- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Change is a mixed blessing. It carries with it both the hopeful expectation of new experiences and the bittersweet disconnection from the familiar.

Our family is going through a lot of changes this week. We are moving from an area that has grown familiar but moving to an area we long considered home. We are leaving new friends but returning to old ones. We are moving out of one house but are excited about our new one.

Seeking the maximum stress level ("Living in Maximum Stress" is, after all, our family's mission statement), not only am I presiding over our family's interstate move, but I am changing jobs, too.

After a literal lifetime in journalism, I am moving into the dot-com world as a baby boomer, taking my place at the geriatric end of the technical revolution. It has been hard to leave friends and colleagues at the paper. But I have been especially dreading saying goodbye through this last column to the many virtual friends with whom I have shared my life for the past three years.

Writing is often a solitary occupation. You pour out your soul in a quiet room (all right, with four children nearby, it's rarely quiet) and hope you're not just talking to yourself.

But I have been blessed with a readership that often speaks back. So many readers have shared a small peek at their lives, touched by one of my stories. Not all of the communication has been friendly. A small army of men has written in defense of my husband over the years as I have shared the (always true) tales of his backyard barbecues and kitchen calamities.

I stand by my words. He really did set our lawn on fire when he unsuccessfully tried to multitask barbecuing and weeding. Inspired by the backyard flames, he set fire to the weeds, only to watch the blaze rage out of control toward the house. The beer he threw on the fire didn't help. And he really did nearly burn the house down when he was alone for a weekend and set his dinner afire and then ran through the house with a burning pan crying, "911, 911," into the empty air.

But my critics don't understand that, with notable exceptions (packing my pillows two weeks before the move, for instance), most of these antics only further endear my husband to me. I mean, lots of women have men who breeze through household repairs while lending a hand with the cooking, cleaning and shopping. But how many of them have husbands who weekly provide material for a stand-up routine?

Almost every column brought a response from a reader, although some columns clearly struck a nerve. When I wrote about how I envied my dog Fred's life (sleeping, eating and sunning himself outdoors), I was inundated with pet lovers' tales about dogs who share their owner's bubble baths and cats who come to afternoon tea. When I recently wrote about my lifelong struggles to spell within our language's narrow-minded rules, I was astounded by how many of the spelling-challenged are out there.

My column not only has provided me with a way to turn my emotions and experiences into written words, but has provided my family with a blanket excuse for all mistakes and misdeeds. Whenever someone in our family does something stunning, silly or stupid or even wonderful the immediate response is, "Well, at least it's a column."

That's what makes it so hard to say goodbye. Whom will I tell when my oldest son learns how to drive this summer? Assuming I survive the experience, I'm sure it would be fodder for countless columns. And will I be content with sharing the inevitable near-death and almost-disaster stories about next week's move back to Virginia with just a phone call to my mother?

I guess I'll have to make do by regaling my friends and family with the tales and saving up the stories for the made-for-TV version of my life.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Alex Hunter for his always funny and usually kind illustrations of my family's adventures and foibles.

As I draw the curtains on my family's life at least for now I offer a prayer for my readers that your lives never will be as chaotic as mine appeared to be and always will be as happy as mine is. In the meantime, I can be reached at the same e-mail address (hunkerc@erols.com) and, as always, promise to answer every note.

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