During my early years at my hometown elementary school, James Whitcomb Riley, the first order of business was learning to read. Our teacher organized us into reading groups and we read about Dick, Jane, their well-dressed, kind-looking parents and their dog Spot. The groups had names like the “Blue Birds,” “Red Birds” and “Buzzards,” supposedly to hide those among us who were reluctant readers.
As our reading skills improved in later years, we met the junior version of a newspaper each Friday: The Weekly Reader. Made from the same flimsy newsprint, it held feature stories which we read and answered questions about afterward. I remember one story vividly which appeared around Christmastime of my Sixth Grade year. It happened during the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, who was an ahead-of-his-time conservationist. His kids wanted a Christmas tree, but President Roosevelt thought it important to set an example for the nation by not cutting down a tree. Come Christmas morning the children were thrilled and relieved to find a beautiful tree, all decorated, in the White House living quarters. Their father explained the need to cut down some trees so that others could grow taller and stronger—what foresters call thinning today.
That story instilled in me a life-long love of reading the REAL newspaper, not that pale imitation online. I like the smell of the newsprint and the ritual of folding it just right to access the chosen story. My charcoal hands and I love the crossword puzzle, too. I keep scissors nearby and cut out recipes, cartoons and book reviews. Then I send them to my kids, my friends and have even been known to place a cautionary tale or two on my husband’s desk.
As a young newspaper reader I opted for the sensational stories: who was arrested for drunk driving (the raciest infraction in those days,) dire weather predictions and any house fires. I also always checked out who came and went from the local hospital and who had babies. Occasionally, a friend’s picture would appear—for winning a ribbon at the county fair, catching a big fish, or rescuing a dog from a culvert.
My mother read the paper, too, especially the ads. She always waited for the White Sales after the first of the year to buy sheets and towels, while the grocery ads caught her weekly attention.
That Old School publication kept us informed about everyone’s business (a blood sport in ‘50’s small town America,) and allowed us to shop wisely.