Little newspapers easy to love

The following is an excerpt from James Brazzil’s “A Thistle in the Wind.” Brazzil is the co-founder of the ‘Highlands Star” newspaper.

To me, little newspapers belong right up there with the other good stuff in life, like apple pie, little kids, and fuzzy puppies.
And a lot of country folks will tell you right off that little newspapers, too, are easy to love.
Reading my hometown newspaper has come to be a sort of habit with me through the years, like putting on my pants, or pouring another cup of coffee.
Nothing like the smell of printer’s ink and newsprint to start my day. Besides that, reporting the news, setting type, and printing papers were part of my life for almost forty years.
I still remember what a thrill it was when I first saw a newspaper coming off the printing press and got my first whiff of printer’s ink. I was in my young teens, and it happened in the little country town of Copperas Cove, Texas. The Cove, as most folks called it back then, is located in the southwestern corner of Coryell County, pretty close to the center of the Lone Star State.

The little weekly newspaper that inspired me to want to be a newspaperman was The Copperas Cove Crony.
On that particular day I was with my grandfather, John Knox Brazzil, who was serving as County Treasurer of Coryell County and had an office in the courthouse in Gatesville. Grandpa was up for re-election, and he often picked me up to keep him company on the campaign trail. He was a big man, about six feet tall, and weighed almost three hundred pounds. He walked with a cane, smiled a lot, and never met a stranger. Newspaper people were at the top of his list of special friends.
When we entered the office of The Crony that day, the man feeding sheets of newsprint through his printing press stopped the press and greeted us both with a handshake and a big grin. He was wearing a bright blue printer’s apron and a green eyeshade, and a big red pencil was sticking out of his shirt pocket.
Grandpa handed the fellow a candidate card bearing his name and the title of his office, and the man glanced at it and handed it back.
“Keep your card, Uncle Knox, you’ve got my vote,” he said with a grin. “Ain’t nobody running against you, and they probably won’t. Folks around here know that you are the right man.”
I had never been in a print shop, so while Grandpa and the printer were talking, I walked around with my hands in my pocket, hoping to learn what newspapers were all about. Over in a corner of the little office, I noticed a man sitting at a big wooden desk, evidently the editor of the paper. Noticing me, he got up out of his chair and motioned for me, to sit down. Standing by my side he rolled a sheet of paper into an old Woodstock typewriter and asked me my name.
I told him that my name was James Wilson Brazzil and that I was named after President Woodrow Wilson,
But my daddy called me “Good Man.” With a long ink-stained finger he punched the typewriter keys and the words “Good Man” appeared on the paper. It was the first typewriter I had ever seen, and I really was impressed. The editor turned around, picked up a little brass tray he called a type stick, and started picking metal letters out of a big wooden tray he called a type case. A minute later he put ink on the type with a little rubber roller, laid a piece of white paper on top of the type, and walked over to a funny looking that he called a proof press. I watched carefully as he a rolled a big roller over the type. Out came the word WILSON, as big as life.
I left Copperas Cove that day with the two pieces of paper bearing my names neatly folded in my pocket, feeling almost as big and as important as Grandpa. And back at the old farm at Flat where I lived with my family, I couldn’t wait to talk to my mama. I had told her a few years earlier that I would be going out west to be a cowboy, or maybe I would run for president, when I got older. That day I told her that I had changed my mind and wanted to become a country editor.
Mama seemed happy to hear that and didn’t appear to be surprised. Many times she had given me a dozen eggs fresh from the farm, to trade for Big Chief tablets and cedar pencils at Clawson’s General Store. And she had figured out that I would be a writer. When the other Brazzil kids went to the store with eggs, they traded them for soda pop and peppermint candy.
During the next few years I pretended that I was a country editor with my own little newspaper and my imagination took over. I filled tablet after tablet with stories about cowboys, Indians, and gunfighters, in addition to writing about happenings at school and in the community. Some of my stuff was based on truth, but most was fiction, but it was mine, and I was proud of it.
Like most writers I know, I didn’t want anyone peeping over my shoulder when I was writing, and my two older sisters were extremely good at that. I certainly didn’t want them giggling and making fun of what 1 had written.
I talked to my mama about that, and Mama fixed it, like she did so often with other problems in the lives of her children. She and I wagged a big milk can made of steel off our back porch to a secluded place in the tall weeds and brush in back of her vegetable garden. The can was three feet tall and had a tight lid that shut out the bugs and kept out the moisture from the dew and the rain. Mama kept my secret, and either she or I would sneak my stories out and put them in the can when no one was looking. This went on for a number of years. Finally I didn’t need the old can anymore because both of my older sisters got married.
My grandfather Brazzil served as County Treasurer of Coryell County for some seventeen years and never had anyone run against him. One day he suffered a heart attack while sitting at his desk and died the same day. John Knox Brazzil was quite a man, and I wish I could have been more like him.
When I visited Copperas Cove that day over 70 years ago, it was a small country town with a few hundred people. Now, I am told, it has a population of about thirty thousand people, many of them military people stationed at Fort Hood.
Big or little, Copperas Cove, Texas, and its people will always have a special place in this old country editor’s heart.