I envy the poets and lyricists who write good-byes succinctly and memorably. Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow. Happy Trails to You. Thanks for the Memories, and the like.
Four years and 268 postings ago, I dove into the blogosphere by introducing myself and my Americana running buddy, my wife Carol M. Highsmith, whose photos have richly decorated this space. In fact, I’ve picked some of my favorites of hers to accompany these good-bye words.
I am retiring — not to be confused with shy and retiring — on Nov. 8, after 26½ years of federal service. Twenty-six and one-half! At my age, one acts more and more like a 4-year-old, counting every quarter of every calendar year.
What a journey it has been at Carol’s side, dipping into every U.S. state and every big city, most middlin’-sized places, and what seems like a thousand family farms and vast parks and small towns.
This all started with my unrequited love of geography as a child. I was raised a curious “only child” on the fringes of Cleveland, Ohio, by a mother who did not drive. Except for one train trip to California, the farthest I got until high school was the east side of town.
As I hope you agree if you’ve followed this space for a while, I’ve made up for what I missed.
The taste of blogging has been a sweet one, and I intend to continue in the professional afterlife. I expect to be on the road eight months a year, driving, gripping (in the Hollywood sense, lugging cases and camera equipment) and blogging about America from the road as Carol caps off her career photographing early-21st-Century America. As I have told you from time to time, this is her gift to future generations as she continues to donate her life’s work, copyright-free, to the Library of Congress — the world’s greatest collection of human thought and creativity.
We will be traveling under the auspices of the new, nonprofit This is America! Foundation, which is also sending videographer Connie Doebele across America for the same purpose. Beginning with the pack-up of our SUV in a week or so, I’ll be blogging on the This is America! site.
Here at the Voice of America, many others and I strongly believe that a sacred part of our mission is to tell the world the truth about our nation and our people. The commendable, the troubling, even the unflattering. That’s why I’ve taken pains to describe some rough-hewn, hard-luck places on our byways and back roads that Carol calls “Disappearing America,” as well as our glory destinations. And why I’ve invited discussions about some sensitive issues — our country’s hurried and harried children, most recently.
We are a sprawling land, diverse geographically and ethnically. A complicated place, young as civilizations go. So I’ve mixed in a lot of history in order to put the American experience into context.
I hope you’ll remember folks like Ann and John Boutwell, who saved an Alabama cotton gin factory in the nick of time; Robert Henry, who preserved an old plank road in Upstate New York; and Earl Shelton, an original “Okie” who fled Dust Bowl Oklahoma for the “streets paved with gold” in California during the Great Depression. And a hundred other Americans whom I’ve brought to your attention.
Perhaps they and Carol and I have whetted your interest in experiencing our Land of the Free for yourself.
Blogging has been enjoyable and bemusing. It’s a rewarding blend of traditional objective, and more personal subjective, observation. My goal, borrowed from storytellers who have inspired me, has been to be interesting above all else. Not ranting or bloviating. Interesting.
I threw in “bloviating” as a tease for my final set of “Wild Words.” I hope they have helped you navigate through my flights of rhetorical fancy.
I’ve treasured the interplay with many of you. And with my two longstanding “second pairs of eyes” — my editors and friends Rob Sivak and Faith Lapidus.
Rob now runs VOA’s science desk, and his deep understanding of science, agriculture, and some alleys of technical esoterica has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. “Saved my bacon” — another Wild Expression to be explained below.
Faith is expert at whipping my occasional syntactical stumbles into clear and digestible form. She’s pounces on phrases that work ever so much better when they’re moved to more comfortable locations. Agreeably and supportively, Faith and Rob have made many a passable line tasty — just one of the reasons I will miss them terribly.
I mentioned that blogging can be bemusing. I still haven’t got used to the steady stream of nonsensical, off-topic comments, sent in supposed response to my meanderings. As I’ve pointed out once or twice, most of these are mass-produced in hopes that some gullible blogger will publish them. Somehow this lends the sender credibility, often for some commercial purpose.
So I won’t miss comments as . . .
Hello! in my opinion I’m sure poker is the most entertaining activity of all the card games.
. . . when I hadn’t even written about poker!
Those annoyances aside, I have treasured Carol’s and my treks on the old National Highway that runs from the Maryland mountains to the flatlands of Ohio; along sections of the Appalachian Trail footpath; in places called the “Little Apple” and “Surf City” and the “Flickertail State”; here and there and everywhere in America’s wealthiest state (Connecticut) and poorest (Mississippi); and to such magical locales as the real town that inspired snowy “Bedford Falls” in the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.
Half a century ago, there was a black-and-white TV show that concluded with a narrator’s declaration: “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”
Truth be told, there are 311,591,917 stories in the United States of America at the latest reckoning. These blog postings have told 269 of them.
I hope to find many more out on the American road with Carol and 311,591,915 of our closest friends.
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Bloviating. Talking at excessive length, often about oneself.
Saved my bacon. This expression means that someone kept another from harm, or rescued him or her from an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation. It appears to have originated from early, rural America, when people sometimes quite literally saved others’ sides of bacon from fire or theft.