Saturday, August 28, 2010

Skip One. Throw One.

At 5:45 am this morning, I heard the distinct sound of the car that contains the man or woman who throws our newspaper. I usually am awake at that time, my body clock trained from years of rousing early to teach school. The paper carrier car circles the cul-de-sac and throws two papers to the four possible houses, hitting the sidewalks sometimes, sometimes barely making the curb, and then purrs off to throw wherever else.

Throwing papers.

Brings back memories.

Since I have written about my family before, you know that I am one of four children who grew up on the south side of Atlanta. I am the youngest.

My parents, who grew up during the Great Depression, believed not only in hard work, but in tithing and saving money. Our finances being tight, my parents drilled these two things into us as well as giving us an awareness of what things cost.

As we got older and took part-time jobs, our parents insisted that we tithe 10 percent and put the rest into a savings account, which they monitored. I don't remember being allowed to spend any money that I made. I, of course, might just be projecting a little Charles Dickens.

My parents expected each of us to save enough money to pay for our last year of college. Who knew what that would cost at that seemingly far-off time, so they had us right where they wanted -- in their pockets. LOL

In the early 60s, my brothers helped the family finances by throwing the afternoon Atlanta paper, then known as the Atlanta Journal in the neighborhood. In those days, we called them neighborhoods -- as we had never heard of that word "subdivision."

Our neighborhood was Sylvan Hills, an area of modest homes built in the post WW2 years, that lay west of I-85 and north of an area known as East Point, which had in its city limits --Hartsfield-Atlanta Airport -- and was so bustling that it had two runways.

Our home street was Oana, and the street that ran parallel to Oana was Bader; we sometimes identified our classmates to our parents by the street on which they lived.

"Oh, he lives on Bader, or Lisbon, or Brewer," we'd say.

In fact, it was boys from Bader who first enticed my brothers to help with their paper routes, as these Bader brothers had the "market" on the business but were renown for their extreme laziness. At times, they paid a nickel to my childhood friend Marcie and me to throw the newspapers on our street.

Marcie and I thought it was the coolest thing ever to don the canvas bag, that held the papers, over our shoulders and head down the street and carefully "deliver" the papers to the subscribers. We walked up to each porch and placed the paper neatly and flatly on the top. We thought we were awesome looking with our bags and papers.

Even though I can't remember their names now, I remember that the brothers from Bader were hulking, brooding boys with little interest in school, who intimidated younger kids and ruled boys their own age. They openly smoked on their front porch and played their transistor radios late into the night, the glow of their cigarettes burning from the dark porch and their raucous laughter heard up and down the street. They were not dangerous, but they had an rough edge, unknown but recognized from my innocent perspective.

The Bader brothers began to pay my brothers on a regular basis to throw papers on "that street," and that street could be one of many -- as their domain ran four or five routes.

The Atlanta Journal's afternoon route carriers ran a paper drop about two miles away. Here was a central location where the papers could be picked up by boys who threw them . They operated out of a store front, and according to my brother, it could be a place that provoked strong language and the occasional fist fight. After all, we're dealing with boys. At one point, one of the Bader brothers tried to pick a fight with my brother, a fight he refused, but remembered that those guys "simply did not like him."

The Bader brothers ruled that place with their posturing and veteran knowledge of being paper carriers. I'm sure that an adult actually was in charge, but somehow he fades into the background in the presence of the Brothers Bader and all their brawn and bravado.

The first route my brothers had was a circle of apartments, located about a mile from home. In the afternoon after school, they rode their bicycles to the "Paper Office" as they deemed it, and then with the papers piled high in a wire basket on the front of their bikes, they rode the mile to the route, teetering and tottering under their weight.

As my brother noted, "the papers piled so high that I couldn't see over them, and the weight would send the bike at sharp lefts or rights without warning." My brothers had many scrapes and bruises from running up on curbs or into bushes from trying to maneuver the bikes. At home, they fixed chains and flats on a regular basis.

Most days the paper could be folded for tossing, but at least two days a week they could not -- Wednesdays, the food section, and Sundays when the two Atlanta papers combined for one delivery in the morning.

Once to the route, they parked their bikes, packed the papers in a canvas bags, and proceeded to throw the papers. The apartments were a less desirable route as collecting the 52 cents a week from the subscribers more difficult as the transient tenants moved or worked odd hours. At one time, they made 1.5 cents per paper they delivered.


Each paper boy was given extra papers to sell if they could, and on November, 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, the newspapers were two and half hours late to the paper office, and people stopped my brothers in the street from their cars to buy the extra copies. For once, they sold out. A lot of days, however, they brought the extra papers home, and they piled up on the porch to be taken out on garbage days.

Eventually, my brothers picked up two more routes and because of their responsible natures became valued carriers --- they grew to know their subscribers -- and even took care to place the paper in between the door and the screen to keep it from getting wet on rainy days, an extra that drew them tips or Christmas gifts. They knew who was older, had dogs, and the houses where less than kinder peers lived who riled them for being "paper boys," and that they gauged to avoid if possible.

They also told tales of bad tosses -- ones that went over houses or landed in gutters. It was those times that those "extra" papers came in handy. LOL

In high school and sitting in class toward the end of the day, my brother gazed out the window to note the weather and how it would affect his delivery. At one time, he had as many as 100 houses on his route, and that task lay ahead of him each afternoon of every day of his young adolescence. Sometimes, he got home as late as six or seven, and if he was much later, my worried mother would get in the car to look for him on his route. Sometimes, he was late because of the weather, and perhaps other times, he may have gotten started late or just dawdled somewhere too long.

On Sundays, when the Atlanta Journal and Constitution put out one, thick paper, my brother had to do morning delivery. Daddy rose early to drive him to the paper office, and then to drive him on his route in order to get them out in a timely manner. They would come back from those mornings, have breakfast, and then we would all go to church. As far as I know, he did this every Sunday my brothers had the routes.

During Sundays of inclement weather, my sister and I would also help with the paper route. If it was cold, or raining, we were awakened before five, sleepy and grumpy, and blindly walk the route. One Sunday, the whole family helped because it was four below zero, and we had had an ice storm. We slipped and slid down driveways and across streets to put papers on porches with the sound of the car wheels grinding for traction behind us.

My brothers, who, of course, had the route memorized, made it simple for my sister and me to remember which houses were subscribers by saying to us before the street: "Skip one. Throw one. Skip two. Throw three. Skip one. Throw one. Skip One. Throw three."

They also recognized his subscribers in other places and would tell us -- "Oh yeah, that's 814 Melrose or 229 Langston." They knew folks by their addresses. LOL

My younger brother had the paper route for six years. He made about a 100 dollars a month, and by the time he was a sophomore in high school, had more money saved than any of his friends. Unfortunately, his paper route kept him out of high school sports, but as he said, "[it also] kept him out of trouble." His best friend lived on his route, and he would stop most days and shoot baskets with him in his yard for twenty or thirty minutes, and then he would be on his way.

It was a seven day a week job --- and he was thrilled one summer when the newspaper union went on strike, and he "got to go to the pool in the afternoon." But when we went on vacation, which was not that often, the route had to be covered.

I'm amazed now when I look back on what they did. Having a paper route was a less than glamorous job, and the money had to be collected door to door once a month. My harried mother, from time to time, harassed them to "collect" on their routes, as it was a less than a pleasant job to knock on doors and asked to be paid.

In April of 1968 on the evening after Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, my brother went out to collect on his route. He remembered being greeted with anger, fear, and mixed emotions, as some on his route refused to open their doors to him -- many seemed concerned with the fall out from King's death in the changing race relations in Atlanta in the last years of the 60s. Surprisingly enough, Atlanta only reacted with grief and mourning as the violence came from cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC. My brother said, "it was a weird evening."

At the end of my brother's tenure as paper boy, some of the more difficult aspects changed. No longer was there a paper house, but a woman with a car who delivered the papers to the street corners, and he picked them up there to deliver. The days of carrying the mounds of paper on the front of his bike long distances was over.

Within another year, the job would become one done by more adults and done by car.

When my siblings and I gather together on holidays and talk of our childhood and the things we collectively remember, the paper route always comes up, and we giggle about "skip one, throw one, skip two, throw three" and the boys who lived on Bader whom we can't remember their names. We groan about how much we hated those Sunday mornings when we all got up early to throw papers, and how we were less than happy delivers of the Sunday news.

Recently, my oldest brother used Google maps to refresh his memory on the streets of our childhood -- Brandywine, Perkerson, Brewer, Sylvan Place, Lisbon, and of course, Bader. Hard to believe that all those years with a paper route that those street names are not forever etched in his memory.

Somehow, I believe, that the work ethic associated with my brothers' paper route affected us all in a positive way. I think it made us good employees with a loyalty and a responsibility to whatever job we held. Maybe? Maybe not.

Regardless, it made some rather, lasting memories, mostly good ones --- even though the real details are lost... as well as the job of "paper boy."


ETA: I had these two great photos to include, but I couldn't get them big enough to post.

*cries* I hate that I am so inept at it.

ETA 2: I am also aware of the length of this -- thanks to my readers who could sustain it. :)


  1. I love the journey down Memory Lane and thoroughly enjoyed this essay. I still don't understand the reaction when the boys tried to collect money after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. Were these African Americans?

    I suspect in another 10 years most young people will not understand this passage since fewer people each year receive a printed newspaper. The AJC doesn't even deliver in Ellijay!

  2. Love these memories. We lived in Decatur near the corner of Ponce and Westchester. My brother had an egg route. Really, delivering eggs from the wire basket of his bike. He also played a clarinet in the Decatur Highschool Band. My mother had covered the clarinet case with tiger print material and added a tail and ears. Poor Robby. We moved in late 1968 after he was beaten walking home from school, carrying his clarinet case with the little ears. This was the day after MLK's death in Memphis. This was a sad time in Atlanta too as I remember it.

  3. Edie -- I believe that my brother saw his subscriber's varied reactions to the assassination of King --- as in-- it was a strange couple of days in Atlanta -- a shift in comfort -- to knocks on the door, even in your own neighborhood. Sorry, it wasn't clear. :(

    Laura -- I love the story about your brother!

  4. That was a lovely homage to a tradition that has changed over time and is rapidly becoming obsolete with the digital nature of the world today.

    It's funny, I married a paper boy and I swear he works harder in any weather than a postal carrier. And, inevitably, when we get together with his family, there is reminiscing about his old route days. His parents (mostly his Dad) would help him out on bad weather days which is greatly appreciated by my husband to this day. At the holidays, there was one family they talk about that would always give him a tip and say, "Just for you, Paper Boy."

    My mother-in-law jokes that they must have thought she'd forced him into delivering the papers but, little did they know, my Paper Boy was just a tightwad (his mother's description by the way). In fact, he purchased my engagement ring with funds he'd saved from that very route.

    Thanks for the jaunt down memory lane and for a new insight as well. This might be why my husband insists on getting The Wall Street Journal delivered to our home even though it normally comes after he's already left for the day. Should I tell him that it no longer gets delivered by a hard working boy like him on a bike?

  5. Great trip Harriett! I lived about 3.5 miles NE of you in Boulevard Heights (about 0.5 miles SE of Grant Park). Even though I was very young, I remember the paper boy on his bike and the ice cream man ringing the bell on his three-wheeled conveyance as he pedaled through the neighborhood. I never saw the mythical creature that delivered the milk to the front porch. He just came to dang early to mess with. Ronny