"Mom, 'The Children's Friend' has come!" Our mailbox was about an eighth of a mile down a dirt road, and I often trudged, or skipped over to pick up the mail. What a thrill it was when the monthly children's magazine arrived. I read it. My mother read it. We discussed it together. There were good stories, and always one serial story that lasted through several issues. I remember the cartoon of Barnaby Bumbleberry with all the cherubic faces, and hunting for items hidden in a pencil drawing for my sharp eyes to find. Sometimes there was new music, and poems.
I also read almost every bit of 'The Relief Society Magazine', though I usually skipped all the lessons except the one on literature. It also had a serial story, with a new one beginning as soon as the last one ended. I still remember parts from these stories. That phased out when they started publishing the lessons in a separate manual. Remember when we met on a week day and studied Theology, Literature, Sociology, and on the second week had a work meeting? Later it changed to Spiritual Living, Homemaking, Cultural Refinement (literature and art) and Social Studies (lands and people). It was claimed (and I believe it) that if you attended Relief Society for ten years and studied the lessons each week, you would have the equivalent of a college education. I think I learned more about teaching in the Sunday School Teacher Development classes than I did getting an MA in Education at ASU.
By the time I finished Primary, I discovered 'The Instructor', published for the Sunday School, if my memory can be trusted, There were pictures and instructions, but no fiction that I remember. On the back for as long as I can recall, Marvin Ashton had an article that always inspired me. Decades later, when I was asked to serve as "Chaplain" in the Biloxi, Mississippi PTA, I used his articles for my monthly short talks, and quite impressed them. I suppose I was, in effect, plagiarizing when I didn't give him proper credit.
I suppose I could look up the date, but somewhere, long after I married, 'The Children's Friend' became just 'The Friend.' I heard that it was because some other publisher claimed to have used that title before the church did, so we dropped the 'Children's' part. I think it was about the same time 'The Improvement Era' became the 'Ensign'. I remember thinking how old-fashioned my mother was when she said "N-sign". She ought to have known about 'en-suns'. After all, my brother was one in the Navy. Then, one day I read the fine print in the publication info in the Ensign and discovered my mother was right. I even looked it up in the dictionary, and found that an ensign (EN-sign) is a flag or standard, while (EN-sun) is a Navy rank. I've noticed the pronunciation has for some time been dropped from the fine print. I suppose they gave it up as a losing battle, for I still hear lots of rank when one speaks of the church magazine. Oh well, why worry? I still know what they mean. (It's rather like hearing one end a talk aimed at us, the congregation, with "in the name of thy son. . ." My son? Hardly. But again, I know the intent.)
I miss the fiction, especially the serial novels in past publications. Even during the great depression, Mother managed to have subscriptions to 'Ladies' Home Journal', 'Woman's Home Companion', "McCalls', 'Saturday Evening Post', and 'Reader's Digest'. Our home library was quite small, probably not much more than a hundred volumes, and the small school library was about the only other source for reading, but I never felt deprived. Nearly every magazine published short stories and one serial novel, usually the first published appearance for an upcoming book by the most popular writers of the day, like Kathleen Norris. The Reader's Digest had a condensed book in the back. Remember when the index was on the front cover? And no advertising? Nowadays I get so annoyed at the cardstock inserts in magazines that it's difficult to leaf through and browse. I tear them all out without allowing myself to even see what they are about. I'm tempted to mail the pre-paid postcards, unfilled, in protest.
Because Mother could not resist encouraging business attempts by any young person, she also subscribed to 'Grit', a weekly newspaper with a fiction supplement in the middle. I remember reading about Scattergood Baines in almost every issue.
In 1984 I attended an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) seminar at Longwood College in Farmville, VA, on Serial Novels. In the five weeks, we read four novels simultaneously, just like they were first published: Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickelby, George Elliot's Middlemarch, William James' Portrait of a Lady, the three of which we all read, and one assigned to read on our own. Mine was A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy. My husband went with me, but he didn't get to attend the classes. However, he did all the reading. Indeed, not once, but three times he read so steadily that his self-winding watch stopped! I won a contest for writing a class song, and have a replica of the six issues of Dickens' 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', the novel he was working on when he died, dated April through September, 1870. Eleven years before my father was born.
Remember when the movie theaters had a continued cliff-hanger movie to entice us to come back the next week? We've moved on to instant gratification, and speed. Maybe it's progress, but sometimes, I wonder.