When I was growing up, one of the first questions that rang throughout the house when someone banged through the back door in the afternoon was, “Has the paper come yet?” At our house, we started the morning with The Dallas Morning News and finished the day with The Bonham Daily Favorite. A quick scan of the front page, a check for the news from Bonhi that appeared weekly, a visit to the sports page to assess the ups and downs—in my time it was mostly ups—of the Warriors, and then to the funnies to see if Buzz Sawyer would thwart the foreign spies who were trying to steal the navy’s experimental vertical take-off and landing airplane called the “pogo stick.”
I had a Daily Favorite route when I was in the sixth grade. I delivered the paper every afternoon after school, on foot, to the businesses downtown, around the square. The pay was $1.25 a week, plus a commission on the four or five newspaper stands I serviced first thing each day. All told, I would clear about $5 a week. For another 50 cents, I delivered the Bonham Herald twice a week.
I would get out of school—Bailey Inglish—about 3:45 and head downtown. The first stop was the pressroom in back. That was where the Linotype machines spit out the rows of lead type, and the old press, a museum piece even then, grunted and groaned and clanked and whirred and spun out neatly folded papers smelling of ink and feeling warm to the touch.
Quickly slipping in any inserts to each copy, I would count out the requisite number of papers, stuff them into the canvas bag with Bonham Daily Favorite on the side, slip it over my shoulder, and head for Keene’s Café. After replacing the old papers in the rack with new ones, I would carefully note the number of papers sold in the little notebook I carried and move on.
From there it was down to McKnight’s and Peeler’s drugstores, across the courthouse lawn to the Bonham Drug, and the Plaza Drug before heading out the backdoor of the Plaza and dropping off a paper at the taxi stand in the alley. Then it was over to the rack at the bus station, through the firehouse to drop off a paper and to check to see it the men’s room had added any new pin-up calendars from my last visit, and then home through the back alley with a paper for the jail.
With a full reload, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays the Herald, it was off around the square again. The goal was to finish before five. I kept time by the four sides of the courthouse clock. The clock on the east side was a little slower than the rest, so I generally gained a little as the route neared the end.
Over on Panther Row, next to Stewart’s Café, was the law office of Judge Bolling. He was a white-haired old gentleman who would often give me a dime for a pick-me-up along the way. This usually meant a stop at Duke & Ayers or McIver’s Five and Dime for some malted milk balls, or a pause at the bakery for a donut or a warm chewy gingerbread man.
Around and around the square, day after day, in all weather, delivering the paper that everyone eagerly awaited. At the Peeler building, I would ride the elevator to the third floor, drop off a paper in someone’s office—I do not recall whose—and then fly down the steps four or more at a time at close to the speed of sound. It became a game to see how fast I could go.
Three stops on the route were always a challenge. Two of them were at beauty parlors, where the strong smell of ammonia permeated the air. I would take a deep breath before opening the door, dash in, drop off the paper, and hope no one wanted to discuss the weather. Once outside, I could breath again. I would employ the same trick at the third stop, but often with less success.
It was ladies’ hat shop run by a very old and very nice woman whose store lacked plumbing. She responded to basic needs behind a screen, and, well, the place smelled bad. To top it off, she was a talker and did not mind at all carrying on a conversation with a sixth grader whose face was turning blue and whose words came out close and clipped as he tried to hold in the precious unpolluted air. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
Once a week I settled up the retail rack accounts, and once a month carrying my coupon book I collected at the businesses. Well, most of them. The shoeshine man at the barbershop by the American theater was always trying to get credit for another month, and it sometimes took threats of “no pay, no paper” to get the couple of dollars he owed. I think the subscription rate was twenty-five cents a week.
Sunday’s papers came off the press about five or six on Saturday afternoon, and there were often several inserts including the Sunday funny papers in color. I don’t know who printed the funnies, but their organization was less than perfect. Every couple of months we got the funnies for the paper in Brenham Banner-Press and, I suppose they got the funnies with Daily Favorite on the mast head.
I delivered my route on Saturday night following the same routine as the rest of the week. That worked all right, as most of the stores stayed open until at least eight to accommodate the farmers and shoppers from the smaller towns who came in to town after a long week’s labor in the fields. The square was packed, cars in all the spaces around the courthouse, the stores bright with lights, and the cafés filled with people eating and visiting and having a good time.
Saturday night, when the weather was good, was time for a courting ritual played out by the teenagers in from the country. Groups of girls, all dressed up, would slowly stroll around the square in one direction, while groups of boys, equally well turned out, strolled on the opposite tack. Twice each revolution the groups would meet, stop and flirt for a moment, and then start up again minus the couples that had connected and headed to the movies or to get something to eat.
I would make it back to the paper by about 7, and with my weekly paycheck in my pocket stop somewhere for a hamburger or a sandwich and ice cream soda at the drug store. Often, I would linger at the music store in the back of Brannon’s Jewelry and agonize over committing sixty-nine cents for a new 45 by of Elvis or Nervous Norvus then hop on my bike and head home—a working man, ready for his day of rest.
I carried the paper for a year or so, until I decided to go out for junior high football and had to give it up. Texas has its priorities you know, but I still remember with pleasure dashing around the square on a warm spring day with a delivery everyone was anxious to get.
Next week: Part 2