March 2012
Big Enough
Billie Silvey
The shop was on Main Street, a broad street paved with bricks.  
I stepped out of the early December wind into the warm building
and tossed my books on the couch.  Then I ran back to see how
the paper was coming.

The type was set and gleaming in the forms on the stones.  I
spaced it out with thin strips of lead, pressing them into each
column until it was so tight it hurt my fingers.  Then I'd pound it in
the rest of the way with the justifyer and a hammer.

Turning a key in the grooved, metal quoins on the side tightened
the forms until every line, every piece of type, was wedged firmly
in place.  Then it was time for Daddy to take over.  He'd tighten
the quoins, then carry the heavy forms to the press.  He was the
only one who could run the press once the forms were in place.

He'd climb up the wooden steps to the platform at the side of the
giant cylinder, pick up a large sheet of newsprint, flip it to get air
underneath, then slide it into the guides as the fingers came around
to carry it down to the inked forms for an impression.  It called
for perfect timing.  If he missed, the impression would be on the
cylinder instead of the newsprint, and it would come out in
reverse on the back of the next twenty sheets or so.

When he did miss, he'd yell down to Mother or my sister Barbara
or me--whoever was sitting in the hard-backed chair at the table,
catching the papers as they came off the press.  We'd hold the
place with our fingers until all the soiled sheets had come down,
then pull them off the pile and continue stacking the good ones. It
couldn't happen often. We couldn't afford to waste that much

That particular day, Mother was running the Linotype, and Daddy
had just started the press run.  I was catching papers.  Then the
phone rang.  He turned off the press and ran to answer it.  "Be
back soon," he yelled as he grabbed his coat and hurried out the

I sat at the catching table, enjoying the unexpected break and the
chance to daydream without the constant clank and groan of the
press.  Before long, though, that got boring.  I didn't want to start
my homework, so I went over to Mother at the Linotype.

"Coffee break," I said.

She turned off the machine, and we sat down together on the old
couch we'd brought from home.  We had all the conveniences of
home--a couch, an armchair and a coffee table with an electric
coffee pot that was always plugged in. After all, we spent as
much time at the shop as we did at home--if not more.

"Have you done your homework?" Mother asked when she
noticed my books.

I piled them out of sight.  "I don't have any," I lied. I'd done most
of it in study hall, and I could always finish up during the first few
periods the next morning.  That left me free to do whatever came
up at the shop.  In the past five years, we'd had a grain elevator
explode, a train derail, a light plane crash in a field outside of
town and a couple of wrecks on the highway.  You never knew
what might happen next.  I dreamed of really big stories--bank
robberies, kidnappings, murders.

We did get some suspicious-looking strangers in town, but they
usually turned out to be somebody's relatives visiting from back
East or California. Mostly the excitement was limited to selling
ads at the feed store or the barber shop and going out for coffee
with Daddy and the farmers.

Mother and I talked for some time about school and the weather
and how her family always bickered about money.  Then we
talked about Daddy and how he always managed to disappear
and leave us with nothing to do.

Suddenly, I had an incredible idea.  "You know, I think I could
run the press, if you'd catch papers," I said.

"Are you sure you know how to?"

"Sure," I lied again.  Once you've told one lie, the next one comes
easier.  "I've watched Daddy do it a thousand times."  That wasn't
a lie.

"Well. . . ."  Mother was worried.  She always worried--about
money, about our having enough clean underwear, about my
grades.  But she also hated to waste anything, time as well as
money.  "I guess it's all right," she said at last. "If you're sure you
know what you're doing."

She walked to the front of the press and sat down at the catching
table.  I went around back and pulled the switch to turn on the
power. Then I climbed up to the platform and flipped the first
sheet of newsprint.  There was nothing to do now but throw the
lever to engage the cylinder.  I held my breath and shoved.

The cylinder went faster than I expected it to, and I got the lever
pulled just in time to keep from missing the second sheet.  I
caught my breath and moistened my fingers on the glycerine pad.  
They were already wet with sweat, and they trembled as I slid the
second sheet into place and pushed the lever again.

The press started with a lurch, and I struggled to keep up.  A
couple of sheets went through crooked, which was the same as
missing them altogether, and one did miss, but before long I had
the rhythm.

Just then the front door opened.  I felt a blast of cold air and then
I saw him.  Daddy was back.  I almost missed another sheet, but
I couldn't miss one with him there.  I fought to keep the newsprint
flying, not to notice that he was coming straight toward me.  I
braced for what I was sure would be the whipping of my life.

He was right behind me now, at a good level for a swat.  I tried
not to panic, to cry, to miss getting the newsprint into those
ravenous guides that seemed to come faster and faster.

Daddy passed behind me and started to the back of the press.  
Of course, I thought, he'll turn off the power before he swats me.  
Can't waste good paper.  My heart was in my throat as I waited
for the clank and groan to stop.  It didn't.

I glanced up and saw Daddy pick up a grease gun from the table
by the power switch.  He turned and started greasing the press.  I
was accepted.

I wouldn't get a gift that Christmas--or any other Christmas, for
that matter--to equal the one I got when I finished that press run.  
Daddy looked at me with pride. "Feel free to run any of the
machines," he said, "if you think you're big enough."
In 1980, I became a part of a writers' workshop that formed
from a writing class taught by
Sheila Finch at El Camino
College.  Though the composition of the group changed over
time, the essential group continued meeting for some 14
years.  In it, I wrote and had critiqued three novels and a
number of short stories.

One of the members, Dale Osborne, planned and carried out
a series of readings at the
Joslyn Center in Torrance.  I read
some of my work, including the short story below.  The photo
is of me reading the story in front of an enlarged photo of my
father running the Linotype in our newspaper office in
The Printing Press