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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 20, 1994|DICK RORABACK

THE GAZETTE GIRLS OF GRUNDY COUNTY by Gwen Hamilton Throgmartin and Ardis Hamilton Anderson (University of Missouri: $19.95; 176 pp.) At the time, it was tough, though in retrospect it was a Bushian era, kinder and gentler. People helped each other out. Bills were paid in kind, a chicken here, a rick of firewood there. It was the Depression, and the menfolk of Spickard, Mo., could be forgiven a raised eyebrow when a couple of women--girls, really--bought the Grundy County Gazette and proposed to make a go of it. Spunky was the working word for Ardis Hamilton, 23, and her sister Gwen, not yet old enough to vote. For $500 down, earned teaching school, they acquired the rundown country weekly in 1935, tripled its circulation (to 1,200 at $1 a year subscription) and sold the paper in 1940, when Gwen's marriage to a printer divided her loyalties. In alternating chapters, perfectionist, no-nonsense Ardis and her more gregarious, enthusiastic sister (one spelled, the other didn't) recall the days when type was hot and women were double-breasted. It is a thoroughly charming little memoir, treating not only of small-town newspapers but of the small-town America they reflected. Plus, of course, a pre-Lib primer on what a woman could do when she set her mind to it, even in the '30s, without losing her rightly cherished femininity; a little leg brought in a lot of ads. Lack of money heightened rather than diminished small triumphs--the season's biggest tomato, a son's making the honor roll--and tragedies; item: "Dewey McDaniel was bitten in the shoulder last week by a cow..." Amusements were cheap if not free: gathering hickory nuts in the woods with a favorite beau; harmonizing in the evening on the steps of a store; two straws in a five-cent root beer. A softer time, remembered with great affection.

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