Odd Jobs

Papa retired early and when I mention to him that he has spend almost as much of his life not working as to working and he quickly corrects me to say he started working very young.  I worked a lot!  I was only 10 when I got my first job.

Papa had two older brothers growing up, and three younger siblings.  Even though they came from a close-knit family, all of the Marocco kids followed very different paths growing up.   His eldest brother, Frank, was the musician in the family.  Frank started studying music at a very young age; he was truly gifted and eventually became one of the most recorded accordionists in the world.   The second child, Joe, was the athlete.  According to Papa, Joe was able to pick up any type of ball, walk on a field and be the star of the team. The Marocco’s were very driven and Papa said he could never compete with either of his older brothers, I didn’t like the clarinet and I was too short to play ball, so my dad told me I better find a job to stay out of trouble.   Papa is still quite the jokester; I can picture his father saying that to a young Wayne.

I started delivering papers when I was about 10 or 11.  I delivered to two separate routes.  The Chicago Daily Tribune was a Sunday paper, and the Chicago Sun-Times was every morning.  The Times was much lighter and easier to deliver.  The daily papers were supplied to his house early each morning for Papa to fold before they were delivered onto each customer’s porch.   If it was raining Papa had to protect the papers to make sure they didn’t get wet.  Papa folds an imaginary paper as he explains how he creased it very tightly into thirds.  It had to be just right.  It was hard to get the papers straight. There were no rubber bands or plastic bags like there are now so I had to crease the fold for it to stay tight.  It took time to walk up to each porch for delivery, I never threw a paper.  If you know Papa you can hear the way he accentuates the effort he spent to deliver the perfect paper to each of his customers.  His father had taught him to take pride in his work and Papa did.  Papa did not have to collect any money for the daily route his customers were billed monthly from the paper, but he was able to accept tips.  People in that neighborhood tipped me good.

The Sunday Tribune cost $0.10 per issue was hand delivered to each customer who paid for it on the spot.  I had to collect the funds before I could give them the paper.  He would carry a white money pouch on his waist to make change; it was pretty secure so I would not lose it.  I asked Papa if he had a habit of losing things when he was young and he laughed and said he doesn’t remember.  It didn’t happen often but there times when someone would pay with a $20.00 bill and he would not have enough change for the rest of his customers.  After time Papa figured if someone offered a big bill at the beginning of his route he would have to say he could not make change.  When asked if he went back to those customers at the end of his route when he did have more money in his cash belt and he said No, I never thought of that.  I just sold the papers and moved on.  It was hard when people didn’t have their dime because he could not deliver one if they didn’t pay.  I couldn’t just give it to them. I wanted to but I couldn’t.  I was accountable.  The Sunday paper was not folded it was much too thick.  These papers were too heavy to carry on their own so Papa figured out a way to build his own pull cart.  He used wood his father gave him and found some wheels from an old wagon to put his makeshift cart together.  I asked him why he didn’t just use the old wagon and he explained that he liked to take things apart and rebuild things.  It was better that way. 

At the end of his Sunday route Papa rode the North Shore Line Streetcar to Porett Brothers Distribution to pay for his papers.  It cost me ten cents of profit to pay for the round trip trolley ride and when they raised the price to fourteen cents I was mad.   To vent some of his anger toward price increase, he and his brothers played “Jump the Trolley” a few times.  They would throw a rope over the electrical cable so the trolley had come to an abrupt stop causing the conductor to get out and clear the cable.  Papa made sure I understood it didn’t happen often by them, usually it was the other kids playing this type of pranks, but he did admit to doing it a few times.  He is certain his parents never found out that the boys played pranks; my dad was pretty strict; he would not have tolerated that!    I must have had a look of shock on my face, because smirking like an adolescent, Papa assured me, my brother Joe can vouch for me, we only played Jump the Trolley a few times!  Really!   Hmmm….we will have to talk to Uncle Joe….

Papa turned out to be quite the entrepreneur growing up, and while he often speaks of his first job of delivering newspapers, we were able to pull out a few more of the odd jobs her performed as young boy.   Like many young kids he shoveled snow, mowed lawns and raked leaves, but I kept digging for something else he may have done.    During the winter I used to set pins at Grand Bowl.  I was so small I had to jump on and ride the frame down to get the pins aligned.  Papa was also a caddy at a local golf course.  Joe and I worked all summer at Glen Flora Country Club and made 25 cent tips from the golfers.  One day a week the caddies were allowed to golf and Papa had a 2-iron he used for the entire course;   Joe had another club but they did not share.  When I asked who the better golfer was I could still hear a bit of sibling rivalry with his answer as he said it wasn’t me, but he would never admit that it was Joe.   

Oh, I also made good money washing store windows. Papa would go to downtown Waukegan and boldly walk into the stores to ask if they had any work for him.  Once I cleaned one window the other stores hired me too.  The store would provide cleaning supplies and Papa would make a $1.00 for each storefront window he cleaned. When asked what the definition of good money was he replied with a fair amount.  A fair amount seems to be a common phrase with Papa when he isn’t sure how to respond, but as I watched his eyes light up remembering how much money he made I was certain that in 1945 one dollar was probably very good money for a young boy.

It is funny how a memory works… or doesn’t work.  Papa can remember not only the price of the trolley, or how much money he made washing windows in 1945, but the feelings he associated with those amounts but he can’t remember if anyone else in his family ever worked when they were young.  He knows exactly how old all of his siblings are compared to him, but cannot recall when they were born.  He knows the address of every house he ever lived in, but can’t place where he was inside that home.  We can see him look off and try to bring back a memory when we ask a question and there is no recognition only to be surprised several days later when we ask in a different way that he is able to bring back a small moment to share with us.   Papa relives the excitement or frustration as he tells a story as if it something had just happened, but he never seems bothered if he can’t remember something.  Our take from this as we talk to Papa is to work on trying to dig not just for the details but to ask about the feelings associated with his memories hoping  this will trigger his overall experience and not just a few random facts.

When Doug and Daryl were very young Papa used to tell his sons the same thing that his own father told him, that no matter what job they do, they better do it well.  If you are a garbage man, you be the best garbage man!  This symbolism might have been lost on his young boys who wondered why their dad was telling them to be garbage men, but as they aged they came to understand the true pride that their father took in all that he did.   Papa eventually found his way into Tom Strang’s Garage and by the time he was 13 he was pumping gas, washing windows and already well on his way to becoming a grease monkey.  Who would have known that at such a young age after a couple of odd jobs Papa would have stumbled into his life path, but then that must be the Marocco way.

One thought on “Odd Jobs”

  1. The story on “odd jobs” captures what I remember most about my dad and that is to do the best you can everytime you do something. It is really ironic that after living his working life with so much effort at whatever job he held, he retired at 57 with equal gusto and has not worked in any way since. His most often daily phrase is “why don’t you sit down and relax for a while”. I used to think that this was to be company for him, but he does not typically engage in any conversation once you sit down with him so I can only surmise that he wants to justify sitting around himself by having someone else doing the same thing.

    That’s my take as the oldest Marocco son.

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