It’s my daughter’s fault. She’s responsible for ruining my retirement. I’ve had no trips to Europe, few days to go fishing, and fewer days to sleep late. I spend my free time working at the computer.
You see, the story began when I caught Amy rifling through some papers on my desk. “What are these?” she asked.
“Nothing that would interest you. Just a bunch of stories about growing up in the fifties and sixties.”
A few days later she called, saying, “Dad, these are really interesting. Others need to read them.”
“Amy, I don’t think anyone would look at them unless they came from Elmwood, Illinois.”
“Dad, your stories are universal. Most of Garrison Keillor’s audience has never been to Lake Woebegone or a place like it. Maybe no one will be attracted to Elmwood, sixty years ago, but I’ll set up a blog, and we’ll see what happens, just for the heck of it. Doesn’t take much time. Doesn’t cost a dime.”
“I’m 78 years old, wise enough to know what will interest readers. She’s in her forties, still wet behind her ears. What could she possibly know? And besides, what in the world is a blog?”
My stories began appearing on the blog for the first time about two years ago. Since Amy knows how to put them on the internet, she can monitor how many people read a story, but also where they reside, and how often they return to read another story. It’s exciting to see the numbers grow and satisfying to know how many people are interested in what I have to say. By the first of the month Amy and I are on the phone discussing the latest statistics: how many readers, from how many different places? What did they like—or dislike? If I don’t make my self-imposed deadline of one new story- a-month, I receive a call from my son: “Your readers are waiting. You can’t let them down.”
“Well,” you ask, “What do you write about that attracts an audience?” I’ve dealt with a range of subjects, everything from my yellow 2000 BMW convertible entitled “The Chick Car,” to tales about people who weren’t particularly important, but were to me. They did something for me or taught me something, or simply made life more enjoyable. Unfortunately, they were gone before I thought about them as worthy subjects.
My audience fell in love with “Helen Hart Metz,” who taught me how to write, and they had great respect for “Miss Roma Shively, a Short Woman in a Tall World.” She was a “spinster” eighth grade teacher who felt students should spend more time learning about local history than memorizing the principal crops of Delaware. (Remember that stuff?) My audience identified with Don Gronewold, the full-time pharmacist and part-time mayor who grew up on a farm and walked two miles to a one-room school house in the forties. In Don’s case, we included a picture of him, standing behind his soda fountain, mixing a delicious chocolate shake. Lots of people identified with my story entitled “The Wednesday Night Drawing at the Palace Theater,” because they could remember when small town movie theaters had cash prizes for anyone who was present and whose name was drawn from a drum.
So, was Amy right? Did anyone care to read my short stories? In a little over two years, my blog has attracted more than 6,000 unique visitors who have come back multiple times. (Trust me, I don’t have that many friends and relatives.) The greatest number of views came from the United States (8,623), but we have had almost 200 from Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, France, Germany, U. S. Virgin Islands, Norway, Russia, and Italy as well as a smattering from 25 other countries across the world. Good stories can be universally relevant.
Why should you spend your retirement years sitting at a computer writing stories? I like to write for the “heck of it.” I find great pleasure in putting down stories that have been running around in my head for years, waiting to be told to my kids and grandkids, to friends and neighbors, even strangers.
It’s satisfying to know that I can explain what my mother was like or how hard my father worked running a grocery store for over thirty years in a small country town. If we don’t put these stories down, they will be gone when we are gone. My stories may not be about people who are famous, but most have stood out, in their own way, in the small towns where they lived, raised families, and made a living. They deserve to be remembered, and if we don’t preserve these precious moments from the past, who will?
Don’t worry about a blog if you aren’t tech savvy. Begin by describing a special memory for a member of your family and stick it in a birthday or Christmas card. Don’t worry about the spelling. You aren’t writing a theme for an English teacher. Then watch their faces. That’s your reward for writing a story for someone special — your readers. They won’t forget your effort, and may remember it for years.
** Originally printed in the October 2017 issue of The Modern Woodmen magazine