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Andrea's column: A thankless job?

A note I wrote to myself last year read, "Do Not Forget National Columnists Day One More Time." Instead of a quiet period at the end of the sentence, there were a number of exclamation points.

Why pen that reminder to myself? First, because I spend a lot of time scratching my head, wondering what the heck to write about. And every year, when I remember there is such a day, it is long past. But mainly because I have so many favorite columnists.

Erma Bombeck. Need I say more? I was a college student living at home in Minneapolis when I started reading her offerings. Most everything she wrote ended up taped to our refrigerator. The writer, who thought insanity was hereditary and that you can catch it from your kids, was also a favorite of my mother -- a woman going a bit crazy trying to raise five kids.

I remember the afternoon when I spoke to the editor of this paper about writing my own column. I confessed to being an Erma-wannabe. Still am. I would like to be the next Craig Wilson, too, but holding a candle to the USA Today columnist is another case of "Dream on, Andrea. Dream on."

When I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, in 1996, I met Wilson. Our chance encounter involved a lot of choreography on my part. When I saw him get up from his table to leave the banquet room the first night, I got up from mine. When an attendee greeted him, he stopped. I stopped, also.

As he began walking towards the door again, so did I. Thus, the perfectly timed meeting of a man whose work I admire and me, his stalker. "I am your number one fan," I blurted out. It is still true.

Columnists like Wilson and Bombeck make me smile. Laugh out loud. Bring me to tears. Others make me angry or have me nodding in agreement when they point out the injustices and stupidity that can be part of our world. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times is one of these writers. Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune is another.

When I double-checked the date of National Columnists Day, I was humbled by what I found. April 18 had been selected in honor of Ernie Pyle who died on that day in 1945. Pyle, a war correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize for the columns he wrote from the front lines during World War II. Most of his writings were from the perspective of the soldiers.

Pyle had been so entrenched in the lives of his subjects that he was killed by enemy gunfire in Japan and in 1995 - 50 years to the day after his death -- the National Society of Newspaper Columnists proclaimed April 18 National Columnists Day.

I am writing this column long before the big day to give you time to contact your favorite columnist. If you don't have one, pick up a newspaper. Read it from cover to cover. Pick up another. Go online if that is more your style. Find a columnist who speaks to you and write a letter or email of appreciation. Or disagreement. Just say you read their work.

Now, don't forget. Pen a reminder to yourself. End it with a number of exclamation points.

You can read Dave Lieber's "What is the story behind National Columnists Day?" at