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Boyhood Memories That Started at 4 a.m.

November 9, 2009

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

The pay was incredibly low - the work arduously hard and time consuming - but it was always an adventure - and it was always fun!

A newspaper route is magical. The Citizen-Journal was a morning newspaper, so every day I was up at 4 a.m. to retrieve my 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 the living room floor of my house - I walked out the front door and into the early morning night to begin my route. In those days, parents did not see the need to help - thus I was always on my own for the hour it took to complete the route.

At 12-years-old and alone, making the route was exciting - and because no one was up at that hour, you had to keep your wits about you.

Making the first tracks after a deep falling 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 that sat off the road under the shadows of tall oak trees - every morning had it own set of challenges.

Rainy mornings were the most difficult delivery days because 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 wanted 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, thus 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 early morning experience provided indelible lasting impressions: an American flag flying at half-staff against a dark sky in a snow-covered neighborhood for 30 days following the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

But also the delight of being invited inside the home of my customer, Mrs. Cassady, so I could see the Heisman Trophy that had been awarded to her son, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, a 1955 All-American football player for Ohio State - who won the award that year as the nation’s top collegiate football player.

I shall also never forget the Norman Rockwell-type images of Christmas morning in the neighborhood. While on delivery I was able to look into the many living rooms along the way - and see the lighted Christmas trees with presents and packages placed underneath - waiting to be opened in a few hours by anxious children and no doubt exhausted parents.

Weekly door-to-door collections - usually made on Tuesday evenings - added to the excitement and suspense of having a newspaper route. The newspaper sold for seven cents a day - six-days-a-week - thus the full amount owed for a full week’s delivery was 42 cents. The route netted me on average $7.50 per week with the remainder going to the distributor.

The Christmas season was particularly rewarding - with customers always wanting to show their appreciation for my year-long efforts. I can recall netting upwards of $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 - yet 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.


Robb can be reached at