Uncle Bennie died in the past year. Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Bradley had died earlier. They had married three sisters. The sisters were from a family of six children. All six celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries with their only spouses. The husbands were farmers and merchants.
When they were younger, the men -- any of them -- would have faired well as ombudsman for The Post. For them, if it was printed in a newspaper it was worthy of solemn attention and irreverent argument. They read every morning, before sunrise in the summer, because if the sun was up, it was time the men's connection between the earth they tilled and the world they inhabited.
My father, one of the six children, read the newspaper to my mother every morning as she stirred about with breakfast. Now in his 80s, he still does. Then he drives off to the supply store he keeps. He arrives at 7 a.m., six days a week, and the first things he does is pick up the morning paper again. The day is not properly launched until the day's news is assimilated.
He and my uncles would have handled ombudsmanship differently. They would have come at it with the unflinching sense of right and wrong that time spent close to the earth seems to breed. They would have argued some with The Post. They would have said that some of those everlastingly long stories needed more editing, that there really isn't enough time to read that much on a single subject. You shouldn't use up summer sunlight that way. And they would have grumbled about the proportion of political news. Politics, they would have said, is a necessary evil and deserves only a bit of a man's day, about the same as sports. Foreign news would have been useful to them. You need to know how we are doing internationally in order to shore up those ringing pronouncements, out there among the growing crops, about who is right around the world. They would have marveled at the complexity of business and economic news and would have nodded agreement that there are no simple solutions. Producing crops teaches the same lesson.
Now and they they would have taken issue with aggrieved Post readers, but there would have been little anger. Instinctively they would have recognized that the stakes are high in this city, and they would have understood that this newspaper has a presence rivaled in few other places, that what it prints influences and that whatever influences pulls society's levers.
They would have listened carefully to the thousands who call or write in a year. They would have liked the fellow who called to correct a 17-year-old obituary. Turning through clippings kept in his family Bible, he found that a name had been misspelled in 1964. He wanted it right. They would have understood that.
They would have been satisfied with a year at this desk, feeling they had listened and reacted and had made some small mark on things that mattered.
But they wouldn't have spent time talking about. They would have needed to get back to earth and raw sun and the comfort of shared memories.
With their sense of time they would have talked more about Sarah. She, great-grandchild or great-grandniece, arrived in the same year Uncle Bennie died. And they would have known the meaning of the sound of small footsteps behind them.