As a vampire paperboy with a route in the retirement community of Three Springs, I saw a need to invite myself into the homes of my elderly customers when I dropped off their evening newspapers. Everyone who lived in Three Springs during the 1980’s knew everyone else in town. They never locked their doors. Houses are far apart. Big yards separate mobile homes from old wooden houses and sandstone mansions from tiny shacks in Three Springs.
Grace Hershey lived in a pink trailer at the base of Quarry Road, next to my Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank and just out the lane from the white trailer where Jason North lived with his mom and dad. I delivered all their papers.
When I walked into Grace’s life, she was already in her early ‘70′ s. Her hair was as white as baby powder and her lipstick as red as the stripes on a flag. She survived the Great Depression and knew what hard times were. I heard all about her long life during the five years I served as Three Springs’ vampire paperboy.
Life as a widow was too quiet for Grace. She complained about loneliness to me almost every night when I stopped by as her paperboy to deliver the ‘Huntingdon Daily News’. Grace didn’t have a man. He was dead. She enjoyed soap operas though. They reminded her of what marriage was like. She said that some of the doctors on television were ‘quite handsome’ and that she was going to get married again one day and this time around, she was going to get herself a man with money– a doctor, like the ones on General Hospital.
“Thank you for bringing my paper to me,” she said that first evening in 1981 when I tapped on her screen door.
“It’s raining out here and it’s wet inside your door,” I explained. “I didn’t want to throw your paper in the water. You should get a plastic paper box. The ‘Daily News’ gives them out for free. I can get you one if you want.”
“I don’t need one of those white boxes in my yard,” she explained. “I hardly have enough land for a flower bed. I can’t get around too well in the winter. My sidewalk gets slippery. If you don’t mind, young man, when it rains I would appreciate you placing the paper inside this old tin milk box.”
“Wow,” I said. “Life must have been weird when there were milk mans.”
“Oh yes, we once had our milk delivered just like the newspaper, until they opened up Strickler’s Dairy in Alexandria. I’ve seen it all son, even the Great Depression. It wasn’t that long ago you know– we was all poor then, making our clothes from burlap bags.”
“Burlap bags?” I asked as if she were pulling my leg.
“Yes, burlap bags. Flour came in burlap bags then, not paper. I made lots of clothing from those flour bags.”
I didn’t say a word. I was momentarily lost inside her little trailer where a thick veil of smoke lingered just above the antennas on the television. Grace lit up another cigarette and told me more. She talked about making soap too and how she still had some of it somewhere– probably out back in her metal shed.
“That’s cool,” I replied while tilting back the lid on the silver box, hoping to interrupt her lengthy conversation. A daddy long-legged spider scurried across my hand but I didn’t flinch.
“You’re Bob Smith’s boy, ain’t ya?”
“Yes. He’s my step-dad. My mom married twice.”
“Where were you born?”
“Stone Creek Ridge in Huntingdon.”
“Oh, I’ve never been up that big mountain but I know where it is. My son-in-law Had and my daughter Margie drive up there every fall to buy apples.”
“Those were probably apples that my grandma sold,” I explained. “We lived on a farm and orchard. My grandma sold apples. You look like my grandma. She wore lipstick too.”
Grace unconsciously started to fix up her hair that was a bit matted from the pressure of sitting on a reclining chair with a leg rest that popped up. She smiled.
“I better get going. I still got over 50 papers to deliver,” I said. “Take care.”
Before I made it home from my route, Grace called my mother to thank her.
“Grace Hershey called me.”
“Yes. She said it made her day that you stopped in to see her.”
I had never noticed my mother so proud. That is why I took it upon myself to become a vampire paperboy.
To be continued…..