You probably will not be able to relate to this blog unless you grew up during the time when reading the Sunday comics were a part of your weekend ritual. Keep in mind that this was in the age of “B.P.C.” (before personal computers) when newspapers could be found nearly on every doorstep. It was when paperboys delivered your newspapers and came to your house to collect their money whenever you didn’t pay your bill on time.
I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to become a paperboy and have a newspaper route. My brother had a paper route and so did many of the boys in our neighborhood. It was kind of a rite of passage. It gave me a feeling of independence. I felt that I was helping my family by working and earning my own money. It was also a good feeling to be able to have a little money to spend on the things I wanted, like purchasing a few clothes for school and gifts for Christmas.
I even offered to give some of my earnings to my parents; however, they wouldn’t accept it. They wanted me to be responsible and learn how to make decisions about spending and saving. My father was quick to remind me that I had my own money and didn’t need to ask for his. But I was a “momma’s boy,” which meant I knew who to go to if ever my funds were a little low. My father knew she couldn’t say no to my request and he never objected. That was his way of showing his love for me.
I really got to know my neighbors and a few customers even gave me a little tip if they felt I was doing a good job. I know it’s hard for some people to believe but African-American communities were no different from white communities. People were friendly and loved their children and families. No one was kidnapped or harmed on the streets. Even the local winos looked out for the kids in certain rundown areas in the community. We played outside without the threat of violence and knew when it was time to go home for dinner when the street lights came on.
For many of us neighborhood kids it was our first real job. It is unfortunate that technology (and the rise of violence in our communities) took away opportunities for many young people to experience work, entrepreneurship, and responsibility. I learned how to keep account records, customer relations, collections, marketing, and how to make and save my money. I will never forget opening a savings account and being given my little bank book so that I could deposit the money I made from my paper route. The bank clerk wrote in the amount of my deposit, dated and initialed it. It was my money. I was proud and so were my parents.
If you were a paperboy fortunate enough to own a bike it made delivering the newspaper quick and easy. Throwing newspapers while riding a bike took real skill and it also was a lesson in physics. Most times the paper landed in places where dogs left their signature on the front lawn or in the bushes where customers had to hunt to find it. That early morning thump at the front door meant that the paper had reached its target. Silence meant you had to go outside to find it or that the paperboy didn’t deliver your paper that day. It took lots of practice. You had to peddle your bike at the right speed and be able to predict wind velocity so the paper wouldn’t blow into the streets. Then you had to hold your bike steady with one hand while throwing the paper with the other without falling; and hopefully you would hit your target. The idea was to throw the newspaper without stopping so that it would land somewhere in the vicinity of the front door or on the porch. Delivery on foot however was more efficient in my opinion.
Delivering newspapers in the beginning was exciting and sometimes fun. However, it didn’t take long for me to learn it was also hard work, especially getting up early in the morning before daybreak to make my deliveries. First, I had to count, collate, and assemble the papers making sure all the sections were together and that I had enough papers for all my customers. Then I had to bundle them and put them into my newspaper satchel which I carried over my shoulders like a poncho. Now if you didn’t have a bike or wagon it could be a challenge for someone who wasn’t strong or use to carrying the weight of papers on their shoulders block-to-block and house-to-house. That never posed a problem for me.
Rain or shine customers expected their newspapers. More times than often I missed my target and the newspaper landed in some obscure place where my customers had to leave the warmth of their home in the early morning to look for it. Hopefully it didn’t rain the night before. A wet newspaper was worse than having no newspaper at all. Even worse than a wet newspaper was an angry customer with a wet newspaper. And yes, I was occasionally chased by an angry dog who hated newspaper boys that trespassed into their territory. That’s an entirely different story.
Reading the comic strips was a bonus on Sundays. Watching television Sunday morning before going to church, however, was not allowed. Sitting at the breakfast table with a box of cereal to one side while reading the comic strips in front of me, made my morning before going to church a happy and exciting experience. Even though my father was a pastor and bishop, he allowed me and my siblings to be kids, and to do the things kids did. He didn’t insist that I have the Bible and Sunday school lesson in front of me. As long as I had gotten up on time, washed my face and brushed my teeth, and was ready to go to church afterwards, I could enjoy the privilege of reading the comic strips undisturbed.
Now, if I overslept or was slow about getting up and dressed for church I knew better than to even think about picking up the comic section. My dad made his first call into the bedroom, “Junior, are you up?” The second call would be a friendly visit into my room to pull the covers off of me. God forbid if my father had to warn me a third time to get up. It would be like watching a scene in a movie of a fireman rushing to a fire. It would be my butt on fire from one single swat from my father’s powerful hand.
In most newspapers Al Capp’s Li’l Abner was usually the first comic strip on the front page of the comic section. I didn’t particularly liked Li’l Abner but I read it mostly by default because I was one of those weird kids who like to read comic strips in linear order. I don’t think I have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but somehow it just made sense to me that if Li’l Abner was placed first on the page then it had to be read first.
It wasn’t until years later that one character in Li’l Abner caught my attention, Joe Btfsplk (the last name is spelled correctly, however, it intentionally could not be pronounced). Joe Btfsplk was a little man who walked around underneath a small dark perpetual rain cloud. No matter where Joe went this little dark cloud followed him. Joe felt jinxed because he couldn’t shake this cloud. Even people around him were affected by Joe’s bad luck and misfortunes, and they did their best to avoid him. Whenever he walked passed someone on the street something bad or harmful would happen to him or her.
Life for some may feel like walking underneath a dark cloud. Trouble and misfortune seem to follow night and day. If it’s not financial trouble, it’s health. If it’s not health, then it’s family. If it’s not family, it’s relationships. It’s always something. We do our best to ignore and avoid the little dark cloud but it always seems to be there. Where did it come from? We woke up one morning and suddenly there it was, hovering over us to remind us of our troubles. Like Joe, we try to shake and outrun it but it’s still there. Sadly, Joe gives in to his fate and feels there is nothing he can do.
I’ve learned many lessons from being a paperboy. But I’ve also learned so many new and more important lessons when I became a Christian. One lesson I’ve learned is bad news will come but it doesn’t have to be my fate. Remember news—good and bad—usually comes from other sources. Know the source. It’s my decision whether or not I choose to accept or reject the information.
My source is God’s eternal Word. The Word of God is filled with powerful reminders to let me know that I am “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37), and that “no weapon formed against me will prosper” (Isaiah 54:17). Satan is an evil source, and the father of lies (John 8:44). His purpose is to try his best to hang a perpetual dark cloud over my life. Thankfully, I know that I am covered under the precious blood of Jesus. He is that light that shines in darkness and the darkness does not have the power or strength to overcome the light (John 1:4). Now this is good news! Merry Christmas!
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-12).