Both of my brothers had paper routes, as did my father when he was a child. It was the first job for many kids. When I was growing up, our local paper put out two editions ... the morning Courier and the evening Press. Those with a Courier route had to get up long before the sun even thought of coming up. They had to retrieve their papers from wherever the paper truck dropped them off, roll them up, put rubber bands around them, stuff their paperbag to overflowing, then set off on their bike to deliver their papers in time to get back home, eat breakfast, and get ready for school. Back then, of course, kid's walked to school ... through six miles of snow.
Okay, so the snow part isn't true, but kids did walk to school "back then", regardless of the weather. Snow and rain were the reason umbrella's and rubber boots were invented ... and we were expected to use them! Unless you had a ridiculous amount of stuff to carry, parents didn't even think about offering to drive their kids to school ... and kids never dreamed of asking. We were kids. Our job was to go to school and learn, and our mode of transportation was our bike or our feet.
But, I digress.
On Sunday's, Daddy would wake up all eight of us kids to help my brothers deliver papers. I hated helping. Delivering papers in the morning encompassed all of the things a night owl like myself detested ... getting up early from my warm and toasty bed, and going out into the cold. Had we been financially compensated for helping, I might not have minded, but I didn't even get a soft drink out of the deal! Each of the four older kids would grab one of us four little kids to help them when delivering their assigned houses ... and guess whose job it was to walk to each door and lay the paper on the doorstep? Well, I don't know if that was the case for the other little kids, but I was always picked by the same sibling ... and she was too scared to go up to each door ... because a murderer could be hiding in the bushes or a dead body could have been stashed there. And yes, she actually told me that! No wonder I was such a chicken growing up!!
Daddy, who began supporting his family at the age of six, and initially did so by delivering newspapers ... so took the job VERY seriously. Unlike Barney Flaherty, who got the job by demonstrating he could throw a paper into the bushes, Daddy mandated we put the paper squarely on the porch. My brothers, both a lot older and stronger, had perfected their aim from countless seasons of Little League baseball. They could toss a paper ... in the dark ... and watch it land on a postage stamp half a mile away. I, on the other hand, spent my days turning cartwheels and playing Barbie's. My skinny little arms didn't have that kind of power ... so I had to walk the paper up to the porch ... in what I considered the middle of the night ... braving the murderers and dead bodies lurking in the bushes.
In the bitter cold.
With the availability of free news online, few people subscribe to a physical newspaper anymore, so the paper carrier jobs have all but vanished. There are a few carriers now, but it's mostly adults, delivering papers from their car. It's too bad that this profession is all but dead. It wasn't exactly hard work, but it was demanding. It was seven days a week, and the papers had to be delivered, even when they were sick. Paper routes were a coveted profession by adolescent boys. Aside from mowing lawns in the summer, raking leaves in the fall, and shoveling snow it the winter, it was the only way for a kid to earn money. A boy kid anyway. Back then, paperboys were exactly that ... boys. The only source of income available to girls was babysitting. Paper routes taught boys that hard work paid off. It taught them that nice people on their route would tip them for a job well done when paying their bill (which the paper boy had to go around each week and collect). It taught them that some people are mean and stingy and would seldom tip even if you hand delivered their paper to them in bed on a tray with breakfast. But it also taught that most people, even on a limited income, would be nice enough to tip what they could to say "thank you".
Having money of your own as a kid teaches you the value of a dollar, and how quickly it can add up when you save some of it ... and still have money to buy gum and candy ... and save the wrappers to buy luxury items like spy decoder rings or sea monkeys.
Kids today live a completely different kind of life. Their parents ferry them around in climate-controlled vehicles with built-in DVD's or blue-ray players for their viewing entertainment. They are born into a world of cushioned car seats with sippy-cup holders and snack trays. They are taught in air-conditioned schools, and have thousands of television channels and on-demand movies available at the touch of a button ... and all but a handful of their toys are more sophisticated that the computer used to send men to the moon!
Like everyone else, I've become a victim of technology. I no longer subscribe to my local paper, Instead, I read a great deal of news online. I dry my clothes in an electric dryer rather than hanging them on a line to dry ... even though I desperately miss crawling into bed at night to the fresh smell of sheets dried in the sunshine. I can fruits and vegetables because I want to, not because I have to. (I can't grow any food because when the squirrels see me with dirt or seeds or a shovel, they put on a bib ... grrrrrr ... a problem I have addressed in numerous blog posts!) If I sew, it's out of desire to do so rather than a necessity ... even though it's often cheaper to buy them ready-made ... and despite the fact that Amazon will deliver anything I can image right to my front door.
Growing up, only those in first, second, or third place got a trophy ... and oftentimes it was only the first place winners. We didn't get a ribbon because we showed up in uniform and chased butterflies in the outfield. We actually had to earn our reward. Our parents didn't have to tell us to do our homework. We did our homework because school was our job. Our homework was our responsibility. Our parents didn't help us with it unless we asked, and they never checked it for accuracy. We were spanked, in school, at home, and at the neighbor's house, if we misbehaved. Those things are a felony anymore ... but it taught us to behave appropriately. Celebrities and politicians were castigated for drug use, for having affairs, or for babies born out of wedlock. If anyone posed naked for magazines or made a sex tape, they'd better enjoy that line of work, because from there on out, that's the only kind of job they could get! Immoral and unethical behaviors ended careers ... they didn't catapult them to riches and stardom. No one trusted people of dubious character, and it took a long time for those people to redeem themselves and earn the trust and respect of others after such deeds were exposed.
I would give anything if my kids could go back in time and spend one long, hot summer day with me ... the way I spent it as a child. Their jaws would drop at the freedom parents gave kids back then ... and they would have more fun than they've ever had in their lives ... even though not one single toy or game would involve batteries or electricity. I'm amazed, and often grateful, at all technology has given to us ... but it has came at a price, And, sadly, I believe the youth of today are footing that bill. Sadder still is that don't they have any idea what's it's cost them.