My First Dollar

Winters in the snow belt of Cleveland, Ohio were brutally cold in the 1970’s.  They were endless, withering, and dumped several feet of snow on the ground due to the dreaded “lake-effect” conditions that haunted cities and towns that were perched along the wide, open swath of Lake Erie.

At one point, the Parma City School District was forced to combine individual schools, and move to half-day sessions in order to conserve heating resources and guarantee a reasonable learning and working environment.  Some of us went to early morning sessions, while others followed in the afternoon.  For the latter, their school day concluded near dark.  Residents of Seven Hills and Parma, Ohio were asked to keep their porch lights on so that the late-day students could walk home safely and in the light… murky as that luminescence was.

My brother Dino delivered our weekly local newspaper, the Parma Sun Post, during the 1970’s.  It was essentially free to the consumer, with paperboys earning chits called “Bonus Bucks” from the local publisher (with which one could purchase essentially worthless junk), along with tips from customers, and an embarrassingly small salary.  The workload was such that my brother soon requested my assistance; or perhaps I should say that I was ‘pressed into service’.  Either way, we shared the same bedroom; and when the alarm clock rang at 4:30 a.m. I had little choice but to rise and greet the day with him, because the Parma Post was to be delivered to a home’s front door (preferably inside the front screen/storm door) by 6:00-7:00 a.m.

In the summer, it wasn’t so bad; we used our bicycles to stream through the neighborhood, handing off papers to each other in a seamless well-oiled fashion as we individually serviced every other house.  We had our large neighborhood memorized, and simply skipped the few houses that opted out of receiving this free offering. In the winter, however, we had to meet this task on foot.  Donning snow boots and deep layers of clothing, we braved the elements after getting a brief lecture on warm dress from our mother before leaving the bedroom area.  No, our parents did NOT help us with this job… they did not drive us around the neighborhood via automobile in order to ensure the deliver of those papers.  By 5:00 a.m. my father was already on his way to work in the industrial “Flats” corridor of downtown Cleveland, with its salt-mines, stone-docks, and sand repositories, on a hellhole known as Whiskey Island.  My mother, who warned my brother that if he wanted this job it would be HIS responsibility, stayed in our house–in bed–but never went back to sleep as we ventured out into the vicious wind and bone chilling freeze…she waited up the entire time until we returned home.  The winter delivery run was the first time I began to join my brother on his paper route.  My recompense??  You guessed it… $1 dollar, paid from my brother to me.

The route in winter, as we trudged through deep snow, took up to 90 minutes.  One especially frigid Thursday morning, my brother promised me a ten-cent tip (one thin shiny dime) if we got the route completed by 6:30 a.m.  This sounded great to me; I would earn an extra 10% for my expedited efforts, plus I would get to go back to sleep for almost one hour and fifteen minutes before having to get up again and ready myself for school!

My brother was a generous and loving soul; he helped everyone, was universally considered to be “happy-go-lucky”, sported a never-ending smile, served all just for the asking, and possessed an animated outgoing personality.  In one of destiny’s unanswerable tragedies, he took his own life at the tender young age of 17.  We worked that paper route at roughly the ages of my 9, and his 11.  So it was actually my brother who helped me earn my first dollar before the age of 10.  That was over 40 years ago.

I must confess that I did not save that ‘hallowed first’.  No sir; I waited until the late spring when the weather turned glorious again, and the Charles Chips man drove through the neighborhood.  Luckily, the Charlie Chip man (as we called him) sold/refilled items other than just Potato Chips and Pretzels; he also sold Candy and Gum.  Therefore, I proudly purchased an impressive bag of multi-colored gumballs!!  The cost?  $.89 cents.  I stared at the $.11 cents change, somehow thinking I was going to get more in return… but math never lies.

And just for the record:

Remember that goal of getting home by 6:30 a.m., and that $.10 cents tip?  Well, the snow and cold was just too much for the both of us and we didn’t make it home until 6:40 a.m.  My brother did not give me a $.10 cents tip that day… he gave me a quarter!  I knew I didn’t deserve it; that was not our deal.  But he gave it to me anyway.  Ultimately, however, he gave me so very, very much more.  You see, I became what I am today, in part, because I have set goals for myself ever since that freezing cold Thursday morning at 3216 Lotus Lane.


27 Comments so far

  1. Danny E. November 29th, 2012 2:07 pm

    David: Thanks for the flash back. My first paycheck was at the age of 12 I worked at Rizzo’s funeral home at State and Pleasant Valley. I spent a week filling cracks in the parking lot with tar and putting sand over it. I made $110 dollars that week, then the next week old man Rizzo took me to the Rizzo’s on the east side to do the same thing there. Then I became the lawn boy. I took care of all the yard work at the funeral homes, and like I said that was at 12 years old. They did not have child labor laws back then, lol. Hope all is well my friend, and happy holidays to you and the family.

  2. Laura November 29th, 2012 2:23 pm

    Wow-what a trip down Memory Lane! My first “job”, aside from babysitting the neighborhood kids, was an incentive from my father, named “Parma’s Music Man” by none other than the Parma Post! As a musician, he wanted me to practice my instrument as much as possible, and told me he would match every dollar that I earned in competitions-and he did! He will tell you that it was one of the best “investments” that he ever made. And now, we are doing the same thing for our daughter, an aspiring soprano. Every competition that she enters and received a monetary prize, we match. Hey, a deal’s a deal and I learned that from my wonderful father. Love your blog, btw, you have a wonderful gift for writing…

  3. Laura M. November 29th, 2012 2:34 pm

    My claim to fame-being featured several times in the Parma Post…I worked at Antonio’s Pizza (Snow Rd.) during some down time between my freshman and sophomore years at IU. $.99 lunch specials, and I usually received a penny as a tip. Made me work that much harder on the violin-LOL! My dad told me that it would inspire me to practice, and it certainly did, but I was exhausted after being the “solo” waitress for the lunch crowd.

  4. Ignacio T. November 29th, 2012 2:46 pm

    This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful short stories I have ever read. Thank you for this.

  5. Frank K. November 29th, 2012 5:02 pm

    Dear Sir,
    A humbling story, and a lesson for all young people anywhere and everywhere.

  6. Cyndi Y.L. November 29th, 2012 7:27 pm

    Wonderful story about you and your brother!!

  7. Tracy L. November 29th, 2012 7:29 pm

    It’s a beautifully written, tender story David

  8. Rhonda R. November 29th, 2012 11:23 pm

    I loved reading this story. Ironically, just today I was telling someone about Dino. He was a wonderful boy, who is still terribly missed.

  9. Tamara P. November 29th, 2012 11:55 pm

    wonderful, just wonderful

  10. Sammy H. November 30th, 2012 4:13 am

    if i could even find the words to tell you David

  11. Ferdie P. November 30th, 2012 6:43 am

    fantastic story.

  12. Kera M. November 30th, 2012 12:04 pm

    Cannot even tell you how moving this piece of your history was for me. Wow

  13. Allison November 30th, 2012 1:31 pm

    David — you could’ve been writing about me and my brother, as he, too, had the Sun Post route in Parma way back when. It was a very rare occasion that my folks helped him either — and I remember the Bonus Bucks he’d get on the top of the stack of papers when they were delivered to us for folding and, finally, delivering. I think he actually saved enough to get a small black & white t.v. Not bad for a 13-year old (back then). Thanks for the memories! I look back to that simpler time and wish I could return. I hope you are well.

  14. Ian T. November 30th, 2012 4:33 pm

    This was an extraordinary piece of writing.

  15. Trina S. November 30th, 2012 10:30 pm

    If this story doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, nothing ever will. Not sure that was you intention, but it sure was moving.

  16. Farnsworth V. December 1st, 2012 1:11 am

    So poignant yet uplifting Mr. Cangleosi. My friend sent me this story and I had to write you. It was just beautiful.

  17. Thomas S. December 1st, 2012 2:03 am

    Beautiful, David!

  18. Bea T. December 1st, 2012 3:59 am

    I cried til I emptied myself out, David. Thank you for this beautiful story.

  19. Arthur J. December 1st, 2012 6:35 am

    David: This was more than a wonderful way to pay tribute to your brother, and to approve of a work and goal effort.

  20. Serafina B, December 1st, 2012 12:42 pm

    Incredibly well written adn beautiful story.

  21. Katie H M. December 1st, 2012 1:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing that! You’re a wonderful writer~~ Not fair, you have too many talents for one person.

  22. Renae L. December 1st, 2012 1:30 pm


  23. Eileen H. December 1st, 2012 5:41 pm

    David this post is a gift to any parent who hopes their children would learn responsibility from their parents and garner support from their own siblings. I could only hope that my children would do the same unto themselves, but I surely know they hate it when I foist responsibility upon them!!

  24. Randy B. December 1st, 2012 5:52 pm

    Fantastic post.

  25. Manny A. December 1st, 2012 6:56 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful posting. I am not sure that I have ever read anything so heart-rendering and concise. What a gift of the written word you have been given.

  26. Mara Y. December 1st, 2012 8:03 pm

    Extraordinarily generous retelling of your childhood experiences, and thoroughly well-written David. How sad that you must note the passing of such a wonderful brother and young man at such an early age. Thank you for chronicling his wonderful nature, and the circumstances surrounding his death must have been shockingly sad.

  27. Adele C. December 1st, 2012 8:08 pm

    Mr. Cangelosi,
    I will probably never be able to express how meaningful this article was to me, especially since I do not know you, and only know of your work from San Francisco. But allow me to say that if WHAT you have become is a result of your early childhood experiences regarding responsibility and a steadfast nature, then you have done marvelously in life. Congratulations.

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