While my husband slowly declines in his ability to remember and in his ability to put things into words, I have been trying to preserve some of my husband's recollections of his early life. Here is one of a series of our joint attempts at writing his memoirs. The first draft of this one was written during the winter of 2007, and was accomplished by my interviewing him, making notes, and then writing more or less in his voice.
From about the 7th grade until I went away to college, I sold Sunday newspapers on a street corner in Paterson, New Jersey on Saturday nights.
The money I made in this way went to help support my family, since my father had lost his job as a weaver in the silk mills, when the industry moved south, where wages were lower. Our family was "on relief" for some years because there were no jobs to be had. I was a proud kid, best in my class at school, and it pained me to accept charity. But I had to accept the free second-hand clothes that were offered.
We lived in a rented house in an impoverished section of Paterson. People called it a slum. Some few kids in our neighborhood had relatives who could offer them jobs, but I did not have anyone to help me in that way. And I earned a little money any way that I could.
After a while my father got a WPA (Works Progress Administration) job. It involved replacing old cobblestone streets with paving. It was very hard work, but it was all he could find.
So, even after sometimes working out of town on a farm for ten hours all day, bicycling there and back, I sold newspapers. I stood on the corner of Broadway and Paterson Street, and I usually stayed out until about 2 in the morning, as long as there was traffic going by. I stood out in the open on a busy corner, where police cars went by, patrolling. I was always glad to see them. They all knew me, and I felt safer with them around. A young boy standing there alone was vulnerable. I was too busy to think about being scared, but I tried to be careful about the people I let come near me. The streets in Paterson were rough at night, and not many kids stayed out there to sell on street corners.
My Great-Aunt Rhoda was the only person I remember who used to scold me for not getting enough sleep. I did not listen to her.
A number of people stopped by regularly to pick up their Sunday papers. There were also women who regularly waited on that corner, waiting for men to stop by in their cars and pick them up. Prostitutes.
There were also dangerous men who tried to pick up and molest young boys. If I saw one coming, I would quickly cross to the other side of the street. I was a good runner. They would have to move pretty fast if they were going to catch me. If any of them came near me, I would gesture and shout, "Get out of here!" It worked.
When the rush for the first Sunday papers was over, my father would come to join me. He would sell on my corner, while I went to deliver papers to my regular customers, including people I knew and people who were hanging out in nearby bars. Sometimes I had to get pretty insistent, to stand up to them and get them to pay. Then, later, I would return to my corner, and my father would walk home.
After I finished selling, I would give any papers that I still had to a regular news store. They generally sold the rest of them and shared the money with me.
Our high school dances were usually on Saturday night, and my selling newspapers meant that I had to miss them. I was sorry about that; I did, however, go to the dances that were held on other nights. People knew that I liked to dance. I still do.
When I finally left Paterson to attend Rutgers University in New Brunswick, a kid I knew took over that corner on Saturday nights. A lot of my regular customers kept coming to buy their newspapers from him.
As far as I know, no other kids in my neighborhood - black or white - went to college. Many of them sooner or later ended up in jail. During World War II, while I was studying at Rutgers, the local draft board had plenty of young men to send off to fight, and they decided not to draft me. Eventually, after finishing at Rutgers, I enlisted - but that is another story.Willa Grunes' Piece I read at Dave's Celebration of Life Ceremony