Keep That Morning Newspaper Coming
Our newspaper carrier begins our day. Six days a week.
Actually, he doesn’t carry, he drives. He brings the newspaper to our door, and I hope he never quits. I’m pretty sure that “he” is a “they,” a married couple. Bless them, they show up every morning before 3:00 a.m. Only the coffeemaker is as important in our daily life.
We subscribed to the paper immediately after arriving in Warren, in 1978. The news and features in its pages helped us navigate our surroundings. The merchants, school news, organizations, entertainment – most everything we needed to learn about our new town was in those inky pages. Coffee and the paper. Every morning for the last 45 years.
My late husband, Tom, delivered the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from the sixth to the twelfth grade. His route in East Rochester was 125 papers. I know that sounds impossible, but the houses were small, close together, and practically every family subscribed to the paper. It was a perfect job for an early riser like Tom.
When he collected payments each Saturday, not every family paid. That revolting development forced him learn how to keep an account book, running his route like the little business it was. He used to tell our children that he rode a one-pedal bicycle, in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. It always got a laugh.
Gannett newspapers, based in Rochester, owned the Democrat and Chronicle. Every year, they awarded two large newsboy scholarships, inspiring Tom to hang on through high school. When he received the scholarship, he was told the awards were based not just on scholastics, but excellence on the job. That money made a substantial difference for him at Rensselaer.
I don’t know whether his dad’s experience inspired my son to become a paperboy. I doubt it. I think it was his need for more spending money than his father was willing to part with. Bart began his neighborhood route in the fifth grade, staying on until his senior year. Looking back, I marvel that he did it at all. Bart was NOT a morning person.
His paper route was also the beginning of my day. The newspaper’s requirement was that each customer receive their paper by 7:00 A.M. The ginormous bale of sixty papers thudded onto the front porch each morning between 5:30 and 6:00. I am not a morning person either, so the daily thunk became my alarm clock. Impossible to sleep through.
Knowing that Bart couldn’t hear it from his bedroom, getting him up became my responsibility. Someone once asked me why he didn’t have an alarm clock. He did. He slept through it. I remember shaking his arm to wake him while the alarm continued its wail.
I began waking him at 6. Again at 6:10. Raised voice at 6:20. Threats at 6:30. Finally he’d drag downstairs to the kitchen, unbale the papers, stuff his orange newsboy bag, and slog out the back door. Winter mornings required boots, gloves, jacket and hat. At some point I gave up saying, “Don’t forget your hat, it’s only 11 degrees out there.” Eventually, I figured that when he got cold enough, or wet enough, he’d dress for the weather.
Some friends wondered how I let him do this. “He’s only a kid. It’s dark. Don’t you think it’s dangerous out there?” Or “What if he falls? He could really hurt himself and you wouldn’t know it.” We weren’t trying to pooh-pooh those concerns. We just thought the answers to those worries was experience. He would learn. And he did.
He peddled his route semi-comatose. One neighbor told me, “If he walked any slower, he’d be walking backwards.” I tried to smile. A morning exerciser mentioned, “When we spotted him walking, I wondered, should we wake him?”
Sometimes when he got home, he went back to bed for 15 minutes. On those days, I had to repeat the wake-up steps to get him up and out l. School vacation mornings required reinforcements.
What did he get from those years of struggle? Surprisingly quite a bit. He learned that responsibilities begin with expectations. He learned a lot about patience and impatience – both his and his customers. He learned that money isn’t just a freely passed out commodity. And he must have acquired some pride or appreciation for what he accomplished.
Today Bart is a successful businessman, with a military career, grad school, and a long stint in finance in his rear-view mirror. And I honestly think his newspaper route set some of the groundwork for his life path. BTW, now he’s definitely a morning person.
I think it’s sad that kids won’t do this job any more. Changing times and lost opportunities. I can’t imagine beginning my day without my morning fix.
Cuddling up with my computer instead? Fuggedaboudit. Coffee and the paper. Coffee and the paper. Coffee and the paper. Amen.
Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.