With a favorite Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album playing on my portable stereo in the background and a 2014 wall calendar staring down from above my desk, it is impossible not to be reminded that another year of HOME COUNTRY comes to a close with this column – my 52nd of this year and number 296 since this current relationship with SPECTRUM/DAILY NEWS was inaugurated. Being a natural-born score-keeper, I keep constant company not just with numbers, but with words – over 300,000 of which have found their way into this column. My next radio program will be number 623 and I will soon be starting the 13th year of continuous broadcasting in southern Utah. (By the way this is day number 29,773 of my pilgrimage here on planet Earth.)
What I seldom get to mention but is ever close in my thoughts is the legion of people who are part of all this; editors and publishers, family members, neighbors, old friends, a very real support team of secret informants, and those who weekly take the time to honor me with their encouraging comments (and to let me know when I have gotten something wrong.)
I am often asked how long I intend to keep this pace up, or when I will be content to watch the grass grow (or rocks roll, seeing where I live.) I answer it with a true story. I arrived at the Cedar City studio a few minutes before airtime recently, only to be handed a slip of paper with a phone number, and the admonition to make the call soon because the caller said it was “very important”. The call went through a screening agent before a strained male voice came on asking a question concerning a recorded learning study course I had recently discussed. I suggested he have a pencil and paper handy as I prepared to give him the appropriate contact information. “No. .. you don’t understand” he replied with some obvious difficulty. “You see I am blind and disabled, and afflicted with Lupus disease as well. But you have encouraged me to keep learning, and I need to get started” he said. After I helped solve that problem, he went on to describe his appreciation with these exact words: “I live in a tiny, dark restricted room, and my world consists of what I can hear. I want you to know that for one hour every week, you are my whole world!”
I thought of nothing else on the long drive home as I decided that until I ran out of new stories or some other catastrophe struck, I would keep doing what has given me so much satisfaction, recalling the Japanese definition of a near-mythical word: Ikigai which, roughly translated means the reason for which we wake.
Looking back on the year 2014 in HOME COUNTRY, I received a record number of congratulatory phone calls and emails on my columns of November 3 and 10, dealing with the tragic internment by the U.S. of 120,000 Japanese American citizens during WWII, including complete manuscripts and personal letters-home sent by descendents of those Nisei, from as far away as the east coast. The World Needs Another Fred Rogers on April 17 was another obvious favorite. Passing the Torch – America’s Veterans on Sept. 1st won a “thank you” from a well-known U.S. Senator as well as others. Charles Lindbergh’s Secret War on Sept. 22nd put me in touch with several families who had a personal connection with that famous American (as did I with two of his children). Let’s Hear it for the One-Room Schoolhouse – Dec. 28 really hit home for a number of readers whose memories were happily jogged. November on a Hillside Farm on Nov.17 caused nostalgia for one reader who also laments the passing of a time when families were more self sufficient. And I appreciate those who write or call to just say how they look forward to the column every Monday.
I have a friend who has flown more than 26,000 hours in Navy jets with a professional career as a United Airlines 747 pilot whose council and advice on aviation matters has been helpful, and a Korean War buddy and friend of 60 years who gives constructive feedback and support as does a friend in Australia whose view of the Pacific War has been helpful. And a special thanks to Shirley, my wife of 61 years whose patience with my hours of reading, research, and travel makes her my “co-pilot”.