The Perils of Being a Paper Kid in the 50s
Hazardous pay! That’s what we should have had! I was eight years old when I took on the job of helping my brother, Bill, on his paper route. I was assigned to Burnsdale and Westward Drive (I hope they are still named that.). After school, I would go home and change clothes, seeing as how we had to wear dresses to school back then, and head over to Gillespie’s Grocery Store at the corner of Old Trail Road and Church Street. A truck would throw the bundles of papers wired together at the front of the store. I would ride my bike to Gillespie’s and use a wire cutter to release the papers. Then I folded each one and packed the papers into my paper bag, which was a canvas bag that attached to the handlebars of my bicycle. I had to heave the bag onto the front fender, and then wrap the straps around the ends of the handlebars to secure them. It was a fine balancing act, and once you got skilled at it, it was a piece of cake, but, in the beginning you were sure to meet with disaster as your load shifted and left you sprawled in the street with papers strewn all over, with bent handlebars. I do remember that sometimes my handlebars would stay bent like that for weeks ’till my dad got around to straightening them.
Then the hazard of delivering papers would begin. If you had your load balanced right, you were off and into the rhythm of buzzing by the houses and tossing a folded paper on the front porch. Unfortunately, there were people who insisted on having their paper delivered on the back porch. What an inconvenience. But, for me the most perilous part of my job was delivering a paper to the back porch of a house on Westward Drive where, day after day, a terrifying fate awaited me. I would brace myself for the terror. As I rode my bike around the side of the house, a snarling bared-teeth monster would hurl himself at me, barking and biting my feet. I would pedal as fast as I could, but never once escaped the horror of it all. It didn’t help any that I was afraid of dogs anyway. My goal was to get the paper flung in the midst of this ordeal and hit the porch. Woe to me if I missed the porch. If I kept my wits about me, I wouldn’t let “Whitey” throw me off balance, so that I would wreck my bike and scatter my papers. If that dreadful event ever happened, I was sure I would be consumed by the evil assault of Whitey, left in a bloody mess, my body to be recovered in time. I was quite sure I would be dead. It got so that I pedaled so fast that Whitey had a hard time biting me, and if I was lucky, I would be able to get one kick in. Small satisfaction. Whitey never let up on me, however, and I had to contend with him for the entire 4 years that I had the route. When I turned 10, I was old enough to have the route on my own. To this day, I remember Whitey’s snarling face, bared teeth, and vicious barking. No wonder I stayed scared of dogs the rest of my life.
I think that going through terror like that must prepare you for the bad stuff that happens to you in the future. I mean, everything is relative, isn’t it? If I could survive Whitey I could survive other things, and I did. Nothing in my life, though, was ever as terrifying as encountering Whitey on a daily basis. It gave me speed, determination, and survival abilities, I am sure.
I don’t remember anyone intervening on my behalf, it was just part of life, sort of like the stickery bushes that were outside my house. You only had to fall into them a couple of times before you learned to jump aside, mid-air, or bound over them. My parents never dug up the bush, even though all of us kids fell victim to it. That’s the way it was back then. Survival of the fittest was a reality to all of us in Waynedale.
Yes, Waynedale was a good place to grow up. It was where we tested our skills, learned defenses, and knew we had to depend on ourselves for survival. I wouldn’t trade growing up in Waynedale for anyplace else in the world. I hope, though, that Whitey isn’t waiting for me when I die. As you can see, terror implanted in a kid can last a lifetime.