Daddy and Leslie Ray and I all woke before daylight in the parsonage, ready to face the day. My brother and I got up early on purpose because it was rare quiet time we could spend alone with Daddy before heading to school. Since leaving his father’s house, Daddy had kept to their farmer’s hours when every child was a farmhand and every farmhand was out in the field before sunup.
Leslie Ray took his place at the table, bringing his breakfast with him, and the three of us shared a comfortable intimacy. From behind my cereal box, I watched Daddy read the morning paper. To be present while he read The Arkansas Gazette was to watch a food lover devour a favorite meal. He smiled. He frowned. He exclaimed,
“Well I never!”
He savored every page and remembered all of it. This was evident in the many references to newspaper stories that turned up in his sermons on the radio and in church.
If someone who didn’t already love reading sat across from Reverend Raymond Jones while he sipped his tea and read his morning newspaper, that person would have to re-think the power of stories told in newsprint.
If we were quiet for a long time, he’d read out loud a headline or the first two or three lines of a story. Then he stopped. When we became intrigued and asked him to keep reading, we could see him make a determination right then and there about content. He scanned ahead before proceeding, editing out references he didn’t want us to see. He underestimated our curiosity. When we left the parsonage we would find out the result of any story he censored at home.
Editing as he read created an intriguing rhythm. His deliberation caused a delay of a couple of seconds, so in my mind I played a game, racing ahead, guessing how the sentence and the paragraph and the story might end.
My brother and I went to the stove for several cups of the coffee Daddy made first thing when he got up. We’d been drinking coffee since we were very small, mixing in copious amounts of sugar and thick, fresh cream, like Southern children do, to turn it pale. Daddy brewed the strong Luzianne coffee with chicory Mother liked. It would be re-heated hours later when she woke. Her coffee was so dense by the time she got out of bed, Daddy joked he could slice it up and serve it with gravy and call it supper.
Without looking up, he admonished us every morning,
“Leave enough coffee in the pot for yore Mama.”
With his head still inside his newspaper and without a glance at the food I had on the plate before me, he chided me about my breakfast selections.
“If that’s all you plan to eat, Nita Faye, you’ll never get big like your brother.”
Then he questioned his son about the care and feeding of the outside animals, some of which were destined to become our meals one day soon. Did you feed them, son? No matter what the truth might be, Leslie answered, yessir.
To any other questions Daddy asked while reading his newspaper, we answered in the affirmative and sipped our coffee. In that companionable time, Daddy was easily pleased, satisfied with the way his days began.
As we cleared our plates and made ready for school, we left him with scissors in hand, turning the pages back to where he’d inked notes in the margin of a story, cutting out the ones he wanted to share with his wife. Mother didn’t relish mornings, but she loved news as much as Daddy and they had an agreement that he would bring to her attention points of interest by placing clippings next to her coffee cup. Later in the day the two of them held animated discussions about current events.
A few minutes more and he was at the sink, washing the ink off his hands before grabbing his hat and heading out on his early morning pastor calls and then to the radio station for a morning sermonette. I wonder how many stories-worth of newsprint he must have washed off over the years.