Some memories are keepers

January 25, 2012 

My brother and I had, what were known as paper routes, back before adults got in their cars and did it the easy way. We walked and rode bicycles to deliver the Knoxville Journal, the morning paper. I was 13, he 12. Dad was fresh out of the service, like many today, and taking jobs wherever they could be found. Mom stayed at home with us five kids.

She would get my brother and me up at 4 a.m., give us a hug and off we’d go to roll the papers for delivery. We didn’t use rubber bands back then, but there was a special way to tuck a paper that held as good as a rubber band and that’s what we did.

I can still see the headlines we rolled during that period, all about Kennedy, Khrushchev, bomb shelters and something called fluoride that folks wanted to put in the water. It was the winter of 1961, and the headlines made it seem colder. Snow came early and stayed forever that year in Tennessee. The papers were delivered a few blocks up the street in bound stacks and I would roll 85 while brother rolled 95.

It’s funny what you remember. Brother’s route went one way and mine another but our routes paralleled each other so on very cold mornings we’d do his route first, where a customer had a basement we could duck into to warm up. That’s usually where we would pick up several dogs that would follow us the rest of the way. The dogs never said much, just loped along, content to be with people, I suppose.

You have to love a dog. Our customers weren’t so easy to please. Each one seemed to have a specific place where they wanted their paper delivered. To them, the paper, was the most important document they would read that day. I reckon they wanted to know for sure when to start digging the bomb shelter.

Screen doors, ledges, mailboxes and near the bird bath were all potential paper receptacles, and if we expected to get a tip they expected to see Kennedy’s smiling face staring back at them from the bird bath.

It was an older neighborhood and I can still remember the old folks complaining about not being able to find a certain day’s paper. “Son, I thought I told you to put that thing by that thingernaut down there by that yard bird!” This is probably when my hair began to leave the building. Truth is, we missed a few houses, missed a few placements -- but we never missed a day -- and if I knew what it was that made us not miss a day, I’d probably be on TV.

Maybe we just didn’t want to disappoint mom and dad. Maybe it was seeing dad leave after breakfast for a job we knew he didn’t like but did anyway. Maybe it was a way to make us feel better about ourselves and our way of saying we’d do our part. Maybe if we had had the ability to kick some fictitious character’s rear on a Blu-Ray box in the bedroom we’d have felt just as good. Guess we’ll never know because the ol’ Blu-Ray was in the future. Or do we know?

I’ve never asked my mom nor did I ask dad, when he was alive, why they let us deliver papers in the winter of ’61. I don’t think they thought about it back then, because back then work was looked on as a good thing, regardless of the work one did and making money was looked at as means to security, and worthwhile. Isn’t that the only way one can look at that stuff? One thing’s for sure, some memories are keepers and some weepers. The paper route is a keeper.

Sonny Harmon is an educator at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at

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