Sunday, October 05, 2008

Margaret Atwood and me

Margaret Atwood was born a few years earlier than me and somewhat northward. She's also of the other sex and is one of the best writers in the world. These differences between the two of us suggest we have little in common. All the same some of her memories tally fairly closely with mine. They're in excerpts from her new book: Payback in FT: Forgive us our debts. Her topics are things that are on my mind these days: debt and debtors; banks and interest; revenge and forgiveness; and what can happen when you let your reptilian brain control the somewhat more rational one upstairs. But she leads with the reminiscences and they are what resonated sympathetically this bright Sunday morning.

She remembers the allowance she got (a nickel for her, a quarter for me) and how its spending -- in those primitive days -- led to much tooth decay. She remembers the tactics we used for accumulating wealth in comic books, glass marbles, and cards. (She recalls cigarette cards while mine mostly came from bubble gum packs.) She remembers the bank where she deposited money earned on her first paying job -- the fear of the tellers behind their high counters and the mystery of money "earning" more money in interest that showed up in the little savings book with its dark blue cover and light blue pages. About bank interest she asks "How could a fiction generate real objects? I knew from Peter Pan that if you ceased to believe in fairies they would drop dead: if I stopped believing in banks, would they too expire? The adult view was that fairies were unreal and banks were real. But was that true?" I never asked myself that question. But -- although I couldn't slake my addiction to candy or discipline myself to frequent and thorough tooth brushing, my first experience of banking did lead me to understand that you could save and, much later, buy things much more expensive than a ten-cent ice cream cone.

My first real job was a paper route. It was 1956 and I was 14-15. The route was long: out-and-back, about 4 mi. each way. It took me over the biggest hills our village possessed and it passed through none of the new housing "developments" with their closely-set newspaper customers. It must have been one of the least desirable I think now, but then it just was what it was. I was proud to learn the ways of shouldering the loaded bag on my Rudge Whitworth and was mostly conscientious -- in my own shy way -- in making my weekday afternoon round. I plagued my mom to drive me (in snow, ice, or pouring rain) as little as might be.

{A Rudge Whitworth, courtesy flickr}

{The red line shows the route; I left from and returned to our home, just about where the "e" is on Dalmeny Rd. -- upper right; Kemey's Cove (mentioned below) is left of the square by Revolutionary Rd.}

I earned money and remembered who paid up on time and who didn't, who tipped in coins and who in candy bars. I banked much of my take. And I observed.

I knew the mom's, some of the kids, and all of the dogs. And, because it was in the blood of boys my age at the time, I knew every car in every driveway.

Those were the years when performance and efficiency mattered little, style much. Cars were V8 powered, chromed, finned, and huge. I appreciated the cars of that time though never thought to own one. (My first car, bought 3 years later for $50, was a '50 Chev, all black with rusted out floorboards.)

Observing the newer models on my paper route, I noticed the three-tone jobs and in particular the three-tone Desoto. It's now hard to find images of this car. Here's one:

{Desoto three-tone 1955 on}

Here is a shot of the much-finned 1956 Fireflite, two-tone:

{1956 Desoto from a geocities page}

(If you care, there's a A Full History of DeSoto.)

Though I didn't really aspire to own a Desoto, I did have plans for my paper route savings. For $110 I bought a kit to make a 10-foot racing pram much like this.
{This comes from; I have a photo of mine somewhere or other which I'll post if ever found*}

Typically, I researched the purchase, carefully made the boat, and then didn't find much use for it. The river wasn't all that close to home and I couldn't drive myself there. I had no local friends with boats. So it sat down on Kemey's Cove while I found other things to do with my adolescent life and later became an embarrassment to my parents while I stored it in our next door neighbor's garage.

You'd think there was a lesson for me in this -- one about spending as wisely as you save, but I think I got all I really wished for in saving for, purchasing, and building the kit into a seaworthy racer.

* I found it:

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