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Prompted By Newspapers

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I was a college freshman in 1968, just before The Merger of Harvard and Radcliffe.  All the women were then housed at the Radcliffe quad, a rectangle of grass encircled by brick dormitories clustered into North, South, or East House. The buildings had long central hallways, tiny rooms, and group bathrooms. My own cramped dorm room in Whitman was allegedly designed deliberately so small that only one student would ever be assigned per room–and yet there we were, doubled up in bunk beds with desks and dressers crowding the periphery, leaving barely enough floor space to turn around.  In those dark ages we all had to trudge back and forth to classes across the Cambridge Commons, over the proverbial river and through the woods (in the snow and uphill both ways).

I would go to bed half dressed in a tee shirt, and at the first sound of the alarm, quietly roll my legs over the edge of my top bunk and slide onto the floor, already standing, trying not to disturb the roommate. 

The Harvard student newspaper, the Crimson, was looking for delivery people, and I was looking for extra money; hence my paper route through South and East Houses. At some dark hour, a stack would be dropped off in the Whitman dorm foyer.  I would go to bed half dressed in a tee shirt, and at the first sound of the alarm, quietly roll my legs over the edge of my top bunk and slide onto the floor, already standing, trying not to disturb the roommate.  Pull on the jeans hanging from the bedpost and off you go, awake or not.

I would hoist up the waiting stack from the foyer, and then spend the next half hour dashing stealthily through the dorms, running up and down the stairs and through the darkened hallways.  They were empty and quiet, the bare floors hardly reflecting enough light to see the room numbers on the closed doors.  Those solitary moments were mine. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing the subscribers’ doors by heart as I raced along in the dim pre-dawn, tossing the papers just so—102, 103, 112, 204, 315… a skill set that turned out to be oddly useful in later jobs when I was re-shelving library books, sorting mail in the post office, and rounding on patients scattered about a hospital.

Those flat papers that slapped softly in front of the doors were our best source of campus news, which escalated throughout the year from ROTC demonstrations and Vietnam teach-ins to the SDS list of demands (ROTC, Afro-American studies, university expansion into poor communities, complicity with the war), the takeover of University Hall, The Bust, The Stadium Meetings, The Strike, the repercussions, the class cancellations.  Lesson learned:  everything can change, and very fast. Political leaflets of all persuasions were urged onto passersby and proliferated in mailboxes. The campus bloomed with posters, silk-screened fists, and street theater.   The discrepancy between what we read in the regular press and our own experience was stunning and instructive.  No one went unchanged, even as the year dissipated into summer recess.

Finding news that correlates with lived reality remains a skill.  The humble local newspaper is still part of my morning ritual, now collected from the driveway in my bathrobe, with much appreciation for the person who drops it off, and for the fact there is still a newspaper delivered to the house at all.

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You give us a great point of view, Khati – how the paper gets to our door steps. You didn’t have to go far to pick them up or bundle them, but you did have to get up way earlier than anyone else around and silently, efficiently make your rounds (as you compare this to other jobs later in your life). And for those of us who like getting our paper at our doorsteps (as you do now), we appreciate your crack-of-dawn effort.

    We are in the midst of a huge snowstorm here in Greater Boston (it will probably become an official blizzard later today, as defined by windspeed and at least three hours of only quarter mile visibility through the snow). Yet, by 6:30am, my Boston Globe was on my doorstep. I was surprised and grateful for that extra effort, even though I do have access to the paper online.

    Well done to you, faithful carrier.

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    As an ex-paperboy, I love the idea of an indoor route!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, this one was pretty cushy, but I didn’t get to emulate the stereotypic vision of riding a bicycle no-handed and throwing the paper either. Although I did learn the no-handed technique and learned to whistle as extra-curricular fun just because.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks, Khati, for a true insider’s view of The Crimson. And obviously I was wrong about the subscriprions. Mea culpa! And I must admit that, from the other side of those doors, despite my four years of receiving (and presumably paying for) the Crimson, I don’t think I ever saw or knew who had delivered it. But yes; in those days, the Crimson was by far the most important newspaper for all of us on campus.

    But even beyond my own obvious connection to the Crimson and its delivery, I so enjoyed your story of its delivery and how thie memory of doing so has carried forward for you to this day. Beautifully evoked!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks. It was the closest I got to being part of the Crimson machine, which was indeed a campus wonder. Fortunately I am a “morning person”, or the delivery job would have been more hell than a special and serene time.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    As papers become more generic and less informative, it was nice to go back in time to 1968, when it was so important to receive those papers you delivered.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Retrospect does remind us of some of the advantages we hardly knew we had back when. Even now, sometimes the local paper has relevant items not covered elsewhere, helping to think globally and act locally, where there is some hope of making a difference.

  5. Marian says:

    A unique take on the newspaper from a carrier, Khati, and a good lesson on the importance of news that’s locally focused. As editor of a very small and modest newspaper at my college (published just once every two weeks), I learned many valuable skills, even as I decided journalism wasn’t the career for me.

  6. Wonderfully written story Khati, I can feel your delight in those quiet moments, alone in those dark but familiar hallways bringing the news to your school mates. And your appreciation of those who do those pre-dawn routes now.

    Our apartment backs up to the stairwell and if I’m up early I can hear the delivery guy coming down the stairs, and then the sound of him dropping the paper at our door and then at our neighbor’s.

    Despite all the bad stuff in the news lately, there is a comfort indeed in knowing we have it to read every day, and thanks Lordy still a free press.

  7. It was ingenious to notice the ways that memorizing which doors received the newspaper prepared you for later activities, even keeping track of your patients’ rooms! I only remember receiving the paper (and faithfully reading it) every day; I have no memory of subscribing or having to re-subscribe as the semesters went by. Except that i did subscribe from Indiana after getting kicked out of school in the spring of 1970–and really valued the info that the corporate media didn’t provide that I could get from the Crimson. Later (in 1996) I would meet one of those Crimson reporters–and marry her!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Love that you married a Crimson reporter. I am starting to wonder how people got the newspapers, since no one seems to remember ordering it, and yet I did not deliver to every door…???? In any case, it did play an important role in campus communications, and trained a lot of great reporters too.

  8. Suzy says:

    I love this story of your Radcliffe paper route, but it certainly creates a mystery about why you delivered to some rooms and not others. John, Dale, and I have no memory of subscribing as students, but perhaps we checked some box and it got added to our term bill. I know the paper was there every morning when I got up, but it never occurred to me to wonder how it got there, so a belated thank you to you for delivering it.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    Revelatory story, Khati. And your role as the reliable/anonymous delivery person to so many is something to be appreciated in general. Last night during the blizzard a battalion of young men came to clear the walkways. They worked much of the night, and I could hear another crew in action before dawn this morning. Whenever one of them passes by I try to always tap on my storm door and give them a thumbs-up. They appreciate the recognition. Thanks for revealing yourself as one of these mighty few. And what great training for life in general!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      The blizzard back East does sound pretty intense! And I share your appreciation for the snow angels. We had a big snow dump earlier in the month, and the neighbors on the street were out shoveling the cul-de-sac so we could get to the main road–always nice when adversity brings out the best. Each year that goes by raises my appreciation for the people behind the scenes.

  10. Jim Willis says:

    Khati, thank you for your reminder of how important the local newspaper can be, and clearly that includes campus newspapers. Your memories of the Crimson at Harvard bring back my own memories of the OU Daily at the University of Oklahoma. The editor in my senior year there was a member of the SDS, which I’m sure was the case at many campus dailies, and the paper became the heartbeat of many student protestors. You’ve articulated the influence of such a paper as the Crimson well.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks. I suppose social media and online versions on campus have supplanted those older forms of communication (pamphlets! Hard copy newspapers!), but we still need the local news. And sometimes the pen is indeed mighty.

  11. John Zussman says:

    Thanks, Khati, this brings back warm memories of sleepily cracking the door open to collect the Crimson every morning. It was indeed an indispensable source of campus news and views in those days. And not just events and politics but sports, like the unforgettable football headline “Harvard Beats Yale, 29–29.” Thinking about it, some of today’s most prominent journalists were writing from the Crimson back then, like Frank Rich and Michael Kinsley.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Glad it brought back some memories—for me too. Have to admit I have gone for many years with that time of life sequestered from active memory as life moved on, but of course it is never gone, as a little time to wool-gather shows.

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