Born in Sicily, Italy, I eventually became one of six boys living the rough and tumble life, unless my father was home. He lived by an unwritten rule of intolerance. When he got fed up with the noise threshold, that was it; no army could stand in the way of his wrath. I didn’t know it until many years later, that his seemingly impetuous anger stemmed from his being in World War II and serving a 1 1/2 year stint in a POW camp.
We moved to the United States when I was three, as some of my uncles and relatives emigrated before us, eventually making Chicago our home. I took a “two-year vacation” before I began helping my brothers with their paper route at age five. I would get up as early as 4:30 A.M. to help them. When the weather was more decent, I would get up as late as 5:30 A.M. 7 days a week. Neither snow, rain, nor storm would delay us. The papers had to be delivered.
Money was tight. My mother took care of six boys and my father worked in a factory. He took the bus to work every day, and to save the five cents the bus transfer would have cost he walked the additional miles to work regardless of the weather. One time I heard him reluctantly confess to my mother that it was so cold that he anted up the five cents for the transfer. As a teenager looking for a better job, I once walked the same route that my father walked every day, and it was a very long tedious walk to the main avenue.
I did my part to help my parents, always giving them every penny I made. In the beginning it was a few dollars every few weeks, working a few hours a day. I delivered the papers in time to go home, have breakfast, and then walk a few miles to school regardless of the weather, never taking a bus.
At eight I earned responsibility for my own route and cart of papers, except on some Sundays as the Chicago Tribune was so thick and heavy that I literally could not budge the giant cart. I delivered the papers regardless of the weather. The brutal wind would at times cause me to hang onto my cart tightly and avoid being blown away, and at times it made it hard to breathe.
When the Chicago winters were even worse than normal, the wind-chill would take us to another level of freezing. Then, I wore two pairs of socks, two pants, three different undershirts and sweaters, a winter jacket, a hat and two pairs of gloves. After a few hours of delivering papers, I was usually frozen stiff. I would lie on our radiator to defrost myself upon arriving home.
When I wasn’t delivering one hundred or so heavy Sunday papers, I delivered the regular weekday papers in a bag thrown over my shoulder. On heavier paper days, my shoulders would ache badly, causing me to switch shoulders constantly from the intense pain that would set in. The faster I delivered them, the less weight, the less the ache. You can imagine my excitement when in my teens we had enough money to get a bicycle to deliver the newspapers. That was a gift from God.
One day I overheard my dad talking with my mom about the fact that he made $75 a week. That motivated me to always deliver the papers no matter how I felt or how much I wanted to stop and sleep in. I never gave up.