My employment history starts at age nine when I was a paper girl. I was in fourth grade and had an afternoon route delivering the Lowell Sun to twenty houses in and around my neighborhood. I had a canvas sack that went over one shoulder and I’d reach in, pull the paper out, fold it into thirds, and tuck it into the prescribed location. Some people wanted it inside the screen door, some just on the porch, some on the front step. I don’t remember how long it took, maybe an hour or so, the houses were not far apart. I did have some customers up on Wilson’s Hill, and that was a slog, but as I recall, those tips were good.
I don’t know how I ended up with that route. I know my brothers had it, and I took it over from them, but don’t remember why. There was a morning paper as well, but I didn’t deliver those. That was when the news was hand-delivered morning and evening, and major events were discovered that way. Incredible to think that little people with canvas bags brought world news to your doorstep. It always seemed someone was at home. Some houses had empty driveways and locked doors, but those were rare. Working mothers were a rare breed back then–––well, those who worked for pay. Most mothers I knew worked hard doing thankless chores with talents and gifts barely appreciated.
On Sundays, there was no evening paper so it was a morning job. Sometimes my mother would drive me so I could get it done before church. Those papers were heavier, and being a scrawny kid, I couldn’t even carry them. If I walked the Sunday route I had to leave half at home and go get more when my bag was empty.
Saturdays, the man would come to collect the money and give me my pay. He’d come to the kitchen door during morning cartoons and interrupt my Road Runner time. Someone would yell, “The Paper Guy is here!” (that’s what he was known as, The Paper Guy, I had no idea what his name was) and I would get up from my perch in front of the TV, go to the kitchen counter and stand there while he counted out the cash. From that vantage point I could still look to my left and catch Wily Coyote action. Directly ahead I could look down the hallway, where my sister, looking for live entertainment, would to try to make me laugh in front of The Paper Guy, who, yes, was very cute. When the funny faces didn’t work, she’d do a geisha dance or something different every week, always dissolving me into giggles. She stopped the week I told him it was my sister making me laugh, and he turned to look down the hallway to see her dive into the living room in her little pink bathrobe.
I wasn’t allowed to keep that money. It had to go into my bank account for some future important purpose I never questioned. We weren’t poor. In fact, I think we were rather well-off in that town, but my father had come from abject poverty and saving pennies was never open for discussion. We did as we were told.
So here I am on the eve of leaving my job, without a solid plan for a paycheck and it is very uncomfortable. When one has had steady employment since age nine, this is a little unsettling. There’s a whole role change, a persona shift, just like becoming a parent or having an empty nest. I didn’t see myself as a kid who was doing something important delivering those papers, but it did give me a sense of accomplishment. People were kind to me and seemed to appreciate having their paper handed to them. That was nice. In high school (having handed off the route to my sister), I worked in a local tailor shop doing alterations and hemming pants for the men who worked at Digital. That was satisfying and paid well––a whole $1.15/ hour (which was more than double what I got for babysitting). Retirement seemed so far away it was like never. At our last national conference, the midwives my age all sat around wondering why they don’t offer any lectures on how to retire? What do you do when you don’t have to complain about going to work? That’s going to be a bit of space to fill.
I got an apology this week for not having been “sensitive to my concerns.” Progress? Maybe. Desperate plea? Probably. But it’s a chink that I might be able to tap a wedge into.
The process of saying goodbye is heart wrenching and time consuming. I should write a letter to everyone, and will, but that seems impersonal and inadequate. I want to explain to everyone individually what brought me to this, what’s wrong with our system, how I was enabling by putting up with it, on and on. I need to let them know I’m not abandoning them, though it may feel that way. Most have been incredibly understanding and I’m grateful for that. I wish I had a little sister to hand this off to.