Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Mother's Paper Route

Because we lived off my dad's veterans disability checks and social security, my mother said the government limited how much she could earn to $5,000 per year.  Because that is approximately half of what my the government gave my family per month (yes, the checks totaled close to $10k per month tax free -- I know the numbers because I managed my parents' finances for several years -- more on that another time), she never needed to work for a living.  She retired from nursing at the age of 24 when they adopted my older brother, but she took on a handful of odd jobs and get-rich-quick schemes over the years.  This was one of the strangest:  the paper route.

I was in my early teens when my mother got her paper route, which means she was in her early forties.  To me, paper routes were something kids with bicycles did for a first job when they were still too young to be baggers at the local grocery store.  I didn't know any paperboys, but according to TV shows, the child would get up early, get the papers ready, and ride his bike through his route, throwing a paper at each doorstep.  He would finish by sun-up and then do other things.  This was not what my mother did. 

My mother got the papers ready throughout the day while I was at school and sometimes while I was at home.  They were scattered across the living room floor as she worked through them, which might have seemed more foreign if she hadn't already been a hoarder and the floors already strewn with random debris.  I'm not sure how long it took her to roll up the papers and slip them into their plastic casings each day, but I saw her doing it a lot, so it seemed like hours. 

Then when I got home from school, we would load them into the car and she would drive me to the neighborhood where her route was.  Then she told me to get out of the car and deliver the papers door-to-door.  I had to hang them nicely on the door handles, NO! we could not throw them from the car window like people do on TV,  and if someone was outside, I had to hand deliver the paper personally and talk with the person and exchange pleasantries.  She would see if I didn't because she drove slowly down the street, watching me while I walked and delivered papers.  If I hung the paper on a door knob when a person was somewhere outside, even if they were engaged in something like mowing the lawn, she would yell at me to go back and hand deliver the paper.  I was shy, which made interacting with strangers difficult on its own, but doing my mother's paper route in this weird, forced way while she yelled at me from her slow-moving car mortified me.  Sometimes the people she saw outside who she wanted me to hand deliver papers to were my classmates, which was worse.

When we finished her route, it was usually around 4pm and I was famished.  She had pretty much stopped cooking by that point in my life, so then she would take me out to dinner, usually to Denny's, where she complained that it cost as much to feed me as she earned doing her paper route.

Her original plan had been to build a paper route empire.  She said she'd heard of another middle-aged woman who subcontracted out multiple paper routes to local children, taking a cut of their pay while they did all the delivering, and this scalable model appealed to her.  She never made it that far though.  She just drove slowly alongside me, watching me deliver papers every afternoon, until one day she told me she quit. 

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