I placed Edna Swope’s newspapers in her hands. Never did I slam a wrapped bundle of paper against her door. The noise of a harshly-delivered newspaper may have given her a heart attack. I pampered many, old, white-haired ladies along my paper route. The little Pennsylvania town is a retirement community. The dedication paid off. During the Christmas holiday, I received more than $1,000 in cash tips from my customers. I bought my first car, a green Ford Pinto, with tips from a paper route.
Edna Swope was one of almost 70 customers who depended on me for the news, six days a week. Residents of Three Springs didn’t always have money to pay their monthly newspaper subscriptions. (The paper required paperboys to collect subscription funds.) I knew just how poor some of them were. My customers gave me lots of confidence on my first real job in life. They reminded me, almost every day, that I was a special young man. I enjoyed the flattery. Never was I pushy when it came time for them to pay for their subscriptions. I knew their next paycheck was just days away. I was always willing to come back if they asked. I knew that eventually, after they paid their arrears, that I would get paid and could put more gas in my car.
In Three Springs, the daily newspaper was delivered in the evening, not the morning. “The Daily News” was an evening paper. It never made sense to me, as a paperboy, why they called the paper ‘news’ when most of the people who had it delivered already had time to watch the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Most customers said they got the paper, not for the articles, but because the weather forecast was always right. How would they know? They were never outside as much as I was!
It would have been much easier to be a newspaper boy with a morning route. At least at that time of the day, most customers would have still been in bed when I drove up on my blue bike with wide tires. Evening routes were demanding. The job required much social etiquette. I had a light on my bike that I never used because it simply wasn’t bright enough to see with, and I knew that if most of my customers saw me coming, they would step outside to chat for a moment. I didn’t mind chatting with my customers, but often, it took several hours to complete the deliveries. I knew there were other customers waiting. Often they complained: “The paper gets delivered later each night, Charles. What took you so long?” The town depended on me for more than just the news, so I always made room for small talk, no matter the urgency.
Edna lived alone in a trailer on the outskirts of Three Springs. Her mobile home was parked at the very end of Swope Road. Her place was way past the point along the road, near the Wible’s apple tree, just where street lights end. I rarely bothered turning on the light on my bike, despite the fact that I had to ride in the dark, almost one quarter of a mile, to get to Edna’s. I carried papers for more than six years and could do the route with my eyes closed. Edna found it difficult to get out of her chair. She was partially crippled. I felt obligated to do the right thing and take her paper to her. I often thought that perhaps one day, I would be the one to find her dead in her chair. She was so old, yet she still lived alone, and her mind was a sharp as the edge of a thin, hometown newspaper.
Edna knitted every day. She had nothing to do but read and knit line upon line of colorfully, patterned blankets. I wondered how often she looked up to see the sunshine outside or the snow that often piled above the knee. Edna kept her fingers busy as she waited for me to drop off the newspaper. Edna couldn’t wait to read it and put down her yarn for a while. She was always happy to see me come in the screen door. I never knocked. People still don’t lock their doors in that little town– I’d just walk in and say ‘hello’ with a paper in my hand.
Edna was always busy with her knotted hands. She worked her yarn in loops in an attempt to work out kinks in her knuckles, caused by an advanced case of arthritis. Her doctor told her knitting would be good therapy, and God knows, she had to do something to ease all her pain. Edna reached for the paper with a hooked-hand, retrieving the black and white like the point of a needle grasping yarn in a loop– knitting one, pearling two.
“Thank you, Charlie.”
“You’re welcome. You sure are making good progress on that blanket.”
“It’s going to be a coat.”
“Must be for a fat person.”
She was always grateful that I came inside to see her. I saved her the burden of suffering through excruciating wobbles to the screen door. Her legs were so infused with arthritis that she could hardly stand and only got up to use the restroom, to eat and go back to bed.
We’d talk for a little while each night. I was just doing my job as the town paperboy. It was never too much of a bother for me to walk the Daily News to her or others like her. They seemed so grateful. I knew that I would be old one day and would want the same respect and warmth.
The “Daily News” paid me five cents for each paper delivered. I spent at least ten minutes a day with Edna and chatty customers like her. It was never easy to simply drop- off the paper and head toward’s the next glowing doorway on a mobile home. The old gals waited at their windows and doors for me, often pretending to have already been outside, sweeping the porch or putting wet clothing up on lines.
Edna, like Grace Hershey and Mildred Brown always smiled at me, no matter what may have been on their minds. I found old men along my route grumpy. They were not always as sweet as the ladies. I encouraged the women to talk about what was bothering them, or what good happened that day, or what grandchild was coming by soon, or what things were like a long time ago. They said I was nothing like most young men.
Edna said the pain in her fingers would never go away. Grace was going to marry a rich man before she died. She seemed to be a character in the soaps she watched and told me about when I brought in the paper.
“No Grace. I’m at school all day. The Young and the Restless is boring. I watched it one day when I was home sick from school.”
“I’m going to marry a doctor. That’s what I want– a rich doctor!”
Mildred always made me eat something because the Brown’s often were just sitting down for supper when I walked their paper in.
“Hi, Chuck! You want some chicken and dumplin’s.”
Edna hated the pills she took for her arthritis. Grace lived through the Depression and hated being old. Mildred called me “Chuck” and hated the name “Charles”.
Uncle Frank, Mildred’s husband told me that I spent too much time talking to the women along my paper route. One evening, he came right- out and asked me if I was queer– in front of Aunt Mildred and my cousins, Denny and Karen, and Denny’s new wife, Janet– all sitting at the supper table like a pack of hungry wolves.
I was only fourteen. I didn’t say anything. I just looked down and excused myself out the door.
I felt bad for Janet. She knew it wasn’t funny. She just smiled at me when Uncle Frank read me.
The pills made Edna sleepy.
Grace needed someone to mow her lawn.
Mildred and Frank lived near Grace. Mildred reminded me every day of how much Grace appreciated me stopping by to talk to her.
“You’re a good boy, Chuck! Don’t listen to Uncle Frank.”
Edna kept moving with yarn, stopping only to eat, to watch the news, to read the paper and on good days, she did dishes too.
Grace could still do dishes but left them pile up, as porcelain gauze awaiting miracle surgery.
Grace’s eyes were sometimes too bad to read the paper so she asked me ‘what’s new’ every night. Her un-read newspapers piled up like dirty dishes. She didn’t have to get out of her reclining chair with me, the paperboy, making life comfortable. Grace was such a dear old woman. She lived up to her name. She smiled at me every night in bright red lipstick with hair whiter than the background of the newspaper. Grace knew I was gay. She didn’t have to say anything about the topic– but she insisted that I should love the soaps.
Mildred smiled at me too– every night. She was so proud to be my Aunt in such a small town.
“What’s up, Chuck,” the Brown’s asked every night– laughing every day at the same line– “What’s up, Chuck?”
I’d hope Uncle Frank wouldn’t say anything about me being ‘queer’.
“What’s for dinner?” I’d ask.
They laughed no matter how many times we repeated the same joke, night after night,
“What’s up, Chuck?
“What’s for dinner?