When I was a child, my brother had a paper delivery route. His route was larger than the other kids’, and the weekend delivery was even larger, because some people only subscribed to the Sunday edition. So, on Sundays, my father, brother and I would wake up at some ridiculous pre-dawn hour, and go to the home of the woman who was in charge of local distribution of the newspaper. We would crowd into the garage and help put the “inserts” (advertisements, the comics and the Sunday magazine) into the papers, count them out, and stack them in the back of our family van. My brother and I would then sit on the edge of the van, with the sliding door open, and Dad would drive us around the delivery route. He’d stop when we needed to jump off of the side, and run between houses, bulging Sunday newspapers under our little arms.
I can only imagine doing this today, and seeing some child welfare office throw my father in jail for letting us ride around town like that. But even though we worked our little asses off, it was fun, and I enjoyed every last bit of it. Stealing off into the dark, feeling like the only people awake for miles, watching the sun come up as we snuck through the sleepy town quietly opening and closing their screen doors, getting the paper in without letting it flop back out onto the stoop. It was an acquired skill, and I was strangely proud of how quickly and efficiently I could cover my assigned half, or probably more like one third, of the route. I was five years younger than my brother, and he was taking more papers at a time, and covering more ground, surely, but I hustled as fast as I could go.
After the route, my Dad would treat us to breakfast at a local diner. For some reason, my father had a fondness for the eccentrics and broken people of the world, and I remember that we went to the most broken down, lonely diner in the world. I used to order a disgusting little kid meal, a jelly omelette with hot chocolate. The man in the eye patch always seemed to be there, sitting at the counter, talking to us about whatever, and making comments about how much of my omelette I left on the plate. Another man with a cane sat at a booth, trading quips with the eyepatch guy and the cook. I don’t remember thinking that any of this was odd, as we were a rather eccentric family to begin with, but I became aware of it as I grew up, and my brother made jokes to my Dad about the weird place he brought us to eat each Sunday. For some reason, we upgraded to another diner eventually, but I didn’t mind the old one.
Sometimes, to let my hard-working father sleep in, my brother and I would set off alone to do the route by ourselves. We walked to the distributor’s house with a little red wagon in tow, and then stacked a ridiculous amount of newspapers onto the wagon, and did the route by foot. It would take hours and hours, but it was worth it to let my father get a break once in a while. I think about how different things were, that two really small kids were walking around alone in the dead of night, and no one even thought anything of it. Imagine your 11 and 6 year old children leaving the house at about 3 a.m. without telling you, and walking the length of your town on their own, going door-to-door with newspapers.
I am horrified thinking of it now, because it is not something we would allow today, but at the time it didn’t seem odd at all. That freedom of being outside while others slept felt like we were the only humans in an amazing world unknown to others. While everyone else slept, we were enjoying the company of nocturnal animals, the occasional milkman or other delivery truck, and the blanket of quiet that enveloped the town. Dim street lights, stars, and the occasional porchlight or inside lamp were the only things disturbing the darkness, and we were careful to be quiet as we snuck through their neighborhoods, so the dogs wouldn’t begin to howl. As the morning sun began to light the world, my brother and I staggered home, satisfied that our work was done, and that we had saved our tired father one chore of many.