If I was lucky, someone would leave a newspaper behind.
Because two-newspaper mornings were the best mornings. No better way to start the day, especially for a kid who liked to scour the box scores.
Folks from Abbeville, and likely from other parts of the Lakelands, probably remember the Dutch Oven restaurant, which was on Main Street, just north of historic Court Square. It’s gone now, but for many, many years it was a go-to spot for a great meat-and-three lunch. The kind of place where’d you’d pop in and spot a sampling of just about everyone in town — attorneys from nearby law offices, city sanitation workers on their lunch breaks, mill workers still shaking off the cobwebs from third shift — lined up waiting to get fried chicken and rice & gravy and okra and maybe a piece of cornbread.
But for many years, the Dutch Oven also served breakfast and, when I was growing up, that’s when my family often visited the venerable restaurant. In fact, there was a period of time when we’d get breakfast there several times each week, even on some mornings before school. Like the lunch shift, breakfast time at the Dutch Oven also had a steady cast of regular customers, many of whom we saw each time we went in. I can still picture Jimmy Smith, who at the time ran the local TV repair shop, sitting in at his regular table down the right wall, leaned back with his right arm thrown over the back of the booth.
I can even remember the names of the two waitresses who often took our orders: Betty and Jeanne. Funny, most days I can’t remember where I parked the car when I come out of Lowe’s, but I can recall the names of waitresses from 30 years ago. Which is to say: If you bring me some good hash browns with cheese and a sweet iced tea, chances are I might remember you.
But while I enjoyed those aforementioned hash browns, my favorite part of the morning ritual at Dutch Oven when I was a kid was grabbing a newspaper from the row of boxes that were lined up outside the restaurant.
Now, our family was a subscriber to the Index-Journal, but you have to remember that, back in the old days, it was an evening paper. (I’ll explain evening papers to the youngsters some other day.) So before those Dutch Oven breakfasts, I’d always buy a paper from another city. Outside the restaurant, there were boxes for The Greenville News and the Anderson Independent-Mail. You could also buy a copy of The State in Abbeville, but that box was down the street at the old post office.
So, I’d make my choice between the Greenville News and the Independent-Mail. In modern times, those two papers now sort of operate as a shared product, but back in those days they were distinct from one another. I’d usually go with the Independent-Mail because at that time they were more likely to have info about my beloved Abbeville Panthers.
But, many mornings, there would be extra newspapers inside the restaurant, left on tables by other diners after they went to work. So I’d grab one of those leftovers, then I’d have both an Anderson and a Greenville paper to pore over as I ate my hash browns.
This might seem like a bit of foreshadowing for me, but at that young age, I wasn’t yet thinking I’d be a newspaper reporter one day. I was just eager to read about what was going on in our corner of the world. And, yeah, I’d pay plenty of attention to the comics and gaze at the movie ads, too.
As you might know, the past week has been National Newspaper Week. You’ve likely read some of the pieces that have appeared in the Index in recent days about the role newspapers play in being watchdogs for the local community. The last line of defense against corruption and political malfeasance, and all that jazz.
But the week has also made me reflect back on those mornings at the Dutch Oven, and being a kid getting lost in the sports page as I picked at my breakfast before school. I’d like to think there are still a few kids out there who seek out local news in the morning, though I’m betting they likely get it through a paper’s website on their smartphone, clicking on a link they grabbed on social media. They can find all the news in the world at the touch of a button.
But I still miss a two-newspaper morning.