My father worked for our city newspaper, The Spokesman Review in Spokane. This was during the 1950s, before computers, electric typewriters and, for a period of time, television. Our source for local and world news was the radio and our local newspaper. Everyone subscribed to the newspaper — everyone. Moms and dads read the paper over their morning coffee or in the evening after dinner. In every household each Sunday, at least an hour was spent, with the adults reading the huge news and sports sections and the kids engrossed in the comic strips. My father did the crossword puzzle. It was a family time.
As a child, I was so proud to say my father worked for our city’s newspaper. Of course, the first thing my friends would say was, “Wow! Is he a reporter?” My father was not Clark Kent, but he was my Superman. He didn’t take off a flying cape for the “glamorous” job of reporter — he changed from his sports jacket and gentleman’s hat into his work apron.
My father was a typesetter. He set type by hand. There were no computers in those days. I loved visiting him at work. I especially liked watching the huge printing presses in the basement of the building as they printed the newspaper — I had to watch from outside on the street through the windows. All the pressmen wore little square paper hats that they made from newspaper. I thought it looked like a more exciting job than my father’s. The huge, noisy presses with the newspapers flying by were exciting to watch. My father’s work area was much quieter and on the third floor and, on occasion, I was allowed in.
I would find him standing over a huge tray of type or “sorts.” He used a flat, thin piece of metal in his right hand to pick out and arrange these “sorts” into words and lines of text. The end product was a news page or “forme” which would be inked and sent to the presses. My father getting those tiny letters and pieces of type arranged into a newspaper article for the whole city to read was genius in my eyes. This was a large newspaper with a huge circulation, and every bit of it was set by hand.
My father worked the graveyard shift, Tuesday through Sunday, and unless the holiday fell on his day off, he worked Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Rain or snow, my father set the type and the newspaper was printed and delivered every single day of the year to just about every household in Spokane. We could not go a day without the newspaper.
And we would not have had our paper without the paperboy. This was not an easy job. It meant rolling up twenty or thirty individual newspapers and packing them into a canvas bag that was carried over the shoulder. The paperboy carried this bag and walked his route or rode his bicycle delivering the paper every day of the week no matter what the weather. You could tell whether your paperboy walked or rode his bicycle by where you found your newspaper. If he walked his route, the paper could be found conveniently placed on your porch, easily reachable out of the rain. If he rode his bike, you might find your paper in the shrubbery, in the window box or out on the sidewalk.
Probably the hardest part of being a paperboy was the door-to-door “collection” process. I can remember watching as our paperboy accidentally dropped his collection receipts on the street outside our house one rainy, windy day. The wind blew the boy’s receipts around, swirling them through the air and down the street. He spent twenty minutes rounding up the soggy pieces of paper. I wanted to run outside and help him but I was only 11 years old and a girl!
As I grew older, the best part of our newspaper was reading the local news: the deaths, births, weddings and achievements of my friends and neighbors. The newspaper was the glue that held our community together. I was so proud when an article was published about my brother, who was serving in the Army during the Vietnam War. When I was in high school, I had the pleasure of being featured in a section about local high school students and their achievements. And, of course, the local high school sports section was never to be missed — go Pirates!
Times have changed. I have been pretty good about changing with them. But, a couple of things I am doggedly hanging onto. For one, I am going to continue to hold a hardback book in my hands and turn down the corners of the pages and place it on my bookshelf to read again. I am not going to read a book on some handheld computer device. And, I am going to continue to subscribe and read my news in the newspaper, not on the Internet. I am going to hold the newspaper in my hands, get my fingers dirty from the ink, and sneeze. Yes, newspaper ink can make some people sneeze.
And, I am going to hang on to my proud memories of my father the newspaperman.
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