Evelyn M. Geis, a Glen Burnie widow of 78, called a month ago to say that the new 5 percent newspaper sales tax and an increase in her homeowners' insurance made her doubt she could keep The Evening Sun.
She was sad. ''I've been reading it since I was 15 in my mother's house,'' she said.
Ms. Geis described her tight Social Security budget, including car and home insurance, power, phone, Christmas Club, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, food and so on. She had never missed a Sun payment since she and Elmer C. Geis Jr., streetcar man, were married in 1947 and began getting both The Sun and The Evening Sun. When Elmer died in 1982, she dropped The Sun (which he liked) and kept The Evening Sun (which she liked).
''I just want to tell you I'm sorry to stop my paper because I've known it so long,'' she said. ''My mother always had The Sun. I remember Uncle Wiggily stories . . . Blondie and Dick Tracy comics . . . the Depression . . . Hitler went into, where was it? Poland . . . I worked and danced all through the war, '41 to '45. The paper was always around.''
Evelyn Geis was intriguing.
Maybe it was when she said ''I try to make every day happy.'' Or, ''I never went past the sixth grade. My mother got me a permit and I started working in a laundry. I had a good job as a trimmer of men's pants 40 years at J. Malofsky.'' Or, maybe, because she kept saying ''my paper'' as though she owned the Calvert Street building.
We struck up a phone friendship. I said we wanted her to keep the paper; reporter Ellen Hawks and I sent something by mail. Three weeks passed. Then she sent a detailed account of how we had helped stretch her funds into another 15 months of The Evening Sun. Some money was left over for a beautiful thank-you card: ''I will never stop my paper now. Thank you.''
Evelyn Geis is a long-distance runner in the sport of newspaper reading. She is typical of thousands of readers who remain loyal for years and decades, while others stop and start their papers in the treadmill newspaper world of ''churn.'' A few years ago, a study of The Sunpapers said the average reader took the paper about 12 years, longer than many papers.
Last Sunday, when I asked to meet her, Evelyn said, ''Sorry, not fTC today. Come tomorrow.'' She already was in her Sunday mode that she refuses to change: spreading out her paper on the living-room floor, cutting out coupons and going though it section by section. Most Sundays since 1947 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., it's been Sunday Sun Day.
''I love it all but sports and politics [mild obscenity],'' she said. ''I like to look at brides, see if my friends died, the horoscope, what's at K Mart, Sears, Caldor, who got robbed on Annapolis Road ('That's good -- you stay away from those places'), what's the weather ('I'm a weather nut'), all health stories ('Never smoked, never drank, never had an over-the-counter drug'), the comics, marriage licenses ('Print more of them'), recipes ('Tear 'em out all the time.')''
The next day I met Ms. Geis in her neat condo, pictures hung within an eighth of an inch of perfect. She was fresher than our last edition as she recalled her good fortune: ''I've never been depressed.'' Her life has been daughter Judy (''She calls me 'party-girl' '') and son-in-law Lennie, two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, girlfriends, good health, good humor and the good life with Elmer on Wicomico street and in Woodlawn.
Asked her middle name, she burst into song: ''Marie, the dawn is breaking. Marie, you'll soon be waking . . .'' Marie, how do you keep so fit? (She looks 65). Her 5-foot-1, 128 pounds leaped into jumping jacks. ''The world owes me nothing.''
Ms. Geis was more satisfied than, say, another veteran reader, Ada B. Clements who is 85 (''60 years at this Catonsville address and reading The Sun all the time'').
''I'm very unhappy about you putting the same stories in both papers,'' Ms. Clements said. ''And, you're not getting to the nitty gritty of many problems early. The savings and loans . . . abandoned children . . . bankruptcies . . . politicians who retire with campaign money. I'm irritated.''
Through it all, Evelyn Geis remains an aggressive newspaper fan. During one period when the Sunday paper came at 3:30 a.m., she set her alarm to get up at 4 a.m. ''so people wouldn't steal it. People do that, you know.''
Once she missed her paper and went from apartment to apartment looking for it. Through one door, she spotted a copy on a man's kitchen table. ''Isn't that mine?'' she asked.
''Maybe it is,'' he said.
''Hand it over,'' she said.
Ernest F. Imhoff is The Baltimore Sun's readers' representative.