Tales of an 11 year old papergirl.

(I was, of course, a girl. And on a bike. But just try to find that statue).

(I was, of course, a girl. And on a bike. But just try to find that statue).

Chicago got its first real snow of the season this morning, so I think it’s just the right day for this…. An ode to print media, young girls, and small towns.

*****

I used to deliver newspapers.

First it was the Chicago Daily News, then, when that venerable afternoon institution folded, the Chicago Tribune. I was about 11, 12-ish (the age my boy is now, and I occasionally ask him why he hasn’t yet found gainful employ), though I’m not sure of the exact stop and start dates.

I had a paper-girl’s bike with a huge metal basket in front and metal panniers on the sides; if I didn’t remove the papers evenly as I went along, the bike would topple over, newspaper sections slithering out and sliding across lawns. Sometimes it would topple over anyway.

I always placed each individual paper carefully between the storm and front doors; if a person’s storm was locked, I would find some other safe place to tuck it. By the end of my route, my hands would be blackened by the newsprint, a particular kind of smeary black that dries the skin and transfers itself onto everything you might subsequently touch.

I hated it.

Not just the filthy hands, but the whole experience — oh my God, I hated delivering newspapers.

I remember promising myself that I would never allow my own children to do it, because if they did, I would occasionally get saddled with the task, and I was not going to ever deliver papers again — and this from a girl growing up in a house where the mom only ever took over your job if you were literally unable to do it. It was, after all, my job — unlike some newspaper pansies, my mom didn’t throw me in the station wagon to get it done of a morning.

That was the worst of it, really. The mornings.

I didn’t like the afternoon Daily News route — it was lonely and boring, and kind of embarrassing, if you ran across someone from school, or some damn friendly adult that you knew. I would talk to myself, make up stories, essentially play make-believe at an age when I think most kids weren’t doing that anymore. It was on my paper route that I was Magna Woman, a superhero whose power came from a mysteriously exotic (if cheap) ring that I had purchased at the Field Museum on a field trip.

But the morning route — oh good God, that was just a whole other level of misery. For a child in the Midwest, it not only meant god-awful alarm-clock setting, it also mostly meant Dark.

Even if dawn arrived while I was out, I started my day in pitch black, a lighting scheme that at the time still frightened me. I seem to recall having to talk myself down daily from some inchoate fear.

And the cold. Oh God, I was always cold! I don’t have a single memory of not being cold on my morning route — and surely there were spring and summer mornings, as well. But they don’t remain. Just the cold, and the dark, and the lonely streets, and the whirligig mind of an imaginative 11 year old. Twelve year old.

One day it was about like it is as of this writing (the high for Chicago: 8, the actual temperature: 2, and the windchill? -20), and when I got to the Currens’ house, I found a note. “Emily – Ring the bell. There’s hot cocoa waiting.”

The Currens were my grandparents’ good friends, lovely people who I was always happy to see myself whenever I happened to helping out at one of my grandmother’s famous and well-loved grown-up parties. I would walk around in my best outfit with trays of crackers, and some people would look me in the 11 year old eyes, and some people wouldn’t. Some people would know the right way to be friendly, and some people wouldn’t. The Currens were always in the first group.

But it’s my sense that the Currens would have made hot cocoa for anyone who happened to arrive with a folded newspaper in sub-zero weather — they were that kind of people. When I think of them, pretty much all I see are belted robes, broad smiles, and eyes like welcome signs.

I sat, I drank, and Mr. Curren took me around on the rest of my route (here the grandparent connection might have played a role). If memory serves, they did this for me one other time, as well, each time saying “Oh, you’re welcome, Emily! Any time!”

And I know they meant it, because the one time I knocked in spite of there not being a note, in spite of the fact that it was a balmy 17 degrees or maybe 23, they wiped the sleep from their eyes and put the pot on the stove. They were good people, the Currens.

God I hated that route. But there remains within me a powerful sense of pride that I did it, that I was good at it, and that I later got a chance to actually write for the paper that I had delivered. For the girl with the topple-over bike, that was quite a heady thing.

And the Currens gave me cocoa and smiles on days like today, in the middle of coldest, darkest winter.

Tales of an 11 year old papergirl.

I posted this last year, and I think it might become an annual thing…. An ode to print media, young girls, and small towns.

(I was, of course, a girl. And on a bike. But just try to find that statue).

I used to deliver newspapers.

First it was the Chicago Daily News, then, when that venerable afternoon institution folded, the Chicago Tribune. I was about 11, 12-ish (the age my boy is now, and I occasionally ask him why he hasn’t yet found gainful employ), though I’m not sure of the exact stop and start dates.

I had a paper-girl’s bike with a huge metal basket in front and metal panniers on the sides; if I didn’t remove the papers evenly as I went along, the bike would topple over, newspaper sections slithering out and sliding across lawns. Sometimes it would topple over anyway.

I always placed each individual paper carefully between the storm and front doors; if a person’s storm was locked, I would find some other safe place to tuck it. By the end of my route, my hands would be blackened by the newsprint, a particular kind of smeary black that dries the skin and transfers itself onto everything you might subsequently touch.

I hated it.

Not just the filthy hands, but the whole experience — oh my God, I hated delivering newspapers.

I remember promising myself that I would never allow my own children to do it, because if they did, I would occasionally get saddled with the task, and I was not going to ever deliver papers again — and this from a girl growing up in a house where the mom only ever took over your job if you were literally unable to do it. It was, after all, my job — unlike some newspaper pansies, my mom didn’t throw me in the station wagon to get it done of a morning.

That was the worst of it, really. The mornings.

I didn’t like the afternoon Daily News route — it was lonely and boring, and kind of embarrassing, if you ran across someone from school, or some damn friendly adult that you knew. I would talk to myself, make up stories, essentially play make-believe at an age when I think most kids weren’t doing that anymore. It was on my paper route that I was Magna Woman, a superhero whose power came from a mysteriously exotic (if cheap) ring that I had purchased at the Field Museum on a field trip.

But the morning route — oh good God, that was just a whole other level of misery. For a child in the Midwest, it not only meant god-awful alarm-clock setting, it also mostly meant Dark.

Even if dawn arrived while I was out, I started my day in pitch black, a lighting scheme that at the time still frightened me. I seem to recall having to talk myself down daily from some inchoate fear.

And the cold. Oh God, I was always cold! I don’t have a single memory of not being cold on my morning route — and surely there were spring and summer mornings, as well. But they don’t remain. Just the cold, and the dark, and the lonely streets, and the whirligig mind of an imaginative 11 year old. Twelve year old.

One day it was about like it is as of this writing (the high for Chicago: 8, the actual temperature: 2, and the windchill? -20), and when I got to the Currens’ house, I found a note. “Emily – Ring the bell. There’s hot cocoa waiting.”

The Currens were my grandparents’ good friends, lovely people who I was always happy to see myself whenever I happened to helping out at one of my grandmother’s famous and well-loved grown-up parties. I would walk around in my best outfit with trays of crackers, and some people would look me in the 11 year old eyes, and some people wouldn’t. Some people would know the right way to be friendly, and some people wouldn’t. The Currens were always in the first group.

But it’s my sense that the Currens would have made hot cocoa for anyone who happened to arrive with a folded newspaper in sub-zero weather — they were that kind of people. When I think of them, pretty much all I see are belted robes, broad smiles, and eyes like welcome signs.

I sat, I drank, and Mr. Curren took me around on the rest of my route (here the grandparent connection might have played a role). If memory serves, they did this for me one other time, as well, each time saying “Oh, you’re welcome, Emily! Any time!”

And I know they meant it, because the one time I knocked in spite of there not being a note, in spite of the fact that it was a balmy 17 degrees or maybe 23, they wiped the sleep from their eyes and put the pot on the stove. They were good people, the Currens.

God I hated that route. But there remains within me a powerful sense of pride that I did it, that I was good at it, and that I later got a chance to actually write for the paper that I had delivered. For the girl with the topple-over bike, that was quite a heady thing.

And the Currens gave me cocoa and smiles on days like today, in the middle of coldest, darkest winter.

Don’t ever make me go back there! Unless you carry me.

I spent all of last week writing/thinking/emoting about terrible things and while the Awful has hardly abated, I’ve decided that this week, I won’t write about it. I’ll tweet, I may well comment elsewhere, but this space will be largely Awful-free — except at the end of each post, where I will provide a few links to Your Day In Horrible, should you feel the need.

*************

All told, I’m pretty happy to be an adult.

We get to vote, drive, and keep our own hours, more or less, not to mention that the pay is better.

I remember (I mean: really, really remember, visuals and the whole thing) being a four year old, being ooh-ed and ahh-ed over by a group of third or fourth graders, and just thinking “Can you not see the book in my hands? I want to read.”

I never wanted to be cute. I wanted to be taken seriously. Which is, let’s face it, kind of tall order for a tow-headed girl who is, in fact, totally cute and, moreover, the youngest of three children. I wasn’t taken seriously nearly anywhere, and if I tried to demand it? Well, wasn’t that just the cutest thing! (Which goes a long way toward explaining how I deal with my own, undeniably adorable children, but that’s another post all together).

So mostly I like being an adult because adulthood is a prerequisite, in most circles, to being taken seriously.

However. And yet. Regardless (and even irregardless, if irregardless were a word): There are a few pieces of childhood that I really I miss. Not the sorts of things that we’re told to miss by cultural gatekeepers who appear to forget what childhood actually is, once they’re out of it themselves, but other stuff, stuff that comes largely from being kind of new to the world, kind of fresh out of the box.

Such as:

  1. Pre-birthday excitement. These days, about every other year, my birthday is more irritant than celebration. It falls in September, after a nearly endless round of summer birthdays (the husband, the daughter, and the son — all of them — plus lots of other family). In a perfect world, a week before my birthday, the husband would inform me that all and sundry have come together, made a plan, I need not worry my pretty head, and — oh hey! He just got a surprise bonus, and he’ll be using it to shower me with fabulous gifts! Which is, frankly, kind of what happens when you’re a kid. Someone else makes great plans, and then you get showered with gifts. What’s not to love about that? Who wouldn’t miss that? Today, on the other hand, I know exactly what we can and can’t afford — and “fabulous gifts” tend to be the latter.
  2. The absolute certainty that if I have chosen to take up an activity, I will be awesome at it. Late 1970s skateboarding, anyone? As but one example. When I asked for a skateboard, and got it — dude. I was going to whale! When I got a smidge of style and bought a few particularly attractive items — I was going to be my school’s fashion plate! A bit earlier, when I decided that I was going to work with the blind — I was going to be my generation’s Annie Sullivan! The realization that, in fact, none of that would happen was slow in coming, and arrived hand-in-hand with the understanding that perhaps I didn’t really enjoy the skateboard very much, nor was I all that interested in Braille, and while being a fashion plate might be fun, being lower middle class in a patently wealthy community was going to serve an understandable barrier. Which is to say, it’s not like this knowledge shattered me or anything. But that kind of confidence is fun when you feel it — and there are days when having access to it now would, it must be said, be an altogether delightful thing.
  3. Being carried places. The husband (who is quite genuinely as adorable as his kids) has offered to do this for me. But I’m not particularly small, and he’s not particularly large, and anyway, to be carried as a child is — arms wrapped around, head drooped, nose against the warm scent of a beloved and trusted neck — he would have to be, what, nine feet tall? Something like that, surely. And that would be a most inconvenient height differential for almost any other purpose, not least, furniture buying. But I do wish that he could stretch now and then, magically grow big enough to take me in his arms, carry me upstairs, lay me gently on the bed, and pull the sheets up. He does sometimes pull the sheets up for me, and tuck me in. And it makes me smile, and burrow into my pillow, and tell him I love him. For I do. He is, after all, one of the best perks of adulthood I’ve found to date.

*****************

Your Day In Horrible:

  1. The battle over workers’ rights – Michigan edition.”In Michigan,” Talking Points Memo tells us, “new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has just passed a bill through the legislature to allow state-appointed financial managers to void municipalities’ union contracts.”
  2. U.S. Calls Radiation ‘Extremely High’ and Urges Deeper Caution in Japan. “The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” we learn in the New York Times, “gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the threat posed by Japan’s nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter established by Japan.”
  3. Curfew follows deadly Bahrain crackdown. Al-Jazeera reports (and provides a suitably distressing, brief round-up video): “At least six people are reported dead and hundreds injured after security forces in Bahrain drove out pro-democracy protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama. A 12-hour curfew came into force at 4pm in areas of the city including the roundabout, the Bahrain Financial Harbour, and several other buildings which have recently been targets of protests. By then, most of the area had been cleared after troops backed by tanks and helicopters stormed the site – the focal point of weeks-long anti-government protests in the tiny kingdom – early on Wednesday, an Al Jazeera correspondent said.”
  4. Libya: Red Cross pulls out of Benghazi, fearing attack. “The organisation said it feared an attack by forces loyal to the country’s leader Col Muammar Gaddafi may be imminent,” the BBC reports. “Government forces say they have captured Ajdabiya, the last town before Benghazi, but the rebels deny this.”

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

All the news that’s fit.

(I was, of course, a girl. And on a bike. But just try to find that statue).

I used to deliver newspapers.

First it was the Chicago Daily News, then, when that venerable afternoon institution folded, the Chicago Tribune. I was about 11, 12-ish (the age my boy is now, and I occasionally ask him why he hasn’t yet found gainful employ), though I’m not sure of the exact stop and start dates.

I had a paper-girl’s bike with a huge metal basket in front and metal panniers on the sides; if I didn’t remove the papers evenly as I went along, the bike would topple over, newspaper sections slithering out and sliding across lawns. Sometimes it would topple over anyway.

I always placed each individual paper carefully between the storm and front doors; if a person’s storm was locked, I would find some other safe place to tuck it. By the end of my route, my hands would be blackened by the newsprint, a particular kind of smeary black that dries the skin and transfers itself onto everything you might subsequently touch.

I hated it.

Not just the filthy hands, but the whole experience — oh my God, I hated delivering newspapers.

I remember promising myself that I would never allow my own children to do it, because if they did, I would occasionally get saddled with the task, and I was not going to ever deliver papers again — and this from a girl growing up in a house where the mom only ever took over your job if you were literally unable to do it. It was, after all, my job — unlike some newspaper pansies, my mom didn’t throw me in the station wagon to get it done of a morning.

That was the worst of it, really. The mornings.

I didn’t like the afternoon Daily News route — it was lonely and boring, and kind of embarrassing, if you ran across someone from school, or some damn friendly adult that you knew. I would talk to myself, make up stories, essentially play make-believe at an age when I think most kids weren’t doing that anymore. It was on my paper route that I was Magna Woman, a superhero whose power came from a mysteriously exotic (if cheap) ring that I had purchased at the Field Museum on a field trip.

But the morning route — oh good God, that was just a whole other level of misery. For a child in the Midwest, it not only meant god-awful alarm-clock setting, it also mostly meant Dark.

Even if dawn arrived while I was out, I started my day in pitch black, a lighting scheme that at the time still frightened me. I seem to recall having to talk myself down daily from some inchoate fear.

And the cold. Oh God, I was always cold! I don’t have a single memory of not being cold on my morning route — and surely there were spring and summer mornings, as well. But they don’t remain. Just the cold, and the dark, and the lonely streets, and the whirligig mind of an imaginative 11 year old. Twelve year old.

One day it was about like it is right now (at some point today I heard that the high for Chicago was 8, the actual temperature was 2, and the windchill was -20), and when I got to the Currens’ house, I found a note. “Emily – Ring the bell. There’s hot cocoa waiting.”

The Currens were my grandparents’ good friends, lovely people who I was always happy to see myself whenever I happened to helping out at one of my grandmother’s famous and well-loved grown-up parties. I would walk around in my best outfit with trays of crackers, and some people would look me in the 11 year old eyes, and some people wouldn’t. Some people would know the right way to be friendly, and some people wouldn’t. The Currens were always in the first group.

But it’s my sense that the Currens would have made hot cocoa for anyone who happened to arrive with a folded newspaper in sub-zero weather — they were that kind of people. When I think of them, pretty much all I see are belted robes, broad smiles, and eyes like welcome signs.

I sat, I drank, and Mr. Curren took me around on the rest of my route (here the grandparent connection might have played a role). If memory serves, they did this for me one other time, as well, each time saying “Oh, you’re welcome, Emily! Any time!”

And I know they meant it, because the one time I knocked in spite of there not being a note, in spite of the fact that it was a balmy 17 degrees or maybe 23, they wiped the sleep from their eyes and put the pot on the stove. They were good people, the Currens.

God I hated that route. But there remains within me a powerful sense of pride that I did it, that I was good at it, and that I later got a chance to actually write for the paper that I had delivered. For the girl with the topple-over bike, that was quite a heady thing.

And the Currens gave me cocoa and smiles on days like today, in the middle of coldest, darkest winter.

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