It was disheartening to read a recent editorial page column about today’s decline in the number of newspapers, including the fact that some cities larger than Lima no longer have one. Just the thought of not having a daily hometown newspaper is a little more than I can stand.
Newspapers have always been important to me, and I grew up reading one every day. My sainted grandmother taught me to read before I was 5, and we had the Cincinnati Times-Star delivered every day, thrown into our rural Adams County farmyard from a delivery man’s car that barely even slowed down. Before I even started the first grade, I was reading the stories of events in the Cincinnati area and the rest of the world, how the Reds were doing, and the first year of the career of the great Reds pitcher Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell. With TV not yet developed, and having only a sparingly used battery powered radio, that newspaper was my only real connection to the world outside of that little farm.
Of course, I read the comics every day, and in my mind’s eye I can still vividly see a few of the cartoons that appeared in the Times-Star magazine section. One of my all-time favorite cartoons had no caption. It was a drawing of a kitchen, with a sign above the sink that read “Think” — a popular theme at the time. The funny part was that next to the sink was a kitchen range with a sign above it that said, “Thtove.” No caption necessary.
Within a couple of months of moving to Lima at age 13, I had a Lima News route with a little more than 100 customers. That paper route bought my school clothes, my lunches downtown — Central High School had no cafeteria — and provided my spending money for nearly two years. From that first paying job I went on to be employed every day of my life but one, for the next 67 years.
That job taught a shy and reticent (yes, believe it or not, I really was) former farm boy how to handle money, how to deal with people, and how it was necessary to get the job done every day, whether you felt like it or not.
The blizzard of 1950 was the biggest challenge to that work ethic. The blizzard had hit hard on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the Sunday papers were not brought to the route carriers because of heavy drifting. A neighbor volunteered his help, and we walked in near zero weather to The Lima News office on High Street and picked up the papers, hauling them on a Flexible Flyer sled. We then trudged through snowdrifts for more than three miles to get the paper delivered. It took several hours to complete the job. Delivering that paper not only helped mold my character, it also resulted in frostbitten ears that are still a minor problem today.
I wrote my first letter to the editor in my early 20s, complaining about a syndicated columnist whom I felt was racist. I’m happy to still have an outlet to vent once in a while.
During my police career, I had a lot of contact with newspapers, including one contentious incident with an editor after I had an overzealous reporter arrested for crossing a police line during an emergency. But most of my contacts were positive, including the fact that The Lima News was a big help in getting out information when necessary.
To me, opening a newspaper is like opening a present at Christmas: sometimes resulting in elation, sometimes disappointing, but almost always a surprise. Watching designedly brief, often obviously biased, TV news presented by plastic-looking people, doesn’t compare to reading stories written by some of the colorful — to say the least — Lima News reporters that I have known in the days when the newsroom was at least adequately staffed.
Newspapers have always been a big part of my life, and it’s just too bad that too many young people don’t know the thrill that can be gotten from opening the paper every day to see what awaits inside. It surely beats a brain-draining electronic screen.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department.