Imagine you’re living in Philadelphia 34 years ago and one morning you pick up the paper—the Daily News, not the Inquirer—and you find a column like the one you’re about to read from Pete Dexter. It’d make you be excited to get the paper every day.
Mike Royko was a giant in Chicago, Jimmy Breslin was a king in New York, but reading Dexter’s columns you can see why he’d go on to become one of our great novelists. Which is not to suggest he invented stuff in his column—far from it—only that he already had a novelist’s sensibility. This piece, and a sampling of Dexter’s finest newspaper work, is collected in Paper Trails. Some columns were revised slightly by the book’s editor, the distinguished Rob Fleder (Playboy, Sports Illustrated), but this story, which originally ran in the Daily News on June 2, 1980—and which is reprinted here with the author’s permission—appears as it did in the paper. In just under 1,000 words it stands as a stirring example of powerful newspaper writing at its best. –Alex Belth
The year I turned five my family moved to a little town in central Georgia called Milledgeville where my father taught physics at the military college. Our house was on a red clay road, next to a pine woods and a saw mill. The plums came off the trees hot from the sun, and I had a cocker spaniel puppy that followed me everywhere I went. And nobody wore shoes all summer long, except to Sunday school.