This is Pearl Swiggum’s last Stump Ridge Farm column exactly as in appeared in the Crawford County Independent on March 25, 2004.
It’s been a long and interesting 46 years as a columnist, which wasn’t in my mind as a goal when I started. What I yearned to become was a photojournalist. I thought I could take pictures and develop them myself, then write the story about whatever interesting subject I had in mind. It was an improbable goal for a simple farm wife.
There was only enthusiastic support from my spouse, who bought me the most expensive camera he could find. The next step was getting the local wedding photographer to teach me darkroom technique-developing the film and printing pictures. Jens Fuhr sold me his old, giant enlarger.
It was so tall it had to sit on the floor (so did I) of a closet but it made sharp pictures. I went to a meeting, made the pictures I took, wrote the story, and sent it to a daily newspaper. It, and many after, was rejected. So I took one to local editor, Glenn Hagar of the Crawford County Independent for critique, which was, “It’s not very good.”
But he gave me a job, taught me how to write—short sentences, simple words—and one day he asked me to write a column: “Just enough to fill this space.” The years I worked for him were as good as a college education. He sold the paper and I was made editor by the new owner, Ralph Goldsmith, editor of the Boscobel Dial. Another course in journalism.
But I was always puzzled about columns. What made an editor of the daily La Crosse Tribune pick up one part of many area columnists’ work for his “Coulee Region Speaks?” I drove alone to that city just to ask him. He took the sample I had, read it and said, “It ends with a punch line.” Remember that you hopeful writers.
I learned something else during the years I was the editor of Crawford Electric Cooperative’s center section in the Wisconsin REC News. Traveling around the country and attending meetings I developed a belief that everyone has or does something so interesting he/she is worth a story or column. Give it a try.
There are benefits, besides the pay, in writing a column. You do sometimes have a little influence on a situation. When I was much younger the bluffs along the Mississippi River road shed mud and rocks across the highway every spring. On my way to Prairie du Chien one time I, and dozens of other motorists, had to wait while it was cleared.
Soon signs: “Watch for falling rocks,” appeared. I wrote that itself would be a hazard. Maybe I didn’t influence the change but it was soon. “Watch for fallen rocks.” Again on the river road, I couldn’t tell just where to enter the bridge to Lansing when I drove there for square dancing. So I complained and warning lights were installed.
Best of all I mourned, in print, the passing of my striped overalls, which I like for contrast in my denim crazy quilts. Any day now I will be getting a few packages of those rarities and my favorite hobby can go on ad infinitum, or as long as this old lady is around.
Someone once called this an advice column. She was wrong. I’ve got so much besides advice from you readers. There were so many recipes, how to discourage chiggers which love me, condolences during my years of skin cancer troubles, sympathy when it was badly needed, and now I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To read Pearl's obituary: http://www.swnews4u.com/section/17/article/27644/
To read Pearl's final column of Stump Ridge Farm: http://www.swnews4u.com/section/125/article/27645/