toddlers and I would survive all cooped up together. Now I’m trying to figure out how much freedom to give teenagers, longing for the days when we were all cooped up together.  

During these 13 years, six of which I’ve shared this column with my husband, Glenn Miller, we’ve witnessed and written how individual lives intersect with a neighborhood, and how the needs of a neighborhood feed into public policy.  

We’ve touched on devastating young deaths that still haunt us, GLBT rights, gun control, the role of the arts in our society, friendships formed at the bus stop, keeping up with the laundry, parent portals, farm co-ops, moving back home, overcoming learning disabilities, Minnesota’s seasons, aging, camp songs, the definition of family and the power of neighborhood friendships. I’ve received hate mail of a creepily old-fashioned sort, the letters meticulously snipped from magazines; I’m guessing Guns & Ammo. (In this age of social media I’m almost sentimental for this expression of displeasure.) And, more welcome, I’ve gotten kind notes sharing similar experiences covered in the column.

During these years our kids have grown up, our mothers have died, we’ve lost and found jobs, added wrinkles, and put on pounds. Glenn and I may deal with our joys and challenges at different times than you, but 13 years of writing this column has taught both of us that all of our lives go in cycles; good times,  bad times, times of loss, and times of renewed hope.  

I’m not going to shield the truth. Occasionally, life will hurl a Porta Potty at you. If you keep your sense of humor sharp, along with your reflexes, you’ll be just fine.  

Jocelyn Hale is Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center. Glenn Miller runs a corporate communications firm. She has written for the Southwest Journal since 1998, he since 2005. This is their last regular column.