Thursday, October 6, 2011


I read a daily paper until several years ago.  I'd always lived in a house where THE MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL hit the lawn while the dew was still on the grass, and the plop of the PRESS SCIMITAR landed on the doorstep about four.   Breakfast rustlings whilst the bacon fried, the scent of the fresh-opened newsprint as much a part of that warm kitchen as the stove.   Snippets broadcast by Daddy as he sat with his glasses on his nose, seeing if the world was still out there.

The COMMERCIAL APPEAL was, and is, the Memphis mainstay in the news area:

And the afternoon PRESS---a little different, somehow, like the backdoor neighbor, as opposed to a lady in a hat come-a'calling.  The PRESS had odd comics and lots of puzzles and a homey feel to it.   It was the one folks settled in with in that magical hour when chores were done, and it wasn't quite time to start supper yet.

We even “took the GRIT” from a succession of grimy little boys on bicycles on Saturday afternoons---now THAT was an interesting paper. 

If you could get past all the black-and-white drab of the front pages, the rest was a treasure-trove of puzzles and comics and countless pages of stuff-to-send-away-for and business opportunities in Rosebud Salve

and  all sorts of noisemakers, magic tricks, x-ray glasses, and fool-your-friends items for the younger set.

So, when we arrived here twenty years ago, I chose the afternoon edition, liking the nice man who threw the paper, and even came collecting, just like the hometown carriers.  It was called the NEWS---a quiet little informative, interesting paper, as opposed to THE STAR---the morning-bright edition.      To settle in for a hour while supper cooked was just the nicest thing, reminiscent of so many of my own relatives in their own quiet lives.   Sitting in the little low rocker while good scents of supper filled the house---it was a lazy form of taking up knitting or darning, somehow, in the succession of our family history---reading the paper.

The NEWS dwindled away, ceased to print, and as our life-pace quickened a bit, with family moving here, and grandchildren being added, the great piles of orange-wrapped, unread STARS in the store-room grew,  like a haystack in the Fall.   The interest was just not there, for me, in these days of forty news channels and internet.

So, no.   I don't read a daily paper, unless you count peering through the cloudy windows of dispenser-stands as we walk past to the Sunshine Kitchen or IHOP.

But the charm of the thing is imprinted, like one of those moments from a movie in which you’re in the picture, and assume that you will have that life, live in that light, experience those calm, cricket afternoons on the porch with a fresh-pressed Press in your hands, the all-around sun peeping through the wisteria, the creak of the old white glider and the soft swish of the lawn sprinkler keeping company with the gentle rustle of the page-turns.

I can see the relaxing of it---Uncle Jake settling into his flocked-maroon platform rocker, those long lanky legs knee-looped and easy, with each section of the paper read, dropped onto the carpet beside the chair, and the smoking stand slowly filling with Camel butts and the shreds off a TUMS roll.

Thomas Hart Benton---Indianapolis Museum of Art

Another older man, husband of the dear woman who came each day to see to my children while I went to work---John sat in the same posture at his own kitchen table, a mere twenty miles and a universe away from that prosperous white business owner. The shine of John’s thin dark face matched the gleam of his steel-rimmed glasses, as he totally lost himself in the news of the day---a soft snap of chewing gum and turn of a page the only signs of movement.   I can remember a gentle envy of this man who had so little---a coveting of the absolute immersion in something other than the scurry of getting home and getting supper on, and homework and laundry and family.    He was reading the paper, concentrating through those thick spectacles, lips sounding an occasional word, taking it all in, and that was enough for that moment.

I think they should ALL be Afternoon Papers.   Let us get up, accomplish some things in our days, and THEN Choose the News, if we’re inclined.  Most things are easier to face as the day winds down, I think, and the world needs lots of cushioning, right now.


Chesapeake said...

I do emphatically agree with the AFTERNOON paper statement. Miss my old one very much, even though it has been gone for over 10 years, and probably more like 20. It just isn't the same to read the night/morning news in the afternoon.

steelersandstartrek said...

GRIT !!! I used to read about this tremendous money maker in the backs of comic books as a kid, along with the seed pack business and joke magic cards for sale. I used to ask my parents if I could start selling GRIT and they'd always dismiss me. ("why NOT??? It says earn money for college! Don't you want me to go to college?" answer: "It's not a real paper, Mike, it's just junk to take your money.") Today is the first day in my life I have heard of a soul that has actually laid eyes on a hard copy of that paper.

Once I came of suitable age (12 or 13) I started delivering the "real" paper on my bike. The now-defunct Richmond News-Leader. The RNL was one fo two survivors of a newspaper Darwin-fest in the 40's, when there were two mornings, the Times and the Dispatch, and two afternoons, the News and the Daily Leader. The local news-baron Bryan family owned the News and the Dispatch, gobbled up the competition, merged the circulation and the names, and cornered the news market. For a time they owned almost all the TV and radio in the area as well until the feds stepped in on that. Anyway, unless I wanted to get up at 4 AM weekdays and 3 AM Sundays, the News Leader was the only game in town.

At over 160 customers, I had the largest afternoon route in Virginia. After paying for the papers, I brought home a hefty (for a 13 year old) $40-50 a month. I'd love to say I saved all that money for college, or even my first car. But the reality is it all went for candy and pepsis and huge dill pickles out of a countertop pickle jar during the delivery, and for endless comic books, and all too soon for cigarettes. Ah, youth.

Tonja said...

In our town, there was only one newspaper until about 20 years ago. Our 'official' paper is the Dothan Eagle, and it has always been a morning paper. Still is. And, not a very good one, I might add. Then along came the Dothan Progress which was a much better newspaper...if you did not want to know about anything other than our little town. No world news, but better newsprint, better printing process. Pictures in the Progress far outweighed being in The Eagle. You caould actually see a person's features there!

No one was allowed to touch the paper until Pop had finished with it. He wanted it it came to us. And, we all obliged...most of the time. Occasionally we knew a picture or story about our family or someone special would be in it, so he just had to deal with wrinkles in his news...and sometimes a missing square where a fine picture had been!

As usual your post reached right into my memeory bank and pulled out these memories. Oh what a joy to visit you!

Jeanne said...

Hello Rachel Ahhhh the newspaper. My memory will make you laugh. Since my birthday is October, when all my friends started school I was unable to qualify because of my birth date. I was so sad and I worried about learning to read and write. I begged my mother to teach me. It was war time and the only paper to waste (so to speak) was the white margins of the newspaper. I wrote everything she taught me on those white margins. When I finally went to school I was way ahead of the other first graders and I attribute my easy years of schooling to that early learning advantage. I had to read in the fifth grade class when I was in the third grade. Our school had four rooms that held 12 grades. I had to go upstairs to the 'older' kids to read and I was embarrassed. Later in years I did read the paper but not as much as I read books. My mother was an avid reader and I learned early on how much I loved to read. I still do. Smile.

I really loved your post Rachel. It was fun to read the memories your story inspired. Sadly the newspapers are suffering all over the country. Our country is in so much change and it has me worried about our children and grandchildren's future.

That is another story.

Love, Jeanne

Kim Shook said...

Rachel - I'm enjoying the neat juxtaposition of this post and Maggie's about wonderful newspaper names. I, too, lived in a city with morning and afternoon papers. In my case it was Washington DC and the morning paper was the Post (still extant) and the afternoon was the still much missed Washington Star (at one time the Evening Star - a name I love). The other morning paper is the Washington Times, which was met with extreme suspicion when it started up in 1982 because of its association with the Moonies! I have to admit that growing up with the Washington Post, I have always been a bit sniffy about other local papers that we have taken in our travels. In Washington, the local news is pretty much everyone else's national news and the Northern Virginia region considers itself more metro DC than part of the Commonwealth. I don't read a paper now - I rely on a quick glance at my Yahoo homepage (sadly, more People than Post) and Mike to tell me if the world is still turning.