Friday, September 24, 2010

All in the Family

My oldest brother put his hand on my shoulder.  “Want my paper route?  Since I leave for college in August?”

I nibbled a fingernail.  Regular spending money ("The tips are great!")?  Something to do besides watch Gilligan’s Island every afternoon, Monday through Friday?

I grinned.  “Sure.”

“Fold the left side over two to three inches,” he said.  “Crease it.  Then roll the right side toward it and tuck it inside.”

My brother, Mike, stood at the curb and tossed the paper roll onto Mr. Waugh’s porch.  I whistled in admiration.

He gave me a thumb’s up.  “Rubber bands and plastic bags are for sissies.”

He took the big canvas bag with the wide, bright orange strap off his shoulder and held it out to me. 

“You carry it.  So you get used to it.”

Two weeks later he left. For Concord College. 

“Can I talk to Mike?” I asked Dad when he made the usual Sunday night phone call.

Dad handed me the phone.

“How often do you miss Ms. Thorn’s paper box?”  I said.

Mrs. Thorn lived on North Queens Court.  She had at least eight dogs.  Eight dogs and their poo piles.  And the reek of their poo piles.  There was a chain link fence all around her yard.  You had to throw the paper into a two foot by two foot box on her porch, so the dogs wouldn’t shred it.  If you missed, you had to go into the yard and fetch it.  The dogs weren’t mean, you just had to navigate your way through the poo pile landmines and the gauntlet of wagging tails.  I’d pet the pups with one hand and pinch my nose with the other.

“Can I talk to Mike again?” I said to Dad the next Sunday.

He held out the phone.

“Guess what, Mike?  Mr. Perkins on Green Oak Drive said he’ll give me his antique Karmann Ghia, the robin’s egg blue one, not the Atomic Fireball red one, when I grow up.”

Mike huffed.  “Don’t believe it for a second.”

I stuck my lip out.  “Really? 'Cause I love it.  He says when I get my license—“

“Does he hold your hand a long time when he pays you?”

My eyebrows went up.  “How’d you know?”

“Be careful with him, okay?” my brother said.  “Maybe take someone with you when you collect money.  Promise?”

In the summertime, on really hot days, Mrs. Fitzgerald always let me spray myself with her garden hose.

“That’ll cool you off,” she’d say. 

When it was super muggy she’d offer me a glass of iced tea and we’d chat in the breezeway between her house and garage.  Then I’d cut through her yard to get over to Locust Street.  Four boys lived in the house behind hers.  

“Woo hoo!” the youngest one always said.  “Wet t-shirt.  I like it.”

He wouldn’t say that if his mom was on the porch.  Sometimes in the fall she’d give me an old Big Bear bag.

“Get you some chestnuts, honey.  I know how you love them.”

I usually gave her a free newspaper.  She always tried to pay me for it. 

“Don’t worry about it,” I’d say.  “They always put one extra in my bundle.”

“Hey, Dad,” I said.  “Let me tell Mike about the dogs that attacked Holly last week.”

Mike growled.  “The black and white Great Danes over on Linden Circle?"

"Yeah.  How'd you know?  The lady came outside to write her check, but she didn't shut the screen door good.  The dogs tore out of the house, and they were on Holly like rice at a wedding."

Holly was our Heinz-57-mostly-Beagle dog.

I heard Mike inhale through his nose.  “How’s Holly?”

“Her tail might be broke, but she’s okay.  I beat the tar out of 'em with rolled up newspapers, and they backed off. I think the lady felt bad 'cause she gave me a five dollar tip.”


“You calling Mike tonight?” I asked Dad.

He dialed and pressed the phone into my palm.

“I busted my lip on the route on Friday,” I told Mike.


“You know the last house on the route?  At the bottom of Locust, before Norway Avenue?  And how there’s that bent over fence in between it and the house next door?”


“I pretended like I was a horse jumping it, but my foot got hung on the lip of it.  I busted my knees to beat all, and my hips are black and blue now."

Mike groaned.  “Bummer.”

“Oh, that’s not the worst part,” I said.  “My bottom teeth went through my lower lip. Mom thought I might need stitches, but I talked her out of going to the emergency room.  I hate needles.”

“You’re doing a great job with my route, you know,” my big brother said.  “I’m proud of you.”

I handed the phone back to my dad.  Wrapped my arms around my belly and smiled.

I kept the paper route for years.  Blew pretty much all my profits on Certs, candy cigarettes, and wax lips at the Convenient Mart.  Mr. Perkins never did give me the cute blue Kharmann Ghia.  His wife gave him a divorce though.

Then one day John, another one of my big brothers, said, “Want my job?  At Biscuit World?  Since I’m starting Marshall soon?”

I tapped at my front teeth with my fingernail.  A weekly paycheck?  Air conditioning?  All the made-from-scratch-biscuits you can eat?

I grinned.  “Sure!”

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