Note: As delivery of the print edition is now by mail only, each week the Morning Sun will be honoring paper carriers of the past by publishing the stories many shared with me years back when my collection ‘Paperboy,’ was published. – J.T.K
Behind every successful paperboy there is a woman ... his mother.
Yes, it takes a family commitment when your twelve-year-old son decides he is ready for the big responsibility of carrying the daily paper to a whole route of patrons breathlessly waiting for their morning news fix to go with that first cup of coffee.
Now don't misunderstand, when everything went right, the "man" was up with his alarm at 5 a.m., papers rolled and (or wrapped) and delivered by 6:30, and back to bed for an hour before getting up to go to school at 7:30. In those days George Nettles Elementary started at 8:30 a.m.
At breakfast, he would recount the exhilarating adventures experienced only by those out in nature when most of Pittsburg was asleep. There was the occasional spotting of a coyote or feathers raining down from a big tree over south Locust as an owl was enjoying his breakfast of a smaller bird.
There was also the "heightened awareness" he experienced as he hurriedly made his way past the tall monuments and the mausoleum to deliver the cemetery caretaker's paper.
One time he found two twenties by the student housing on south Elm — which was like a windfall to him. He reported it to the police but no one called to claim it.
But the route became a "family affair" when the paper was late or they left the bundle at the wrong address. Then a soft voice would whisper in my sleeping ear that he needed some help. So, over a cup of cocoa, we would roll the papers quickly together and I would wait for the phone calls from all those waiting customers.
Of course, a mother's sense of danger in a storm is a given. On those mornings when I would see the lightning and hear the thunder clap in our second floor bedroom on south Locust, it didn't take long to throw on something, get out the old Buick station wagon, follow the route until I found the soaked carrier, put the old black and white Schwinn in the back of the wagon, and finish the route in what I felt was a safer mode of transportation.
Also, he was allergic to poison ivy and his love of nature and exploration brought him in contact with that weed often. Riding the bike with a case of poison ivy just didn't work, so it was then — and when he had a fever — that we became a team on the route from the beginning.
One holiday weekend I suggested, “Couldn't he sleep in a little longer and just have it there by 7:30?” “No,” he said, "Mr. ____ has his light on at 6:30 and is waiting for it.”
What were the lessons I learned? Always pay in advance at the office so the paperboy doesn't have to spend hours collecting. (That was before the days of subscriptions.) I also learned that responsibility given allows for growth and maturity as well as a sense of pride in accomplishment. What did he do with all that money he earned? He bought his first stereo for his own room and really deliberated over spending it.
Seventeen years later — after completing medical school and residency — Dr. Mark Carlson returned to Pittsburg with a beautiful wife and two of our grandchildren. Some of his first patients were once customers on his paper route.
I know I’m a little prejudiced, being his mother and all, but I believe they get the same conscientious care they received when he was a paperboy.
Who says you can’t go home again?
Laura Carlson - May 10, 2000