Monday, July 12, 2010

Strange day #2 - Sagas from paper carrier days

It was the dead of winter and something sinister was afoot in the Perkins household. A flu-like illness was plaguing our entire family. All of us had headaches, malaise, and achey eyeballs. I don't remember that any of us went to the doctor - we just kept working and followed the lead of Mom, a stalwart lady who could defeat anything with the strength of her will.

Things came to a head on a bitterly cold Sunday morning. I awoke at 3:15 AM with a throbbing headache and headed out into the 7-degree cold to throw my paper route. Strangely, the longer I was out, the better I felt, and by 5 or so, my headache was gone. But it had been a tough morning. I remember wrapping a paper with a rubber band...which popped in the frigidness and made my hand bleed. But around 5:30 or so, I managed to finish the route and head home. As I approached our house, I was amazed to see a car belonging to my aunt and uncle in the driveway and all the lights in our house burning.

Here is what had happened. Both parents had intense headaches during the night, such that Mom finally convinced Dad to get up and call an ambulance. Dad never made it to the phone and collapsed on the living room floor. Mom got up, stepped over Dad, grabbed the phone and called her sister, Pearl. In retrospect, she should have called for an ambulance, but I'm sure her brains were scrambled at that point. Mom told Pearl to get over ASAP, then she collapsed.

Pearl and Raymond arrived to bizarre scene of my folks sprawled unconscious on the floor and quickly summoned an ambulance. Mom, Dad, and my younger brother and sister were all taken to St. Paul Hospital, and minutes later, I rolled up with a quizzical look on my face. Here's what had happened. Our source of heat in the house was a floor furnace. Just prior to all this sickness, our house had shifted and, unbeknownst to us, disrupted the gas line feeding the furnace in some way. The silent killer, carbon monoxide, had been seeping through the house for at least a week. That explains why we all seemed to improve when we left the house during this time.

I drove to St. Paul and saw my family. I don't know what was given them by the doctors, but all were doing much better. If fact, it seems that I was able to bring everyone except my dad home. I went on to church, where it was announced that the Perkins family would need electric space heaters to get us through the next few days. The wonderful folks responded beautifully and we were able to stay in the house until the floor furnace was repaired.

It's frightening to think what might have happened had Mom not made it to the phone. Here's why. If she had collapsed before calling Pearl, I would not have seen them in the floor when I got home. My custom was to park the car, go around to the back of the house and let myself in a back door to the kitchen, then head immediately upstairs to my bedroom for an hour or so of shut-eye. That might have been enough time for the deadly, almost undetectable gas to finish off my parents and my siblings. We were very blessed that morning. And it wasn't the first nor the last time my mom's strength of will saved the day for our family.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two strange mornings on the paper route...

My previous blog entry focused on my years spent as a paper carrier between ages 8 and 16. All those days of delivering the Morning News and Times Herald were toughening me's just that I was blissfully unaware while it was happening that any good was coming from the jobs other than the money I was making.

I could tell a hundred stories but I want to examine only two at this time. Saga #1 was on a cold, dark morning at a very spooky part of my route. This was a section that I chose to walk rather than take the car. There were so many customers that it made sense to park the car, load up my paper bag, sling it over my shoulder, and take off walking. I threw papers to two parallel streets this way. The nervous time came at the end of Fairview Street. Getting to Kinmore Street from there involved walking down a connecting dirt road. Here, thanks to googlemaps, is how it looks today. (Give the picture a moment - it will eventually come into focus.)

Every morning, I mustered up the nerve to walk this dirt road. There is a single light pole halfway between the two streets and tall bushes form a wall on one side. In my mind, anything from escaped convicts to aliens to grizzly bears could be in those bushes. So I'd swallow hard, take long strides, and hurry through the eerieness to the relative safety of Kinmore Street, where there were houses and doors to knock on should I need to be escaping whatever was after me. Often, I thought about the plague of darkness administered to the Egyptians...dark so dark you could feel it! That's how dark it was on this little road, broken only by the light from that single pole.

This particular morning was just like most other winter mornings as I started the scary walk. Cold, darker than normal due to cloud cover, and the wind was making whirring noises as it blew through the bare tree branches. I, as usual, told myself that nothing was out there and strode resolutely ahead. Then I saw him.

He was good-sized but all I could see was his silhouette in the scant light from the light pole at the end of the dirt lane. He was walking toward me. Decision time. Do I turn around and return to the street from whence I came and take refuge on someone's front porch at 4:20 in the morning? Or do I man up and act like who I really was...a sophomore in high school, doggone it! Well, I decided to proceed. My feet were moving but I guarantee you, I wasn't breathing. I silently rebuked myself for not at least carrying a stick or a 9-iron or something!

I moved the paper bag from my right side to my left to provide an imaginary buffer zone in case this guy lunged at me with his machete. 20 feet apart now, then fate would have it, we were gonna meet directly under the light which was halfway down the road. At least I'd get a good look at him and perhaps be able to give the police a description of the killer with my dying, final words.

We came abreast of each other under the light. He was fearfully wrapped up against the cold; he appeared to have several layers of coats on and, importantly, a wrap around his face that covered everything except his eyes. Goodbye Mom and Dad, you too, Charlie and John and Marybeth, my siblings. I don't think I fired off a prayer - my mind was too paralyzed. Suddenly, he spoke. "Mornin'," he said in a voice that surprised me since I heard a tinge of fear in it. A tiny segment of my fear dissolved at that point...wait, he is scared, too??!! So I quickly responded, "Mornin'." And then he was gone.

I took long, hurried strides to the end of the road and the safety of the street light. Then I turned and looked back up the road. Nothing. He had disappeared back into the darkness. I got a warm rush. I had stared beady-eyed death in the face and had won. I fairly flew through the remainder of the route that morning, ridiculously proud of myself. But the self-congratulatory attitude didn't last long as I quickly realized that walking down that dark road the next morning, and the morning after that, and in fact, every morning from then on would be incredibly more difficult since now there was proof that evil men would step out of that tall shrubbery at any time...and probably grizzlies, too.

Well, this story took too long. I'll save the other wild morning saga for the next blog entry.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Throwing Papers

People on the street often run up to me and breathlessly inquire, "Tim, what made you the tough guy you are today?" My answer is always the same and always succinct. "Throwing papers."

It started when I was in the 3rd grade. Mom and Dad decided that my older brother and I needed to start saving up for college. Either that or they sensed an air of entitlement from us that irritated them. Soon thereafter, we were the proud owners of a Dallas Times Herald paper route fairly close to our house. But those of you who are long time Dallasites may remember 1957 as the year when the drought of the mid-50's was broken. There were days when a canoe would have come in handy in delivering those papers.

The early months were terrible. The previous paperboy had left the "route book" a mess. My brother paid me $3.50 for each month, and often made nothing for his trouble. Gradually we began to show a profit, and both of us opened savings accounts at Grand Ave. Bank.

From 1957 to 1963, I was a loyal Times Herald paperboy. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Hot weather, cold weather, tornadic weather (I remember watching the great Dallas tornado of April 2, 1957 as I threw my route). Then, in order to bring in the big bucks, I switched to the other paper in town, The Dallas Morning News. The key word there is "morning". For two years, I arose every morning at 3:15. I could usually be back in bed by 5:30. On school days, that would give me about an hour extra of sleep before I got up again to drag wearily to school.

Paper throwing, as it was called, is nothing like it is today. Nearly every paper deliverer today is an adult who does his/her route from a car, and the paper is tucked inside a plastic bag. He doesn't have to collect money from the subscribers at the end of the month like we did since folks today mail it in to the paper on their own.

We tough guys (today's deliverers are wusses) folded the papers and secured them with rubber bands. I remember the thrill of having a rubber band snap on ice cold hands...I've never been shot, but the pain from a bullet can't be much different. You want to scream, but that's not what you need to be doing, say, at 4:30 AM on a darkened street.

My parents laid the rules down early. Our driving goal was to give our route customers the best service they'd ever seen. This was demonstrated on rainy days. We didn't have the plastic bags, so Charlie and I would find a dry spot on the porch to deposit the paper. But often there was no dry spot, so we would open the screen door and lay the paper behind it. If the door was locked or if the area behind the screen door were wet, we would knock on the door and hand a dry paper to the thrilled customer. Sometimes this would earn us a tip ranging from 10 cents to (gasp!) a quarter.

My next blog entry will focus on some of the most memorable days I had while throwing papers and becoming the tough guy I am today, including the scary morning I returned to the house at 5:30 and found that the rest of my family was almost dead. (This is called a teaser, you know.)