News bug bit me at an early age

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newspapers and coffee
Metro Creative Graphics photo

There is a moment in a child’s life when some things being thrown about become more than just background noise. All of a sudden, one or two things connect, and a curiosity is born that shapes a life.

For some, a favorite teacher or preacher leaves a positive impression a child wishes to emulate, or a neighbor returning from military service in uniform sparks an interest and all the questions that go along with it.

Our big old black and white TV was often turned on only briefly in the evening, after the night milking and supper, just in time for the news. By the time I came along, the first television my parents owned was on the verge of giving up the ghost. They had likely bought it used, and then we used it up some more.

If the wind blew a certain way, one of us kids was called to come hold the horizontal picture by fiddling with a button on the front panel. If the wind blew too hard, Dad might have to climb out on the roof to adjust the antenna, with a lineup of kids situated on the stair steps to pass the word:

“No, that’s making it worse. Now it’s gone to all fuzz. That’s better!”

And our dad would return to his easy chair for the evening news.

The spark

I was still pretty young when I realized I was falling in love with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and NBC News. This duo expanded from a 15-minute spot to a 30-minute show in 1963, having started reporting the news together in 1956.

It was the mid-to-late 1960s when I began hoping to be the chosen kid to fiddle with the horizontal hold. The magnitude of what was going on in the world fascinated me.

“You can turn it off now,” Dad would say, after Chet and David said their good nights, “and good night for NBC News.” Dad would then pick up the newspaper.

One night I pulled the footstool to a spot where I could see the front page of that newspaper, and the same stuff David and Chet had just told us showed up in a great big headline.

“Dad, what’s a strike? And why are people pushing and throwing things and holding signs they colored?”

I remember Dad shuffling the newspaper around, putting it down a bit so he could see me.

“You don’t need to worry about any of that. It’s way on the other side of the country. Don’t let it upset you.”

Thirst for more

The bell had been rung, though, and the desire to know began stirring. How did they figure out what to tell us? Did Chet and David have to go out on the streets and find all this stuff out? Did they ever go home? And what did they look like in living color?

The dictionary didn’t help. “Strike” was listed as “to hit; to make a mark” and that didn’t match up with the stuff people on the TV were all riled up about.

Assassinations and body counts made the news. Events seemed to be spinning out of control. A Sunday School teacher told us the end of the world was surely at hand, bringing nightmares, along with a thirst for more knowledge.

Pasture practice

There was also the desire to retreat back into childhood. My favorite part of the day was taking the stock cane and our Bill dog and going out to the far pasture to bring in the cows at milking time. Instead of whistling or singing, I found myself rehearsing how I would tell the big events of the day on a news show.

“It would appear the school principal has reached his breaking point with the sixth grade boys, saying he has ‘had it up to here’ with their shenanigans.”

The stock cane became the sturdy microphone, and I was on a roll.

It seems quite impossible now, but the news world was made up of all men. It might stun the kids of today to realize how few women showed up on the TV screen.

There was Art Linkletter, talking to little kids in the afternoon while my mom did the ironing, Red Skelton when we wanted to laugh at silly skits, and even the weather report was delivered by men dressed in suit and tie. Ed Sullivan, who lacked pizzazz but somehow landed a show of his own, would introduce singers, dancers, comedians, musicians.

Even Bonanza, our favorite show, had only rare, bit parts for women.

Fascination grows

The news fascinated me more with each passing year. Reporting of the news seemed much more civil then, no censors required.

I begged to stay home from church one Sunday morning because there was a political show I was just dying to see. Mom wasn’t having it. Church was calling, and there was nothing a kid needed to know until old enough to vote.

I learned to read the headlines, deciding what was worth studying. The newspaper was superior to the TV, because it could be read over and over until some of it began to make sense.

There are times it seems no sense can be made of it all, no matter how many angles we take to dissect it. It is our responsibility to keep trying, with the privilege of a free press bringing it all to our fingertips.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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