Newspaper Carrier Memories

Every morning I use the ‘newspaper toss’ I learned 60 years ago to land the morning newspaper squarely on Carol’s seat. Nine times out of ten I nail it. Beyond retaining that skill, I think that my 18 months as a newspaper carrier (paper boy) in the mid 50’s was an important step in my maturity process. Interestingly, my first answer was no. One summer afternoon in 1954 as I sat on my bike near my house, a man in a black truck stopped and shouted, “Hey buddy, do you want to become a Blade carrier?” Without much thought I answered, “No.” That was my automatic answer to most questions that challenged my current status. Several minutes later I wished I had said yes, but the truck was gone.

Some weeks later I heard that the carrier on the next street wanted to sell his route so I asked my parents if I could do that. My ‘savings’ so to speak were birthday cash and money from odd jobs and it was just enough for the big purchase. I think I paid 50¢ per customer for a grand total of $39. For that sum I was given a Blade carrier bag and a ring of collection punch cards and a list of addresses along with the phone number of my manager. One perk was that I didn’t deliver the early-morning Sunday paper. Someone neatly extricated that Golden Fleece from the route as it paid 5¢ per!

The next Monday afternoon, the large Toledo Blade truck stopped along Marvin Avenue, threw out my bundle, and sped off. Thud! There they were: 78 copies of the news. My entrepreneurial enterprise had just begun. I had found a giant steel basket and fixed it to my sister’s old, one-speed bike into which I threw the load of newsprint. Steering that front load was quite the trick but I managed. Down Drummond Road I went, stopping at 7 houses: my friend Bobby Patterson, Maryanne’s, Punky’s, old Mrs. Fischback’s, Dr. Sullivan and the Mack’s. Other houses there were customers of Johnnie Fitzpactrick- the kid who lived behind me. He had over 100 customers, mostly in the new apartments beyond the cornfield. We used to be friends in younger years but some misunderstanding ended that friendship.

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Off I rode, right onto Central Avenue which, at that time was a 2- lane brick road. Two stops. One was at a house where I got a $2 bill for a tip for Christmas, thinking at first it was a twenty! The next was close by- the farmer who planted the corn between Drummond and the new apartments. This was a rugged place with several cats, a mangy dog and an odd odor emanating from the back porch. On Saturdays I’d hear country music bellowing from the house. Today a slick public library sits on that site.

Crossing Central, I stopped at the first house on Middlesex and rested my bike on a tree. I pulled 15 papers from the basket, slid them into my bag and walked the first block, ending back at my bike. I headed for blocks two and three repeating the process, then I headed to Meadowwood to complete most of the remaining route. A few houses on Drummond north of Central and I was done. If I did my route perfectly I’d have a single paper left for our house. If there were two, I knew that around 5:00 I’d get a call and be back on my bike apologizing for the missed address.

During that first week, however, I got two calls from the same house about a missing paper. What? I had ended with just one, claimed by my parents. After some investigation I discovered that an untethered dog next door to the ‘missed address’ was stealing them. This was the same dog who, on unannounced occasions, would dart for my pants cuff as though they were meant to be shredded. Damned dog! After several encounters with the mutt I strategized an avoidance plan which, I’m happy to report, had a 99% success rate.

“Collecting for the Blade.” I said as the door opened on a Saturday afternoon. Seventy-seven times. An entire Saturday until five or six in the evening. There I stood, card punch in hand and a coin holder secured to my belt: quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies at the click of a lever. A wallet for the bills. Few gave me the exact change and so, subtraction became an important skill. Lots of unopened doors necessitated a return trip on Monday and Tuesday. I came to realize that several addresses were never home on Saturday and shared that conundrum with my parents. “Maybe they’re Jews,” I was told. Huh? Oh, so they might be at ‘their’ services. My parochialism expanded slightly.

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I recall a particularly contentious address on my collection day. An elderly lady with a foreign accent wanted to know how I charged for the papers. “It’s $1.80 a week,” I said. “What? You don’t charge per paper?’ she replied. “Well, yes but that adds up to $1.80 a week.” She paused and said, “So how do you figure from there?” I realized that this might not end well in that it was already getting dark and my tolerance level was near empty. Pointing to the collection card I said, “See, there are 4 Saturdays in this month so 4 times $1.80 is $7.20. You owe me $7.20.” The old lady told me to wait a minute then returned with a calendar. “Here is the month and look, one, two, three…” She counted each day (as if I were an ignoramous) and at the end said, “See, there are only 23 days!” Technically she had me so I subtracted 30¢ and scoffed off. Apparently the woman told the couple with whom she lived the story of the great rip-off because the next month, when I came knocking, a younger lady answered and shushed my nemesis in the background who was about to grab the calendar for a repeat performance.

Once a month on a Wednesday evening my Blade manager stopped by to collect my collection minus my 1/2¢ per paper profit. This was not a get-rich enterprise. It did,however, teach me bookkeeping skills and organization as well as honing my interpersonal relationship skills. And survival skills during those cold winter days.

My job came to a halt a few months into my freshman year of high school when academics took priority over personal financial gain. Those disgruntled Oblates, newly dispatched from the east coast and commissioned to teach us prairie barbarians, found a need to release their situational disdain in the form of endless homework assignments. Not only did my financial well run dry but also my love of learning which was minuscule at the outset.

And so I sold my route to a young lad, recouping my initial investment in the deal. The bag, coin changer, punch and even the basket went with him. D.E.Enterprises, L.L.C. was no more.

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The First Link is Gone

Zita died. She, like many of my second cousins, lived in a small village in the Central Black Forest, Der Schwarzwald   . My wife and I visited her the first of June of this year. She was not well, but her smile belied her pain. She was the 2nd oldest of my cousins; I am 3rd oldest. It was our fifth trip to the village and we are always enriched on our visit there. This was the village of my grandfather who last walked those streets in 1882 as he headed off to America at the age of twenty-four.  Waiting for him in New York was his brother who left the village in 1871.

My grandfather left behind his father, step-mother, 9 brothers and two sisters. Zita surmised that he may have left because there were too many mouths to feed as well as the fact that, as the oldest child, he may not have relished the idea of being in charge of his many siblings. I do not know the reason because I never met my grandfather and my father seldom spoke of him. His brother fled Germany after being drafted into Bismarck’s war. When the authorities came to the village to round up the conscripts, his absence resulted in a penalty accessed  against the family- said to have been 500 Marks, quite a hefty sum in those days.  As a result, that American son was shunned by his German family. My grandfather’s departure was a lesser event.

My father never mentioned the village back in Germany and I only saw its name in a tattered address book which listed it next to my grandfather’s name. No street name. He did, however, have the names and addresses of other German relatives in Heilbronn and Koblenz, far from Der Schwarzwald . Our family would on occasion receive a letter from these places and I would be eager to snip the stamp and put with my stamp collection. In the mid 50’s we even had a ‘real German’ stay with us for a few days. She was not from the village and, as I recall, was a relative on my grandmother’s side.

One day in 2000 my mother, then 95, told me that she received a letter that morning from someone in Germany.  “Of course I can’t read it,” she said in her still strong, deep voice, “you or Miriam will have to.” I opened it and slogged through it with my pig-German vocabulary limitation and noted that it came from the Black Forest village of my grandfather. The city of Heilbronn was mentioned with a name altogether unfamiliar to me. It was signed, “Zita.” When my sister Miriam, a former high school German teacher, arrived and I asked her to translate this mysterious letter.

The letter stated that Zita had received a letter from a 90-year-old woman in Heilbronn who, it turned out, was the daughter of my grandfather’s next younger brother. She gave Zita the ‘last address’ she had for the American Eble family which, interestingly, was the address of my mother. My mother came to that very house in 1938 as a bride and luckily never moved out. The odds of two 90-something women from across the ocean having active addresses is astounding.  Within a year both women passed away.

Zita invited us to visit her and the Eble family in Germany. Why not? After all, I was to retire the next year and so, through several letters and a phone conversation with a younger English speaking relative, plans were made to visit the village where my grandfather, his father and his father lived. In Spring of 2002, my wife and a couple who became our travel partners, set off to meet Zita, her husband Matthias, her brother Felix and a whole slew of Ebles. Over our several visits to Germany, the stop at the home of Zita and Matthias, with her special meal and kuchen, was always the highlight of the trip. She was so welcoming, so vibrant and always interested in our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

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The photo is from our last and now final visit with Zita. Perhaps you can see in her face the excitement and warmth she embued. Bless her soul and, as she always ended her letters to me: May God (now) hold her in the palm of his hands.

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Acceleration

We and they. Seems always to be the history of mankind. Tribes, groups, nations, cultures… But what if, here in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the divide is acceleration, the term used by Thomas Friedman in his newest book, Thanks for being Late. Dumb title, great book. Friedman suggests that innovation is accelerating at such a rapid pace that we humans cannot match. Scientific knowledge, technology and the Internet have moved us at a rapid pace into the future such that we cannot catch up.  The result is chaos, angst and bewilderment on the part of many who do not go along with the ride. I am open to this acceleration even though I am in my mid 70’s; I always have been a dreamer and inventor. My elementary school yearbook predicted me as ‘the world’s greatest inventor.’ A bit ostentatious, but the seed was apparently sprouting back in 1955.

[to be continued]

There Are Witches in the Neighborhood!

 

I’ve never been to Salem, Massachusetts but I’ve read about the witch burnings there in the 1600’s. Religious fanatics not unlike today’s ISIS vigilantes. Same idiocy, different time and place. Halloween is a great time for witches to appear in the neighborhood- I’ve had a few show up at my door. Princesses, robots, Batman and  goblins too!  Lots of fun.

Yet what if there are people today who believe that there are real witches- witches living in the neighborhood! And what if there is a religious component to this? I heard a remarkable story of this exact scenario a few days ago. A Catholic priest who runs a parish within 20 minutes of my house believes exactly this! No kidding. There are several witnesses to this- all credible including a 14-year-old girl. In fact, she was accused of being a witch! And she didn’t even know this priest until she attended the funeral of her neighbor, a high school senior who tragically died of a brain tumor.

At communion time, this girl and her older sister, mother and grandmother waited for their row to be called, then proceeded up the aisle, received communion, then took their seats once again. Shortly thereafter, when communion ended, the priest unexpectedly left the altar and slowly walked into the assembly, looking carefully down each row, left and right. He stopped at the row where this family was sitting and said, “There you are!” (remember, this was a funeral service with grieving family and students) “You didn’t take communion properly,” he scolded, “you needed to place the host in your mouth before walking away!”

The young lady, now red faced and crouching in her pew, looked down at her shoes in embarrassment. The priest walked away and went on with the service. The grandmother, a good friend of ours, made a beeline to the altar area after the casket was in the hearse. She demanded an explanation from the priest as to why he singled out her granddaughter. Without blinking the priest said, “There are witches in the neighborhood!” And he went on, “They show up at communion and steal the host to use in their rituals!” “And my granddaughter?” “Well,” he went on,” because she did not place the host in her mouth and walked away…” The grandmother interrupted, “You suspected her of being a witch!” Holding his ground he replied, “Well, you never know these days,” and walked off.

i wish that this was fiction but it isn’t. Is it any wonder that the Catholic Church is seeing more and more empty pews? Clearly, that family will never set foot in church again and, when the incident spreads among the students, and it already has, those kids will be even more suspicious of maintaining a church relationship in their young adult years.

And the priest? Through an email several days ago, I gave him an opportunity to verify or correct this story but, not surprisingly, he did not respond.

This reminds me of the squelched story of several Toledo area priests who were themselves into satanic rituals. One of them, Gerald Robinson, was later convicted of the satanic murder of a Catholic nun. David Yonke, former Toledo Blade religion editor wrote a book about this, Sin Shame and Secrets.

Maybe there is another book awaiting copy about the delusional priest who believes that: There are Witches in the Neighborhood!

Rural v. Urban America

Several weeks ago I posted a photo of Red v. Blue America. Our nation appeared to be awash in crimson. Yet it is not, as the results of the recent election demonstrated.  A man on a 500 acre farm casts a single vote as does a woman in a 300 sq. ft. walk up in Brooklyn. Besides the obvious disconnect in the surrounding geography, these two, we are told, are disconnected in many of their values as well. Two completely distinct mindsets develop among our rural and urban citizens, not unlike the disconnect which the Founding Fathers observed and for which they wrote the voting regulations which first appeared in our Constitution.

Of course those voting restrictions were modified several times over the next 200 years to include non-landholding citizens, blacks, women  and younger voters. Eighteen-year-old black women living in an apartment were denied the vote in the first draft of the U. S. Constitution and several amendments thereafter.

Naturally we all learned this in American history class, but I find it relevant today in that, once again, there appears to be a widening divide or chasm opening between two distinct views of governance in the minds of our citizens. Yes, we citizens have always divided into two polarizing groups, but in this era I see something synister that moves beyond traditional, historic divisions. It appears that race and all that this issue suggests may be the underlying divisor.

Who among the readers knows what I am suggesting? Where do you see that race divides Blue America from Red America?

 

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One Final Week

As I begin this first post, President Obama and his family are packing their belongings. After eight years of guiding the Ship of State through perilous waters, President Obama will turn off the lights and close the door of the White House. It was a calm and reassuring presidency. The calm, intelligent and steady hand of President Obama will sadly be replaced on January 20 by a man who in no way resembles our current president.

Nonetheless, this shall happen and we the citizens will hold our common breath. The previews were ghastly. The critics painted a terribly dark picture. So did I. And I have no reason to expect a different outcome than what was predicted.

This is more than merely a disagreement over politics; it goes much deeper. As I have watched and listened to Donald Trump over the past 18 months, I see a man with serious emotional and mental disorders. Few fully-functioning adult males behave in the manner we have observed in this man. No former American president has displayed the adolescent, cruel and self-aggrandizing characteristics as has been seen in Donald Trump. It is as if he is stuck in perpetual adolescence- those ugly embarrassing years we all wish to forget. Rather, Mr. Trump lives those forgettable times.

More than half of the nation’s voters did not vote for the man, which places this election into that rare category of presidential elections wherein the winner lost the popular vote. As a result, this president will begin his term with an asterisk next to his name. Yet, rather than accepting this fact, he has acted as if he received a mandate from our citizens. Wise and healthy adult males are not pretentious. They are honest and transparent. Mr. Trump is not.

Yet there is something else, something more serious. I suspect that Mr. Trump suffers from a mental illness. Of course I have no psychiatric training. I admit this openly. Still, there is something more worrisome  than suffering an adolescence-mire. Few fully-functioning adult males regularly wake up in early dawn to tweet their anger. What brain function elicits such behavior? Psychosis comes to mind and that ought to send chills down the spine of every cognizant citizen. What if this is true about the President of the United States? What does this mean for the nation? One can only guess and quiver.