Collecting for the paper has been mentioned many times in this column as a grim task. But, as was pointed by my nephew, Kirk Knoll, in his offering last week, collecting sometimes had its merits. You could always count on a little instant spending money by simply showing up at a customer’s door and announcing, “Paperboy, I’m here to collect!”
A good part of my reluctance to go out collecting in the Republic of Frontenac came from the fact that it had to be done on Saturdays, or afternoons after school when I’d much rather have been playing ball or fishing or hanging out with my friends.
Also, you couldn’t count on people to be home when you showed ... and therefore had to make multiple trips. Lastly, there was dealing with the deadbeats who either refused to answer the door or told you to come back later because they didn’t have money.
There were days, though, that I had no hesitancy to collect. Hustled right out, mounted my bike, and took off. Why? Because I liked the stories that unfolded at the front door, in the living room, or in the kitchen.
And I liked the attention. Some of my customers seemed genuinely glad to see me. Like they’d been waiting for me to show up.
People like Katy Kotzman who paid by check and always gave me a little extra; and the Guerreros (who seemed such a happy couple in their own right) who always invited me in and talked to me about my grandpa and grandma; and Frank Pete, the bachelor town barber, who invited me into his kitchen every Christmas morning to share Italian pastries with him and his mother.
Sometimes I happened in on a domestic disturbance. A wife upset because her husband got drunk; a teenage boy yelling from the back bedroom.
Other times I was invited in and felt the weight of an extended family grieving over the loss of a loved one.
On more than one occasion I was invited in to sit down a while. To my memory, other than Christmas at Prete’s, I only took a customer up on it once. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was collecting at the Natalinis. Cleo invited me into the living room where her husband, Angelo (nickname Pollock) was watching a baseball game on their brand new color TV. A big, gruff-voiced, but benevolent Italian, Pollock invited me to sit on the couch with him and watch the game a while. Of course I did. I’d never seen color TV before ... and it was the ‘61 Yankees.
Goldie Graham, an elderly bachelor who lived in a little place on Cayuga street, always had me come to the back door. He was losing his hearing so I’d holler through the screen, “Paperboy!” and he’d come smiling through the kitchen. His kitchen was different. A man’s kitchen. No frills. And the sweet smell of pipe tobacco always hung in the air.
I remember little of the specifics of my conversations with my customers. But I can, even though it’s been nearly 60 years, remember their faces and feel the connection and the mood that infused their houses.
Sadly, those days are long gone. Like everyone else, my Morning Sun is now delivered by the letter carrier and I pay for it by mail.
What I wouldn’t give, on some Saturday morning or weekday afternoon, to hear a knock at my front door and the call, “Paperboy, I’m here to collect!” so I could smile knowingly and call back, “C’mon in, son. It’s open.”
— J.T. Knoll