Paperboy by Vincent McCaffrey
I was not a very good paperboy. I had a strong arm, but my fold was not always up to the rigors of the aerial journey. Too often I chased the opened and separating sheets of the Mamaroneck Daily Times over one yard and another after a faulty fold broke and the wind caught the contents.
I had a regular route only once and then lost it when I had to leave with my family on a trip and couldn’t find a substitute. A good paperboy is always faithful. My math was frequently faulty. If I had eighty-nine customers, I would have the payments for eighty-six. The papers were ready to go at four, but I was more usually not ready to start until five. And then I dawdled. There were so many things to see and ponder. After all, the universe was expanding they said and I saw proof it there before my eyes. What should have taken an hour and a half at most, took me two.
I can remember the scowls of customers who wanted to read the news before dinner but were forced to wait.
Most of my paperboy career was as a substitute for others and, for a time, I was just an assistant to a friend, Michael, whose route included an area close to where I lived and thus an easy trek. And it was on that suburban trail that the schism occurred which tore me from the drift of my own age and gave me the perspective I have taken now.
This happened on the Boston Post Road, (another bit of foreshadowing given my future destination). There was an old and rundown Victorian house beside the road, lived in by a Mrs. Faurot. To me, at thirteen, she was frail and thin and ancient. And for her own reasons, she liked to talk to us. I believe she lived alone and I can only guess at the lonely impulse to engage in conversation with such raw youths. I still remember her telling us that her family was of old Huguenot stock.
She was also kind. I remember brownies more than once. And cold lemonade on hot summer evenings. Both Michael and I were voracious readers by then and Mrs. Faurot must have noted this in some way (perhaps by the paperback books we carried with us to read as we walked, the bag of papers slung from our shoulder, our feet guided by daily repetitions).
One day she commented on the fact that her barn was falling down and that there were many books there for the taking if we wanted them before all were ruined. That trapezoidal structure was clearly visible from the road. I doubt if we even waited so long as to finish the paper route that day before taking a look.
Howard Carter could not have been more awestruck by the treasure we found in a loft up a narrow stair. The very structure of the building seemed to shift with our added weight. Floor boards gaped. And instead of a desiccated Tut we first found rain spoiled heaps of rotting paper that fell to pieces at a touch. But then, deeper within, not all of it was ruined. In dry areas away from gaps in the roof we found bound volumes of Harper’s and Leslies. On those broad pages, the Civil War was still being fought from week to week.
We quickly scooped up hundreds of novels from Captain Marryat to Mark Twain. George Kennan yet roamed the Siberia of the Russian Empire within copies of Century Illustrated. Henry David Thoreau had a new article in The Atlantic. From a collapsed shelf we re-stacked loose copies of Scientific American extolling the latest discoveries of Tesla and Edison. There would be a new Sherlock Holmes story in the next issue of The Strand. And Youth’s Companion confirmed our truest beliefs, offering us a world of reward for honest work.
All of it made an immediate present out of what before had been only a distant past. We took home wagon-loads to our bed rooms. And for years afterward I lived with those books stacked around me, beneath my bed, and scaled against the walls. For my part, I had fallen from that barn loft into a yesterday already too far gone to be saved. A past as fragile as the paper itself.
But I didn’t know it.