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Your Turn: My days delivering The Evening Day

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series written by a former New London attorney detailing his early years in the city.

In the 1940s I delivered my hometown newspaper. Since it was published in the afternoon, it was known as The Evening Day. At the time I was less than 10 years old.

My coming to the job was roundabout. Originally there were two routes, and my two older brothers were persuaded by my mother to take on the assignments. But they were both free spirits and unwilling to invest their daily lives in such humble pursuits. They quit soon after, and Mom pleaded with me to take on the role.

I was too young and weak to carry the papers, and so my parents bought a wagon for me. I was happy to be Gilly-two shoes. I was going to show up my brothers.

In only two days I demonstrated why I couldn’t do the job – it was taking me until night-time to complete the deliveries. Half the combined routes had to be sold off.

Even so, my path extended a couple miles from the printing rooms on North Bank Street to Shaw Street, the ethnic center of half the Italian neighborhoods in our old town. Most of the other paisani lived in the Fort Trumbull region – creating a great local rivalry celebrated with sports contests and other less wholesome activities between the groups.

The paperboys had a clubhouse of sorts on the property of The Day itself. Up a long, steep stairway lay a windowless room with metal benches, plaster walls and a window that opened into the press room itself, where we could watch the whirling machine spew out the daily edition each afternoon at about 2:30 or 3 o’clock.

The room smelled of newsprint and pubescence. Each of us received a canvas bag to carry the papers, with a long strap that fit above our shoulder. Over the years, some of those straps would become like pad-depleted whips. By folding the bag into a handle, the carriers could serve as a weapon to initiate newsboys to the club.

Each recruit was to receive a number of blows from each veteran, and there was always a lot of yelling and tears. My big brothers, in transition, would not let the guys work on me, since I was so much smaller than the other regulars. I always regarded my escape from that beating as an early indication that I was a favored child.

The window to the press room was usually closed, so there was no adult awareness of our activities, much less supervision. When the papers were ready for distribution, the circulation editor of The Day, Wilfred H. Cruise, would come to the window with his list and pass our packages to us, carefully and exactly counted for payment each week.

It’s funny how some names remain burned in our childhood memories. White-haired Mr. Cruise has been out of my mind for more than half a century, but his full name, middle initial included, still lurks in the recesses, waiting to pounce when least expected.

The community of deliverers was an important part of my growing up. Most were teenagers, earning spending money in lieu of allowances. All of us were braggarts and posturers. Our conversations were mostly arguments about sports – particularly baseball and invariably between the Yankee fans and the Red Sox. Since our home was precisely halfway between Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, each team had plenty of supporters. It was always baseball when it came to sports.

I wasn’t even aware of professional basketball until the Boston Celtics became champs, and nobody I knew ever mentioned football or hockey or any other sport. During the season, everybody followed the games with a level of community fanaticism unknown among us today. During the All Star Game and World Series, I could walk my entire route and never once be out of the sound of the game on the radio in the various establishments along the way. Several stores had loud-speakers aimed at the street so passersby could keep up with the scoring.

Besides sports, the primary conversation was girls. I missed most of the highlights of the talk in the beginning, but it didn’t take me too long to catch on and get caught up to the older kids.

I remember to this day the awe I experienced when I was told that one of the guys had gone walking with his girl on North Bank with one hand inside her blouse, cupped around her boob. Imagine, he did it in public – and for as long as he wanted!

North Bank Street has long since disappeared and faded from the memory of New Londoners. It ran parallel to Main Street and ended shortly past the publishing company.

On the corner was a famous eatery, Lou’s Lunch. It was said you could get a very good meal including appetizer, entree and dessert and coffee for less than a dollar.

Diagonally across the street was Mr. Fraji’s Army and Navy Store. This Lebanese friend of my dad sold every conceivable item of clothing and accoutrements related to the military, including camping equipment.

Around the corner, on State Street, was the first of our movie theaters. There were four in town – the Victory, the Capitol, the Empire and – not on my route – the Garde. Our city of less than 30,000 easily supported all of them.

Sailors walking around the corner of State and Bank were not unusual. During the war, the Navy was a major presence in our town, and interactions among kids was common. Both my brothers earned spending money shining shoes at that corner.

In fact, the most famous painting of the city, captured by the artist Beatrice Cumming, was the day World War II ended and civilians and sailors celebrated at that very spot. My mother would sometimes work at the USO where an effort was made to make the Navy welcome and comforted, since so many were far from home and all of them were just a few years older than us kids.

One of the first places on my route was Schableins’ Shoe Store. My dad always brought me there for shoes. It was a pretty up-to-date place. They even had a brief period when they fit your shoes with X-rays! Of course, nobody suspected that you might get radiation poisoning or become sterile by all that unnecessary exposure.

Shoes have a funny history with me. When I was a boy I never owned two pair of shoes. My parents would buy a pair and I would wear them every day of my life. When they got holes in the sole or the heel would give out, I would bring them to Mr. Macione. He would fix them while I waited and I would wear them as long as I could.

After a while they couldn’t accept another sole and so I would put cardboard into the hole to permit extending their life. When that didn’t work anymore, dad and I would go to see Mr. Schablein. He invariably would throw my old shoes in the garbage as I walked out with my shiny new pair.

The first time I bought a pair of shoes and didn’t need to throw the old ones away was the patent leather I bought for my wedding. I was 21 years old.

Coming next week: Part 2.

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