Many years ago, I had a newspaper route, a morning one that forced me to get up early, deliver my papers, and then hurry off to school. I had the route just over four years, so I got to know many of my customers. I still remember the mother who, when I collected any cold evening, would invite me in and offer me hot cocoa. Another family always tipped me five dollars for the calendar I would deliver in mid-December, back in those days that was an awesome tip.
But my favorite customer, for years I never knew her name. When I first delivered the paper, her daughter was age four or five, and somehow—each time I would collect—and Cindy was home, I would ask, "Cindy, what is the capital of Iowa, West Virginia, etc, etc?". Cindy always knew the answer! One time, I asked her the capital of South Dakota, and she answered, "Pierre". She was correct, but she did not pronounce it "Pear". I said she was wrong, and she told me she wasn't—"It is P-I-E-R-R-E!"
Her mother, returning to the front door with coins to pay my bill, heard the conversation and said, "Cindy, you must respect older people, even if you are right and they are wrong."
Cindy's mom treated me like a fellow adult. Her family lived "second floor, back" and it wasn't always easy to throw the paper up the stairs and get it on the landing near their front door. Those times I didn't, I would quietly walk up the stairs, pick up the paper, and throw it by the door.
One day when I collected, Cindy's mom praised me. "I hear you toss the paper and miss, then I hear you go up the stairs very quietly and retrieve the paper. Cindy never wakes up, and I appreciate that." And, each Christmas, her mother would give me a dollar for the calendar, saying "Merry Christmas, this is from all of us." One year, it was Cindy who took the calendar and gave the dollar. Cindy said, "Mom says this is from all of us."
Perhaps Cindy's parents both worked, I do know her father did. Sometimes they owed three, four or more weeks payments for the paper, and that was quite a bit of money, or so it seemed to me at the time.
One night, I went up the stairs to their front door, rang the bell, and no one answered. I rang it again, then knocked on the glass part of the door, I guess making quite a bit of noise. Finally, I heard sounds in the house, and Cindy's mother came to the door.
"Please leave! I know we owe you a lot but I don't have it available and I will not bother Ray!!" Chastised and feeling a bit hurt, I left.
Maybe two or so weeks later, for I still felt hurt, I went to collect, now for five or more weeks. Cindy's mother came to the door and invited me in. "In" was a hallway, complete with washing machine and a run of stairs up to, I assume, the living room, kitchen and their bedrooms. She gave me all bills, and as I reached for the quarter or so change, said, "You keep the extra."
"I am sorry I snapped at you," she said. "Ray is a good man and he works very, very hard at the factory. The night you came he had worked a double shift and he had been tossing and turning. Just before you came, things were quiet, I looked in on him, and he was sleeping. He needed that sleep and I did not want anything to wake him up."
Then she continued, saying again, "Ray is a good man. You didn't know this, but Cindy is not his daughter. Her father was killed in the war, he never saw his daughter. I named her Cindy after his mother, a woman I had barely known."
Briefly she hesitated, then went on. "Ray knows I loved Cindy's dad deeply. Ray also knows I honor and respect him and I try to be a good wife to him. Cindy calls him 'Dad' and that pleases him."
And there the story should end. A paperboy was given a bit of insight into one of his customer's marriage.
But it doesn't.
At age 16, I gave up my paper route and soon my parents moved a few miles to a better neighborhood. Occasionally I would drive down the old neighborhood, remembering my former customers. Once I stopped at that "second floor, back" apartment, rang the doorbell, but no one answered.
Then I went to college, moved, married, and then divorced, in that order. And I even attended some high school reunions. At the most recent, and I only go to ten-year ones, I scanned the day-old local newspaper while waiting for my pizza at a pizzeria I used to frequent as a high school senior. One name in an obituary caught my eye—Van Auker. The age, I calculated, was right, and Mrs Van Auker had one daughter, Cynthia. My paper route customer!
True Story /