It was just a small town when I was growing up, less touristy, less suburban than it is now. The City Dock was just that—there was no Ego Alley, no ego involved—and its marine residents were not yachts or fancy sailboats then, but working boats in from fishing and oystering, their wares sold by local folks at the Market House to local folks.
Our local paper was called the Evening Capital, and it was delivered to our house and just about everyone else’s, even the folks who took the morning Sunpaper from Baltimore or the Washington Post in the afternoon. The Capital was how you learned what had happened during the day.
In the late afternoon at my house, and I suspect at many others, one of us kids would be asked to go to the box at the end of the driveway to retrieve the paper for my mother. My brother and I would race each other there, and even though he was and is three years younger than me, he almost always won. Sometimes in the early summer, I begin a self-imposed program of teetering across the oyster shells, and then later the gravel, in bare feet, trying to build up the calluses on the bottom of my feet so that I might be able to walk around, tanned and barefoot, by Labor Day.
There is simply no way to separate memories of our family’s evenings from our memories of the Evening Capital masthead facing out, hiding my mother’s face but not her propped-up feet, the hard-earned cup of instant coffee at her side. A little later, after we’d heard our dad’s car grind into the driveway, we’d find that masthead above his black stockinged feet, the ones, we complained bittery stunk after a long day spent in wingtips. We thought it was funny to punch the paper to say hello, and if it had been a good day, he might laugh and sweep us into his arms. If it had been a hard day, he would ask calmly if he might just read his paper in peace. We waited for my mom to declare that dinner was ready, and then we ate together at the dining room table.
It is no longer so much a small town, and I hear the paper comes in the morning now. It is owned by a big-city company, so I’d guess the paper is a little less small-town, too. I don’t know for sure because I don’t live there anymore, and because it’s hard to keep a small-town paper going, they charge you to read the stories online. I realize now, with regret, that I ought to have been subscribing all along, instead of just paying on occasion, if there was something I really wanted to know, instead of scanning the headlines and piecing things together from what I know about the place.
Anyway, today there was a shooting in a town which was the little town where I grew up, at the offices of the paper which was our small-town paper. Five people died and their families’ memories will also be inseparable from the paper, and I am just thinking, sadly, about how very much the world has changed.