Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dredging up the past

Sorry I’m a bit late today. I actually sat down to write my post this morning at 8:15 a.m. EDT and I’m just getting to it. Ah, the life of a freelancer!

I’m not one of those people who’s on Facebook 24/7, but I do look at it once a day – mostly to keep track of friends having birthdays, and of course once a week to announce what I’m blogging about here on Type M.

To cut to the chase, I noticed this morning some snapshots taken by one of my oldest friends, Suzy Schrader, a person who sat next to me in our Kindergarden class photo. She and her husband were recently visiting Mamaroneck, NY, where we all grew up. (To be completely accurate, I lived there until I was nineteen and moved to Canada. I’ve never really grown up.) Of course they swung round to their old homesteads and snapped some photos. Suzy lived around the corner from us on Beach Avenue (Nowhere near the water, but it does have beech trees. I’ve always wondered if someone got the spelling wrong.) and her husband lived on Jefferson Avenue. And now we come to the point of this post.

Looking at the photo of Mike’s house flooded my memory with details of my first “real” job: delivering the local paper. I started when I was 12 and did it until the end of school when I was 14. My paper route included the major part of Jefferson Avenue. I delivered The Daily Times six days a week, rain or shine – ice, fog and snow be damned! I was very conscientious about servicing my customers. But there were a few days here and there where I was too sick to carry out my task. My brother would usually fill in but on two occasions my dad had to do it. (I don’t know how much he minded. He’d had a paper route when he was a kid, and often spoke fondly of it when he’d occasionally drive me around on my Saturday delivery (very thick and heavy papers). It was a good father/son time for me.) Overall, my first job was a good one about which I have nice memories. I had beautiful suburban streets to walk, a couple of interesting dead ends by the river, and the New Haven railroad ran along one side of my route, just behind the houses, so I could see all sorts of trains zipping by.

So with all these things floating around in my head, of course my thoughts eventually stopped with a jolt at the one bad memory of my time as a paper boy. Actually, it was a horrible time in my life and one from which I still bear some psychological scars. You see I had to deliver the paper the night my dad was the lead story on the front page, and not for a very good reason: his life had ended the night before in a car crash.

It was the first time that I had to face death. That was a jolt in and of itself, but to lose one’s dad in such a manner was pretty horrible. One moment he was there and the next, gone forever. I won’t go into all the things that took place during that awful period, but it’s strange that one of my strongest memories about it, possibly the strongest one, is having to deliver those papers.

I remember desperately not wanting to be seen by any of my customers. The last thing I wanted was for them to take the paper from me, read the headline, and then want to talk about it. Everyone knew that Ed Blechta was my dad, and being the kind people they were, they would have wanted to offer me some comfort. I was just not ready to hear it, however. Another thing: being fourteen, I desperately didn’t want to cry in front of them. It’s a guy thing, and very strong around that period in a young man’s life. I also was having trouble accepting what had happened, and talking about it wouldn’t have helped – not during the first twenty-four hours.

That day, I snuck onto people’s porches. If they had dogs that barked, I’d simply chuck the paper onto their porch and run (something I never did: papers were always folded and put into mailboxes or between storm doors). I hid behind trees if someone came to the door quickly. I wanted more than anything to be invisible.

When I delivered my last paper to the Baviello’s house next to the bridge over the Mamaroneck River, I hightailed it for home. Folding my bundle buggy, I tucked it under my arm and ran the five blocks back to my house in what was certainly an undignified manner.

Now, nearly fifty years later, that memory is one of the most clear that I have from my youth. It still runs in High Definition right through my head like my own personal Stand By Me.

Ain’t it funny how things happen. Through my fifty year lens, I can so clearly recall one of the seminal experiences of my youth, a small matter really in the scheme of things, something no one shared with me, and about which I’ve really never spoken. As a writer, all I can think about is how to get across my plots this viscerally to my readers. I wish it was a tap I could turn on and off at need, but that ain’t the case.

So today’s blog isn’t very much about writing, but it’s all about setting, emotion, and character.

Thanks for listening.


Eileen Goudge said...

I believe we remember what we're supposed to remember. If God is in the details, the same holds true for writers. It's those seemingly small details that often tell a story better than broad strokes. And may I say,what a tragedy for you, losing you dad at such a young age. I'm sure he would be proud of all you've accomplished.

Rick Blechta said...