Column: Farewell — but just for awhile

GARY PAUL GATES

GARY PAUL GATES

The search engine that propels my memory through the “cloud of reminders” that have accumulated over the decades has chosen, on this occasion, to dwell on a summer day in 2015 when I received an e-mail from the editor of this newspaper, Ambrose Clancy, proposing that I write a monthly column for The Reporter.

Although I was flattered by his offer, my gut instinct was to demur. The way I saw it, Clancy already had a first-rate staff of journalists who were far more engaged in the politics, the culture and other aspects of life on Shelter Island than I was.

So I phoned Clancy and after thanking him for thinking of me, I explained why I felt obliged to take a pass.

“Well, you’re probably right about that,” he replied. “But covering Island affairs is not what I have in mind for you.”

“O.K.,” I said, “what do you have in mind for me?”

Clancy then launched into a charm-laden spiel about my “long and impressive” career in journalism.  He went on to say that if I focused on subjects drawn from that “wealth of experience and other adventures you must have had along the way, then your columns, I’m sure, will appeal to our readers.”

That prospect, I had to admit, was one I found stimulating, and it did not take Clancy long to sell me on his proposal. By the time our conversation came to an end, we had even agreed on the title for the column — “And That Reminds Me…”

For me, the best part of the deal was the lack of restrictions in subject matter. Clancy told me that as long as my pieces reflected the theme implied by the column’s title in one way or another, I would have carte blanche to write about anything that caught my fancy. He then added in a sly tone, “Within reason, of course.”

I’ve been around long enough to appreciate what a rare privilege that was and so rejoiced in the freedom of being able to roam across a broad landscape of topics. You could say I fairly wallowed in diversity.

I wrote columns on presidents from Truman to Trump, and on other political leaders who came along during the intervening years. There were tributes to journalists I’ve admired, including three star correspondents I worked with at CBS — Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner and Dan Rather. I recalled interviews I had during my early years as a reporter with luminaries from the world of motion pictures, such as Alec Guinness, John Huston and Billy Wilder. There were travel pieces and sports pieces and so on …

This is the 31st column I’ve done for The Reporter since I began this gig and for the most part, writing them has been a blast, as we used to say back in the day. Most gratifying of all has been the positive reactions I’ve received from readers.

You know who you are and to you I send my heartfelt thanks.

But now, alas, I feel the need to take a brief sabbatical from the column. There are several reasons for this decision.

One of them is medical. I had to undergo major spinal surgery last fall and although the operation was a success, the recovery has been long and arduous — much more so than I had expected. One result has been several months of impaired mobility (I still need a cane to get around) and another has been the steady sapping of physical and psychic energy.

Nor was I prepared for how challenging it would be to deal with the mundane, day-to-day necessities — what I like to call “the grungies.” For example, until recently I had no idea how difficult it is to put on a pair of socks when you can’t lift your legs very high and you’re cautioned not to bend over far enough to reach your feet.

To complicate matters even further, my professional life has become more active than usual. I’ve made commitments to four special projects this spring, and at least one of them threatens to become quite time consuming.

Finally, and this reason outweighs all the others, I owe plenty to Lady Phyllis — big-time. Her care and support over the past year has been nothing less than heroic. So I’ve promised her that at some point this spring, we’ll embark on a holiday that might keep us in travel mode for three or four weeks.

A number of desirable destinations have been discussed, but we’re still in the “mulling over” phase.

I do want to stress, however, that I do not intend this to be a long leave of absence. What I envision is a hiatus that lasts only two or three months. As I explained to a friend earlier this week, I just need a little time to catch up with my life.

And it is my fervent hope that when I do return to this page, I will have been liberated from the ranks of Citizen Canes.

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