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.