The kids and I went to Birmingham tonight and stopped at some bookstores, which is one of our favorite things to do. Yes, I know. We’re geeks. Anyway, after we got home Nick was on the couch reading his new book. He sniffed it and said, “I love the smell of books.”
I relied, “Yes, that’s printer’s ink. I grew up smelling it.”
And I did. I don’t mean I grew up sniffing books. I mean I grew up smelling printer’s ink. I still know the smell. Most print shops have gone to copiers. But I can walk into a shop and tell when they’re still using the real thing. I inevitably strike up a conversation. Are they running an offset press? Is it an A.B. Dick maybe? I grew up hearing these presses seeing them and smelling them and for a short time running them, which isn’t as essay as it might sound. In fact, running an offset press is as much art as it is science. In the good old days you’d have to set type, shoot a negative, burn a plate, put it on the press, ink the rollers and keep the ink and water balanced and plate clean. Today, not so much. Things go straight from the computer screen to a copier most of the time. It’s more efficient, but not nearly as romantic.
So just why do I know so much about printing? Well, because my daddy was a preacher.
No, he didn’t print Bibles.
Prior to becoming a minister or even a Christian for that matter, my father had a profession as a printer. And he was pretty good at it. Even years after he was no longer a printer, he could pick up a paper that had been printed using three-color separation and immediately see if it was even the slightest bit out of register, even without using his printer’s loupe, a special magnifying glass used by printers. (There’s a story for another day about how he made me learn the language of the industry.)
So, back to my dad being a preacher. My dad began pastoring when I was about five years old. He pastored several small congregations, which meant they didn’t pay a salary. The Bible tells us that a person who will not provide for his own family is worse than an infidel, so of course he continued working as a printer to provide for us. But in addition to the paycheck dad used to feed and house and clothe us, there were perks. We had notepads made from scrap paper and coloring sheets of overruns on jobs, and all kinds of paper strips of different sizes and colors and textures. While this might not sound like much, to a six-year old and his four-year old sister, it was a treasure trove!
Even after he began pastoring churches that provided a more stable income, Dad earned side income for the extra his kids needed. Paul the Apostle made tents to provide for his companions and himself. Dad printed for the same reason. Printing was the primary side job he worked, though he held others through the years, such gas station attendant, house painter, and anything else he could to earn additional income.
But it was mostly printing that was his go-to.
In addition to believing he should provide for his family, Dad also believed in being with his family. And if he couldn’t be with his family because he had to work, then he had his family with him at work when he could. More often than not, his part-time printing work was after normal business hours, so he could take us along with him. My mom, my sister, and even my grandmother, and I often accompanied him to his overnight shift. We got to experience many different office complexes and print shops through the years. This might sound odd to some. But Dad wanted us around, always, and we knew it – we felt it. It was nice then. The memoires of nights sleeping on the floor on pallets made from oversized shipping boxes, surrounded by art work and proofs hanging on the walls, listening to the clicking pulse of the press in the background lulling us to sleep, and smelling printer’s ink permeating the air – these memoirs are priceless.
Later in life when I was struggling to make ends meet as a musician, Dad taught me how to print. For several years, I paid my bills with my dad’s skills. But I never was the master of the press my dad was. Still, I learned a lot from him, a little about printing but much more about how to be a man and how to be a dad. You do what you have to do. You work extra and late. But you also go to games and marching contests. You show up for band booster and PTO meetings. You make sure your kids know you love them and want them with you and you want to be with them!
So now when I smell printer’s ink, for just a moment I’m a kid again and my dad is there, working late into the night to take care of me. And most of all I know he wants me with him.
My dad passed March 2016. Christmas 2015, he gathered all of us around him – my mom, my sister, my brother, his five grandkids, and me, and told us one more time – in fact, one last time – that he wanted us with him. But he didn’t mean he wanted us there at Christmas with him. Dad knew his time on this earth was short. Where he really wanted us with him was in eternity. He emphasized that the only way to do that was by repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus as our Savior.
Three months later dad left us for a place prepared for him by his Savior.
Just like my dad always prepared a place for us to be with him, Jesus has done the same, not just for Dad, but anyone who will accept Him. I don’t know if Heaven will smell like printer’s ink, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Why don’t you make plans to go with me and let’s find out?