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How my grandma helped me fold newspapers

February 12, 2015

More about my grandma Ellen Bonde (1886 to 1967).  I lived with her as an adolescent and we took at least 4 long road trips from Montana for summers in Seattle, Ann Arbor, and Chicago.  Memories just flood in.  I remember how she got up at perhaps 8 in the morning, how she came out of her room wearing a flannel nightie, sometimes with a house coat, with rolled down nylon hose and shoes.  I doubt if I ever saw her feet.

Often in the winter when we lived where we had forced air heat I’d get up early, turn the thermostat all the way up, and lie down in front of the register to let the hot air put me to sleep.  When my mother got up she said, “God damn you!” and turned the heat down.

The current football coach at Skyview High in Billings was an 8th grader at Paxson school in Missoula when I went there in 1961.  He was a year ahead of me.  (I’d tell you his name, only I’m still chicken.)  He is probably one of the best football coaches in Skyview’s history winning championships especially when his sons played on his team.

I had hobbies so I needed a job.  I ended up getting the unnamed 8th grader’s paper route to start January 1.  He was smaller than I but tough.  He said he used his money from the route to buy a shotgun.  Me? I bought a bike on credit for $10/month.  Mine was a red Schwinn.  He claimed that I had copied him so he threatened to beat me up.

Anyway, I followed him around Route 52 for perhaps a week in late December while he pointed out the houses of the subscribers of the Missoulian Sentinel.  It was an evening route with perhaps 2 or 3 on each block.   “Get this’n, and that’n and that’n over there,” he said gruffly.  “Got it?”  I always said “yes.”   Dark and cold I didn’t take any notes.  Even if it had been light and warm I’d not have taken notes.  In the 7th grade at Paxson I was a failing student, a bed-wetter, living in a basement at home, and my friends were like me, only they were all smart and got excellent grades.  Also they didn’t smell bad.  I even got in trouble with the school safety patrol student for swearing.  I had said “good lord.”  The student judge threw out the case.

January 1 was a Sunday and my bicycle fenders got packed with snow that turned to ice, rendering the bike useless after the first day.  I slowly trudged the 50+ blocks of the circuitous paper route throwing papers at the porches I could recall.  Took me almost 6 hours.  When I got home I had about half the papers left.  Monday my predecessor caught up with me on the way home after school with his friends and threatened to pound me.  He heard about the complaints.  I looked at his friends and said, “guess I’m gonna get beat up.”  They let me go home unhurt.

Recently at work when the successful football coach’s name came up in conversation, I boasted that he used to beat me up when I was a kid.  Then I admitted I was lying.

Grandma, who said she didn’t like me, always urged me to fight in such situations, but I used every trick I could think of to avoid getting my face punched.  Once I threatened to call my brother.  I started screaming, “Tom, Tom!” and the bully ran away after saying he wasn’t afraid.  (My brother would probably have helped the bully beat me up.)

On another sub-zero afternoon of January I returned home after walking 3 or 4 blocks with the papers, in excruciating pain from frostbite.  I couldn’t even get our storm door open.  I was wearing thin cotton gloves and my ears were burning.  I screamed and cried and pounded on the door.  Grandma let me in.  She gently and kindly helped me warm up, gave me warm mittens and a scarf to wrap around me, and helped me fold my papers.  I was able to deliver the papers.  My mother had made it clear at the outset that she, under no circumstances, would deliver papers for me.

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