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Kirby: Paper route taught me the Old Man could really sling some whoppers

Published May 20, 2017 2:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I had a paper route when I was 11 years old. Every evening, I delivered the Idaho Statesman to approximately 50 homes in south Boise.

I hated it.

Mean dogs, rude customers, bad weather and general drudgery were some of the worst parts of it, but it was the responsibility that I disliked the most. It involved dismissing my own feelings in favor of doing a job I hated for people I didn't particularly like.

My father, Robert Kirby Sr., insisted that onerous responsibility was good for me. Life was full of it, and I might as well become accustomed to the idea while I was still young enough to not grow up and become a bum.

"A little rain never hurt anyone," he would say. "Now get out there and throw those papers like you promised."

So there I would be, pedaling through the rain while muttering, "Maybe rain never hurt anyone, but lightning has. It killed the Olsens' horse last summer. Bet he'll be sorry if it kills me."

I was angry enough to ride in the middle of the road just to give Mother Nature a clear shot at me.

This was just one of the many bits of grown-up advice I got from the Old Man, who always spoke about the stuff as if he had invented it.

"Be dependable. Get good grades. Don't break windows. Never sass your mother. Take care of your things. Stop punching your sisters."

One afternoon at my grandparents' home, the Old Man was lecturing me about everything I would learn about life from a paper route. Gramma was listening and called him out.

"Your father had a paper route, too," she said. "You wouldn't believe the things he did to get out of it."

Before she could say anything else, I was dragged out to the garage, where the Old Man could finish his attempt to convince me that my paper route was the only task keeping me from a life of want and depravity.

"I always got my work done," he said. "You should, too."

Half a century later, I call bull(spit) on that. Digging around in old newspapers this week, I found the following in the classified section of the May 13, 1946, issue of Idaho Falls' Post Register:

"Will [the] person who took my bicycle in front of Ken Slusser's at 375 East 13th Street Saturday evening please return it or let me know where it is. I have a paper route and need it badly. Thanks. Robert Kirby."

The ad ran for a week and sounds suspiciously like it was written by Gramma. I know for a fact that the Old Man's grammar wasn't that good when he was 12.

On Sunday, Mom confirmed that the Old Man had hated his paper route as well and almost certainly had stashed his bike somewhere so he wouldn't have to sling papers. It didn't work. The bike "magically" reappeared, and he kept the route until his family moved to Victor, Idaho.

Through the years, the Old Man gave me lots of advice that he didn't invent or even perfect. It didn't take much sleuthing (like finding his high school report cards) to realize that he hadn't exactly practiced what he later preached.

I can't blame him, though. He was just trying to teach me what he had already learned the hard way. Some of it actually stuck.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.






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