A paper route didn’t build my character, but it damn sure convinced me to avoid cold mornings!
In the early 1950’s my folks owned the semi-weekly paper in Littlefield, TX and the Sunday issue was delivered by my two grumbling sisters and me.
The Thursday edition was mailed, but I think child labor was cheaper than postal rates, and advertisers wanted their Monday bargains to be on people’s doorsteps before church.
Whatever the reason, we three Williams girls were up early, rolling papers, putting rubber bands around them, packing our delivery bags, loading our bikes, and peddling the neighborhoods with our list of subscribers.
Well, at least I was ‘peddling’. My two sisters took a larger part of the town as their route, and my older sis enjoyed the luxury of driving the family car while the younger one ran each block chucking the deliveries on porches.
“Why do I have to run and you get to drive?” was Paula’s question.
“Why do I have to ride a bike and you get to drive?” was my grippe voicing the obvious, to me, unfairness.
The fact that neither of us had a driver’s license was of minor concern but seemed to be the justification that ruled. That did not explain the disparity in wages. Karen’s compensation for her exalted role was $10, while we received only $1.50.
“I have to take the hostile phone calls from people who didn’t get their papers,” was her justification for the imbalance, and our folks backed her up.
Those cold blustery mornings are etched in my frontal lobe. The wind was bitter, the temperatures low, and sometimes the streets were icy, meaning I slid, fell, crashed and skidded through my route. Maneuvering around iced over cars and avoiding slick spots in the pre-dawn darkness kept me alert, if not always upright.
Winter clothing was not the same back in the ‘old days’. We didn’t have Gore-Tex or down jackets, and fleece-lined gloves weren’t shelf items in the J.C. Penney’s store on Main Street. Cold weather gear was whatever we could find in our closets. We piled on 6 layers including our pajamas, blue jeans, multi pairs of bobby socks, high top tennis shoes, a couple of sweat shirts, coats, a cap, and whatever was left to cover our hands. We were on our way before the sun came up and prior to most people stumbling out of bed.
I would like to complain about why my parents weren’t making the deliveries,
but often they were bringing the papers still wet with ink when we were getting up to deliver them. We grumbled about the weather and not enough sleep while being aware the adults in the family were working harder than we were.
I became an expert cyclist on a one-speed bike. Multi-geared bicycles hadn’t reached the aisles of the local Western Auto store, so our mode of deliveries was no gears and pump like crazy!
I loaded my bike with 6 bags stuffed with rolled missiles, and slung other sacks over my shoulders minimizing the number of return trips required to resupply my cache. Balancing was an art form, pulling papers equally from a bundle on the left and one from the right made for wobbly starts and stops. Add the challenges of reading addresses from a hand scratched list of subscribers while yelling at attacking dogs snapping at my trouser-covered leg. I decided I was in training to become a circus clown juggling balls while riding a unicycle. That career had more appeal than being frost-bitten by frigid air straight from the polar north. At least I would perform in a tent.
I perfected the projectory of each broadsheet, aiming and often hitting the target I envisioned on individual screen doors.
Perfection was not guaranteed. One miscalculation occurred when the bike hit a pothole as I released the week’s news. (Well, that was the defense I would claim when needed.) It soared high, missing the door, but shattering the neon ‘Open’ sign above the town’s lone chiropractor office entrance.
“Uh oh”, I muttered. “Should I knock on the door and tell them what I did? No, I’m going to pretend I did not see what I just saw. I’ll plead ignorance.”
Lying my way out of that one didn’t work when my momentary hesitation and audible groan was observed by a nosy neighbor who was letting her vicious mutt out in time to chase my retreating bike. Not only did she see the entire episode, she felt compelled to share her vision of my ill-placed toss with my folks. Took me months to pay for that misaligned shot at $1.50 per week!
At the end of my Sunday excursion around the neighborhood, I counted on a tub full of hot water melting the ice from my extremities, and a bar of Life Buoy soap cleaning off the printer’s ink embedded in my cuticles.
Then I was off to church where I could enjoy a mid-morning nap on the balcony’s back row pew soaking up the sun’s warm rays shining through the nearby stained-glass window.
I deserved the rest. I had endured a morning of arctic spills, deception, bodily harm and physical exertion, all before breakfast!