The nostalgia of the newspaper route: A blessed Pete mystery


That first job as a kid has a way of sticking with us whether it was mowing lawns, walking dogs, or, in my case, newspaper carrier an unfathomable 30(ish) years ago.

Adding the “ish” lessens the blow – a tad.

If memory serves, there was something of 100-plus customers to deliver to on Mondays. After school at the former junior high on Central here in Greenville, I walked the few blocks to my grandparents’ home on North Gray. (It only made sense given the route was on the south end of town, and my folks lived on the north end.) On the front porch, large stacks of papers waited for my arrival, and I would set to preparing them for delivery according to the persnickety Mother Nature, which was usually in bags.

Yes, a rubber-band was quicker, but this is Ohio.

My grandmother and I would then load the trunk of her Nova with the readied newspapers and travel the handful of blocks to my route. I recall a few streets, such as the southern portion of Gray, Jackson, Fair, Bucoba, Birt, and Southbrook. She would park at one end and then proceed to stuff the newspapers in a double canvas newspaper carrier bag that I slung over my head. A look that instantly transforms anyone into a pack mule.

Billy Joel once sang about a woman having a way about her. My grandmother had a way, too. A way of squeezing as many newspapers into those two large slots that about the moment I thought I couldn’t possibly walk, let alone stand, she would add more. I can still feel the jostle of my body as she was certain she could fit in just one more and one more, and “here, carry these dozen in your hands, too.”

Imagine if you will a 12-year-old girl stooped over by the weight of what felt like a thousand newspapers at both her front and backside, hands clutching newspapers like bouquets. My eyes set towards the ground ahead as I could no longer see my feet. Those first few blocks were full of trepidation that I would fall over. There was no guarantee of getting back up without assistance. Meanwhile, my grandmother parked several blocks ahead in anticipation of my quick, but due to caution, slow arrival.

Of course, the route was at its best during the summer when my younger brother, Adam, and I would load a rust-riddled wagon with newspapers and walk alone. Nothing against our grandma only it was one of the few opportunities we had to taste freedom as our grandparents did not believe in free-range kids. The rule was to stay in their postage-stamp-size yard or the sidewalk in front of their house. Anything beyond that meant our instant kidnapping; of this, our elders were certain. One could hear the klaxon alarm whenever we dared to even look across a property line.

I do wonder how we ever managed to escape my grandparents’ prison yard for my route, but I suppose some mysteries are never meant to be solved. The walk, of course, was uneventful, but filled with the ear-bleeding squeal of the rust-coated wagon wheels which drowned out traffic and the birds in the trees. There always followed an almost surreal silence when we stopped at a house. A silence that was followed by the “thwomp” of a newspaper landing on a porch. Then it was back to the squeak, squeak, squeal, of those poor wagon wheels in motion.

I would never have believed it back then, but age tends to works its charm. The newspaper route is a sweet, dusty memory nowadays. A nostalgic look back to when my knees did not sound like the crunch of potato chips, and a rust-bucket wagon was a luxury. However, one thing I am unable to recall is conversations. What in the world did we talk about for an hour or two on the south-side of Greenville?

My brother and I were close. While school chums would fight with their siblings or in some cases, ignore their very existence, Adam was my bud, so surely we talked non-stop. Yet, I can recall only the slightest bits and pieces of conversation when we were kids. I remember even less of my grandmother’s conversations beyond a few items, including telling me to let my feet breath by taking my socks off before bed, but that’s another story, another day.

At best, I recall Grandma’s silent determination with an occasional uneasy laugh or an exclamation of “for Pete’s sake” in a bid to stuff as many papers onto her little pack mule, I mean, grandchild as possible. Either she had a lot of faith in my abilities or Pete was far more suited as a pack mule than yours truly but had somehow absconded from the prison yard on Gray Avenue or worse.

Poor, blessed Pete, another mystery left unsolved.

By Bethany J. Royer-DeLong

Pushing Ink

Bethany J. Royer-DeLong is a reporter for the Daily Advocate and Early Bird and a life-long resident of Darke County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in work psychology and a master’s degree in organizational leadership because she’s a sucker for all things jobs. You may reach her at [email protected].

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