A Great Run
By John Norberg, humor columnist s

For nearly 42 years I've shared my life with you.

I've written about our children, our grandchildren and the funny adventures of family life. I've given you advice based on my personal experiences: Never use a chainsaw to cut a few inches off the trunk of a Christmas tree while it's in the living room.

I've told you about hiding Easter Eggs and forgetting where I put them. I've written about bathroom "company towels" my wife puts out that are so fancy everyone is afraid to use them including the company.

I've written about the experiences of life we all share: Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie diets (at 40 calories per cookie you can have 40 Thin Mints a day and be at a healthy 1,600 calories if you don't eat anything else).

I've given advice to newlyweds: When you come home from the honeymoon do nothing for two weeks because if you voluntarily do something like make the bed, that will be your job for the rest of your life.

I've given advice to long-married couples: Instead of re-debating the same disagreements again and again, year after year just give them numbers: Me: "47;" Wife: "Oh yeah, Well 32." It'll save a lot of time and energy.

I've been up writing columns in the middle of the night. I've written them while I've been hospitalized. I've written them when I had good ideas and no ideas at all.

In addition to humor I've shared all the serious events in my life: my heart attack, my wife's kidney donation to her sister, the deaths of my mother and father and two very dear cousins.

In more than 2,000 columns that have varied from six days a week to once a week, I've written about all the little things that drive us crazy and all the big things that make life meaningful.

And now, today: This is my last column for the Journal and Courier.

I admit this is very hard for me. But all things in life must come to end. I've always known this day would come. Readers have asked me not to stop and this was not my decision, but I understand it. It's time to move on.

While it will no longer be published in the Journal and Courier, I will continue to write this column and post it online at johnnorberg.com along with many others I have written during the years.

I am not lacking for things to do.

I am officially retired from both the newspaper and Purdue University, but I continue to work. I'm getting started on my eighth book. I give talks in our community as well as around the state to Rotary and other groups. I speak for the Purdue Alumni Association around the state and nation. I do some writing for Purdue and sometimes the Smithsonian Institution.

I donate countless Titleist golf balls to ponds on area golf courses.

All that continues. But the newspaper phase of my life comes to an end today.

This takes place during a very emotional week for me. I came Lafayette from The Brazil (IN) Daily Times where I had been a reporter, editor and wrote a column beginning in January 1971.

I began at the Journal and Courier on July 3, 1972.

Bob Kriebel, who died early last Sunday morning, was the editor who hired me. My wife and I visited Bob a week ago today. It had been too long since we had last seen him. His memory had failed, but not during our visit.

Me: "Bob, do you remember when you interviewed me for a job at the Journal and Courier? You took me to the Downtowner for lunch and told me when you were in high school in 1950 The Brazil Times had written a story saying West Lafayette was coming to town to play basketball led by big 'Boob' Kriebel.'"

He smiled.

Me: "You said you always wondered if that was a typo or intentional."

He continued to smile and nodded. He remembered the story he'd told many of times before.

I held his hand. He wouldn't let go. We talked about old times, old friends and old stories.

Me: "Do you remember your column 'What A Week?'"

Bob smiled again. He had written it for several years in the early 1970s, long before his column on local history. The title came from a Friday conversation he once had with a production worker at the paper.

"What a week, brother," Bob had said to him in exasperation.

A column was born.

When I left Bob for what would be the last time I hugged him and told him I loved him.

In 1973 Bob was moving in other directions and he turned his column over to me. On Saturday, February 24, 1973 he wrote: "Next week this column will be written by John Norberg, a talented and witty reporter who started with the Journal and Courier last July."

He trusted a lot in a young kid. I was not yet 25 years old.

From the beginning the column was to focus on humor as I also continued my serious reporting work through the week.

My first column ran Saturday, March 3, 1973.

Wife: "What was your first column about."

Me: "Lafayette Fire Chief Bob Taylor had just purchased a lime-yellow fire truck because it was easier to see than the traditional red. I noted some people who were stuck in their traditional ways were going to 'see red' about the color change. Or maybe they'd see lime-yellow."

Wife: "I thought Bob Kriebel said you were witty."

Me: "Give me a break. I was young."

Bob Taylor was in my first column. Now he's in my last.

When I started this column in 1973, Elton John was doing the "Crocodile Rock." "All in The Family" was a hit TV show. A new home cost $32,500, gasoline was 40 cents a gallon and we were outraged about it. Men's paisley slacks were $23. You read that correctly. Paisley slacks. This was the 1970s! I once wrote a column urging everyone to burn every photo of them taken in the 1970s to destroy all evidence of the clothes we wore during that decade not to mention the length of our hair.

I won't tell you if I had paisley slacks and long hair. But I did have a big mustache.

The World Trade Center became the world's tallest building in 1973. The Dow Jones began the year at about 1,000 before it crashed below 600. But that didn't affect me because I didnt have any money invested. I was broke.

My columns improved after July 26, 1980 when I married my wife Jeanne and children came into my life. I wrote about them and all the adventures of being young parents: "There aren't many 'Silent Nights' at Christmastime when you have a 2-year old in the house."

Wife: "Lately you've written mostly about you and me? Why did you write so much about me?"

Me: "The kids grew up and left home. The dog and cat died. You were the only one left to write about."

People asked if Jeanne read the columns I wrote about her before they appeared in the paper. I answered, "I am not the smartest person in the world. But I'm not the dumbest either."

You bet she read those columns and sometimes our recollections of events were different, requiring changes. She also often gave me great suggestions.

Wife: "What are your favorite columns?"

I have two favorites. One about our grandson, Matt, who one day, as a very little boy, answered 'nobody' when I asked who was in our basement -- although I knew he was down there.

I wrote a column to tell him he was not a "nobody." He was "somebody, somebody very special."

My other favorite is about the day our youngest child grew to a new, bigger bicycle and left behind "a little pink bike with an S on the seat" along with a daddy who had a lump in his throat and so many memories in his heart watching his child grow up.

She read that column and didn't like it. "Why don't you write about fires like other reporters," she said. I didn't write about her again until after she left town for college and I described the emptiness I felt without her in our home. The next day a fellow student at her university handed her the article. But she had grown up. She didn't object anymore.

That child has grown into a wonderful adult who makes us very proud and now lives in Brooklyn. But that little pink bike is still in our garage. The thousands of columns I've written are all in bond volumes in my study, carefully maintained by my wife. The memories are all still alive within me. They're in my thoughts and heart every day.

I left the Journal and Courier as a full time writer on October 3, 2000 and began a new job that day at Purdue University working for President Martin Jischke and Vice President for University Relations Joe Bennett. It was an incredible experience.

Gary Suisman, the Journal and Courier publisher at the time and another wonderful person, called me into his office before I left and said he'd be happy if I kept writing my column while I worked at the university as long as I didn't use the "P" word -- "Purdue." That, I agreed, would be a conflict of interest.

I was good to my word Gary, until today.

Interestingly I started at the newspaper on the third day of a month. I started my regular column for the Journal and Courier on the third day of a month. I started at Purdue on the third day of a month. And my column ends today on the third day of a month. If you like things tied-up nicely, there you go.

I think maybe from now on I'll just hide in a closet on the third day of each month.

All in all, this column has been running in newspapers for more than 43 years. The Journal and Courier has carried it over the course of 41 years and 213 days, not to put too sharp a point on it.

That's a long time.

It's certainly longer than I ever dreamed it would run on the day I started.

So what do you say after all this time? There is so much I want to say. How do you sum up a lifetime of work and pouring your heart onto paper and computer to share it with other people? (Yes, I started on a typewriter). Do you write something profound? I have been thinking about this for a while. And here is my answer.

Thank you. Thank you to all the wonderful people I worked with through all the many years at the newspaper. Thanks to the current reporters and editors for giving me the opportunity to write so long. Thank you to the Journal and Courier for all these years together. I will always feel myself a part of this newspaper.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the readers who have invited me into their homes as I shared the joys and sorrows of life for so many years. You can never know how much you mean to me. This column is something we have shared, you and I.

Thanks most of all and always to my wife, our children and our grandchildren. They are my life.

Thanks to everyone again and again and again for among the most incredible experiences of my life.

Wife: "How do you feel right now as this ends?"

A little melancholy for sure.

But most of all, this is what I feel.

Forty-one years, 213 days.

Not a bad run.

Not a bad run at all.