CHARLES JERMY: Good evening and welcome to the second of this summer series. Before I start out, I want to find out how many here are related to Amy.
OK, quite a few. How many know Amy personally? Oh, come on. OK. How many consider yourself a mighty queen, even if you aren't from Freeville? OK. Amy Dickinson's syndicated advice column, "Ask Amy", appears in more than 200 newspapers and is read daily by 22 million people. Who could have imagined that someone growing up on a small dairy farm in Freeville, New York, in and around which her large family has lived since the Revolutionary War-- she has characterized them as quote, "hilarious, short-waisted Methodists," unquote-- would one day write so wisely from both her head and her heart for so many people.
She has said about her family quote, "My extended family is a collection of married and divorced parents, single mothers, steprelatives, adoptees, devoted siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles, and grandparents. I grew up hearing stories about my ancestors' exploits. My great grandfather was warden of Sing Sing prison, and my great uncle ran off to Europe and joined the circus when he was 40. Life in my hometown was like growing up in Lake Wobegon, only with worse weather and high unemployment."
Amy graduated from Dryden high school where she was a cheerleader and the lead in the unforgettable 1976 production of Bye Bye Birdie.
AMY DICKINSON: Oh my gosh.
CHARLES JERMY: When we do research, we do it well. After graduating subsequently from Georgetown University, she worked as a receptionist for The New Yorker magazine and also as a lounge singer. And I'm going to go through this so that parents will understand if their children follow career paths that don't seem in a direct line. After a job as a producer at NBC News in New York, she moved to London and then to Washington DC, where eventually she was hired by the National Public Radio, again as a receptionist.
A single parent of a young daughter, she also began a career as a freelance writer. While at NPR, she talked the All Things Considered producers into letting her do stories for the show. And for more than 10 years-- and I think she's still doing them-- aren't you?
AMY DICKINSON: Yes.
CHARLES JERMY: Yeah. Her stories, many of them set locally, have aired on that program. In 1999-- and I think for about three years-- Time Magazine hired her to write a weekly column about family life and parenting for the magazine. Six years ago, Amy was selected from thousands of applicants to succeed the famous Ann Landers, Eppie Lederer, as the Chicago Tribune's nationally syndicated signature advice columnist.
A former Tribune editor said of Amy that she brought quote, "a fresh and insightful approach to column writing, one that is grounded in common sense and solid reporting skills." She's also a panelist for NPR's Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me! and a frequent contributor to Talk of the Nation. Several years ago, Amy set out to write a how-to book-- I mean, the advice queen of advice-- one full of tips, hints, and useful information. But that just did not work out.
Instead, she ended up writing a memoir of the 18 years she spent raising her daughter Emily with the help of the women in her family, the women Emily called the Mighty Queens. That book, not surprisingly, as we all know, is entitled The Mighty Queens of Freeville, a Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them. During its writing, Emily graduated from high school and Amy moved back to Freeville permanently and reconnected with the characters in her story.
But for the rest of those stories, we'll all have to wait to read the sequel. But I'm going to read two quotes of hers, and then Amy herself. Quote, "In my work as an advice columnist, people often challenge me by asking how I know what I know. I'm not a counselor, I don't have an advanced degree. I got here the hard way, by living my life and making my share of mistakes. I took the back roads through marriage, and divorce, and raising my daughter as a single parent. I got here with the help and support of the people in my little world."
And then the second quote, "In my work, giving advice to other people, I often feel that the two hardest questions for any of us to answer are, who am I, and what do I want? I've struggled with those questions myself. But finally, through telling my own story, I found the answers." Amy Dickinson, an evening with Ask Amy.
AMY DICKINSON: Hi, can you hear me OK? I have to say, I was here three years ago, and they had this big fancy podium. It has, like, internet. I may stop and surf the web while I'm talking to you. But I wore a very fancy dress on that evening. And I came up, and my sister told me later-- I disappeared behind the podium-- she said, all we saw was your little head. So I asked them for, like, a little step stool, and it's more like a step ladder, but I love it.
So, thank you so much, Dean Jermy, for having me here. And I did see a show of hands, are any of my aunts here tonight? Aunt Jean, aunt Milly, no? Good, let us begin.
OK, then. I have to say, this is quite nerve wracking for me, because I do know some of you in the audience, several of you in the audience. And I see some friends and family members here. There are people here who know me, and know my story, and who have seen this dress before. In fact, many times-- just, short story about the dress. I think I got the dress in, like, 1992. And it was sort of 30 years old when I got it. And so one of you here may have owned this dress previously. If so, just, we'll talk later.
I'm actually going to step off this. Let's see how this works out, because it seems a little high. Can you see my little head? OK, well that was awesome, but I felt like it could have led to an accident that might have ended up on YouTube, and then I could surf the web and find it instantly, so how nice for me. So I do see several neighbors from Freeville. Thank you for coming. I can't believe that there is anybody left in Freeville who can stand the sight of me, so I appreciate that you've come, you fellow citizens of Freeville.
And in fact, I think I even slept with one of the audience members here last night. Well, one or more of you. So anyway, if I did sleep with one or more of you last night or if we went to high school together, and if you saw that legendary production of Bye Bye Birdie-- which you know that show, Live on the Actor's Studio, where-- who is it? The host, he comes out with all those cards, and he knows everything about you-- that was a little scary, bud. Terrified me.
So, yeah. So if I did sleep with one or more of you last night, or if we went to high school together, or if we are related, genetically or otherwise, or if you somehow wandered in here looking for the lecture on the geology of the Finger Lakes region, I thank you for coming and promise you that this won't hurt a bit.
I am an advice columnist. And lately, a lot of the letters I've received are a reflection of how frustrated people are, how worried they are, how eager they are for a fresh start. I know a thing or two about fresh starts, second chances, and third and fourth chances, because my own life is a series of do-overs. And of course, there's never-- when you're introduced by someone who sort of condenses your life into a series of seemingly unrelated jobs, little scary.
My book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, came out in February. And my publisher did the decent thing and sent me out on an old fashioned book tour. You know, this is the kind where you visit two or three cities a day, meeting readers, and, of course, sucking up to booksellers, which it turns out is sort of my favorite thing to do. And everything went really well, even though it was February, and I was traveling all through the country and through the Midwest, and the weather was terrible. But it went well. Flights arrived and they left and arrived on time, and I learned how to make coffee at the Holiday Inn Express.
Now, they use these coffee pods-- do you know about these? Little coffee pods, and they put this teeny tiny little coffee pot in the bathroom. It's always, like, a little too close to the toilet at the Holiday Inn Express, but I figured out how to use it. And because every single morning started with some five o'clock wake up call, where I would then go on some local radio show and talk to, like, Mike and Jeff-- hey, Mike and Jeff-- you know, like, they do the weather, they do the traffic, and then you tell them how awesome Cincinnati is.
So, it was kind of grueling. Hard to complain. I feel like writers who complain about book tour is like supermodels who complain about being, like, so thin. They're like, oh, I'm so thin, oh, I hate it. So I don't want to complain, but it is kind of challenging. And I did end up changing my clothes several times-- too often, really-- in airport bathrooms. In fact, I went through two suitcases on this trip. My old black one blew out a wheel in Cincinnati, and I just left it at the suitcase store. You know, I just, like, emptied it out in the store and switched it out.
But then my new one, like, blew a zipper in a bathroom in the Houston airport. And I somehow lost track of and then lost permanently one of my shoes. So, of course, I did what anyone would do. I called my mother. And I said, I just lost my shoe. She said, well, at least you have the other one.
My mother, god bless, she is a one shoe optimist. And she taught me everything I know about fresh starts, second chances, and the fine art of the do-over. In 1977, my mother was a 48-year-old single mom trying to support four children by working as a typist in the dean's office at the engineering school right down the street. Carpenter Hall, is it still there?
We didn't know if Carpenter Hall would survive, because it seemed to have been designed by students at the engineering school. But I'm happy to say that the engineering seems to be sound, although the aesthetics, not so much. But my mother did work as a typist there for many years, over at Carpenter Hall. And after about five years, one day the deans called her in to their office. Three kindly, old fashioned tweedy deans who wore bow ties.
They said that they thought my mother would be a good candidate to be a student at Cornell University. I know, we laughed too.
And actually, I think she thought she was going to be laid off when they called her in there. So when they said, we think you should apply to Cornell to be a student, she was quite surprised. And they said to her, we will help you through the process and do what we can to help. And they did. And my mother, who had graduated from high school in 1948, applied at Cornell in 1977. She was accepted into the class of 1981. She quit her job-- ha ha, that'll show you. And she came here as a full time undergraduate student.
She graduated in 1981. And then my mother went on to get her MFA in writing here at Cornell. And then my mother, the former typist, went on to teach here and at Ithaca College. And so my own story is one of fumbling, and failures, and surprising successes. But I learned how to fail up. And I learned how to grab my opportunities and chances as they came my way. Some opportunities, however, are better left alone.
And this is what happens when you go on the road, or this is what happens when I go on the road. So I was in Las Vegas last winter-- who gets to say that? Me. Unfortunately, I was not gambling. I was working. And one morning, I was walking through a casino in Las Vegas looking for, yes, a Xerox machine. And if you ever thought you were a dork, just go looking for a Xerox machine in Vegas.
But you know, as I was wandering through the endless casino-- and you know, there's always a point where you think you're never going to get out. Like, they've got you, you're never going to get out. But I was thinking about how much I sort of love Las Vegas. It's like this guilty pleasure for me. Because you know, the noise, and the excess, and the rampant materialism, it's like being on another planet. And every once in a while, it's a planet I sort of wish I lived on.
So in that moment, wandering through, looking for the Xerox machine, I decided to chuck it all, to move to Vegas, and become-- who's that? It's not funny. This is my dream, people. I decided to move to Las Vegas and become the world's oldest cocktail waitress. Or maybe a showgirl. Because, you know, if you asked me, this world just doesn't have enough middle aged showgirls with cellulite. I thought about grabbing my two sisters, Ann and Rachel, and maybe some pals in the audience, ladies. We could open our own club.
And instead of using stripper names, like Bambi and Cricket, we could call ourselves, like, Mrs. Mitchell, or Cheryl, the hot mom next door. We could serve chai tea instead of martinis and watch Will and Grace reruns, and be in bed by 10:00. So, doesn't that sound awesome? But it's just a thought. I can't help it. Every once in a while, I just want to make a big change.
Unfortunately, like my Vegas dream, my aspirations tend to be highly, highly inappropriate. Like the time I wanted to be a backup singer for Bon Jovi. That ended badly, I admit. But the restraining order runs out soon, and you know, I hope to try again. And so, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, I'm an advice columnist, right? I make my living drilling into the heart of other people's problems. So it follows that I can't possibly have problems of my own.
But unfortunately, in order to do my job, I spend a lot of time-- too much time, probably-- alone in a room, contemplating other peoples' stuff. There's no issue to bizarre to get a hearing from me because, let's face it, there are a lot of people right now in not only financial but also emotional and personal foreclosure. So unfortunately, business for me lately has been too good. When I go out to meet people face to face, and not through the pages of the newspaper, I'm often have asked how I know what I know.
I call this the, who made you god question. And it's true. I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a member of the clergy, I don't have an advanced degree, and I'm not very bright. But I did get here the hard way. I drove the back roads through marriage, divorce. I raised a person alone. I earned my master's degree in human experience. And sometimes I feel enlightened, and other times I feel like I have a deadline. And let me tell you, there's nothing like a deadline to make you feel really smart.
But when people ask me who made me God and where I get the skills to tell other people how to live their lives, I have to admit that I actually have a secret weapon. Several of them, in fact. I come from a family of women. My mother is one of four sisters, and I'm the youngest of three. I have several female cousins, two handfuls of nieces, and my aunties, all living within a 10 house radius along Main Street in my little hometown of Freeville, New York, population 458.
Do you all know Freeville? Eight miles down the road, right on route 366. That's where we get our kicks, on 366. Why didn't we think of that earlier? We could have, like, a new village slogan. Don, we want to work on that. So, these women, all of whom live right around Freeville, they've always been ready with an opinion, a cup of coffee, a warmed over casserole. And they're very, very important to me, because they taught me what I know. These are the women my daughter Emily christened recently as the mighty queens of Freeville.
My father was a dairy farmer whose greatest dream for his three daughters was that one of us would one day be crowned the Tompkins County Dairy Princess.
Again, you laugh. My dream. Unfortunately, my sisters and I were about as unproductive as our herd of cattle. Like our cows, my sisters and I spent a lot of time standing around waiting for something interesting to happen. And it never really did. And then my father did something sort of interesting, he up and left. And he left my mother with four kids and a barn full of, frankly, pissed off Holsteins that needed milking. And that's when my mother came to work here as a typist. A skill, by the way, she said she learned in eighth grade. And she made sure that all of her kids knew how to type.
After the gentle intervention from the kindly deans here at Cornell, my mother went to college and I went to college in the same year. She came here to Cornell, and I went to Georgetown. And I know, fancy. And I'd like to thank you taxpayers for sending us there. But we have repaid in full.
After college, I developed a career in the news business. Eventually, I became a producer for NBC News in New York. And my husband, who I met in college, was a network news correspondent. We were on our way to becoming one of those awesome and fabulous couples you see featured in the New York Times style section. We lived in New York, and then we moved to London. Or London, England, as my mother always called it. As if there was, like, a London, Pennsylvania to distinguish.
So fortunately, for the purposes of my understanding of the human condition, that marriage did not last. And when I say it didn't last, I mean that my marriage had the shelf life of a wheel of brie. And so I came home, back to my little hometown. I bought a little house in Freeville right next to our family's homestead, which my great grandfather built in 1870, and which has been occupied by members of my family ever since.
And when my marriage fell apart, the women in my family surrounded and enfolded me, as I knew they would. The mighty queens in my life taught me that it's OK not to know what to do next. They taught me that a cup of coffee and a conversation can hold heartache at bay. They showed me how to be happy. They showed me that happiness is a choice you can make, especially if you have people in your life to help you absorb the worst of the blows.
And they taught me that sometimes, sometimes you won't be happy. Sometimes you just have to abide. Knowing that these women were watching my back gave me the courage and the freedom to start a new chapter in my life, another do-over. And so during a very hot and humid June, 17 years ago, I landed in Washington DC, with my daughter Emily who was a toddler. I figured I had the best chance of finding work in a large city, but I also held on to the little house on Main Street in Freeville, just in case.
I felt that no matter where Emily and I lived, we'd always have a home to come back to. Emily and I spend all of our summers and vacations in Freeville. My mother would see our car in the driveway on the first day of summer vacation and say, hmm, summer people. Those of you know Freeville know how hilarious this is, because Freeville isn't exactly one of those places people go to. It's mainly a place that people either drive through or just leave altogether.
I concentrated on raising Emily, and eventually I built up a little career as a freelance writer. And when Bud talks about it, it sounds crazy cuckoo, but when you're living it, it sort of made sense. I wrote pieces for the Washington Post and for various magazines. And eventually I worked my way up to having a column at Time Magazine. I loved my career as a freelance writer, mainly because I didn't have to wear pants to work, along with being a television anchorman, also a job where wearing pants is optional.
Freelancing from home is just about the best job there is. But then Ann Landers died. After the legendary advice columnist's death in 2002, I emailed an editor at the Chicago Tribune, who was a friend of mine, and I said, now there's a job I'd take, ha ha ha ha. You know how, like, when you send an email, and you say, like, it's a joke in the subject line. Well, be forewarned, this was the joke that swallowed my life.
About a month after Ann Landers' death, the Tribune asked me to try out for the job. They told me they were looking seriously at about 10 people. And we each got sent five sample advice-y questions. We each got the same five questions to answer, and we're told that we had a week to answer them. It was summer, and Emily and I were in our little house in Freeville. And I was, frankly, at the time, a little bit underemployed.
And when I composed the answers to those questions, I made a very vital editorial decision. I answered my five questions with the kind of confidence that can only be faked. When I sent my answers back to the editor later that afternoon-- and I took all of three hours to do it-- when I sent them back to the editor that afternoon, he said, I don't even want to look at these. Please, please take a week. Everybody gets a week, so please take it.
And I thought about it. I knew I could take my questions down the street to my mom's house, sit on her porch, and go over my answers with my own little posse of life advisers, all of the opinionated and passionate women in my family. And I said to him, no, I don't want a week. This is how I would do this column. If you want me to do it, this is exactly how I would do it. I don't think it hurt that I worked quickly like that, and I knew it. It's not like I calculated it, but I knew that whoever got this job would have to work fast, and I did.
So later on, they told me that my answers to these questions weren't exactly everyone's first choice. The Chicago Tribune, which employs me, they love committees, test marketing. You know, this is how you end up both the number three media company in the world, and in chapter 11. They test market everything. You know, if they could test market tomorrow's headlines, they would.
And so they didn't want to just make a decision and be bold, so they marketed all of the candidates' answers to these questions. They tested them before nine focus groups, if you can imagine. I know. And they told me that according to all of their test marketing, of all the advice columnists they tested, readers' number one choice was to bring Ann Landers back from the dead.
Bringing Ann Landers back from the dead was the one thing everyone could agree on. Once bringing Ann Landers back from the dead was eliminated as a possibility, they decided I would be fine. So, I really came in second. So, Emily and I moved from Washington to Chicago. She was now in ninth grade and sulking for-- how many months? It was many months of sulking. But eventually she stopped, and she started to thrive, and we both got another fresh start.
The transition from freelancer to paid staffer was actually pretty easy. It was helped along by the presence of a paycheck, benefits, and retirement accounts. Now, two of those three things are not worth anything, but it was great at the time. And I do have colleagues, and I started wearing trousers to work. But it was worth it. Most importantly, I do the job every single day, 365 days a year. The column runs seven days a week, and I have been doing it for six years.
So I won't kid you, sometimes it's hard. I don't get a break, even for good behavior. And of course, I rarely have good behavior, so I've given up on that. I get hundreds of emails and little piles of letters every day. My boss and colleagues often stop by my office in Chicago, plop into a chair, and spill out their personal and professional problems, as if I'm Lucy van Pelt, and I have my little, like, the doctor is in sign. Only, of course, I'm not a doctor, as I tell them repeatedly. I should start making them sign a waiver, because I'm sure somebody is going to sue me one of these days.
So they spill their problems onto me, and then, just as they get up to leave, they say, oh, I feel so much better. And I, of course, feel so much worse. But I do enjoy the work. Mainly it involves the same skills I've always used in my work. I try to choose the letters wisely. I make calls, and I do some reporting. And sometimes I sit and think. I call my mom, my daughter, my sisters, my aunts. You know, my board of highly qualified life advisers.
But one casualty of the job is that I put my own problems on the back burner. My own life was suspended. The reason is simple. It's easier, much, much easier to focus on other people than to think about what's ailing you. About a year and a half ago, I faced a very difficult choice when I sent Emily off to her first year of college. My mother was ill, my aunts were aging, and I keenly felt the tug of my little hometown. And so I did what a lot of people, a lot of women, really, my age are doing, and I moved home.
I continued writing my column every day, not from my office at the Chicago Tribune, but from my little house on Main Street in Freeville. Every day, I go to my mother's house just on the street. And my sisters and I cook for her, hang out with her, and watch Law & Order reruns. And by the way, what is it about old people and Law & Order? I don't get it. It's like, a really violent show. And it's like, most of the older people I know love it. It's like, they hear the dun, dun, and they just start, woo, more!
So, that's what we do. We visit, we talk about books, we go to the movies when we can, and we take drives to the countryside. And I try to do for my mother some of the things she's done for me. And I didn't even realize I'd become good at it until we were at dinner recently, and I leaned over, and I cut her meat for her, the way you do when your kids are little, and you don't even think about it. But I knew my priorities had really changed the day I skipped a conference call with my lawyer to take my mother's cat to the vet to be shaved.
Now, you might wonder why a cat needs to be shaved, or who could possibly make enough money to shave cats for a living. I mean, I had all these questions too. And the answers are one, mats and burrs. Two, no one makes enough money to shave cats for a living, but you know, they do it anyway. My aunts, cousins, sisters, and I have a weekly tradition of meeting at a local diner, appropriately named the Queen Diner, in Dryden on Wednesdays for breakfast. In fact, I was just there this morning, because after all, it is Wednesday.
Even though we live within yards of each other and see one another constantly, we still have a hankering to get together on a regular schedule to continue our lifelong conversation over coffee. While there, the women in my life advise me each and every week about how to run my life and write my column. And every week, I nod my head, try to ignore them, and then do pretty much exactly what they say.
The month after I officially moved back home, I traveled to Chicago on a business trip. Being out of Freeville, it made me think, I'm pushing 50. I'm really, really pushing 50. I've seen the world, but now I'm living on the same tiny patch where I was born. I'm surrounded by people who are not impressed with me. They don't care that my syndicated column has 22 million readers, that I've been on the Today Show or Good Morning America, that I've locked horns with Bill O'Reilly, or that my name was once used as a clue on Jeopardy.
They remember what a doofus I was in high school. So I started thinking about my choices. And what I mean is that, I started to wonder if driving elderly people around and taking cats to the vet to be shaved was really the best use of my time. I still had a daily column to write and professional prospects to explore. I'd also been single for 17 years. I hadn't had a date in many moons, many, many moons. Emily suggested that I try internet dating, and so I typed in Freeville's zip code in the match.com database.
That's right, you know where I'm going. I think several of you popped up. And what can I say, every single one of the prospects looked-- how can I say this-- way, way too familiar to me. I couldn't think of the last time I'd come home tipsy and decided to sleep in. My world had shrunk so much that I started to look forward to my Wednesday diner breakfast with the women in my life the way I used to look forward to going out on dates. On Wednesdays, I wore lipstick.
I decided to tell my story, to tell about how I know what I know, to write about the mighty queens in my life, and how they've propped me up through my lowest moments, and occasionally smacked me when I needed to be taken down a notch. I realize that in a life full of second chances and fresh starts, the courage to do that comes from them. They taught me by example what it means to be an adult. They showed me how to be in a family, and how when you're in a family, you're in it all the way, from the best to the worst hair days, and all the days in between.
Writing a book is hard. There's a lot of pacing involved. And now my tiny little house on Main Street in Freeville was starting to feel way too small. I wanted 10 more feet upstairs with a sleeping porch looking over Fall Creek. I called a local builder I knew, and I asked him to come and take a look at the house. I first met Bruno when I was in seventh grade. Over the years, he built up a successful business, and Emily and I would see signs bearing his name in front of construction projects and handsome, historic houses around the county.
We ran into him now and then with his daughters at day camp, ice skating, or over at the supermarket. When I checked his company's website, I noticed his motto, "dreams, built on time. " Bruno said he was happy to hear from me and that he'd meet me at the house to talk about my renovation project. He parked his truck in my driveway and came inside. He walked around the little place, went upstairs and down, grabbed a piece of paper, and distractedly drew the floor plan.
Well, what do you think, I asked him. My voice was suddenly high pitched and eager, sort of like a cartoon chipmunk. He looked me in the eye. Well, Amy, it's like this. This is a tiny house on a little lot right on Main Street. The renovation would cost more than the house is worth. He paused. Now, some houses are just so special that it doesn't matter, you'd do whatever it takes to make them right. I thought about the day Emily and I moved into the house, and how the screen door came off in my hand as my family stood on the porch and watched.
But every year, I'd done one thing to the little place as I could afford it. And by now, I thought it was on the verge of adorable. I was proud of my little house, and happy that Bruno thought it was so special. He had a reputation for having impeccable taste. He went on. This, however, is not one of those special houses.
I think if you want a bigger house, you should just move. He asked if he could sit down, and I offered him coffee. He started to talk. He stayed a little longer, and then he stayed even longer after that. After he left, I thought about him. Like everybody else in my home town world, I've known Bruno for most of my life. He was one of 13 children who grew up in a dairy farm three miles from ours. My sisters and I swam in their pond in ate chaotic suppers at their kitchen table.
I remembered watching Bruno heard their Holsteins through the pasture and toward the barn for their evening milking. Watching as he drove away, I remembered exactly the way he looked in his high school basketball uniform in 1974. He was a rangy farm boy wearing a ponytail and short, satin trunks. And by the way, whatever happened to those? Is it too much to ask, those of us who really aren't that interested in basketball, give us the little trunks back.
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
But I digress. Bruno was a scrappy rebounder and a turnover specialist. I remembered him as being fast, strong, unpredictable, and hard to contain. Life seemed to have sanded down his edges, however. Now I had a hankering to go after Bruno, to ask him to take a walk with me. I wanted us to play checkers and then sit at the kitchen table reading the newspaper together. I wanted to go on a bike ride with him, and I really don't even like to ride bikes.
I felt terrible that he turned down my renovation project, and it really wasn't just about the house. Snow was in the air, and I could smell the long northern winter on the horizon. Soon a new season would drift down and cover Main Street, and the fields, woods, and streams beyond in a six-month blanket of white. In a couple of weeks, Emily would be coming home from college for Christmas. The day before, I'd pulled out two pairs of ice skates from the closet, one for Emily and one for me, and placed them next to the front door.
It's funny how things happen. It was nothing like what my friends had all told me over the years when they would try to worry me into a dating relationship. Get out there, you're never going to meet a guy in your living room, they'd say. So I took their advice, and I also reflected this take-charge philosophy in my advice column, telling singles to sign up for online dating sites and to take cooking classes. And yes, I did in fact take a polka dancing class.
And the problem with that, like, if you think it through, if you take a polka class, you are going to end up polka dancing with people who are also polka dancing. So you've got to think about it. Like, do you really want to spend time-- if you're into polka, that's fine-- but do you really want to spend time with somebody, you know, who's sort of a polka dancer if you're not? So, I'm just saying, think it through, people.
So, yeah, I was single for 17 years. I'd stopped trying, started trying, and then I had given up all over again. I have forgotten and revived my adolescent crush on Donny Osmond in four decades. And now, what do you know, it turns out you can meet a guy in your living room.
I called Bruno up and I asked him if he'd meet me in Ithaca for a cup of coffee. We drank three gallons apiece. Then we drove out through town and into the countryside, the countryside you all know so well, past the hills, fields, and forests, and through the landscape of our shared childhoods. Between us, we had five daughters, all in various stages of adolescence. His oldest and Emily were born exactly a week apart.
We traded our stories, and they were sort of sad, because let's face it, if you scratch the surface of any divorce, there's a sad story to tell. And then he said, I have an idea, let's do everything differently. Over the next few weeks, Bruno and I surrounded ourselves with our combined five daughters, sledding, skiing, skating, playing games, watching movies, and cooking together. I gingerly brought him around mom and the aunties, and they offered their hearty approval.
At our next breakfast at the Queen Diner, we clinked our coffee cups together and toasted this very surprising romantic development. And then, one frosty night, standing together on the sidewalk, Bruno said he was sorry he declined to renovate my house, but then happily, he asked if he could renovate my life instead. And I decided to let him. And so I gave myself another fresh start and I grabbed at yet another second chance.
Bruno and I got married last summer, making us, I think, the world's oldest newlyweds. On our wedding day, our five daughters stood up with us as witnesses to our union. It seemed like everyone in Freeville was present, and I took the opportunity just before we set our vows, to look out at the congregation, locate the women who had meant so much to me, the mighty queens in my life, and I thanked them.
I thought about all they had done for me, and all they had taught me. I thought about how fortunate I am to have witnesses to my wonderful story. They had seen me through the toughest times, and now these wonderful women would share my joy. The final and the most recent gift that they gave to me is the knowledge that each of us can have a happy ending. But it really, really helps if you have a happy before. Thank you.
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Popular syndicated advice columnist and New York native Amy Dickinson shares her small-town secrets to success, tells how she was chosen as "the next Ann Landers," and presents her hilarious and heartwarming memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town that Raised Them."