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Boyhood Memories at 4 a.m.

December 28, 2013

As a boy growing up in Ohio, I delivered newspapers for the Columbus Citizen Journal, and it remains the best experience of my life.

The pay was low - about $8 a week - the work was arduously hard and time consuming - but it was an adventure - and it was fun!

A paper route is magical. The Citizen-Journal was a morning newspaper, so every day I was up at 4 a.m. to retrieve the papers from the distributor who dropped them off in a bundle in front of my house at that hour.

After assembling the 60-plus papers into my canvas bag on my living room floor - I walked out the front door into morning night to begin my route. In those days, parents did not see the need to help - so I was on my own for the hour it took to complete the route.

At 12, one definitely had to keep his wits. There was potential danger out there .. dogs, a lone car coming your way, rain, snow, and shadows and dark houses and streets.

Making the first tracks after a heavy snow; looking out for the neighborhood dog that might be on the loose; or mustering the courage (day after day) to deliver to that lone house which sat far off the road under the shadows of tall oak trees - there were challenges every morning.

Rainy mornings were the most difficult. Every newspaper had to be hand delivered inside the storm door or placed in a dry area on the front porch. During the summer months - when the sun rose early - it was strange to see people other than myself up and about at that hour.

While some customers requested the paper put inside the screen door, most were content with my pitching it onto the front porch. I did it the old-fashioned way: folding the paper over a single flap, followed by a tuck and a twist, turning the paper into a tight projectile that could be thrown onto a porch from the sidewalk 30 feet away - a shot I mastered.

The experience provided lasting impressions: an American flag flying at half-staff against the dark sky in my snow-covered neighborhood following the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It was such a delight when one of my customers, Mrs. Cassady, invited me inside the house to see the Heisman Trophy awarded her son, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, in 1955 as the nation’s top collegiate football player at Ohio State.

I've never forgotten the Norman Rockwell images of Christmas morning in my neighborhood, the Linden section of Columbus. I loved peaking into living rooms along the way - a boy in awe of the lighted Christmas trees with presents and packages underneath.

Weekly door-to-door collections - which I made on Tuesday evenings - was always an adventure if not for just handling the money with my coin changer tied to my belt.

The newspaper sold for seven cents - six-days-a-week - so the amount owed for a week’s delivery was 42 cents. Some customers were Saturday only so they owed me just seven cents. The route netted me on average $8 per week with the remainder going to the distributor.

I also looked forward to Christmas because it was so financially rewarding. My customers showed their appreciation for my year-long efforts, and I remember netting $50 during Christmas week.

There’s an old saying, "Show me the boy and I’ll show you the man." The Columbus Citizen-Journal went out of business years ago - but the memories of my paper route remain.

As do the boyhood visions of what I saw and how I felt in the early morning hours of 1962-63.