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Revisit: A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . . (via The King of Texas)

Dear Larry, I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings—Read More here. . .

via The King of Texas

Concerning comments and replies thereto:

Astute readers will note that in this posting I have placed the cart before the horse—what follows below is a comment on the original post and my reply to that comment. In order to fully appreciate the reader’s comment and my reply, one should first read the original posting by clicking on the Read More above, or by clicking here if you like.

I like to consider my postings on Word Press as travels and travails through life, both for me and for my family members and others about whom I write. The actual postings are the interstate highways, and reader’s comments and my replies to those comments are the blue highways, the roads traveled by the author of the book Blue Highways, a forever memorable journey—read a review here. The following is excerpted from the Amazon.com review:

First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.

I assure you that Blue Highways is difficult to put down once you have started reading it, comparable to running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex. I beg forgiveness for having used those hoary similes, but they are so expressive I cannot pass up an opportunity to voice them—I’m sorry, but it’s in my nature! And continuing in that same vein, comments to postings and the author’s replies are, at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road, a couple of metaphors that, although quite descriptive, are tremendously overused.

But I digress—this is a revisit to my July 2010 posting of a letter I wrote to my brother some 23 years after his  death (I assume that it was received, because it was not returned). I have extracted a reader’s comment and my reply to that comment—I felt that they were far too cogent to remain in Stygian darkness so I brought them out into the  bright light of today.

This is a comment from my niece:

Thanks to Vicki I found your blog earlier this week. To say the least I have spent several hours strolling down memory lane (memories of tales told to me by my mother, grandmother, and aunts) and other hours traveling new and foreign fields. Once when I was visiting your “prettiest sister” she shared the letter you had written her, the one I found here that was written to both sisters. You have always had a way with words. Make that 7 favorite granddaughters—I never could count.

And this is my reply:

Hi—it’s a real pleasure to hear from you. The first name was familiar but the Argo stumped me. I believe that your married name is a harbinger of things to come—good things. Cindy is archiving all this drivel to which I’m subjecting viewers in the remote possibility that she will one day publish said drivel in book form. She already has my first book standing by in the wings, ready to publish. It’s a compendium of jokes, and some—well, many of them—okay, okay, all of them—are of the type that would require the book to be displayed on the top shelf, out of reach for children. In our current motion picture rating system, it would probably be labeled MA15+, Not suitable for persons younger than 15. I’m mulling over that provision and so far have withheld permission to publish—not that Cindy is all that eager to publish  it—she’s pretty busy, deeply engrossed in the process of making a living.

As you well know, Argo is the name of Jason’s craft in Greek mythology, the vessel that sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. I know it’s a stretch but that’s what I’m doing—if it should come to pass, a book of my postings, my pseudo autobiography, will be my Golden Fleece. The term pseudo has many meanings—one of those meanings, perhaps the one most applicable to my efforts is, something old and useless that is paraded around in order to evoke irony.

I hasten to say that I do not profess to be a modern Jason. I humbly admit, with all humility aside, that I am merely an Argonaut, one of the band of heroes that assisted Jason in his quest. I’ll also admit that I’ve never understood why anyone would risk life and limb in search of a stinky old sheepskin.

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment, and I promise I’ll keep posting if you will continue visiting and commenting—as we sailors are wont to say, “I like the cut of your jib!”

Oh, and one more thought—you and I are in emphatic agreement on your label of my prettiest sister, but please don’t tell the others! That’s what your Grandma Hester did each time we visited—one by one she would take the girls aside and tell each that she was the prettiest and that she loved her more than the others but please don’t tell them. That worked for several years until one of the girls—we’re unsure which—finally spilled the beans, whether deliberately or inadvertently is unknown.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., and our mother felt that you could well afford that amount and would jump at the chance to support baby brother in his work.

I don’t say this in an effort to pass the buck, but that letter was not my idea. Mama suggested it, and at the same time she had me write to Willis, our dad, and ask him for money—no specific amount was requested, and I received no specific amount—none, zilch, zip, zero—and my letter was neither answered nor returned, much the same result as my letter to you. I wrote a letter to Willis, but the only thing I remember about it is the sign-off that Hester composed:

No mon, no fun, your son—Mikey

I was really having trouble balancing that heavy paperbag, especially on Sundays because of the increased weight of the papers. As one might expect, much of my paper route was on unpaved streets—it was mostly on the south side of Columbus, Mississippi, and the city’s southside was the last in line for upgrades such as converting graveled streets to asphalt paving. I have since learned that such niceties depend on the tax base, and relatively few dollars flowed into the city’s coffers from southside residents and businesses.

I found the cycle of my choice in a magazine advertisement—it was black, low-slung with a Harley Hog saddle seat and a kick-starter, and it was belt driven—it sported the requisites of headlight and tail light, and in those days tags and a driver’s license were not required.

Note that I said belt driven—the motorcycle belts advertised and used nowadays are steel, not rubber. The cycle of my dreams was driven by a rubber belt identical to the fan belt on an automobile—can you believe it! The name of the bike has faded from my memory, lost in the dim mists of the past, but I believe it was called a Service Cycle, or perhaps a Servi-cycle—anyway, something on that order.

Apparently your response was lost in the mail because I never received an answer, and in our contacts in later years the subject was never broached. It’s also possible, of course, that you never received the letter. No matter—that’s a moot point in view of the fact that I lost my exalted newspaper delivery boy status soon after that—I was fired by the son of a—no, not that kind of son—I was fired by the son of the owner of the Commercial Dispatch, a junior unless my memory fails me.

If they provide you with a computer where you are, you can Google my version of the incident here—the true version, regardless of what that son of a—well, regardless of other versions, whether of the home owner involved or the Circulation Manager of the Commercial Dispatch.

I’m sorry that I was not able to attend your funeral back in the fall of 1983. When our sister, Jessie, called my hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, I was preparing to leave for National Airport—now Ronald Reagan International—to board a plane for Miami. I was in Washington on a 90-day special detail, and the trip to Miami was very important to my assignment in Washington, an assignment that culminated in a promotion to a higher level in the U.S. Customs hierarchy, a significant increase in salary and a three-year stay at Customs’ national headquarters.

All things are possible, of course—I could have canceled my flight, but the cancellation and my failure to participate in the activities in Miami would have made a major difference in my burgeoning career. I know my apology is rather belated because  27 years have passed since that day, but at least I’m making the effort now to express my regrets.

Larry, I remember that you like jokes, and I intend to include some of yours in future letters to remind you of the jokes you told me and the songs I learned from you. Just as a sample, I’ll show one of those ditties—it is hilarious!

There was an old woman that lived in the grass,
And when she bent over you could see her . . .
Ruffles and tuffels and also her tucks,
She said she was learning a new way to . . . .
Bring up her daughters and teach them to knit
While the boys in the barnyard were shoveling up . . . .
Contents of the stables and also the sod
And if that isn’t poetry I’ll hang by my . . . .

I must tell you that I am using this letter-writing method on the premise of contacting you because of my daughters. I’m sure you remember them, but perhaps not their children. Debbie is the elder of the three, Cindy was born seven years later and Kelley just four years after that. All are well and loving life. Debbie is married and has a grown son and daughter, Cindy is married and has two cats and numerous species of aquarium fish, and Kelley is married and has a young son and daughter, both in grade school.

All three women would like to know more about our family, and my middle daughter, Cindy, has convinced me that the best way to inform them of their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is for me to convey the information in the form of a letter to each relative. This letter to you is the second letter I’ve written. The first was to our sister Hattie, the little girl that only lived one day after her birth in 1917, just two years before you were born. You can Google it here if you would like to read the letter. Neither of us knew her on earth, but perhaps you have met her in the hereafter—if so, please give her our love and best regards.

Here are a couple of off-beat poems I’ve carried around in my brain for many years. I realize that this letter is rather somber in nature, and perhaps this will lighten things up a bit:

An epitaph found on an old tombstone:

Know, my friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Some wag added this below the epitaph:

To follow you
I’m not content,
Until I know
Which way you went.

Larry, you and I were together for brief periods, widely spaced, and away from each other for years at a time. Those years covered more than a half-century—51 of them, from the year of my birth to the year of your death. Other than the two years or so that I lived with you and your family in Maryland and for a few weeks in El Paso, Texas we were together for very short periods of time. We may think we know each other, but I don’t believe that we know each other very well.

Much of what I know, or think I know, about you comes from you—you’ve told me many things about yourself and about incidents and people that I never knew, so my knowledge must be considered secondhand at its best—hearsay, if you will—because I wasn’t there. I intend to discuss those incidents and people based on your stories for the benefit of my children, to help them understand our relationship to each other and to other family members. By the time I finish, if in fact I ever finish, there should be a good-sized portfolio of letters such as this one.

And be forewarned—some of the things I will discuss are a bit far out and in certain instances bear the scent of braggadocio, but as the little boy accused of bragging said, If you done it, it ain’t bragging!

Larry, you should consider this letter a harbinger of things to come, the first of many. I’ll talk about locations and events and people, some that you knew and I didn’t, and some that I know and you didn’t. Throughout the process I will make every effort to document the source of my information. Those other than you that read the letters can either accept them as fact or dismiss them as fiction, and you of course have the same choice. Whichever you and they choose to do, I promise that everyone will be enlightened, and perhaps even entertained, in the process.

I’ll get back to you with more details. Please take care of yourself.

Lots of love,

Mike


 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Family, newspapers

 

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Age 14—fired from my paperboy job . . .

For several months I served my community as a teenage paperboy, delivering the daily publications of the Commercial Dispatch, a small daily newspaper in a small town—Columbus, Mississippi. For those who may not be familiar with the requirements of the job, I must note that one does not become a paperboy overnight. There is a period of intensive training, a period during which one is given the lofty title of Assistant Paperboy. Following the mandatory interview with the paper’s Circulation Manager (the owner’s son), an interview in which I was deemed acceptable for training, I was assigned to a regular paperboy, one who was voluntarily leaving his employment for greener pastures as a carhop at a local eatery—that’s a subject for a future posting—I worked as a carhop at two different locations in the same city—I was fired from one location and voluntarily left the other.

For several weeks, at the princely salary of $1.50 per week, I accompanied the Paperboy on daily paper pickups and deliveries, learning the route and the necessary bookkeeping and public relations aspects of the job. The papers were delivered in the evenings on Monday through Friday and early in the morning on Sundays—the paper was not published on Saturdays.

During the training period I met my boss, the real paperboy, after school on Monday through Friday in the basement of the building, an underground area accessible by vehicles for pickups and deliveries and by our bikes. There we counted out our papers and placed them in a canvas bag similar to the saddlebags used by horsemen. The bags, printed with the newspaper’s name, had a hole in the center so it could be worn by the delivery person with its paper-filled pouches front and rear, or carried across the handlebars of a bike and the bike’s crossbar, or across the luggage rack above the bike’s rear wheel. The bag was worn when the paperboy had no bike and walked his route, or when the bike was out of commission. It also was worn by the lucky ones that had an business-district route with all-commercial customers—these were the plums, the most desirable routes available, gems sought after by any paperboy with even the slightest desire to succeed in the newspaper delivery field.

We never rolled the papers—I suppose the idea of rolling papers and securing the rolled paper with a rubber band had not been thought of at the time—or it may have been simply because the profit margin enjoyed by newspaper delivery boys did not allow the acquisition and use of such accessories. We delivered the papers flat, and I became rather proficient at sailing the paper across lawns for a considerable distance. In the beginning, of course, I manged to land the paper in or under bushes, in mud puddles and in ditches, everywhere except on walkways or driveways, or on the porch, the ideal final location for the toss. In such failed deliveries the decision had to be made whether to stop and correct the unsatisfactory delivery, or to accept it and hope that the customer would not complain—not an easy decision to be made, especially if the hour was late and supper was waiting at home.

Hey, don’t laugh—it’s no small task for one to control a moving bike with one hand, a bike loaded with 125 newspapers in a canvas bag lying across the handlebars with one side resting on the front fender and the other on the crossbar, surveying the terrain for an acceptable target while keeping alert for potholes, dogs, other moving vehicles, pedestrians, rocks, mud puddles and other possible impediments to forward motion, then selecting a paper with the other hand, positioning it correctly for throwing and, at the precise correct instant, releasing it toward its target. I must admit that an accurate throw under such conditions gave any paperboy, regardless of his tenure, a pleasurable feeling, albeit fleeting.

I followed my boss—the real paperboy—on my bike as he made the deliveries, making mental notes of street signs, house numbers, locations, dogs, potholes, traffic, etc. Dennis—I’ll call him Dennis because that was his name—rode a state-of-the-art bike, one powered by a small battery taped to the bike’s crossbar, with power going to a small motor mounted on the bike’s front fender. With the flick of a switch, the rubber-covered shaft of the motor pressed against the front tire’s sidewall and gave a power-assist to the bike’s motion. Before the motor could be used the bike first had to be moving—inertia had to be overcome by pedaling, then the motor took over. The system worked great on level paved surfaces such as streets and sidewalks, but was a bust on unpaved surfaces and had to be supported by some old-fashioned pedaling by the rider.

I must digress for a moment:

While in training, late in the evening on a cold winter day, the Paperboy and his AA (Able Assistant) delivered a paper to a service station and remained to warm up a bit before continuing on our route. The station manager offered us a cigarette—Dennis accepted one, but told the manager that I was “too young to smoke.” That put-down changed my life—I defiantly took the cigarette, and thus made the first step towards acquiring the nicotine habit, a habit that was finally conquered some 22 years later.

My employment as a newspaper carrier, a vocation that could have propelled me into the upper echelons of newspaper publishing, lasted only a few short months. Early on a beautiful sunny Sunday I stopped at a customer’s house, one located in a rural area with nothing but graveled roads. Any graveled road is a paperboy’s nemesis, especially one on a bike carrying a heavy load of a Sunday issue stuffed with advertising material. I knocked on the subscriber’s door several times, each time harder than the previous knock, and finally the following dialogue ensued:

Man’s shout: “Who the (F-word) is it?”

My answer: “The paperboy.”

Man’s shout: “What the (F-word) do you want?

My answer: “I want to collect for the paper.”

Man’s shout: “I already paid for the (the gerund of F-word) paper.”

My answer: “No, I don’t have a record of your payment.”

His final shout telling me to go away included a name for me which alluded forcefully to my diminutive size and the marital status of my mother at the time of my birth. He shouted “F-word you, you little bastard, go away,” so my response was that of any red-blooded American paperboy unaccustomed to such denigrating language, especially language casting aspersions on one’s mother.

I said “Okay, then do without the damn paper.”

I heard more curses and the sound of feet hitting the floor so I took flight. I hopped on my bike, flew across the road and hid behind a small outbuilding. I waited there for what seemed an eternity, heart pounding violently and scared shiftless (as we used to say under such stressful times). Finally I peeked around the corner. There was no one in sight so I left the scene of the crime, finished my deliveries and went home.

The following day, Monday, was predictable—I knew well how the day would end. I reported to pick up my papers and was met by the Circulation Manager, a worthy that happened to be the son of the owner. The incident of the previous day was not mentioned. He sternly ordered me to turn in my canvas carrier-bags. This I did with alacrity, collecting my two-dollar deposit and then slinking pitifully away from the area with my head down and steps dragging.

But that was all for effect. I hated that damn job. That stuff they say about mail carriers, something on the order of “neither heat nor rain nor snow can delay us, blah, blah, blah” never applied to the crappy job of newspaper delivery boy. Looking back on it the only bright spot in my brief career was one evening around Christmastime when the circulation manager put several of us in the back seat of his new Cadillac convertible and with the top down drove us around to deliver our papers—and this was during a heavy snowfall—I must admit that was fun, but one can’t hang around for something similar to happen—it would probably never have happened again—at least not with me being one of the fortunate boys selected.

Oh, just one more thing—I checked my meticulously kept records and found that the customer whose complaint had cost me my job had in fact—yep, you guessed it—he had already paid me.

Oh, well, you win some and you lose some.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: I was working on a new post today concerning my hometown (Columbus, Mississippi) and I encountered a familiar name, that of the Circulation Manager, the son that repossessed my paperbag and arbitrarily retired me from my paper route at the early age of 13 years. The name was the same, but he is now the owner of the Commercial Dispatch. The only difference in his name and that of the one that fired me was the Roman numeral tacked onto the name. Since the current owner claims the number III, the one that fired me was II, and his father, the owner at the time I was fired must have been the first in that particular lineage——hey, there’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

Evidently the customer told his one-sided story and the circulation manager made no effort to get my side of the incident. Had I been advised to apologize I would have readily agreed. Money was tight in my family at the time, and the pittance I received as a paper boy helped a bit. An apology would probably not have made any difference, because in commercial transactions the customer is always right—that’s the profit angle at work. In this present day and age if an adult male used that sort of language to a minor, he could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of the minor, and would at the very least face some embarrassment.

 

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