Paper Routes and Sunrises

It was…the summer of 1980.

I was not quite yet 10 years old, and it was just before 5am.  I left my house on my blue two wheeler in the cool darkness, finding my way through the sleepy suburban streets.  No one was awake at home when I left; not my mother, not my older sister or brother.  I wasn’t even sure that anyone knew I was gone.

The sky was pitch black, save for the tiny speckles of stars that punched through.

I was up this early because I had promised to help my friend Brian with his Sunday morning paper route.   I had been helping him after school for months.  I loved the whole idea of being able to make money at something at our age.  The only thing I’d ever done to make money was to sell Girl Scout cookies, and that money went back to the troop.  He shared some of his profits with me, and I was hoping that maybe I could start filling in for him on a more regular basis.

Plus, I liked spending time with Brian.  He lived a few streets over from me in our neighborhood.  He had been in my classes at our elementary school since first grade.  Back in those days, you were tracked by ability.  Brian and I always ended up together because we were “the smart kids”.  We would challenge each other in class and play chess while the rest of the students finished work we’d already completed.

Brian didn’t seem to mind all of the things that made me insecure:  my coke bottle glasses, the goofy haircut I was still growing out from last year’s disastrous “bowl cut”, the fact that I was the only kid I knew with divorced parents.   It didn’t seem to matter to him, and I was happy to have someone to spend some time with outside of literary characters.  I’d spent the whole previous year with Harriet the Spy and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it was nice to have real conversations with a real person.

On Sundays, paper kids went to the distribution center early in the morning.  This center was fortunately a short bike ride from both of our homes, and we met up there.    The first step in getting the papers ready was to put inside of each and every paper you were to deliver the Sunday supplements.  The shiny packets of coupons and magazines were sorted and bundled, but the kids had to place one in the fold of every paper for delivery.  Hence the 5 am arrival time.

Brian and I, working together, quickly loaded up our papers.  The next step was to load the paper bags that balanced on the back of his bike.  The paper delivery bags had two pouches, one that hung on either side of the back wheel.   We loaded the papers carefully so that he could ride his bike without it being lopsided.  The papers went in folded up, so that they would be easy to grab.

We had a mile long stretch of houses to deliver to.  Each paper had to be placed between the storm door and the front door; there was no tossing them at the houses or the end of driveways like you’d see in the movies.  It was a long process, and the rules were that you had to have the route done by 8 am.

We finished the route with him, with time to spare.  He worked hard, he never complained, and it made me want to rise to the same level.  We talked while we delivered; about the upcoming presidential election between Reagan and Carter, about our friends at school, about our bikes, about chess.

When we were done, we stopped in a vacant lot and watched the sky glow brighter, until the sun was well into the sky.  It was quiet, and still.   There was peace there, a calm that I wasn’t used to experiencing at that point in my life.

The moment passed, though, too quickly, and it was time to go home.  We went our separate ways on our now empty bikes.  I softly closed the front door behind me;  no one knew I’d even gone out of the house.

But I came home different than I left.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that the presence of one person can make an ordinary moment rise to an entirely different level.   It was the first time I recognized specific qualities that I admired in someone of the opposite sex:  intelligence, thriftiness, industriousness, and humor.

I called him my first boyfriend, and he called me his first girlfriend.    And I glowed like the sun we’d shared that morning.

Brian and I lost touch after the fifth grade when we both moved away from the neighborhood.  I spent years wondering whatever happened to him; his move took him out of state.   Last year, on a whim, I searched out his unusual last name on Facebook.  I messaged the one person I found that might fit the criteria for Brian with:

Hi,  I recently got contacted through Facebook by CK and JVL…and we’re all going down memory lane. Are you by any chance Brian who went to Tenniswood Elementary??  If you’re not, so sorry!

I received the following in response:

Of course it’s me. Not too many Brian’s (with this last name) out there!  I don’t remember the other two names, but yours certainly is familiar. In fact, I wrote it down a few months back when I had to list my first crush (one of those “remember when…” surveys). I think we were seven years old. How have you been?

And all I could do was feel the glow rise again in my cheeks, the same way it did that morning when I was 9 years old.


One Response

  1. […] been working on this blog for a whole year.  My first post in the journey, titled “Paper Routes and Sunrises”, was written on 1/13/10.   At the time, I thought that it would be a great exercise to blog back […]

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