Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice

Yesterday we enjoyed the longest day of the year. The sun was up at 4:42 am and stayed up until 9:20 pm. That’s an amazing 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight! It’s definitely something worth celebrating here in England. Although it does mean that, as of today, we're working our way back to the shortest day, December 22, when we’ll have less than 8 hours of daylight. (Hmmm, sure wish I hadn’t thought of that.)

After a very fun visit, my parents had to catch an 8 o’clock flight home yesterday, so I was on the road at 5:15 am. Practically alone -- as in there were very, very few cars and one lone pedestrian walking along the sidewalk in the brilliant, full-strength sunshine of summertime! Everything was quiet, except the sound of our car and the morning birdsong floating above the open sun roof.

Being out that early in the morning reminded me of when my sister and I had a paper route. I was about 12, Lynda was 10 (ten years old, I tell you) and our Dad saw a great opportunity for us when a paper route became available in our neighborhood. He had really loved having paper routes "when he was a little shaver", so he signed us up!

We got these crazy wire baskets fitted to the backs of our bicycles, and every afternoon after school we would come home, go out to the garage to fold the newspapers, wrap a rubber band around each one, load them into the baskets (being careful not to rip anything) and then ride up and down streets and driveways, delivering newspapers to 119 nearby porches.

Six days a week, The Flint Journal was delivered in the afternoon. On Sunday mornings, however, our customers expected their papers to be on their doorsteps before seven o’clock. So Mom would get up at 5 am to fold and stuff the newspapers (because the newspapers were dropped off at our house in one big bale, separate from the inserts. And on Sundays, there were l-o-t-s of inserts).

Once the papers were stuffed and ready, at about 5:45, Mom would come wake us up. Lynda and I were out the door by 6 am. Now I’m not exactly sure why our parents thought it was a good idea to send their 12 and 10 year-old daughters out into the neighborhood at that hour of the morning (!), but there we were. At the end of our driveway we went our separate ways, delivered all the papers to our own parts of the route and then met up when we were done. During the week, we just went home. But on Sundays, in the summertime, we went to the 7-11 up on Hill Road.

This was back in the day when 7-11 stores were literally open from 7 am until 11 pm. Again, don’t ask me why it didn’t occur to us that, at our ages and at that hour, we had no business whatsoever being anywhere other than asleep in our beds, let alone being the first 7-11 customers of the morning. But we were earning “our very own money”, and I guess we thought that was a fun way to celebrate surviving another week of child labor. But I digress.

The best part of those early Sunday mornings was that, once our baskets were no longer weighed down with newspapers, we met at the top of the subdivision and rode our bikes out onto Hill Road itself, zig-zagging back and forth across all five lanes of it for the hundred yards or so between Antoinette Drive and the parking lot of the 7-11. The road was empty, of course, no vehicles at all as far as the eye could see. We wouldn’t have dreamt of doing such a thing during normal traffic hours. But at 7 am on Sunday mornings all was quiet, and that empty stretch of road was too tempting to resist. We felt positively daring.

It’s not often that I’m on the road in the early hours nowadays, but when I am I follow the rules just like any other time, alone or not. Isn’t it funny, though, how one little memory from childhood can come flashing back in an instant? And after that very vivid moment, I look around and realize: I’m driving a car, not a bike; I live in London, not Flint. My parents are grandparents now, and the story of the paper route is just that -- a story from long ago.

It does make me wonder, though, what stories Jack and Sophie will tell when they grow up?

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