Changing Readership

by John C. Westervelt

While waiting in the barbershop, I picked up a Nov/Dec 2003 Saturday Evening Post. As I held this magazine in my weather-stained hands, I thought of the unblemished hands of a boy selling the Saturday Evening Post door to door in the late 1930s.

My brother Wallace and I were in grade school when we received permission from our mom and dad to sell Saturday Evening Post magazines in the neighborhood. The route man brought the magazines each Tuesday. Wallace and I could keep two cents for each Saturday Evening Post that we sold for a nickel. Two pennies doesnít sound like much today, but in the 1930s the grocery store had a large, glass front cabinet filled with penny candy.

In addition to the pennies, we received a greenie coupon for each five magazines sold. Five greenies could be exchanged for a brownie coupon. After saving for a long time, we exchanged our brownies for Boy Scout equipment listed in the Curtis Publishing Co. catalog.

Even as a boy, I observed below the magazine title the words Ė "Founded 1728 by Benjamin Franklin." By the time Benjamin Franklin showed up in my history lesson, I already knew that he had been a publisher.

Mother was our first regular customer. After a day of teaching school, she would come home and start supper. After supper, Daddy washed the dishes and two children dried. Nine oíclock was bedtime for Wallace, Harriette, and me. I think now that bedtime was set so Mother would have some quiet time. She could sit down with her Saturday Evening Post and read about current events or a short story. I imagine these short stories as having been written by contemporary authors in the same manner as the tales by Edgar Allen Poe or O. Henry. Besides four short stories, Mother could chose from two serials.

My favorites were the cartoons generously spread throughout the pages. I enjoyed the Norman Rockwell covers, but it was not until I toured the Norman Rockwell museum in Rutland, Vermont fifty-three years later that I fully appreciated the art. I learned that Norman Rockwell painted 321 covers for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916 and 1963.

Finally, I broke the spell of reminiscing. I began to turn the pages of this friend from so long ago. In remembrance of Gregory Peck, who died in June 2003, was a September 16, 1984 interview of Gregory Peck by Robert Schuller. The interview took place in a log cabin behind Peckís house in Los Angeles. Because of the cabinís good acoustics, Gregory Peck had chosen this location to record the New Testament.

On the next page was "Poor Richard Speaks, the Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin." This founding father shared lifeís truths by mixing wit and wisdom in two or three line verses. It was now my turn in the barberís chair. I put the magazine back on the rack. I felt enriched by the two articles, but that was all the magazine-reading time I had for the day.

What was once a weekly magazine is now a bimonthly one because its readers changed between the 1930s and today. I wonder, "Is my late evening TV viewing as enriching as my motherís late evening reading of the Saturday Evening Post?"

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