"Doing what you love ... finding the right work ... is like discovering your soul in the world." -- Thomas Moore
For someone who confidently advised my first editor in 1952 that being a writer at the Uniontown newspaper was temporary, I would appear to have been a bit hasty.
I cannot lie. I am tearing up. My throat burns, my eyes sting. My hands are shaking.
After 55 years, I am saying goodbye to my temporary career.
Oh, I know, many of you thought I retired years ago. Maybe you couldn't find me in the newspaper (my weekly column ran the first Monday of the month in the Post-Gazette, and the rest of the time online at post-gazette.com). Maybe you didn't have a computer, or maybe you simply tired of me after so many years.
But if you ever took time to read me once, I am grateful beyond all the words I have had in print.
The privilege I have had here for the past 15 years, and the previous 36 years with The Pittsburgh Press, writing mainly about fashion, and five years prior to that as an editor with the Uniontown Evening Standard, is beyond description -- because that is what it has been for me, a privilege, plain and simple.
Life changes. We change with it, or we take our leave and look upon what we have had as a gift. And the word grateful is in there somewhere.
"In creating memories, we do not remember days ... we remember moments." Italian poet Cesare Pavese gets credit for that thought. I wish I had written it first.
But pulling out all the moments that have made 55 years fly by in a profession I never chose but walked into with the understanding it would be "temporary" -- that would be hard to do.
I would have needed the entire newspaper today and even then would barely touch the memories or the names of people and subjects I have been privileged to write about. There have been moments by the hundreds ... and then some.
The moments are one thing. The people are something else again, tied into those moments.
Myrtle, the 96-year-old woman who still chopped her own wood and made her own lard; a 19-year-old Jane Fonda; the pooch they called Benji; the artist Erte; Miss Ann, the maintenance woman at Westinghouse High School; the "new" designers, Ralph and Calvin; the Pirates known as Smokey and Vinegar Bend; Ralph, the trolley operator; Sophie Tucker and Sophie Masloff, each one an original.
When I have talked to groups about my work, usually dragged kicking and screaming into any speech situation, I have always walked away pinching myself as I was forced to look through old clippings and gather my thoughts about just what I did every day of my life for most of 55 years.
Who is that lucky person I am talking about -- the one who has been to the White House, to the Pitti Palace in Florence, to final adoptions in Orphans Court, to Judy Garland's concert (which opened the new Civic Arena) ... and to her funeral soon after in New York City.
Who sat next to Erroll Garner on a piano bench, shared a birthday with Rosalind Russell at Universal Studios, traveled to Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Rome, Florence, Beverly Hills, Chicago, New York City -- all in the name of journalism and finding a story to share.
Sharing a hamburger with Lauren Bacall or rubbing shoulders with Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Nancy Reagan, Bill Blass, Vidal Sassoon ... was that me?
I started my unanticipated career, as I said, by telling my editor at the Uniontown newspaper, "Don't train me, because I am not staying."
It was not my chosen field. I wanted to be an actress. I still want to be an actress, but while I never made it to a Broadway stage, I experienced theater vicariously by interviewing Ginger Rogers, Katharine Cornell, Jessica Tandy, Audrey Hepburn, Lisa Kirk, Lana Turner, Ethel Waters, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine, among others.
I've had chats with many of the great entertainers of my generation: Tony Bennett, Carmen Cavallaro, Andy Williams, Hildegarde, Cyd Charisse, Phyllis Diller, Julie Newmar, Al Martino and Mary Lou Williams.
As fantastic as it has been to have sat opposite the above, the best part about writing has been meeting the people of Pittsburgh who have been the subjects of many articles or who have approached me on the street, in the stores, by phone or mail, and reacted to a story.
A man sat next to me on the bus the other day. He looked at me as if he knew me, but I didn't know him.
"I enjoy your articles," he said shyly. It was unexpected, but it made my day.
My words touching someone. That has been my reward, far beyond being recognized.
I was on an 82 Lincoln streetcar going through the Hill District's Centre Avenue in 1957 when I looked over someone's shoulder and saw my first byline in a Pittsburgh newspaper.
The pride in that has never gone away.
To be told something I wrote was copied or sent to a friend or a family member, to be told it was on a refrigerator door has been better than the paycheck, although as a single parent I surely have been grateful for that as well.
People who approach me outside the office often apologize for bothering me. They don't realize it is the greatest honor in the world.
This is what I was meant to do, as corny as that sounds. I have loved sharing my life, the sad news, the happy news, the funny stories -- the birth and growing years of my only son, Drew, now 36; the loss of my sister; the losses by others of family members; the joy of a pet; the excitement of a fashion show; the rise of a designer; the whimsy of a pink flamingo; the disgust with litter.
Then there are the everyday "little" things, like watching two squirrels play on my back fence; the value of a childhood friendship; the comfort of a grilled cheese sandwich; or the dressing room trauma of trying on a bathing suit after maturity kicks in.
What haven't I been privileged to share with all of you? There isn't much readers don't know about me after 50 years.
Well, maybe one thing.
That little boy I often wrote about -- the one who locked me out of the house when he was 2 and whose two teeth we searched for (and found) in the snow after a sled mishap, and whose high school graduation made me write, "Hey, slow down ... let me look at you ... it's all going too fast" -- he will become a father in April.
I will have a granddaughter.
I hope she will read newspapers. Maybe she will become a writer. But, of course, Grace Elizabeth Marie Cloud will have her own journey.
I weep for an ending, but I also rejoice in a new beginning.
It has indeed all gone too fast.
And ... I miss you already.
Post-Gazette columnist Barbara Cloud is retiring after 55 years in the news business. She can still be reached at email@example.com. First Published January 6, 2008 5:00 AM