The Duncan Banner

October 6, 2013

Special week for memories

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, Martin Luther King Jr., Warren Buffett, Tom Brokaw, Joe Vermedahl and his wife Vicki all have something in common.

All delivered the newspaper.

I don’t know details about how the others became carriers in their respective communities, but I do know the Vermedahl story. Joe credits, or blames, me.

Years ago, we were having a conversation, probably about a lot of different things.

I told him of my experiences as a young carrier in my home town of Tuscaloosa. I shared with him memories about delivering the route that engulfed the University of Alabama and about how I learned traits like punctuality, dependability and responsibility, about how I learned to manage money, visit with people and provide customer service even when the weather was bad.

I could tell I had his attention.

When I continued, telling about the time my dad and I spent together delivering my route on dark weekend mornings and how to this day, I remember and value those unique times together, I knew I had him.

Why, I said, The Banner route in your neighborhood is open now. You could experience the same feelings and build the same memories with your boys.

As we celebrate the beginning of National Newspaper Week today, the long ago conversation comes to mind. Joe remembers it pretty much the same way. And his enthusiastic, “We’ll take it!” answer then did indeed produce memories for the Vermedahls.

Aaron was the first family carrier, then Erik and finally Matthew.

With a lot of driving help from Vicki and Joe, they handled the route 10 years and, as I recall, were among The Banner’s best newspaper delivery folks during that period. The Banner was a weekday afternoon paper then with morning delivery on Sunday and a special Saturday morning edition during football seasons.

Joe, who delivered the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch as a kid, still has the Schwinn bike he used on that route, and was a seasoned veteran, remembers the route here – Route 17, just north of the downtown area -- had 127 customers. My hunch is, in case of an emergency, they could deliver the route today even after a 17-year separation. It’s like learning the lines in a play. You remember them forever.

“I wasn’t looking for anything,” he quickly reminded. “But it seemed like a good idea. The boys could make a little money and you made that father-son angle sound so good. How could we resist?”

Not surprisingly, there are those memories.

The family van broke down the very first day, Vicki said. They borrowed a car without air conditioning in August and made the deliveries. “It was miserable,” she said.

The learning curve wasn’t immediate, either. Many “throws” missed their target and had to be placed by hand in the yard until they “got the hang of it.”

The challenges of a huge snowstorm in the mid-1980s seem like only yesterday, Joe said. “We had to throw papers on the porch or the customers would never have found them. The wind caught one, I remember, and carried it on the roof. We tried to get it, but couldn’t, so we just gave the customer our paper that day.”

And it was a delivery procedure that taught the Vermedahls just how meticulous son Matthew was and still is. “Every paper he rolled was perfectly round and the same diameter,” Joe said. “All the rubber bands were carefully aligned. And his pile of papers was in perfect order, before he put them in the bag. He was a perfectionist then and he still is today.”

Those valuable delivery lessons surfaced, too. Being responsible. Doing it right. Being on time. Handling complaints. Making judgment calls when bad weather threatened. Providing good service. And there was that family closeness opportunity as well.

“You were right,” Joe said, looking back nearly three decades. “We had some good times. We did have some quality time together and there are some good memories. Though I didn’t always think so then, especially on those unbearably early mornings, I’m glad we did it.”

It’s possible folks like Cruise, Buffett and Brokaw are having similar reflections today as our special week begins. Carriers are now independent contractors and while some of the procedures have changed, there remains a common bond among all who have shared the experience.

Like the Vermedahls, they’re special people.