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From Building Sandcastles to Cashing Checks

Our childhood was, at times, a mix of fun and games.

Some were captured with a camera, like the gritty fun John and I (with another vacationer) had here. During our annual two-week vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts we sometimes tired of building fragile sandcastles that disintegrated as the tide rolled in. Our older brother, who was often in charge of us, came to the rescue.

“Hey, come here, kids. I’ve got an idea,” he said. “I’ll dig a hole, and one of you has to climb in and let me bury you up to your scrawny neck.”

“Wow,” John said.

Our strong, football-player brother, shirtless and tan in cut-off jean shorts, was sixteen at the time. He flexed his muscles, and using the long handled shovel he’d brought from the cottage, laboriously dug a hole so deep, the sand at the bottom of the vertical trench was pooling seawater. We pointed and giggled at the nervous little sand creatures emerging. They raced over the top like bits of lava from a beach volcano. Finally, our brother was satisfied with his work.

“Okay, Sarah, jump in!” I stepped back.

“It’s too deep!” I yelled over the ocean surf. This same brother was the one who liked to tell us, when he took us swimming, “Go under three times and come up twice.”

But my playmates urged me on, so down into the hole I went. The space around me began to be filled with heavy sand, as John and the other girl joined our big brother in a conspiracy to see how tightly they could pack me in. Unable to move my shoulders, I feared I might never be free again. But after saying a quick “cheese” for the camera, I wiggled out of that vise with all my might, proving to our prankster brother that though he might think he could just wander away without ever extracting me from the crab-infested depths, laughing all the way, I could take care of myself. I was on to him.


A year or so after this photo was taken, John got his first real job: a newspaper delivery route in our Woodsdale, Wheeling neighborhood. From my new memoir, I recount the early summer morning he trained me to substitute for him since he was scheduled to go away on a vacation to Virginia, to stay with our older sister Molly, at her house.

From “As a Result”:

I haven’t been up at 4:30 since that time at Girl Scout camp when I didn’t go to bed until then. The sky is still dark except for a stray star here and there. Streetlights help me see the sidewalk in front of our porch and the thick, fresh bundle of Wheeling News-Registers tied up in string. My stomach growls, and I rub my eyes. I’m already planning some toasted, blueberry Pop-Tarts with melted butter on them the minute we get back from the paper route. The air is cool. John and I are dressed in sweat shirts and jeans. I’m barefoot. “Go back in and get some shoes on!” I run upstairs for my flip-flops.

John demonstrates his technique for loading ad circulars, bundling each newspaper, and affixing a tight rubber band. There must be fifty newspapers filling his tan canvas sack. I try not to complain when the newsprint turns my hands gray. I’ll scrub them before I eat the Pop Tarts. He looks especially professional with the wide shoulder strap across his chest. As we walk under the streetlights, he explains his routine and tells me it’s important to know the customers’ idiosyncrasies: “Never just throw the paper wildly onto their porch. If it lands in the shrubs, go fetch it. Set it up there yourself, you dig?” I follow him to the end of our block. “See Mr. Smith’s house? Don’t collect from him till he’s had his supper. Wait till Sunday night to make your rounds, say, around seven o’clock.”

I take mental notes. “Where do I put the money?” He shows me his zippered money bag, tucked down inside his canvas bag. “If they write you a check, give it to Mom. She’ll cash it for me.”

“How much am I gettin’ paid?” I ask, following him across the street. “Same as me, twelve bucks a week. Plus tips. Don’t do anything wrong, or you’ll see a big drop in tips.” I wonder what he ever did wrong on his route, but I don’t ask. I’m tired and he’s walking fast. I have to keep up.

“You see Mr. Jones’s house, 57 Walnut, the one with the wooden door? Don’t hit his front door with the paper, or he might yell at you.

Just throw it underhanded like this.” John demonstrates.

“Why do I have to be so careful?”

“Cause Mr. Jones doesn’t like the noise. Don’t screw up.”

John leaves for Virginia and I take over the route. I deliver papers every morning for a week. I develop a knack for the toss. I get a little overconfident. One morning I’m lollygagging along. I take Mr. Jones’s newspaper out of the canvas sack, rear back, and toss it overhand with all my might. Then I remember John’s warning! I cringe. There’s going to be a loud thwack. But Mr. Jones’s front door is wide open. The newspaper goes flying down his hallway. I giggle and hurry on with the rest of the route. I can’t wait to tell John about my aim.


What were some of your early vacation memories? How about your first job? Do you remember having to collect door-to-door? I’d like to hear from you. Leave me your comments, and thanks for stopping by. 

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