Growing up with a Regimental Sergeant-Major for a father does something for your character.
You learn handy skills at an early age – like how to starch and iron shirts at seven years of age, polish shoes and brass, and how to make a quarter bounce off the tightly tucked-in sheets on your bunk.
You call your bed your bunk.
You understand and nod when Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own says, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
You get weird looks from your fifth-grade classmates when yours is the only hand up when the teacher asks for volunteers.
You lined up for everything.
You tell your grade eight teacher he needs a haircut.
You address anyone over the age of 21 as Sir and Ma’am.
You will do almost anything for anyone.
I didn’t know I was looking for a job when my father came home one spring day and let me know that he’d signed me up for a paper route. He proudly handed me a large, canvas carrier bag. I was 14 years old.
This paper route would be fraught with logistical issues, but that is exactly what we were good at – fixing problems. This was a Globe & Mail route and the papers had to be delivered in the morning before school, which meant getting up before the sun was over the horizon. This was good because apparently getting up before the sun strengthens your night vision. I wasn’t allowed out of the house after dark so wondered when I would need my night vision.
The papers had to be delivered in an area a few miles from our house and the route covered a vast distance of streets and neighbourhoods. Not many people had the Globe & Mail delivered to their homes. I could understand that – it didn’t even have a comics section. There were entire streets with only one house getting the paper so how to tackle this efficiently was solved when Dad came up with a solution.
He drove me into Westboro, a neighbourhood about five miles from where we lived in the west end of Ottawa and bought me a used, massive, solid steel bike that was at least 30 years old. It was outfitted with a huge basket on the handlebars.
“Look at that,” he pointed out, “perfect for the newspapers.”
I was still stunned thinking about delivering papers and making sure none of my friends saw me because this was definitely not a “cool” job, when Dad left me standing on the sidewalk with my bike and said, “See you at home. Be careful on the busy streets.”
I climbed up on that bike and muscled it home. The handle bars were wider than my arm span and my feet barely reached the pedals. The sun was going down by the time my sore ass and my new enemy got home.
The route took me almost two hours every weekday morning. Spring turned into summer, summer into fall, and even though I was getting more efficient at the deliveries I dreaded winter and the snow. Remember, this was Ottawa and when the snow started, it usually didn’t stop for six months. There was no way I could ride that behemoth bike in the snow. I envisioned myself as a character in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, frozen half to death, lying in a snowbank, feeling sorry for myself, the papers wet, unable to get up and trudge on. I saw this as my way out of the job. At a minimum, I had a good argument to trade in that bike for a sled pulled by a team of dogs like Buck.
I pointed out this upcoming predicament and lickety-split my father came up with a solution. My brother, Albert, 11 years old, was volunteered, army-style, as in “You will do it, and you will enjoy it.” Albie was no stranger to the army-volunteer system in our house, and he quickly became my understudy.
Up and at ‘em on pitch dark, winter mornings, we piled into Dad’s Datsun and we doubled-down – I would do the deliveries in a townhouse complex and Dad and Albie drove the other half of the route, dropping off the papers in double-time. When I finished my half of the route, I would march down the long road to the main street. Yes, I marched – this was all done with a military cadence. If I timed it correctly, Dad would pull up, I would hop in the car and we would be home in no time. A very military-like operation.
I eventually gave up the paper route when we moved. To this day, I have a slight aversion to the Globe & Mail.