Tennessee Mountain Stories

Good News, Old News

Here’s an excerpt from the book I’m working on now…

As Katherine Ingle busied herself boiling coffee and cutting big slices of last night’s cake, Gracie pulled a tattered newspaper to her.  News was often hard to come by on the mountain and papers were read and shared until the print was practically worn from the pages.  Once illegible, the paper found additional uses around the farm.  The date on this paper was nearly a month ago… 

Photo courtesy of www.

Photo courtesy of www.

I wrote about the newspaper in that story because I needed to convey how news was disseminated way back in Gracie’s day.  Some people say newspapers are dead in this digital world.  I don’t know about that, but I know for sure that historically they were indispensable. 

Gracie’s ‘day’ was when news could not be pulled up online at a moment’s notice and no TV anchorman would read stories at 6:00 every evening.  In that day, the nickel price of a paper was a great deal of money and once spent should be shared as many times as possible.   Even when many of your neighbors weren’t able to read, the owner of a newspaper could still share the stories he’d read and therefore spread news.

This idea of recycling is very en-vogue these days and I’ve mentioned here before that it’s nothing new to the Cumberland Plateau where we’ve been reusing and repurposing from the very beginning.  The thing is that folks what don’t have a whole lot to do with will make do with whatever they’ve got!  And newspapers were something that came around every once in awhile and just like my characters in the book they were read and re-read.  Then they were very often used as insulation – I’ve heard more than one person tell about “reading the walls”.

Now my little boy has just got ahold of the idea that reading is a good thing and he’s reading everything from the cereal box to the road signs.  If we had print on the walls he’d be staring at it everyday.  Did I share back in the Clyde Whittaker series how he was fascinated by his Grandma Key’s house because she had newspapers on the wall and he would read them every time he went there – of course they didn’t change; those same pages would’ve hung there until air creeping through the cracks completely blew threw them.  Ken Taylor had mentioned the same thing about his house – I think there was a room that had been added on and rough-sawn boards were covered with newsprint in lieu of plaster or wallboard.  And what a fascinating cover they would make.

The paper was used elsewhere as well, and you can still find old papers occasionally stuffed into shoes or a purse to keep the wrinkles out – I bought an antique purse a few years ago and was amazed to find papers from a distant city, telling me a little of the journey that purse had made over the fifty-plus years since anyone had really used it.

Of course all kinds of things were wrapped in newspaper – isn’t that the classic fish container?   There weren’t any fish markets on the mountain - since everyone just went to the pond to collect their own fresh fish.

And newspapers make great patterns – dresses and quilt tops were always cut from the large sheets.  They were thin enough to pin through to attach the fabric, flexible for folding up unfinished work and most important of all that kind of paper was available.  String quilts could be sewn right onto the shaped pieces then easily peeled off leaving only the properly sized quilt block.

As I thought about the vanishing newspaper, I tried an internet search for all of its uses. I got fire starter and window washer, garden mulch (which was a new one for me but I’m going to try it!) and moving supplies.  Wonder why nobody on the internet is insulating with the newspaper?