The Smell of Paper and Ink

Some of my earliest memories are of being surrounded by paper, ink, and loud noisy printing presses.

I guess you could say that my love of the written word was started very young.

My uncle and my dad owned a print shop for as long as I could remember. It was in a little building on Bozeman’s Main Street when I was no older than my twins, then it moved about a quarter of a block into a bigger building at some point. Still on Main. The front doors looked out onto one of the busiest intersections.

I spent countless evenings in that building, playing among the paper and ink while my mom did Tupperware parties and my dad worked late finishing up printing jobs. That was what my dad did. He ran the presses, the folder, the cutter, and any number of the big dangerous machinery that made up a printing shop in the 80s, 90s and beyond. He let me help push the button on the big giant camera that made the plates for his press. Under very close supervision, I was allowed to help push buttons on the cutter. I stood, mesmerized as the press ran clackity clack, the little suction cups grabbing paper and feeding it through roller after roller until the printed pages came out the other end.

I grew up with an unlimited supply of paper at my fingertips. I knew how to run the copy machines. Paper boxes were turned into all sorts of constructions during those long evenings. When I got older, many weekends were spent with my sisters and cousins, going around and around the big center table in the back, collating booklets for various businesses.

My dad helped me design personalized notepads for my friends for Christmas and printed them out every year. Anytime I needed a manuscript printed out, or copies of pictures, or anything, the ‘shop’ was the place to go.


A couple weeks ago, my dad and uncle announced that they were retiring and had sold the business. In a blink, a cornerstone of my childhood drifted away to memory. I won’t be dropping in to say “Hi” to my dad with the girls in tow. I won’t be grabbing a handful of free scratch paper from the bin by the door. No more sneaking from Anne’s candy stash behind the counter.

And it hit me this afternoon – one of the things that I loved at the shop was the wall above my dad’s desk in the press room. His wall was covered with photos. It had started with just the school pictures from each year, grades labeled by one of my sisters, plus a few others. Over the years, it grew. Christmas pictures. Ballet pictures. New baby pictures. Old family photos that my dad made fresh copies of for someone else in the family. Every so often, a new picture was added. It spilled over from the wall over the desk to the wall on the left, too.

My daughter brought home the school picture envelope for me to fill out. And I suddenly realized that I won’t be giving one to my dad for his ‘wall at the shop’ this year. He’ll get one for home, but there was something dearly precious to me about that press room wall and I don’t think I realized it until today.

I’m happy for my dad and uncle. But I’m a little sad, too. I’ll miss the shop and the smell of the paper and ink and the memories that were there.