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Setting sail with trove of stories you shared

By LOUISE ANDRYUSKY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001


Fourteen months ago, I wrote a column about my decision to retire from retirement. I admit I have overdone my woman's privilege to change her mind, having attempted retirement twice before. But here I am, writing another "I'm Ready for Retirement Now" column.

This one is the real McCoy.

I haven't a shred of an excuse that sounds the least bit interesting to justify this third farewell. I'm sure no one is interested in a drawn-out "organ recital" as to each and every ache and pain that has appeared on the scene this past year. So breathe a sigh of relief for your fortunate escape.

This kind of column ought to be filled with memories, and my mind is so chock-full of tales of great people, I hardly know where to begin.

A newspaper in Brooksville, which has since discontinued publishing, hired me in 1983, and the four years I spent writing for them not only gave me more confidence, but also made me sassy enough, in 1987, to attempt an interview with the then-editor of the Hernando Times, Ned Barnett. When Ned hired me, I walked out of the office at least 10 feet off the ground, but I had no idea what a great personal adventure my years with the Times would be.

My first tour of duty ended in December 1992. But the bug bit again quickly, and I started writing for the newspaper's Seniority magazine in early 1993.

My second retirement came in August 1997. However, last year, I found myself bored and restless and returned to writing for the Hernando Times.

During my second escape from retirement, I have had many opportunities to add to my experiences. I had a chance again to write fun stories about school when I was a kid, my opinions about present-day telephones and my computer. I interviewed Max Laudun of Spring Hill, a world traveler and master of several languages. Shortly afterward, I met Bill Fagan, whose energy for community improvement is incredible. In August, I had a rare opportunity to write of Great Britain's Queen Mother Elizabeth, who celebrated her 100th birthday.

I learned about an exquisite branch of the art world when I interviewed Doris Middleton Liverman of Spring Hill, who excels at miniature painting. In March, I was once again astounded at the talents so alive and well among the seniors who skate and dance on skates at the Suncoast Skating & Entertainment Center on County Line Road.

Of all the stories I loved to write, the World War II veterans left me with a treasured collection of memories. I felt so privileged to write about them. I wrote a few World War II stories before 1995, when the 50th anniversary of the end of the war arrived, and my editor assigned me to writing a series of stories for the celebration of that day.

I cannot thank the veterans enough for the stories they shared with me. I have a collection now of more than 100 stories about the firsthand experiences of men and women who served in every branch of the military and in almost every theater of war.

My collection is a legacy for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I hope they will hear the tears and fears behind the stories, and know of the heartache of our nation as our boys in the Army, Navy and Marines were wounded and died in battle.

I would have a hard time counting how many times I returned to the Times office with a heart so full of admiration and gratitude for the survival of the veterans who talked to me.

I was always amazed at the scope of World War II. I tried my best to write of battles in the jungles of Indonesia and on the bloody beaches of Anzio and Omaha.

I heard bomber pilots and their crews talk of the required 35 missions they had to fly and how so many volunteered to fly another 25 over Germany or over the Himalaya Mountains in the China-Burma-India theater of war.

What was it like to be a prisoner of war in Japan? Who can adequately describe the thrill of love and patriotism that filled our hearts when we saw the front-page picture of the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima?

I think I loved the sense of humor of these vets, which has stayed with them over all these years. Remember the "Kilroy was here" graffiti that announced the presence of the American GIs in the strangest places around the world? Or how about Sad Sack and his constant complaint of "Oh, my achin' back!"

Their humor and the great writers of their day like Ernie Pyle helped carry them through horrendous and terrifying fields of battle.

To write thank-you notes would take me page after page, which time and space will not allow. But my gratitude spills over the edge for Mike Konrad, Collins Conner, Jean Johnson and Ned Barnett, all of them Times colleagues. When Mike took over as editor, I had no idea what a kind and helpful editor he would be. He is a good friend and fine journalist.

Not long ago, I accepted an invitation to give a talk about some of the people I have interviewed over all these years. And wouldn't you know, three-quarters of my way through, I found myself groping for words with a head still recovering from a recent illness. This happens to so many of my peers, but I was mortified with embarrassment.

I have a dear friend who draws a blank now and then, and she tells me she announces to all concerned that: "The train has left the station." What a great idea. There's just too much stuff to remember anyhow.

Well, the columnist train has finally left the station, but I'm staying on the platform, ready to board several other trains marked "Libraries," "Story Collections," "Old Beloved Poetry" and "Teaching My Great-Grandchildren How to Play With Something That Doesn't Have Batteries."

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