In the home in which I grew up, the daily newspaper was almost as important to our everyday lives as the Bible.
Daddy came home every night, finished his supper — which Mama brought to him on a tray as he relaxed in his favorite recliner — then picked up the paper and read every page. Until she died, Mama planned her day around the arrival of the newspaper. As soon it arrived, she hurried to get it, made a cup of coffee with cream and sugar then settled into her chair and savored the pages. She took hours to read every word.
Her favorite was the obituaries. Mama didn’t just read the obituaries. She studied them. Often, it seemed, she memorized them.
She would say things like, “I saw where Jack Pierce has got two funerals on the same day. He’s preachin’ one at 11 and another at 2” or “She must not have been saved. It said in her obituary that she was a member of the Baptist faith so she wouldn’t no member of a church or it would have said so” or “I didn’t know that they were kin but they sure were because he was listed as a survivor in the obituary.”
One Sunday afternoon, I ran by to see her and found her listlessly watching television. She threw an aggravated look at me when I walked in.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My newspaper didn’t come today.” That was bad. Mama’s Sunday paper was worth five hours of afternoon reading. “I’m so mad I could spit nails.”
I walked straight to the phone and called the circulation department, only to get an automated recording. “I’ll go out to the store and get you one.”
“No!” She jutted her chin out. “I ain’t payin’ twice for it. I’ll just do without.”
“I’ll pay for it.”
“I said ‘no” and I mean it. I’ll just do without.” Mama, just like me, could cut off her nose just as pretty as you please to spite her face.
As a child, I learned the importance of newspapers. My parents taught me that knowledge, especially in the world around us, is powerful and necessary. Their message was simple: Read the Bible, read the newspaper and you’ll be well rounded and well informed.
Over the years, the news world has changed dramatically, thanks to the 24-hour news channels, radio talk shows and, of course, the Internet. Sadly, newspapers are moving to the background of folks’ lives. It’s a tough time because newspapers are having to reinvent themselves and find out what readers want. Entertainment, such as this kind of column, is growing in popularity while national and world news is less important to the reader who can see it on television.
Magazine supplements, columns, television guides, horoscopes, crossword puzzles, obituaries and the comics still lure readers in.
They’re important and will, most likely, be what sustains newspapers so that community papers can still bring readers the local news such as the hometown 4-H member who won a state competition, the woman who celebrated her 100th birthday and the high school teams who played each other.
The other day I ran across an enormous box of newspapers that chronicled my early career and the life of my family. There was a front-page photo of the time I learned to drive a race car (not well, I might add), the photo of my niece who was crowned as a queen of something or other, my nephew in his football uniform who had made a game-winning pass and another of my sister as she was sworn in as a postmaster.
Without newspapers, we’d have no paper record of those life moments.
Without us, newspapers can’t continue. Here’s an idea: Buy a subscription for a teenager or college student and mail it to them. Get them used to reading a newspaper. Every day.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.