From Chicago, With Love
By Marvin J. Wolf
condensed from Chicago Tribune Magazine

as printed in Readers Digest December 1995

          When I was nine, I needed to earn money, so I asked Mr. Miceli, the Herald-American’s man in my Chicago neighborhood, about an after-school paper route. He said if I had a bicycle, he’d give me a route.
      My dad was working four jobs then. He built neon signs in a sheet-metal shop during the day, delivered flowers until eight in the evening, drove a cab till midnight, and on weekends sold insurance door-to-door. He bought me a used bike, but right after that he was hospitalized with pneumonia and couldn’t teach me how to ride. He merely asked to see the bike. So I walked it down to his garage, showed it to him and got the job.
     At first, I slung my delivery sack filled with rolled papers over the handlebars and walked my bike down the sidewalks. But pushing a bike with a load of papers was awkward. After a few days I left the bike at home and borrowed Mom’s two-wheeled steel-mesh shopping cart.
     Delivering papers from a bike is tricky. You get one chance to throw each paper, and if it misses a porch or stoop, too bad. But I left Mom’s cart at the sidewalk and carried each paper to its proper destination. If that was a second-floor porch, and I missed the first throw, I retrieved the paper and threw again. On Sundays, when the papers were big and heavy, I carried each one up the stairs. If it was raining, I put my papers inside the screen doors or, at apartment buildings, in the entrance halls. In rain or snow I put Dad’s old raincoat over the cart to keep the papers dry.
     It took me longer to make my deliveries by cart than if I were on a bike, but I didn’t mind, I got to meet everyone in the neighborhood – working-class people of Italian, German or Polish descent who were invariably kind to me. If I saw something interesting while walking my route, such as a dog with puppies or a rainbow of oil on wet asphalt, I could stop to watch for a while.
     When Dad returned from the hospital, he resumed his day job, but he was too weak to work the others and had to give them up. Now we needed every dime we cold raise to pay bills, so we sold my bike. Since I still didn’t know how to ride it, I didn’t object.
     Mr. Miceli must have known I wasn’t using a bike, but he said nothing about it to me. In fact, he rarely spoke to any of us boys, unless it was to give us hell for missing a customer or leaving a paper in a puddle.
     In eight months I built my rout from 36 subscribers to 59, mostly because customers sent me to their neighbors, who said they wanted to take the paper. Sometimes people stopped me on the street to tell me to add them to my list.
     I earned a penny a paper, Monday through Saturday, and a nickel a paper on Sundays. I collected every Thursday evening, and since most customers gave a nickel or a dime extra, soon I was making almost as much in tips as I got in pay from Mr. Miceli. That was good, because Dad still couldn’t work much and I had to give most of my wages to Mom.
     On the Thursday evening before Christmas 1951, I rang my first customer’s doorbell. Even though the lights were on, nobody answered the door, so I went on to the next house. No answer. The same thing happened at the next family’s house and the one after that. Soon I had knocked and rung at most of my subscriber’s doors, but not one person appeared to be home.
     I was very worried; I had to pay for my papers every Friday. And while it was almost Christmas, I’d never thought everyone would be out shopping.
     So I was very happy when, going up the walkway to the Gordon’s house, I heard music and voices. I rang the bell. Instantly the door was flung open, and Mr. Gordon all but dragged me inside.
     Jammed into his living room were almost all my 59 subscribers! In the middle of the room was a brand-new Schwinn bicycle. It was candy-apple red, and it had a generator –powered headlight and a bell. A canvas bag bulging with colorful envelopes hung from the handlebars.
     “This is for you,” Mrs. Gordon said, “We all chipped in.”
     The envelopes held Christmas cards, along with the weekly subscription fees. Most also included a generous tip. I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to say. Finally, one of the women called for quiet and gently led me to the center of the room. “You are the best paperboy we’ve ever had,” she said. “There’s never been a day when a paper was missing or late, never a day when it got wet. We’ve all seen you out there in the rain and snow with that little shopping cart. And so we thought you ought to have a bicycle.”
     All I could say was “Thank you.” I said it over and over.
     When I got home, I counted more than $100 in tips – a windfall that made me a family hero and brought our household a wonderful holiday season.
      My subscribers must have called Mr. Miceli, because when I got to his garage the next day to pick up my papers, he was waiting outside. “Bring your bike tomorrow at ten, and I’ll teach you how to ride,” he said, and I did.
     When I had begun to feel comfortable on the bike, Mr. Miceli asked me to deliver a second route, 42 papers. Delivering both routes from my new bike went faster than delivering one from the shopping cart.
     But when it rained, I got off my bike to carry every paper to a dry haven. And if I missed a throw to a high porch, I stopped, put down the kickstand and threw again.
     I joined the Army after high school and gave away my Schwinn to my younger brother Ted. I can’t recall what became of it. But my subscribers gave me another gift – a shining lesson about taking pride in even the humblest work, a Christmas present I try to use as often as I remember the kind Chicagoans who gave it to me.

Angel On A Doorstep ] Dumb Luck ] Ernie The News Hound ] My Favorite Valentine ] Flowers For Charlie ] Free As The Wind ] [ From Chicago, With Love ] Going Home Alone ] I Hate Kisses ] The Long Journey Home ] Let Kids Be Kids ] Magic Moment With My Son ] Magic In The Storm ] If You Want To Make A Difference ] The Man Who Hated Kids ] The Masters Touch ] Midnight Swing ] My Mother's Gift ] Mouths of Babes ] Mystery Of The Stone ] My Old Man Was A Sucker ] Old Scrap Iron ] My Number One Priority ] This Place of Summer Dreams ] Dad and the Revenooers ] Rich as a King ] Confessions of a Sports Mom ] Summer Dreams ] Thanks For Being My Father ] The Cat Years ] Veranda Beach ] Voice on the Wind ] When the Moon Follows Me ] What Woman Don't Understand About Guys ]

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