As a man in my middle years, I draw some measure of pride from my biannual, "I am going to get fit and stay fit — and this time I mean it" phase. I am up before dawn, in my running shoes and out on the front porch, ready to battle the elements and in the process become the svelte jock I know lurks beneath the layers of junk food I now bitterly regret.

Then I see it, the object of my derision, the Pittsburg Morning Sun. The paperboy beat me to the porch, again!

I wonder, "What kind of a superhero do you have to be to get up at O’ dark thirty and throw newspapers on the porches of sleepy folks, many of whom will not rise until long after you have completed your appointed rounds?”

It lies there, on my front porch, mocking my pride in overcoming the sloth, which ultimately drove me to the front porch in the first place. My triumph of will becomes an editorial cartoon making fun of my delusion of athleticism. I walk past the rolled-up, rubber-banded object and begin to jog with a more realistic perspective.

Running is meditative and as my mind clears, I often find memories of my years as a paperboy in Wichita, Kansas. They flood my head, filling the oxygen-deprived void.

Years later, my parents would say they felt sorry for me because I worked so hard. I was considered young for a paperboy at that time because I was not quite thirteen. Even if I had known their feelings back then, I doubt I would have been overly comforted at 4:30 in the morning, the time I was required to get up to throw the morning papers. It runs counter to the nature of twelve-year-olds to beat the sun up.

News-hungry Wichitans demanded two editions per day in the early sixties. Each morning and evening after school, I walked to the "drop-off," unbundled the stacks of newspapers and slid them into my paperbag, flat. I would then walk the sidewalks of my own neighborhood, folding the fresh paper and ink sheets into a thick sandwich to serve my customers for breakfast and supper.

Were I to awake some morning, sure in the knowledge that I had already delivered those tiresome newspapers, I had only to look at my hands to know if it was all a dream. The folding of newspapers imparted a special gray ink patina to the side of the index finger knuckle on my right hand. It had a unique feel, like no other. The specter of a clean joint could shatter a young man’s fervent wish to get just a few more minutes shut-eye before returning to equally tedious school.

One morning I awoke with no gray stain on that knuckle. The sun was up. Mom claimed I had told her that I had already thrown the papers. I tried hard to believe her but I had no recollection of throwing papers that morning or telling her that I did. The unopened stack of newsprint at the corner of Eastridge and Cottonwood was cruel testament to my sad, hopeful delusion.

Mom wrote a note to the school explaining my tardiness as we discussed my slothful inclinations and how they would haunt me the rest of my life if I didn’t take control of them…and so they have.

That young Wichita paperboy and I still have dark mornings and the uncertain sidewalks of their own neighborhood in common. Running in the dark, I sometimes think about my parents, their little paperboy and how they felt "bad" because they thought I worked so "hard". These are the parents that lived on Kansas depression-era farms and grew up in large poor families.

My dad used to tell me about walking in the dark to one-room schoolhouses each morning after chores. At each telling, the distance to school grew a little longer and the snow a little deeper. It was uphill both ways, you know.

I carried these and many other stories with me as I made my rounds and had more than a little pride to be building stories for my children about the hot and the cold and how it was uphill both ways.

I’m sure Grandpa felt bad for his boy because he worked so hard, too.

— Rod Dutton, September 13, 2000

If you have a paperboy story to share, you can send it to me at jtknoll@swbell.net or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762. — J.T. Knoll