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PAPERWORK: Scraps of paper have turned into gold

In this case he had inked and colored a sketch of a cigar-puffing Jiggs, a cartoon character popular in the late '30s in a comic strip called “Bringing Up Father” by cartoonist George McManus.

Jiggs is a reminder of Dad’s love of paper and how he needed it to express himself.

He tells the story of the years he was forced to spend at the Glenwood Manual Training School in Illinois from age 9 until he ran away and joined the Navy as a teenager.

He remembers doing a sketch of Jiggs that a supervisor at the school liked so much he let her have it.

There’s no date on the Jiggs drawing I have. I wonder now if it’s the same one or if he drew it while at Glenwood.

I think Dad had a need to draw. Ideas spilled into his day from a mind that never rested. He’d see things, problems, and then start building solutions.

He’d draw a picture of his solutions ... and then build it.

He worked with images more than words, even though he wrote a few books, heartfelt letters and kept journals.

In fact, I think paper and writing tools were always within his reach.

He knew the importance of keeping notes, leaving messages, sharing advice ... putting stuff down on paper and passing it on.

In one of his journals is an image he said was part of a recurring dream had over the years. Strange shapes flying in a cloudy sky. It offered no clear meaning or interpretation, but he needed to put it on paper.

And there was that time I said something to him about designing a creative miniature golf course.

Days later I get in the mail three pieces of paper labeled “some thoughts.”

He had drawn a side view and front view of what he called a “One Arm Bandit.” It was like a slot machine. Pull the lever to get your golf ball for the course, but also maybe win money or prizes.

Also included was a sketch showing the inner workings of his Bandit. In other words, how to build it.

He must have grabbed what was nearby and started sketching when the idea struck. I say this because on one side of the paper were dimensions for a lounge chair he was building for my sister.

He wrote “VOID ... Didn’t use” so I’d know to ignore that drawing.

At the top of the inner Bandit image was a diagram of a “summer water winter bird feed” container he built. 

So it wasn’t just paper he valued. Even the empty spaces on paper he did not want to waste.

I can't say I've ever worried about where I will find my next piece of paper. 
 
But I do find myself saving scraps for future use. I save notepads of all sizes as I find them. 
 
I've always had notes and index cards stuffed in my pockets.
 
I save reporter notebooks even if there are only a few pages left.
 
I guess what Dad said stuck with me. 
 
A blank page, even the smallest white space, is an empty canvas.

I never had any trouble understanding why he cherished paper. Dad saw paper as a treasure.
 
I'm glad he did. 
 
For me and so many others, the real treasure was what he put on the paper.
 
  • LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to lonnyjcain@gmail.com or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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