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Learning Responsibilities as a Youngster

It is 1960 in Santa Clara. Like most kids in my small town, I was assigned chores. But soon, there was going to be a change. I was going to make a very important decision in my short life by joining an exclusive club. I was now ten years old and it was now time to elevate my responsibilities and start a new job—a paper route. I was going to be a paperboy!

The Santa Clara Journal was going to be a great stepping stone to add to my working resume. Once a week on Wednesday, I delivered ten-page papers I wrapped with a rubber band. Rain or shine, I rode in the afternoon with the papers securely anchored on my bike. I delivered about one hundred and fifty newspapers to my neighbors via well-aimed tosses to their front porch. It was great to have an accurate arm, having never broken any windows or having any papers gone astray. Even as a youngster, I loved our local paper. Half the paper was comprised of want ads from local city businesses we frequently supported. For me, the best part of the newspaper was checking out the two pages dedicated to local youth sports. If we were lucky, we might find an article highlighting someone we knew. Better than that, it could be about me. The cost of the subscription was always a voluntary contribution. Thank you to all that supported our local paper.

I then began a new and more difficult job of delivering the San Jose Mercury News, a paid subscription newspaper. This paper route was every day, delivered around our city by many boys and girls. We had the morning or evening routes plus a larger newspaper on Sunday morning. It was a grueling job peddling our bikes laden with a bigger volume of papers. Morning routes were harder than afternoon for a few reasons. It was colder in the morning and even worse, if it was raining we had to put the paper in a plastic bag to keep it dry. Rain in the afternoon still made the job hard, but at least it wasn’t cold, just wet. I soon discovered that I had to learn to ride my bike with one pedal during the early morning. I had to protect one leg while draping it over the horizontal bar and still be able to pedal with one foot. This was because many dogs were let out to do their business. Dogs were nipping at my legs as I journeyed on to complete my route. Luckily most dogs were trying to be more playful than vicious, as they tried to slow me down, though a few torn pants were had. Another obstacle I faced was collecting for the subscription. For this, I  went door to door in the evening to meet my customers.

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Every month I collected from my subscribers. The way it worked was that the newspaper boy, me, paid for all the papers, and subscribers paid me back. I can’t tell you how many people skipped out of paying at the end of the month and I had to pay for their subscription out of my pocket. Shame on you! Going door to door collecting, then being told to come back again because you didn’t have two dollars and fifty cents, was very time-consuming. I went back again for those ten or fifteen houses and sometimes again and again. Yet, it was always rewarding to hear a big “Thank you,” each month, and being praised for a job well done.

As a youngster, it was rewarding to hear these encouragements and for getting respect for a job that at times was challenging. The other important reward was to me. I gathered with other paper boys and girls every Sunday at Stans Donuts. A cup of hot chocolate and Stan’s famous glazed donut was the best reward we could give ourselves. There, among friends, we shared stories of our week or we helped others to fold their papers if they were behind. Every youngster, growing up should take steps to learn and achieve the satisfaction borne of hard work and also taking on responsibility which will pay off in the future.

Mission City Voices

Do you have a personal essay that you’d like to submit for consideration? Email Editor@SvVoice.com subject line: Mission City Voices.

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