As you might imagine, over the past 23 years of writing this weekly newspaper column, I’ve received lots of interesting feedback from readers.
Sometimes I can predict what topics will strike a chord, or a nerve, with readers. Other times, I’m surprised by people’s reactions to a piece.
Earlier this summer, while I stood in line to buy coffee, a man approached me and said, “Because of you, my wife now insists we have a bed pan in the trunk of our car.”
I paused for a moment and then remembered. A few weeks earlier, I had written about being stuck in a car in a traffic jam when the call of nature came.
“Oh, I hope it doesn’t take too much space in the trunk,” I replied, “but I certainly understand her concern.”
The column described the plight of being gridlocked on Interstate 55 with no bathroom in sight.
After reading about my distress, readers came to the rescue with suggestions and had a few tales of their own.
One man actually mailed me a travel catalog, highlighting an ad for “Go-Girl,” a portable potty for women.
Another man wrote, “Have your passenger friend hold open the passenger door, squat down while leaning your back against the car and let 'er go.” In theory, my friend and the car door would block the view and protect my modesty.
But the funniest email was from a local woman who shared a true story about her friend, a pastor’s wife, which took place in Massachusetts.
“One night during a snow storm my friend was coming home from Boston University on the Southeast Expressway. The road was like a parking lot, no cars were moving.
“My friend urgently needed a ladies room. In a packed four-lane highway with everyone stopped, she racked her brain. Finally she took the ashtray from its compartment.
She didn't relate the details, but I surmise the ashtray was filled more than once and (contents) surreptitiously dumped out the door.”
After that experience, whenever the pastor and his wife shopped for a new car, the first feature they studied was the size of the ash tray.
(Oh, the golden days of vehicles with removable, metal ash trays.)
Another column this summer prompted lots of feedback; this time was the topic was detasseling corn. My experience was that it’s miserable, but well-paying, work. Some readers agreed while others could not have disagreed more.
“I detassled corn the summer of 1955 when I was 15,” wrote one reader. “The driver (of the crew) sang like a bird and often sang while driving. One couple on our team ended up marrying. Wonderful memories.”
Another reader with a similar view wrote, “I can look back to the times I spent detassling as some of the most fun times of my life. The relationships I built with youth from other towns and schools have been one of the greatest assets of my life. To this day I keep in close contact with a dozen of those men and women.”
Many of his friends also have fond memories of the character-building experience.
Yet another reader sent these thoughts:
“You are dead on about it being the worst job ever … I did it for four years, still remember being soaked to the bone in the morning and boiled in the afternoons. We left town at 4:30 a.m. to travel to Tuscola to work in the fields. I still hate the song ‘Afternoon Delight’ because it was a big hit then and was always playing at 4 a.m.”
Well, I never liked that song much either, but I am very glad so many people had a better experience in the cornfields than I did.
No matter if the topic is bed pans, ashtrays or cornfields, you, dear readers, always have something interesting to add. Thanks!