August 18, 2010

My Weekly Readers

In Miss Heckman's third grade, we had our own newspaper written for elementary schoolchildren. My Weekly Reader in 1965 was to this word-hungry eight-year-old what the The Atlantic is today to this word-hungry postmenopausal cronette.

I still love the community journalism of a weekly newspaper. I subscribe to several weeklies, and read all I can find.

Today's lead story in the paper in my town is "Call Before You Dig." Earlier in the week someone in a trailer park hit a gas line when digging. Boom!

One must not miss the weddings or the obits, which generally provide much greater detail than the dailies. The advertisements themselves are interesting, all locally produced, and often featuring family members. "Jim and Bev, owners of the John Deere Lawn Mower Store, welcome their new grandson Billy to the lawn mower business."

You just don't get that in Talk of the Town in The New Yorker.

This week's cover picture in the paper where I grew up features a picture of a 5th grader pulled on a skateboard by his dog, relishing the last playtimes of a summer day before the schoolbell rings.

I grew up in a rural county which had two dailies and three weeklies, all with high circulation. The two dailies merged, and I'm not sure how many of the weeklies are still published. I subscribe to the one from my hometown, where I once worked as a prepubescent Lois Lane.

When I was fourteen, my Dad finagled a job at a weekly for me. He knew Rosalie, who knew everything and everybody in my little town.

Rosalie chased all over this town of 1,200 people with her heavy German camera and even heavier flash attachment to report on local events. In the summer, she hired a high school girl and boy to follow the breaking news.

I rode my K-Mart blue bicycle to cover school stories (except sports.)

I had my own column "School News". Of course, it was riveting--especially my awe-inspiring prose on the Library Club's acquisition of a new display window.

I learned how to run the string machine that bundled the papers every Wednesday morning. I learned to answer the phones and how to count words for classified advertising. I learned how to proofread legal ads (5 point type, ugh).

The owners of this weekly were two men who tapped out Linotype on ancient, rickety machines in the back while Rosalie ran the front office. At noon, the "boys" closed up the back shop and went to the bar next door for a round or two.

I only lasted one summer at this newspaper, swayed by the money and glamour of carhopping at the local Dog and Suds.

While Rosalie and the "boys" are long gone, the newspaper content has not changed much in forty years.

Each week the paper prints the names of those persons who have newly subscribed or are renewing subscriptions. No one in my family lives there anymore, but we all still get the paper. My aunt, who moved out of the country in 1950, still subscribes.

Last week Aunty was mentioned in the "Sixty-Five Years Ago" column, one of four columns that reprints articles from years ago.

My aunt won first prize in a home economics demonstration contest at the country fair.

Sometimes the old columns are fun -- sometimes they are poignant. Several weeks ago I read in the Forty Years Ago column that John Doe, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Doe, enlisted in the United States Marines. John didn't come home from Vietnam, but forty years ago we didn't know that yet.

I greatly anticipate the summer of 2011 as some of my stunning early work may hit the Forty Year column. Stay tuned.