By LANDON WOODROOF
Yesterday we published a story about how a Brentwood resident started a GoFundMe campaign for Jason Rager, a person many locals recognize as the man selling FaithUnity newspapers by the I-65 onramp on Old Hickory Boulevard. Rager’s wife, Elaine, recently passed and Gray wanted to help Rager with funeral expenses and the cost of missing over a week of work. Here is more of Jason’s story.
Jason Rager remembers meeting Joe Gray a little over two years ago.
“He stopped one day and bought the paper and…next thing you know we were friends,” Jason said. “When he figured out what I was writing in the paper he really liked what I wrote.”
Jason writes a column called “Ramblings of a Paper Boy” for the FaithUnity newspaper. Much of what Jason has written concerns his early years.
“Growing up my family was poor, we lived very simple,” Jason said. “I wrote a lot about my grandmother and grandfather and how they raised me.”
Jason’s mother had handed him and his siblings over to his grandparents when he was only a baby.
“They wasn’t expecting to get 3 kids at the age of 65,” he said. “It was kind of a hard situation for us for a long time, but we made do.”
They moved around a lot, from Springfield, to Nashville, to other places. Some places they settled did not have running water or electricity. It was like living in the 1930s, Jason said.
Despite the difficulties, Jason got a lot out of living that way.
“It was a good life,” he said. “It was a life that taught me to appreciate things I normally wouldn’t have. It made me a very humble, very gracious person as far as life in general.”
The practical wisdom contained in those columns appealed to Joe. Their message of “work hard, be honest,” as Joe put it, was one he admired.
“His articles are really good,” Joe said.
Jason appreciated Joe’s positive feedback.
“It made me feel good that he thought so much of the things I wrote,” Jason said.
He thinks some of the appeal of them lies in their plainspokenness.
“That was kind of my objective,” Jason said. “I wanted people to know this is how I am. I’m not out here to lie to anybody or cheat anybody this is me, just plain, simple me.”
One thing that Joe came to discover about Jason’s columns was that, although the words in them were Jason’s, Jason did not actually write them. He couldn’t.
“I’m dyslexic, I can’t read or write,” Jason said. When he was ready to do a new column, Jason would dictate what he wanted to say to Elaine.
“When I got ready to do my articles I’d start talking and whatever I’d say she’d write down for me,” he said.
Jason’s dyslexia might be part of the reason he’s out on Old Hickory Boulevard each day instead of working somewhere else. He says it’s difficult to find a job when you can’t read or write.
Before Jason became a “paper boy,” he first worked for almost 25 years laying ceramic tile, starting when he was just a teenager. Eventually, he had to stop.
“My body just couldn’t do it anymore so I went into a factory job,” he said. Jason worked there for a little while before layoffs hit, and he was jobless again. At that point, his future was very uncertain.
“When I got laid off I hit rock bottom,” he said. “I had a house and two cars and lost it all.”
He ended up on Old Hickory Boulevard, partially by chance and partially out of desperation.
“I just ran out of gas one day at the Brentwood Old Hickory Boulevard exit,” he said. “I was done and didn’t know what to do so I got out with a piece of cardboard and started panhandling.”
Not too long after that someone raised the idea of selling papers to him. Jason was interested and decided to give it a try.
“I went and got signed up and have been doing it ever since,” he said.
The job was immediately appealing to him for a whole host of reasons.
“I started doing it and right away I liked doing it because it was simple, it was something I could do,” he said.
He also liked the independence the job offered.
“I like being outside,” he said. “You’re pretty much your own boss. You either want to get out there and make it or you don’t care, and I was the type who wanted to get out there and make it no matter what.”
Those newspapers are largely how Jason and Elaine supported themselves the past three years.
When they first got together, though, they both had different jobs. They met 18 years ago working at a Dollar Tree in Nashville.
Elaine’s sister and mother also worked at the store and Jason had met them before he even knew Elaine existed.
When Jason finally found out about Elaine he joked with her mom.
“I said, You’re kidding me, you have a daughter that’s single and you never told me?!” he remembered.
Jason and Elaine never had children, but they did have a special someone near and dear to them, Charlie, a beagle who is now 11 years old.
Elaine’s funeral is going to be held in Clarksville on Saturday, July 1. Jason spent part of the day Thursday trying to find out if Charlie could attend.
“I talked to the funeral home today, and I asked [the director] that,” he said. “I said that dog was our child, is there anyway we can bring him into our ceremony.”
The funeral director, to Jason’s surprise, said he saw no reason Charlie could not come.
“I was shocked because I just knew he was going to say no,” Jason said. “You don’t know how that lighted my heart to know he’s gonna be there where his mom is at.”
After the funeral is over, Jason knows what he is going to do.
“Probably within a day I’ll be right back selling papers again,” he said. “I really have come to love it.”
His return to work should coincide with a new issue of FaithUnity coming out. Jason already has a column ready for it. He dictated it to his sister-in-law, now that Elaine is gone. “When I start talking, you start writing,” Jason told her, fighting back tears.
The column is “kind of a memorial to her to respect her the best I can,” Jason said.
He hopes people will read it. The fact that people enjoy what he writes is one of his favorite things about the job.
“It does my heart good that people actually care about something I’ve got to say,” he said. “It’s humbling by all means. It’s very humbling for people to think that much about something I wrote.”
So, before too long, Jason Rager will return to duty. He will continue making it day to day as best he can. He will continue meeting people and dictating his columns to whoever can write them down for him. He will continue.
“I can do something and make it work no matter how hard I have to work at it,” he said.