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Going into business

I remember the day we brought home our first printing press as though it were yesterday. It was warm for October, even for southern California. That day literally changed our lives.

John and I had each hurried home from school to clean our rooms and empty the wastepaper baskets, a requisite when something special was about to happen in our household. After we meticulously swept the garage where the press was to be installed, the wait until Dad got home was filled by following Mom from room to room, asking incessant, irrelevant questions. There were no fast-food restaurants to catch a bite on the way in those days even if it had occurred to either of our parents to deviate from the dinner pattern. John and I were much too excited to eat, and Mom's urging us to finish only delayed our departure. At last we piled into the Hudson to drive across town to see the little print shop we had read about in the newspaper.

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That evening, as the press and the boxes of equipment were being loaded into the car, the J. Kutch Printing Company was formed. John was 12; I was a year younger.

John had become enthralled with printing after enrolling in a seventh-grade shop course at junior high school. He had never been what the teachers would term a ''student,'' so when he took an interest in printing, my parents jumped at it. I can imagine their reasoning went something like this: Printing involves working with letters, which make words, which convey ideas. . . .

The printing press, bright and shiny, made by an engineer to print a book he had written, was only a small portion of the equipment we brought home that evening. The press was relegated to the garage, while the type cases, type, and all the other paraphernalia went to John's bedroom. Each gadget had to be handled, examined, and compared to the drawings in the catalogs which John carefully stored under his pillow.

After school John and I would sit for hours on the floor with the equipment. John was receiving instruction in the shop course; I had to watch and learn from his patient parroting at home. At one point John tried to get me to learn the various names of the parts of a piece of type, but big brother could demand only so much! There were other valuable lessons to be learned, however, such as that printing was clearly designed for the right-handed. I became adept at improvising.

As we became proficient, printing orders began to arrive. Our father, while calling on his advertising clients, would seek small printing jobs for us. We became expert in business cards, envelopes, and stationery. Our prices were certainly competitive. We had some free supplies, no rent, and no utilities.

Profit had never been the primary motive behind the J. Kutch Printing Company , but it did make money. As the company's bookkeeper, I paid state sales taxes and filed income-tax forms, though we never earned enough to warrant any payment.

After we repaid Dad our initial loan, we borrowed again to buy another, larger press and more type. Once we began paying ourselves salaries, we never again received allowances from Mom and Dad, and we always had enough money for clothes and our entertainment. We paid our own way to summer camp every year, and my share of the proceeds from the company, when it was finally sold, financed a year of my college education.

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Unusual jobs always seemed to come our way in those early days. We probably had no reason for handling them other than to see if we could.

Once Dad brought home a job for embossed business cards, the kind with raised letters you can feel when you run your fingers over the printing. A family assembly line was the answer: John would print a card and hand it to Mom, who would dip it into a special embossing powder and hand it to Dad, who would brush off the excess and hand it to me. I would then carefully slide it over Mom's upturned, carefully balanced clothes iron to melt the powder, being careful not to scorch either the card or my fingers. (Years later I learned that ''real'' printers have complicated and expensive equipment for this sort of work, and never do they use their mothers' irons.)

The J. Kutch Printing Company was in existence for four years, and I repeat that it changed our lives. Other than Dad's years of experience selling advertising, printing was the only proven skill our family brought to a small-town weekly newspaper Mom and Dad bought 1,000 miles away. Our clubwoman mother learned to write news, and they developed the newspaper into the largest weekly in the county and a consistent prize-winner. After school and during vacations, John and I worked as experienced compositors and pressmen in the back shop.

My interests gradually pushed me toward the editorial end of newspapering. But on my wedding day years later, when we realized that the napkins for the reception had not yet been printed, I was available to do the job.

And it all began on that warm October evening as we loaded that shiny little press into the car.

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