Braintree, December, gingerbread cookies, Hobart Street, Hunt's Potato Chips, Jingle Bell Rock, jukebox, Lincoln School playground, loose dogs, newspapers, paper boys, paper route, Patrot Ledger, safe haven, shoe-string catch, Wynot's Gas Station
Sandlot Baseball – Safe Havens
December signaled the end of the sandlot baseball season each year in Braintree, Massachusetts. While our baseball gloves and Louisville Sluggers wintered in basement cellars or backs of closets, we turned our attention to tackle football or pogo sticks. Before the ice crept in, we’d play basketball on the tilted asphalt court on the Lincoln School playground.
Some of us got newspaper routes and became paper boys. There were about four of five of us in the neighborhood and, after school, we picked up our bundles at the Connor’s house on Howard Street. Mrs. Connor, one of our school’s lunch ladies, would let us sit on her porch to wait for our newspapers whenever the delivery truck was late.
The thing I remember most about those waits was the old jukebox and the one tune it played over and over. No matter what numbers we pressed, Jingle Bell Rock was the record that dropped into place. Whether it was Ground Hog’s Day, April Fool’s or Halloween, the holiday spirit was with us year-round.
When the light blue Patriot Ledger newspaper truck finally showed up, the driver lobbed the bundles onto the driveway where we scooped them up, cut the twine with sharp rocks and stuffed the papers into our shoulder sacks. From that point on, we were on our own, each of us heading off in different directions.
In 1963, the Patriot Ledger newspaper cost 10-cents. I collected 60-cents weekly from each of my sixty customers. With an average tip of 15-cents, I made about $9 a week. Occasionally, someone would give me a dollar and tell me to “keep the change,” a line every paper boy loved to hear.
Some of my favorite customers, though, were the nickel tippers who baked me cookies like the old lady in the tiny, red house near the crossroads of Hobart and Front Streets. Everyday, even in winter, she waited for me in her wheelchair by a kitchen window. She’d open it a crack where I’d slide in a newspaper and she’d slide out homemade gingerbread or brownies.
Each day was an adventure delivering papers. While some of the kids rode bikes, I preferred walking my paper route. It was time to daydream, re-cap the previous Red Sox season or simply kick a can all the way up Hobart Street. Although life as a paper boy was a good one, there were obstacles along the way like loose dogs in bad moods and bullies with BB guns.
Fortunately, there were safe havens at strategic points like Wynot’s Gas Station near Adams Park where I’d sip hot cocoa and warm my fingers by a heater. And if I felt like walking a few extra blocks down Adams Street, I could find refuge from the cold with a free-sample bag of broken chips at Hunt’s Potato Chips.
The safest haven of all, though, was the last one on my paper route. It was the sandlot baseball field behind Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. That was my security blanket, even in the darkness. After descending the Wilkins Road hill, I’d climb the right field fence, play-act a shoe-string catch and trot to the plate. I’d drop my empty newspaper sack and step into the batter’s box, an invisible bat in my hands. There, I’d look out toward the wall in left field and take a few practice swings.
With the cold winds of December blowing all around me, I braced myself for the pitch that only I could see. Every time, I knocked it out of the park and, every time, I circled those rock-anchored, crushed milk-carton bases with a song in my head and gingerbread cookies in my pockets.
(This story was published in The Patriot Ledger newspaper (Quincy, MA) on December 11, 2010.)
From → Uncategorized