Chris Jepson: Musings of a summer mind

Chris Jepson

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I arise daily anytime between 6:45 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. I drink coffee and consume the Orlando Sentinel and the New York Times. Subscribing to the daily New York Times, nearly a decade ago, was undoubtedly the best gift I have given to myself as an adult. To have the luxury of leisurely perusing the Times is a genuine joy. It’s mystifying to me why anyone (with the wherewithal) would deny himself this pleasure. The Sunday Times is a blissful three or four hour read. It is my Sunday church of enlightenment.

My father read two papers all his life, the Des Moines Register and the Sioux City Journal. At one point Sioux City had a morning as well as an afternoon paper. Imagine that. Watching him read the paper on our front porch (coffee in the morning, a whiskey or beer in the evening) is an indelible image of my youth.

I delivered the Des Moines Register six days a week for five years (from age 12 to 17). I’d get up at 4:45 a.m. and was back home — some nearly four miles later — by 7 a.m. I had to be if I wanted a “hot” breakfast. In some respects it was the best job of my life. Solitude and quiet are two commodities that today are in woeful short supply. But in 1961, the only sounds one heard on the north side of Sioux City were the distant coupling of railroad cars from trains being “put together” for Omaha or Minneapolis. It was bliss.

I was up before the birds, and in the winters the only sound was of my feet crunching on the snow. The early 1960s was a cold time in Iowa. Unbelievably cold. A feature of the Internet today is that you can easily research the exact temperatures (weather) of your youth. It was 20 degrees below (or colder) with some regularity in January and February of 1962. At that temperature, the snow on the ground compresses and you can feel the crisp, cold compaction through the soles of your shoes. The winter clothing (the lightness and insulating factors) that we have today was unavailable 50 years ago. I was cold (shiveringly so) the moment I left the back door of my home. Walking fast was the only alternative.

A third of the way through my route, I would warm-up for a few moments in two apartment buildings. I would read the Register and distinctly remember the headline the day Winston Churchill died in 1965. Big print for the big man.

Spring is unquestionably the best season in Sioux City. The winters can be so brutal that when temperatures return to the balmy 30s (in March), it’s as if Persephone herself escaped the underworld (perhaps near Omaha) and lingered ever so divinely over Sioux City. Springs in Iowa were magical. They were. Such joy to be alive.

To again inhale the pungent fragrance of Iowa’s reawakened soil is a springtime offering. By 5:30 a.m. the birds became a lyrical, flowing melody to life, if one listened. Having those two hours alone was a gift. To be awake at that hour — aware of the environment, yet oblivious — alone with just your (me, myself & I) thoughts — ah, the musings of the idle mind — well, it was a sweet, sweet time in my life.

And I owe it all to a newspaper. I have much gratitude.