As a child, one of my greatest dreams was to one day be a guest on Johnny Carson.

I was so invested in this goal that I came up with a number of ways to achieve it. I figured I could do one of the following:

  1. Learn to do some kind of bizarre, newsworthy trick;
  2. Score a 1600 on my SATs; or
  3. Win the National Spelling Bee.

I kept trying to come up with bizarre, newsworthy tricks, but nothing I thought of seemed bizarre or newsworthy enough to draw the great Mr. Carson’s attention. Since I was a precocious, cocky little girl, I was sure I’d score a 1600 on my SATs, but frankly, I didn’t want to wait that long. So I figured I’d just win the National Spelling Bee.

I spent hours upon hours practicing for and competing in spelling bees between the fifth and eighth grades with this goal in mind. Although I was an excellent speller and had pride in my ability to spell lots of obscure words, that wasn’t what drove me. The promise of scholarship money didn’t really do it for me either. When I was frustrated and had been studying for hours, and dinner was getting cold, and I was missing every third word I spelled, the promise that kept me going was that if I worked hard enough, and won the National Spelling Bee, eventually I would sit in a chair next to Johnny Carson.

Johnny retired the year before I aged out of competition, and as I worked to prepare for that last year of bees, I was always a little disappointed, knowing that even if I did win, I wouldn’t get to talk about it with Johnny.

As he was for so many others, Johnny Carson was a defining icon of my childhood. Being allowed to stay up late enough to watch Johnny was a big deal. I have memories of returning from trips to Iowa to visit my grandparents, bringing suitcases and coolers into the house while Johnny made jokes in the background, his voice filtering through the screen door out into the summer nights.

After hearing on the news last week that Johnny had been feeding some jokes to David Letterman, we were talking about him around the house, and I commented that I thought his death was one that would really upset me. Only a few days later, I learned that I was right.

This morning, I dawdled in the house while getting ready for work, watching endless clips and tributes on the Today show, and when I finally forced myself to turn off the TV and leave the house, I was smiling and a little sad.

Goodbye, Johnny.

(Excellent article here.)

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