A dear friend of mine, Lori, was cleaning out her house, preparing to downsize. She sent a text that she had left some things in my mailbox.
What precious things they were, too. On top of the small stack of magazines and newspapers was a small laminated baseball-like card that featured a race car driver.
Tears stung my eyes as I studied what would always be a face of youth and thick dark hair that never had the opportunity to gray. He had been on my mind since the dawn had awakened me. Alan Kulwicki was a good friend of mine. I even dated him off and on for a few years. Lori did not know when she left the card in my box that day that it was the anniversary of his death in a plane crash many years ago.
In the stack was a Sports Illustrated, back in the days of its true greatness, which honored a fallen Dale Earnhardt on the cover. There was a copy of our local newspapers, The Times, with the full coverage of his fatal crash in Daytona.
I had never seen the paper because I was in Washington, D.C., when he died. It was all powerful. The headline was bold: Intimidator Goes His Way. The story led with “Dale Earnhardt was every bit the brusque daredevil who drew millions to his sport.”
The world was still in shock when those words were written and the power of that shock could be felt almost 20 years later as I read the stories.
That’s the power of the printed word that has an urgency to it is unbeatable.
Years ago, I was on a Mississippi River cruise aboard the American Queen when we made a stop in Greenville, MS for the day. It was an excellent day as we visited literary places and museums. We had just stopped at our second museum when someone handed me a copy of the Delta Democrat Times. The headline in the largest point possible stopped in my tracks: SHELBY FOOTE DIES.
Not only will I remember the thunder of that moment but I brought home a copy of the paper. Foote, the noted historian who had been made into a superstar by the Ken Burns Civil War series, was a native of Greenville so the newspaper properly paid its respect.
That’s one of the many things I love about newspapers.
It is more emotional to pick up a paper and read the news than tune in online where you can’t read a sentence without the page continuing to load bothersome ads and gimmicks and resetting the layout of the story. It is annoying and distracting.
Peggy Anderson, a very nice reader of this column in Cumming, GA, wrote not long ago and told me how she had found a box of newspapers she had saved over the years: The end of World War II, both Kennedy assassinations, Nixon resignations, the Challenger Explosion, Charles and Diana’s wedding.
When she mentioned she had coverage of Elvis’ death, I replied instantly, “Is there any way you could send me a copy?”
She did not scan them. She made copies and mailed them. It was more jolting to hold them in my hands than to have seen them in an email. The story of Elvis’ death was so big that The Atlanta Constitution did something mighty rare: They ran a story above the name of the paper. A distraught fan was collapsed in tears in front of Graceland and the headline read: ‘I Can’t Believe He’s Gone.’
The coverage was stupendous and still riveting 43 years later.
We need newspapers. Printed paper. Don’t think for a moment we don’t.
You may not have a newspaper with Elvis’ or Mr. Foote’s deaths but I bet you have a family obituary that means a great deal.
Support your local paper. Please.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]