The Last Windrow: Columnist celebrates 37 years of 'The Last Windrow'
Columnist's experiences from growing up on a small farm in Iowa and then living in the northern latitudes for the past 50 years has given him a base of ideas that never seem to run out.
"Remember, what you write today, someone may be wrapping fish cleanings in tomorrow."
Those were the words spoken to me by my college journalism professor. He was a rather hard case who had worked for the New York Times earlier in his career before he moved to the prairie and took up residence as a professor at South Dakota State University. At the time, I thought those were rather harsh words, but I have come to appreciate them over time.
This column this week is celebrating its 37th year of being published in a number of newspapers. I started the column with the title of "The Back Forty." That name existed until I received a nasty letter from some other supposed writer who said he had already claimed that name and I should change my title or otherwise receive a letter from his attorney. So much for mutual respect.
But, I did change the name to "The Last Windrow," derived from my farm experience, and I haven't received any hate mail as a result so I should be in the clear.
This column began at the request of our local newspaper owner at the time, Mandy Amy. Mandy knew that I enjoyed writing and asked me to submit a column or two and she would judge whether she wanted to actually pay me to write a weekly column. Through several transitions of ownership I am still writing for that paper and several in our sister state of South Dakota.
In total, I've written 1,924 columns over those 37 years. That's plus a few extra, separate stories here and there. I don't remember that many years passing, but I do know I have less hair and more wrinkles than when the column started.
I had a friend who asked me the other day how I thought of something to write about on a weekly basis. I guess I'd never thought about that. Drawing on my experiences from growing up on a small farm in Iowa and then living in the northern latitudes for the past 50 years has given me a base of ideas that never seem to run out. Every day is a new day.
I gave a presentation to a group of students a few years ago and one of them asked me how I chose my subjects. Another asked if there were things I didn't write about on purpose.
My response was that I have chosen to stay away from political writing. I've found that when one enters into that arena you will alienate half your readers while the other half rejoices. I chose not to try to make enemies. There are enough critical columnists out there in newspaper-land to go around.
Oh, I may stray into that territory once in a great while, but usually I find it more satisfying to just write what I think someone might get a laugh out of or actually gain some knowledge from something I have learned along the way.
It has been very satisfying to have received letters of appreciation over the years from folks I have never met, but who have read my column and sent me a positive note. I even had one catfish magazine use one of my columns without my permission, lauding the merits of catfish bait. I wrote them asking that at least they could have given me credit for the story, but I never heard back from them.
So goes the life of a columnist. I don't have the money to hire an attorney and that catfish magazine no doubt had a low budget.
And so, I will continue writing as long as my publishers see fit to jam me into their papers. I know someone reads the column because if I stray into the weeds with a column that takes a whimsical look at something like an annual lutefisk feed, I may hear about it on the street the day the paper comes out. After that experience, I leave commenting on lutefisk to someone else.
"Remember, what you write today, someone may be using it to cover the bottom of their parakeet cage tomorrow."
That professor had a way of keeping future columnists humble. I do remember his words. He was right.
Happy birthday to "The Last Windrow!"
See you next time. Okay? Be safe!