A Lost Art: The Paper Route

When I think of growing up South of I-80, a lot of things come to mind such as big yards, baseball games, playing in the snow, walking to Baskin Robbins, playing basketball in drive ways, riding my bike to the park, and doing my paper route.

Sorry if you just did a spit take.

Yes, when I was seven years old, I started my first paper route. You read the correctly. Seven. I come from a long line of paper tossers. I am the youngest of four kids all of whom had paper routes, and my Dad being the type that was well… money conscious, he thought I could start saving money at a young age too.

My brother, Kevin, and I delivered for a local bi-weekly paper in our neighborhood. We delivered the paper on Sundays and Thursdays. Every week. Rain. Shine. Sleet. Snow. Christmas. Arbor Day. Whatever. When my sister in law found out Kevin and I had paper routes at such young ages, I think she literally thought she was in some kind of time warp.

When you think of paper routes, it kind of conjures images of Norman Rockwell paintings. Two kids tossing papers on porches on perfectly sunny mornings at 9:00 a.m. and waving to the neighbors. It is like the epitome of suburbia.

This is not quite the experience we had. Images of horrible snow storms, sweltering heat, 5:00 a.m. mornings, scary animals, strange neighbors, and exhaustion are more of what come to mind.

Some of the most memorable things include:

  • The time that has become to be known as ‘The Randy Incident.’ I was so bundled up (a la Randy in a Christmas Story) and had several pounds of newspapers slung over both shoulders. I slipped on some ice and not being able to get up because of the sheer weight of clothing and newspapers, I literally just laid there. Kevin’s only inclination that something happened is he stopped hearing papers hitting the porches, and realized perhaps he should come back down the street and help me up.
  • The menacing dogs on our route that are mainly to blame for my slight fear of dogs. The green house down the street had by far the worst dog. It was so mean and big and loud, and being only seven years old any animal taller than me was cause for fear. I figured out a system where I would tip toe up the driveway, carefully set the paper down, and sprint back down drive way just so this dog didn’t hear me. I'm  pretty sure Kevin was afraid too.
  • The time Christmas fell on a Thursday, and my Dad woke up with us to block off the living room so we wouldn’t get a peek before everyone else at what Santa brought. This problem also came up every Easter Sunday. (Am I the only one who thinks it is a little nuts that I had a paper route at the same time I still believed in Santa and the Easter Bunny?)
  • The look on Kevin’s face when we had to do collection, and a 90 year old guy answered the door and said, “Oh, hold on a minute, let me get my Dad.” I don’t know if we were more confused that this guy's dad was still alive, or this guy still was living at home with his parents.
  • The time we got another job offer at our neighbors house while delivering her paper. She asked if on our “off” days we could mow her lawn, weed her garden, and wash her car. I may sound a little insufferable here, but seriously, did child labor laws not exist back then? Lady, we have school!

It wasn’t all bad, I guess. My Mom worked at a bakery walking distance to our home, so sometimes we’d take a break from collecting and grab cookies and hot cocoa on the house. Occasionally, when the weather was exceptionally bad, my Dad would put us in the car and we would throw the papers out the window.

We learned and experienced some pretty amazing things.   We learned how to toss a paper pretty far, dress appropriately for the weather, talk to adults, how to quickly make change, and how to deliver on time. We experienced how quiet and beautiful Glenwood could be at sunrise. We were able to see snow that was untouched by cars, plows, shovels or feet. We learned the value of a dollar, hard work, manners and punctuality. We also truly experienced our neighborhood, our community, and the people that lived there. All experiences and lessons that are hard to come by these days. I know, I know, I sound like an old curmudgeon, talking about paper routes, community, and life lessons.

I don't know if my Dad knew that we would see and learn these things in addition to saving money (something tells me he did), but I'm glad he made us have a paper route. It has kind of become a lost art. Kids rarely have paper routes anymore, and it leaves me wondering where young kids experience and learn these lessons. I just hope that my kids will somehow be able to experience the glorious slice of suburbia that is a crappy local job, and experience and learn all the wonderful life lessons that I did.



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