Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Weekend Open Thread

Pauline Phillips, better known as ‘Dear Abby,’ died Wednesday at the age of 94. In 1956, when she was in her late 30s and had been a mother and housewife for nearly 17 years, she embarked on a career — something she never really imagined she’d ever have. She approached an editor at The San Francisco Chronicle, “identifying herself as a local housewife who thought she could do better than the advice columnist the paper already had.” The editor gave her some sample letters to answer, he liked her replies, and the rest is history.

When I was a kid, maybe starting around the age of 9 or 10 or so, I used to read Dear Abby’s column every day in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. I’d read her column, the horoscope, and the comics (“For Better or Worse” was always my favorite). I liked Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry in Sunday’s paper, too. As I got older, I’d skim the rest of the paper, but I never missed a Dear Abby column. I especially loved days before major holidays when the paper would run two Dear Abby columns.

As a kid, I probably couldn’t have articulated what it was exactly that I liked about Abby — or why I preferred her column to her twin sister’s, Ann Landers. As an adult — especially one who has been writing an advice column for several years — I can say now that I loved that she dared to have a strong opinion, and that that opinion was always grounded in compassion and empathy, and often delivered with sharp wit.

Years ago — 14 years ago now, almost to the day — I was nursing an awful broken heart. My first serious boyfriend had just dumped me, it was the middle of winter, I was eight months out of college and still unemployed, and I just felt like my life was always going to suck and I was destined to a life of misery and loneliness. My sweet grandfather, a poet, sent me a letter in the mail and inside the envelope he included a Dear Abby column that he’d clipped from the newspaper. In the column was a poem — it wasn’t a poem Abby had written, but it was one she liked a lot. This was it. I read that poem a lot in the coming months, touched both by the words and by my sweet grandfather taking the time to send it to his heartbroken, messed up granddaughter.

Thanks, Abby, for the memories, the wisdom, and the inspiration.

35 comments… add one
  • avatar

    haggith January 18, 2013, 4:11 pm

    another person touched by that poem here! thank you very much for sharing it; i so needed it today 😀

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    Addie Pray January 18, 2013, 4:23 pm

    aw, now i’m teary eyed. that was sweet. i never read dear abby. (dear wendy is my first advice column.)

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    Rangerchick January 18, 2013, 4:30 pm

    I recall reading Dear Ann and Dear Abby all the time growing up though I remember it being more Dear Ann because hers was the one mostly published in my area. I guess for me they started it all…I love reading advice columns…sometimes reading the advice resonates with me and is really useful for me at that moment in time. And the poem is great.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray January 18, 2013, 4:35 pm

      Who are well known advice columnists? I had heard of Dear Abby and Ann Landers, of course. And I’ve heard of Dan Savage, and Wendy. But are there other well-known / followed columnists that are any good? If so, tell me – but do it in code so others can’t see and then go to Wendy’s competitors. Actually, strike this all, I have enough distractions. I gotta work.

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      • Moneypenny

        Moneypenny January 18, 2013, 4:44 pm

        Carolyn Hax (Washington Post) and Miss Information) on Nerve are pretty good too. (Definitely not as good as Wendy though!) 😛

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      • fast eddie

        fast eddie January 18, 2013, 6:59 pm

        I read Hi Carolyn almost every day because it’s adjacent the the crossword puzzle where they comprise the best content in our local ‘poor excuse of a newspaper’ 100 miles north of the Golden Gate.

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        kerrycontrary January 18, 2013, 4:45 pm

        Dear Sugar on Slate.com. She gets some really wacky letters.

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        Rachel January 18, 2013, 11:48 pm

        Dear Sugar is on the rumpus, and she’s amazing.

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle January 18, 2013, 4:51 pm

        I mean, there’s Prudie, but she’s either on or way, way off. I still enjoy reading it, though.

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        Rangerchick January 18, 2013, 4:59 pm

        I like Prudie and her snarkieness though she is off sometimes but so are the people writing in!

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        kerrycontrary January 18, 2013, 5:20 pm

        yeh..I meant dear prudence not dear sugar hahah. Derp.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow January 18, 2013, 5:52 pm

        I like the letters Prudie gets, but I usually can’t stand what she has to say.

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      • avatar

        Rachel January 19, 2013, 12:03 am

        Yeah, Prudie is hit or miss for me. She tends to get really judgmental if alcohol is even a little involved, which bothers me.

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        MsMisery January 21, 2013, 12:37 pm

        Miss Manners, she’s at the Washington Post (online) and in newspapers all over. But she’s… I dunno. Really old-school. Write to her if you need advice on thank-you notes or courting. She doesn’t want to admit the world has moved on, for better or for worse.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny January 18, 2013, 4:42 pm

    I used to read Dear Abby pretty much every day growing up. It was/is in the SF Chronicle on the back page of the datebook section, right after the comics (which was my primary reason for reading the paper!) That poem is pretty timeless- it applied to me the first time I read it in high school, and applies today.

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  • BriarRose

    BriarRose January 18, 2013, 4:46 pm

    I remember reading Dear Abby (and For Better or Worse, loved that one) as a kid too. Very sad to hear of her passing. I am happy though, to finally be able to read Dear Wendy again, as my life has finally calmed down a bit and I can get on here at work every so often.

    Just in case anyone cares/remembers, I moved in November to a bigger city, to a better job at a university, and I just love it up here. My daughter adjusted amazingly well and loves her new school and teacher, and made friends almost right away. My new job is pretty cool, and I’ve met some nice people. I love everything about my new city. And to add the cherry on top, I met a really nice guy a few weeks ago, so I’ve even had a few dates since moving here. It’s so gratifying to have made a positive change in my life, all on my own. Reading that poem that Wendy posted, the line about the “grace of a woman, not the grief of a child” really stuck out to me. I feel like I finally have achieved that.

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      lets_be_honest January 18, 2013, 4:50 pm

      I couldn’t be happier to hear this BriarRose! I’m so happy for you both.

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      jlyfsh January 18, 2013, 6:06 pm

      I thought about you when I passed signs for your town on my way home during the holidays! Glad to hear things are going well 🙂

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      • BriarRose

        BriarRose January 18, 2013, 8:27 pm

        Thanks so much ladies 🙂 I hope my post wasn’t braggy, it sounds a little weird now that I reread it. Just wanted to update everyone and maybe even let people know that you can survive some pretty crappy stuff (like divorce) and still have a great life.

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      • avatar

        Taylor January 20, 2013, 6:41 pm

        Not braggy at all. It’s great to hear when people are doing well!

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest January 18, 2013, 4:48 pm

    Maybe my grandkid will be writing this about you one day.

    I meant that as a nice thing, but then realized I’m talking about you dying. Hopefully you’ll take it the right way 🙂

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  • BriarRose

    BriarRose January 18, 2013, 4:51 pm

    Sorry, that made me laugh a little, but the sentiment is a wonderful one and I’m sure Wendy gets that!

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    lemongrass January 18, 2013, 5:41 pm

    Your grandfather sounds awesome 🙂 I never read Dear Abby but I did read Erma Bombeck as a teenager and I absolutely love her. She is so hilarious. My grandma used to read her when she was a young mother and it makes me feel connected to her.

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    • avatar

      Wendy's Dad January 19, 2013, 10:50 am

      He is awesome. For the record, he is my father-in-law, and not my own dad. He wrote poetry for many years, but as he approaches 90, he doesn’t write so much any more. He was published frequently, and one of his poems made it to “Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul”. You can Google it and find it on page 160. Someone in “television” read the poem and turned it into a film starring Ed Asner. The poem was a tribute to Wendy’s grandmother on the eve of their 50th wedding anniversary. DW readers will be touched by his sentiments. (He also wrote one for my wife and me on our 25th anniversary quite some time ago.)

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh January 18, 2013, 6:09 pm

    very sweet Wendy! I used to love reading her columns, doing the puzzles and reading the comics too. Getting the ‘Sunday Paper’ was always a big deal in my house. We would all sit around and read it for hours. I kind of miss getting it in print sometimes so I’ll every now and then I’ll get one myself but it’s not the same without a house full of people fighting over the different sections 🙂

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  • Classic

    Classic January 18, 2013, 6:24 pm

    That really is a nice poem, Wendy, thanks. Yes– Dear Abby and the comics 🙂 I think there were many years when those were the only reasons that I read the paper.

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    misslisa January 19, 2013, 1:05 am

    I thought seeing this poem again after so many years had made my night – until I watched the John Prine clip. Wow was that fun 🙂 Love that BBC show the Old Grey Whistle Test – my friend has the boxed set and I’ve watched many an episode.

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  • QaraKoz

    QaraKoz January 19, 2013, 1:14 am

    So I had completely forgotten that I used to read Dear Abby for exactly one year in middle school which was the only time my family ever got a print newspaper when I was growing up. and I loved the column but adolescent me used to get so frustrated when I had an opinion different from Abby but I couldn’t do anything about it. I think thats why the commentators are my favorite part of DearWendy!

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  • chicotia

    chicotia January 19, 2013, 12:26 pm

    That is really sweet that your grandfather sent you the poem. How true it is! Oh and I love John Prine! My first (and second date with my husband…3 years later) was at a John Prine show. Love him!

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    • Amybelle

      Amybelle January 20, 2013, 3:39 pm

      I love John Prine too! Reminds me of hanging out with my dad when I was a very little girl.

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    Sunshine Brite January 20, 2013, 9:41 am

    This is super sweet. With all this cold weather my area’s been having I needed something warm and sweet this weekend.

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  • katie

    katie January 20, 2013, 2:17 pm

    so i had no idea that dear abby was a real person! i thought that was just a made up name for all advice columns in newpapers. dang! well, i also used to read dear abby. whenever i read the comics i would read the advice as well.

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    Taylor January 20, 2013, 6:45 pm

    I love Dear Abby! One of the very cool things about the interwebs is actually getting to interact with our favorite advice columnist – if DW were print only, it would be such a different interaction. One of my favorite Dear Abby tidbits, she was a gay rights advocate – http://blog.sfgate.com/thebigevent/2013/01/17/pauline-phillips-and-her-dear-abby-pro-gay-legacy/

    =)

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    applescruffs January 20, 2013, 11:32 pm

    Thanks for that.

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    Emma January 25, 2013, 8:55 am

    Love this post. Frequent reader of your site, but may be my first comment here. I read this poem in my early 20s too and remember taking this line to heart: So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. A great reminder to focus on building your own life, and eventually the right person will come along. Happy two year anniversary – have loved reading your writing for a while now.

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