Emilio Vargas wakes every morning in his Goliad home and starts his day with a cup of coffee and his Victoria Advocate.
"That's one of my great enjoyments in the morning," Vargas told me on the phone last week.
What an honor, I thought to myself. Vargas is a Goliad treasure, The post office there even bears his name. The congressional testimony in support of that honor bestowed in 2005 lists some of his many accomplishments: first-generation American, Air Force airman; Goliad school board member, social services caseworker, justice of the peace and reserve sheriff's deputy.
He has had some heart trouble recently, but is recuperating nicely, he said.
He wasn't calling me about any of that, though. He wanted to let me know that when he saw "For Better or Worse" wasn't in the Sunday paper, he said, "I almost had another heart attack."
He was joking in his gentle way, of course, but he and others who called reminded us how much the comics and other regular features matter to their morning rituals. I tried to talk to as many of the callers as I could and let them know how much we appreciate their loyalty.
We recently tried to freshen up some of our regular features. We do this every so often in an effort to build new readers. We hope they, in turn, will eventually become longtime, loyal readers, too.
In the case of "For Better or Worse," the creator stopped penning new strips several years ago. Perhaps that's why we haven't received too many calls about dropping this strip.
We received more calls about our change with "Garfield." The ornery cat first appeared in newspapers the year I graduated from high school, so you know he's used up more than nine lives.
After 36 years of loving lasagna and tormenting his owner, Jon, Garfield could use a rest, some of us thought. Let's see how people like Earl the dog and Mooch the cat of "Mutts," a strip Peanuts creator Charles Schulz called "one of the best comic strips of all time."
We've gotten positive response already to the crosswords and the bridge column, but the comics changes seem harder to take. It's a tribute to the creators that people can get so attached to cartoon characters.
We walk a tightrope whenever we make changes. A Howell Middle School class toured the newspaper last week and reminded us how we must appeal to readers of all ages. I asked the bright, enthusiastic students what they read in the paper. Of course, the most popular answer was the comics.
When I asked what comics they like, one student popped right up and said, "Take It From the Tinkersons," one of our newer strips. I chuckled to myself because this comic is one several older callers mentioned by name as being worthless.
Who said beauty is in the eye of the beholder? He must have meant humor. "WuMo" makes me laugh almost every day, but others tell me they think it's stupid.
Rest assured, though. This is serious business to us. We'll keep listening to all of our readers and keep trying to figure out the best comics lineup for all of our readers. Any successful business has to keep changing with the times.
At age 80, Vargas lives his life this way, too. He's not as active as he used to be, but he keeps his mind sharp by reading about Texas and Mexican history and about politics. And his newspaper, of course.
"Every day I read and turn the page and learn something new," he said. "The paper has changed, but so has the world."
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