The Paper Boy Looks Back

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

It was that quiet time when the light begins to dim, and the sunset splashes one more banner across the western sky. With a few ounces of wine and twilight to loosen the memories, Dave started talking about his childhood, and Christmas time. He speaks of being a boy in St. Petersburg, Florida, and of parents struggling to hold a family together during the war years.

Born in Philadelphia, Dave was the second of three. His sister Gloria was the eldest, and Lincoln, “Linny,” was his childhood nemesis.

In 1938, in the middle of the school year, the family pulled up stakes and moved to Florida. His father was a foreign travel agent for then-Cook Steamship Co. in Philadelphia, but was let go because of the war. Travelers in those days were mostly young men in uniforms.

Dave loved living in Florida, incognizant of why his parents moved from rental to rental, until the awful day the sheriff’s deputies threw them out in the street. It was inevitable: The owner had returned from the war and wanted his house back. New homes were not being built because the war effort had diverted supplies.

The YMCA put up the family briefly. Dave’s worst memory was of the loss of toys, like a set of steel soldiers and all his building blocks.

Christmas brought a series of Erector Sets, starting when Dave was five, and to which were added more as years went by. “We made up what we built; there were no printed directions. There were certain ways for the pieces to go, and an electric motor drove whatever we built.

“We opened gifts Christmas morning. We’d come downstairs, wait for everyone else to come down. Dad passed out presents (not oranges and apples, as old-timers like to brag).

“One year we got big-wheel bikes, Montgomery Ward’s full-size bikes. They cost about $30, big money in those days, but I used it to earn money – until somebody stole it while I was at the 11-cent movies.”

Someone found a Schwinn that had been thrown into Tampa Bay and took it to Frank’s Bicycle Shop to be rebuilt. Bikes were valuable because of war shortages, and Dave’s parents knew his job depended on it. They bought it.

“I just lived on that bike,” he said.

On to his newspapering career:

“Got 20 newspapers from the printing press for 2 ? cents each and sold them for a nickel. If you sold two papers, you had a nickel, a good day.

“Then we started to sell them to homes, but we didn’t like that because the renters left without paying at the end of the week. The Yankees would stiff us, although not necessarily on purpose. They just forgot about the paper boy.

“I took a route of about 35 houses. Had to roll the papers a certain way and deliver them to houses. There were no plastic sleeves.”

When he was in junior high school, about 12 or 13 years old, he started to sell to larger venues like hospitals and hotels. He carried the St. Petersburg Independent, the afternoon paper, on a rebuilt Schwinn with balloon tires.

“I was delivering hotel-to-hotel, walking my bike on the sidewalk. We were not supposed to, but I leaned the bike against the wall or put the jack-stand down. While I took the papers into the hotels, old ladies knocked the bike over with their canes and spilled papers all over the sidewalk.”

He began making serious money at an auto body shop in St. Pete where he cleaned up the shop, held onto stuff that was being worked on, for an hour and a half after school. He earned $1.50 an hour in 10 hours a week.

Not much in today’s economy, but what skills for a boy to carry through life.

“They sent me for parts and coffee, always on my bike. I could clean car windows, but was not allowed to sand or polish – that was saved for the black guys that hung around the lot.

“I remember the day an airplane crashed into the marina across the street [from the body shop.] It was a homebuilt that caught fire in flight. The pilot jumped out, and landed in the open lot behind us. He was killed, and the plane crashed into the marina across the street, setting it briefly on fire.”

When he wasn’t at the body shop, he was pursuing his dream of sailing. A dollar bought enough wood to build a boat six or seven feet long, with the front covered by a plywood deck. His mom made a sail for it from a sheet, and he found a bamboo pole that served for a mast.

“My first ‘real’ boat, originally belonged to a kid there in town. His father was a dentist; he had all the money in town. I paid $30 for that boat and I sailed it all over the bay.

“I had no paddles, and nobody carried life jackets. The Coast Guard knew where I lived, and when the wind died, sometimes towed me in. That gave me the very good impression I still have of them.

“Everybody wanted to have their own boat, and somebody stole mine. So I started building my own. It was not as attractive, but less prone to be stolen.”

I don’t believe he has been without a boat to this day.

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