Among the sad parts of life are final goodbyes: parents, friends, classmates, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances made along the journeys of work, hobbies and interests, children growing up and broadening our circles with their interests and friends. With each passing year, more names are added to the roster of departures.
We recently bade farewell to one of our long ago co-workers, Eva Harrison, who for many years, in an era at the start of a revolution in printing technology, supervised a dozen or more ladies in our Farm Press composing room.
After all the articles written by editors and outside contributors were proofread, they were handed off to typesetters, who retyped into phototypesetting machines all the words in all the articles, headlines, classified ads, and many of the display ads in each issue of Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press, and California-Arizona Farm Press. In those days (mid-1970s), with the boom in ag chemicals and bigger, more powerful farm equipment in full swing, issues would routinely run 64, 80, even 100 pages — an awful lot of words each week.
With the then cutting edge Compugraphic phototypesetting equipment, all those typed words were exposed onto long strips of photosensitive paper, which were developed, dried, trimmed, and pasted (with melted wax, so they could be repositioned or removed as necessary) into columns on page layout boards. Where photos or other artwork were to appear, red cellophane boxes were pasted so the film negatives, done separately, could be stripped in at the printing plant.
There was an art to the process: pasting things so they would be straight, being sure articles and headlines matched, that pages were numbered properly — it required a lot of accuracy, a lot of patience and care. And Eva had those in spades. She took pride in seeing that things were done right (knowing they would be subjected to the critical eye of Publisher Bill McNamee before being sent off to the printer in St. Louis).
She’d look at my page layout, look me up and down, and rather exasperatedly would say, “We can’t do that. It won’t work.” OK, I’d say, I’ll redo it — knowing all the while that she would finally say, “Well, let me study it a while,” and next thing I knew, she’d have done it, and done it well. Protest though she might, she liked the challenges.
We editors would prepare dummy layouts of the pages for each issue and turn them over to Eva, who would distribute them to the ladies working with her. Although a lot of it was straightforward plain Jane stuff, some of our layouts would occasionally be challenging. When I’d hand Eva one of those dummies, she’d look at it, look me up and down, and rather exasperatedly would say, “We can’t do that. It won’t work.” OK, I’d say, I’ll redo it — knowing all the while that she would finally say, “Well, let me study it a while,” and next thing I knew, she’d have done it, and done it well. Protest though she might, she liked the challenges.
When I began my Farm Press career, Eva was running the backshop operation, a job she continued until the late 1990s when printing underwent another revolution: desktop publishing. As with many other enterprises, computers transformed the way things were done, and soon the backshop operation was gone.
After Eva retired, she continued to be a part of community activities, particularly the American Legion Auxiliary and Shriners Auxiliary, and she always was helping at their fish frys and other fund-raising events. She and her laugh-a-minute husband, Burt, lived only a couple of blocks from our house, and when our young son and daughter were cavorting on the school playground just across the street from the Harrisons’ house, they’d invariably want to go across for a visit, knowing Miss Eva would have cookies and something to drink (I still remember the yummy oatmeal cookies she’d bring to the office from time to time).
Eva died June 6 at age 87. The big composing room that she presided over all those years is now mostly a storage area. But hardly a time I walk through there that I don’t mentally envision the humming of all those long ago phototypesetting machines, the fluorescent glow from the light tables, and the atmosphere of creativity as Eva and her crew put together all those pages.