Reflecting on printed words

Uncork the champagne, dear readers, and help me celebrate two milestones in my freelance column writing career.

Today’s offering appears on the 10th anniversary of my first 2008 column in the Mirror. For 13 years before that, I wrote columns for Martinsburg’s Morrisons Cove Herald.

This writing saga started in 1994, when I proposed to Herald publisher/editor Dave Snyder a column focusing primarily on Cove people, past and present.

For a year, I heard nothing and moved on. Then a letter came from Dave, apologizing for misplacing my proposal and, in fact, offering me a weekly column of about 600 words.

I shared feature page authorship with Sharon Snyder, Dave’s wife and a hugely talented wordsmith. She wrote from a female perspective, and I added a male counterpoint. We were a good team.

For the next 13 years, 676 of my columns were published, totaling 405,600 words, give or take. I tried to never use the same word twice. Just kidding.

When Dave sold the Herald in 2008, I needed a new publishing home. As the old saying goes: When one door closes, another door opens up.

Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel offered me a monthly column, which has now run for exactly 10 years. My 796 consecutive columns pales in comparison to full-time staff writers who might knock out several stories a day during decades-long careers. But, for a retired, part-time hobbyist like myself, that total isn’t too shabby.

During the past 23 years, I have had only one column that was totally rejected. More about it later.

The Mirror has had some exceptionally talented columnists for whom I have great admiration and try to emulate.

Two come quickly to mind. First, Christina Ferchalk, from Revloc in Cambria County, wrote Mirror columns in the 1990s that were witty, satirical and cutting-edge provocative.

I remember one in which she recalled as a teenage girl, while taking a bath, being fearful that a Peeping Tom may be watching.

“If so,” she proclaimed, “my daddy would knock the snot out of him.”

I burst out laughing, this being the first time that I recall seeing that particular four-letter word in print. Unfortunately, Christina gave up writing to tend to family duties. Pity.

Although I’m agnostic, another writer whom I consider a must-read is Kimberly Smith, who produces a weekly religion column for the Mirror.

Week after week, year after year, Smith weaves together 550 words that are humorous, whimsical and relatable. Then, in the final 25 words she conveys a spiritual thought that ties the whole thing into one neat pastoral package. Amazing.

Now back to my one rejected column. I wrote about how many of my readers could get, for free, a rather expensive item that is in continuous high demand.

In rejecting the column, my editor reminded me that long-time local purveyors of the product were faithful advertisers of the item. I would have been taking customers away from those advertisers.

I had forgotten a primary rule in life and journalism: Never bite the hand that feeds you.

James Wentz writes a monthly column for the Mirror.