In my childhood home, I did not grow up surrounded by literature or commercial novels. What I did grow up with were two items read daily by my parents with strong interest and complete devotion: The Bible and the daily newspaper.
The Bible told us how to live, the newspaper told us how life was being lived by others. When the afternoon newspaper arrived, Mama hurried to get it and then, with a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, she settled down to read every word. After Daddy finished supper, he, too, read every word, then dropped it section by section in a pile next to his chair. I remember most especially the voluminous Sunday papers — and we got an additional big-city paper that day — strewn in a couple of piles in the den. In Daddy’s pile, the funny papers were on the bottom because he always read those first on Sunday.
Daddy never read books outside of a biblical concordance or reference, while Mama read bits of a few and four cover to cover, all four written by her baby. They were always knowledgeable with a strong feel for the community, the nation, politics and, particularly, the obituaries.
Mama knew the daily obits down to the word. For my sister and me, she was the town crier of death. If she saw an obituary for someone I knew, she called to make sure I knew, especially if I was traveling.
Clearly, I remember one of those times when I was away on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, working on a new book. Mama called and said, “I have some sad news. I hate to tell you while you’re working but I think you’ll want to know. I just read it in the paper.”
I had a home-economics teacher whom I adored. She had married later in life to a great love and even greater man. Everyone loved Bubba. They had been married perhaps 10 years when a heart attack dropped him while doing yardwork. Mama was as she gentle as she could be in breaking the news, but I recall clearly how the pain stabbed my heart. I dropped to my knees and said, “Oh, no! Oh, no! It can’t be.” Mama grieved with me, and that helped a bit.
In our home now, we read the newspaper and the Bible. We still hold the Word of God in our hands as we read but we, like many, had fallen into the habit of reading newspaper online.
A trip to one of my favorite places has changed that. While relaxing for a few days on Sea Island, we had newspapers delivered daily. With great relish, I enjoyed my coffee in bed and read those newspapers cover to cover every morning.
On Sunday afternoon, after church and lunch, I had settled into an easy chair in our room and read the newspapers. As I dropped them section by section by the chair, I was reminded of those days of my youth when Mama and Daddy had done the same. Then and there, I made up my mind, then loudly declared, “When we get home, I am subscribing to paper editions.”
Here’s what I realized: By reading only digital editions, I have been missing out on great stories layered deep in the pages. It made me recall all the stories and conversation created between my parents and others because of what they had read. Even my grandmother in the mountains was devoted to her paper. Many times, I heard her say, “I read it in the Nugget.”
Here’s my prediction: Digital online reading is going to give up ground back to paper versions of newspapers in a way similar to how digital and CDs are giving ground back to the long- considered-dead vinyl records. Ten million vinyl records were sold in 2014.
Sometimes it just takes time for people to figure out what they’re missing.
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