Up at dawn: The paperboy express rides again

Remember the paperboy? That earnest 12-year-old pedaling his Schwinn down the street, coasting long enough to fling a paper onto the porch?

I was one of those in the 1970s. Except I was a papergirl and I walked my hilly Chevy Chase, Md., route.

The paperboy as we once knew him is no more. Today, our paper arrives in predawn darkness, flung by an adult from a car.

I have lost the chance to teach my kids the things my father taught me, skills he learned when he delivered papers in Fresno, Calif., in the 1940s: How to fold the paper to avoid excess rubber-band usage. The art of the fling. Braving the roving dog. Saying thank-you even when there is no tip.

I am the youngest of Dad's three paper-carrying children - the last of our line. Dad's sure fire rubber-band technique dies here.

Or does it?

Recently, I e-mailed my family: What do you remember about being a paper carrier? Each story prompted another memory, fueling our e-mailed storytelling for days.

Dad's first route was for The Fresno Guide, a Thursday-morning free paper. The shrill buzzer of his windup alarm clock rocketed him out of bed and into the eerie wartime morning. Later, he traded up for a Fresno Bee route. Paperboys met daily in a garage off Belmont Avenue. In a flurry of noisy activity, they bagged their papers, then pedaled off to deliver them.

My brother Jimmy biked his Washington Post route. On Thursdays and Sundays, the dreaded inserts nearly doubled the paper's size, forcing him to pedal with two sling bags, the straps crisscrossing his chest. He flung a paper from one bag, then grabbed one out of the other. A lopsided load or a tight turn might send him tumbling.

My sister also delivered The Washington Post, which even today amazes me.

Karen was not a morning person. For two years she slept in a turtleneck, sweat suit, socks, and Tretorns to save time. Collecting was a verb even her nonpaperboy friends understood. "I can't go out tonight. I'm collecting."

I delivered The Washington Star, an afternoon paper that no longer exists. I walked my route, a hilly circle of streets behind our house, pulling folded papers from Jimmy's Post bag with its torn strap that cut into my shoulder.

Dogs were the darker side of afternoon paper routes. I grew up with lap dogs, not very good training for the large barking canines on my route. But my nemesis was a stubby, shorthaired beast that didn't like the paper.

Nothing personal to me, they said.

Right. I knew that dog hid behind the thick boxwood hedge, waiting for me to muster enough courage to get within flinging range. He would then spring out, victorious, chasing me full-throttle back to the street, where, having been trained not to leave the yard, he stopped and growled obscenities at me.

Each night at dinner, I read the latest paperboy e-mails from my dad and my siblings to a distracted audience of three boys, ages 8, 6, and 3. After a week, the e-mails dwindled to a trickle, then stopped.

Our storytelling was over. Or was it?

A few nights later, eight-year-old Jamie announced, "Danny and I have decided to be paperboys."

The boys wrote their own newspaper, The Pets of Lowell Lane, printed eight copies, and then searched for rubber bands. Delivery was set for dawn.

Danny and Jamie said the word "fling" more times than I could count as they hurled the papers around the family room, proving that their one-page, two-article, rolled-up edition would indeed fly.

"Is your old newspaper bag in the attic?" Jamie asked.

Nice try. Two old canvas briefcases would have to do.

"Mom, I need an alarm clock with a buzzard," said six-year-old Danny. Then running toward his dresser, he yelled, "Jamie, it's a good idea to get dressed now and ZOOOOMMMM, in the morning, we're ready!"

So one recent morning, our two young paperboys raced out the front door and scurried across the lawns of our quiet cul-de-sac.

Each boy reached into a canvas bag slung across his chest for a rolled newspaper, pausing only long enough to fling it, race to pick it up, and fling it again, continuing in progressive flings until the paper finally rested on a neighbor's porch.

The paperboy was back, if onagain the power of family storytelling.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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