The first time a story I wrote was printed in a daily newspaper, I went to the press room at 1 a.m. to watch.
It was 1970. I was an intern with the now-defunct West Palm Beach, Fla., Times and I couldn't sleep, I was so excited. As I watched the endless stream of paper spinning around the giant press, I thought, "Somewhere in all that, is a little bit of me."
Life didn't get any cooler.
That summer I did stories on bridge tenders, guys who died from electric shock, and the swamps and migrant workers around Lake Okeechobee. The thrill I had that first night never left.
Still hasn't. It is one reason it is hard for me to be leaving newspapers.
I still love newspaper work, but early last year I found myself pondering my looming 64th birthday (which was March 19), my health (still good despite the pneumonia), my finances (adequate), support from my loving wife (amazing) and future hopes.
The appearance of grandchildren in the last three years is a reminder that life does not stand still and neither should I. Those future hopes -- books, bicycle trips, photography -- would stay mere hopes if I didn't act.
So I'm acting, but what a ride I've had.
I started at the Standard-Examiner on May 8, 1978. I've covered terrific fires, amazing battles over land and livestock, the Olympics and frenetic politics. I've even ridden the steam engines at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Most important, I've met wonderful people.
Consider Martha Mikesell.
Martha was the 100-year-old woman in a tiny cabin on Hardscrabble Road in Morgan County. She tended the Porterville cemetery and had an enormous salt-and-pepper shaker collection.
One day Martha decided she was dying. Her children tended her for more than a year while she waited. Both she, and they, were welcoming and gracious when I visited to talk with her, interview them and record them singing to her.
When Martha died, I mourned. I still get Christmas cards from her children and treasure the salt-and-pepper shakers Martha gave me.
The wonderful people at McKay-Dee Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit let me visit for a year, slowly collecting their stories. I saw babies live and die, doctors struggle, nurses care. In 1990 we ran an eight-page special section of the miracles and tragedies that are the NICU's daily fare.
The wisest thing I've ever heard about the news business is that "a newspaper is a community talking to itself." In 1995, I was given a golden opportunity to be part of that conversation: A column called "The Wasatch Rambler" that I could fill any way I wanted.
Talk about freedom of the press.
My first column helped discover Box Elder County's tower clock. That column spurred the community to restore the clock, which still ticks today, in Box Elder's old courthouse.
My long-suffering family figured in many columns. When my kids had problems, I had surgery or my mom died, I found that telling my family's stories was not only good therapy for me, but also made other people feel less alone in their struggles.
Surprises abounded. I wrote that chocolate-covered cherries don't contain gluten because I thought the word "gluten" sounded funny. I ended up coordinating a tidal wave of celiac disease support.
One woman, years later, told me, "You saved my life" with that column.
Telling you about needs in our community has been the most satisfying part of my job. If the food bank needed turkeys or Your Community Connection needed milk, I told you and it showed up.
All I wanted to do was ride my bicycle, but over 18 years, you donated at least $75,000 through me to fight multiple sclerosis.
When a local soldier was horribly wounded in Afghanistan, I asked his mom, "How can my readers help?" She said a small charity called Operation Ward 57 had been a godsend.
You donated $15,000 in a couple of weeks.
I am enormously grateful to the Standard-Examiner for giving me so much freedom and support. I'm equally grateful to the people who've paid me the compliment of reading my columns and especially -- oh glory! -- posting them on the fridge.
The Standard-Examiner will always be a way for my home town to talk to itself, now using electronic and social media as well as the paper that hits your front step. Because it will always be my hometown paper, I plan to stay part of that conversation.
I'm not going far, just an easy bicycle ride away.
I will be working in Union Station's archives and Weber State University's Special Collections library to pursue more stories about Ogden's history. I'll be active in non-profit agencies. If I see a need, I'll ask the Standard to let me tell you about it so you can continue to help.
And yes, I'll be dandling grandchildren on my knee.
I watch them run here and there and everywhere. As they spin and zoom and run, I think, "Wow, there's a little bit of me in those kids."
Life just doesn't get any cooler.
Wasatch Rambler was the opinion of Charles Trentelman. This is his last column in the Standard-Examiner, but you can still find him on Facebook and contact him by calling 801-625-4224 and leaving a message.
Or just say hi as he pedals by.