I had just parked the car and was getting ready to let our dog, Rocky, out of the back seat when it occurred to me I’d left the house without the most essential of all dog walking items: plastic bags. Since Rocky is prone to do his business at the most inopportune times and on the most pristine lawns, I knew I had two options: take my chances or turn around and go home. As it turned out, I didn’t have to do either.

Another car pulled up next to me. I eyed the driver, a dark-haired woman who looked pleasant and approachable. Maybe she had a plastic bag in her car and I wouldn’t have to go all the way back home. I walked over to her car.

“Hi, I know this sounds odd, but do you have any plastic bags in your car I might have?”

The woman smiled. “Hi, Nell.” It turned out she was a former boss, one I hadn’t seen in at least 10 years. We chatted for a few moments and yes, indeed, she did have a few spare plastic bags in her car and was happy to give them to me.

As Rocky and I went on our walk, I thought about how nice it was living in Mankato and running into people like former bosses and current doctors. Although our town is growing by leaps and bounds, it’s almost a given that if you go out to eat or the store or the library, you’re going to see at least one person you know.

I like that. I like going to the bank and knowing the teller’s name. I like seeing the same dentist year after year. The older I get the more I appreciate the comfort of familiarity. Familiarity can come in many forms, and for me, writing this column has become as comforting and as familiar as that old blue blanket Linus pulls after him.

It was, I think, 2006 when I began freelancing for The Free Press after Sara Gilbert Frederick, then the magazine’s assistant editor, asked me if I’d like to write for her. My response was an immediate “yes!” I still remember my first assignment — interviewing two cake decorators at the hilltop Hy-Vee. I was so nervous my hands shook as I took notes, but I was immediately hooked. I loved interviewing people and loved even more writing up those interviews. A freelancer was born.

One of the best things about being a freelancer was having the opportunity to meet so many unique and interesting people living in Mankato and surrounding towns. Looking back on the stories I had the privilege to write, my mind still boggles over the variety of humankind in this valley. Glass blowers, dog groomers, cancer warriors, custodians, teachers, gardeners, students, lawyers … the list seems endless and everyone I met had a good story to tell.

In 2007 when Amanda Dyslin, then the assistant editor of the Mankato Magazine and one of the truly nicest people I’ve ever met, asked me if I’d be interested in writing a monthly column, I jumped at the chance. Editor Joe Spear OK’d the idea and thus began a monthly journey I’ve enjoyed immensely.

After Amanda left the magazine, Tanner Kent, a sweetheart, took the reins of editing the magazine for a few years, followed by Robb Murray, another fine editor. Any writer will agree that having a supportive, responsive editor makes all the difference.

What is all of this leading up to? Although most of us don’t like to think about it, everything ends sooner or later and the time has come for me to wrap up this column. The start of a new decade seems like the right moment to wave goodbye. Writing about my admittedly bizarre take on life, my family, friends and dog has been a pleasure and I’ve been honored to share my quirky thoughts with the community. This particular writing gig has been an adventure I’m glad I was fortunate enough to have.

I want to thank Joe Spear for the opportunity to write for The Free Press Media and for putting up with me for all these years. And if anyone ever wants to say hello, I’d love to hear from you at nellmus@aol.com. (Yes, Virginia, AOL does still exist!)

It’s been a fun ride and I’m going to miss sending in my monthly column, but like the saying goes, sooner or later all good things have to come to an end.

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