Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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It’s just a newspaper.

That was my first thought as I willed my fingers to dial the circulation office in Des Moines, Iowa.

My second thought—you are so melodramatic, Jennifer—materialized when a stubborn lump lodged itself in my throat.

Like I said, it’s just a newspaper.

Only, it’s not.

My oldest daughter, age nine, must have known. She pressed up against me while I dialed. It may seem no big thing, to cancel a subscription. But as I punched in the numbers, it struck me. I was about to ask a lifelong friend—a daily guest in my home for 39 years straight—to never come over again.

Even the woman who answered the phone sounded surprised. “Sooooo, you want to stop the paper for a few days, like, … during a vacation?” she asked.

“No,” I told her. “I’m stopping the paper for, like, ever.”

I felt my daughter squeeze my hand. In her own quiet way, she was reassuring me, and perhaps herself. I looked down my arm at her, a miniature version of me, shoulders drooped and eyes blinking with resignation. I remembered how this child learned her first words on newsprint. She would clutch an ink pen in her fist to circle words like “the” and “said” on the front page. (You can’t do that on a computer screen.)

My daughter knows the kinship I had with the daily paper, and she had begun to develop her own. (She likes Peanuts, Garfield and Sudoku.) I’ve told her about mornings when I was a child, devouring news with my two eggs and toast. Even as a kid, I imagined the whole state waking up to the same information. I knew instinctively that this was good and right, though perhaps a bit idealistic.

I was a consumer of news, but also of the artfulness of words. Even the crustiest curmudgeons at the daily paper could coax a laugh—or a cry—out of me on a Sunday morning. I wanted to be able to do that.

I remember when, as a grown up, I stepped for the first time onto the newsroom floor of The Des Moines Register. I carried a faux-leather briefcase over my shoulder. It seemed a dream that I had landed a job next to the same curmudgeons who entertained me during breakfast all those years.

I considered news-reporting an honorable profession. I still do, though some folks try to convince me that you can’t trust anything you read in the paper anymore. They say the news is too depressing, or too “fluffy” or too (fill-in-adjective-here). Besides, they say, no one can be expected to wait for tomorrow’s paper, when they can access the same information with a Google search or Twitter hashtag. And they can get it for free.

Me? I’m old-fashioned. I like the feel of the paper in my hands, next to my two eggs, sunny-side-up. My daughter prefers her news with Captain Crunch.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just reaching that age where all of my tales of yesteryear start with the phrase: “Back in my day …”

I do wonder this: when my children have children, will anyone get a newspaper anymore? Will people read from actual bound books? I wonder if, on Sunday mornings, folks will stand side-by-side singing out of those—what are they called again?—oh, yes, hymnals.

“Ma’am?” It was the customer-service representative, still on the line. “Can we do anything to keep your business?”

I explained that I had received a letter making it clear that I would no longer be able to receive same-day delivery. I had been offered an e-editiona gracious offer, reallybut that didn’t feel right. I thought it most honorable to close the door and remember my friend the way I knew her best, next to me at the kitchen table.

I pressed the phone's OFF buttonremember when we used to hang it up, right on the wall?and then my daughter pulled me over to see something. She’d read the funniest thing in the comics, and she knew it would make me laugh.

Image by Kelly Sauer. Used with permission. Post by Contributing Editor Jennifer Dukes Lee.

Editorial note: Today is the last day to submit photos and/or poems to November's PhotoPlay and RAP.