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This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Reader engagement provides big dividend

The delightful and often heart-warming things about being able to write a column in which I can share experiences or opine about whatever is on my mind are the responses I receive from readers.

I’m treated to one of four things – I’ve said something that meant something to someone; a personal story is shared with me about a similar experience or observation; information is provided that expands my own knowledge base; or I am informed that I know nothing at all about what I wrote about and that I should stay in my own lane.

On that last point, debate and discussion are always welcome. Civility is suggested, and, going forward, I feel that all lanes on the highway of life are free to explore, so I shall not be backing off from picking whatever darn lane I choose, thank you.

Most of the time, responses are informative, warm, intellectually stimulating (especially when opposing views are sincerely debated), funny – and welcome. I feel compelled to give some examples.

I most recently wrote about my own awakening to the beauty of the channeled scablands of central and Eastern Washington. I heard from a board member of the nonprofit Ice Age Floods Institute ( in which I learned about the Ice Age National Geologic Trail, a network of marked touring routes in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, as well as receiving information about field trips, hikes and more. Come spring, I hope to hit the road and learn more up close and personal.

From time to time – mostly because I can’t seem to help myself – I write about grammar and what bothers me at the moment about its rampant slaughter and decline into nonsensicality (no bias here). And usually I hear about all sorts of words, usages and phrases that raise the hair on the back of readers’ necks, such as the often misused and redundant “where are you at,” for one.

One woman shared her knowledge about a Grammar Table that moves about, allowing for grammar discussion at assorted locations (not locally, sorry), while also sharing her conundrum over the use of “let” or “leave.” Do you let the dog out or leave him out?

I wrote about how the process of making a first-in-a-long-time rhubarb crisp for some friends helped pull me out of the post-COVID blues. My spirits were lifted further when a nice lady wrote to me what she described as only the second fan letter of her life (the first was to Margaret O’Brien when she was a child), and provided what looks to be a delicious recipe for rhubarb custard pie (I shall be making it this winter with rhubarb from the garden that’s now in my freezer).

When I discussed in a column the plastic ear cups I bought for my husband to assist his hearing when watching TV, I heard from so many people about the assorted assistive gadgets and devices that make life so much easier for those of us who are older – jar openers being the most often named. One man, however, mentioned that he still keeps some old-fashioned tools in the kitchen, such as channel lock pliers and a hammer made in the late 1800s that he inherited from his father.

When telling of my German-immigrant father’s experience with the KKK in Florida in the 1960s, so many people wrote, either sharing memories of their own encounters with hate groups or discussing their views on how hate-driven behavior impacts society today. That led to some sad but enlightening exchanges of thought between us.

Another column about being old and falling and what that does to one’s self-confidence, even if nothing physical gets broken in the fall, brought about a lot of shared stories. Some of them were even funny, such as the one from a woman who fell in the kitchen before anyone else in the house was awake. “What was my very first thought as I lay splayed out on the floor? ‘Oh no, I hope I didn’t wake anyone up.’ ”

I especially loved the email I received from a 92-year-old woman who lives in a retirement home, and so, in an effort to keep as fit and as fall-proof as possible, walks at least a mile every day using two walking poles.

I’d like to end this recollection with some smiles, so I share two responses to a column I wrote not long ago about my husband’s hearing loss and how it leads (sometimes) to funny misunderstandings.

One woman wrote that she was making breakfast one morning when her hearing-impaired husband asked from behind her what she was making. She said they’d be having ham, eggs and Grands (the canned biscuits). He came closer and asked what were they really having, as it surely wasn’t what he heard: salmon eggs and crayons.

Another wrote this: “One of my growing-up friends in Wisconsin went in for her annual physical and was surprised when the doctor asked if she was a backhoe user. ‘I’ve never operated heavy equipment,’ she said, frowning and shaking her head, only to discover the doctor had asked if she was a tobacco user.”

Thank you, Spokesman-Review readers. Please keep up the good work.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at

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