I trudged up Fifth Avenue to Irving Street. The cool San Francisco fog brushed against my face as I plopped the extra Sunday papers down at the corner.
“Where’s your brother?” asked Tony Lee, the thin, wiry guy who collected the extra newspapers.
“He did it to me again, lazy bum!”
“Well, you do a good job, Mary – even if you are just a kid.” Tony smiled.
“I’m not a kid, I’m 11 now.”
“Just a kid.”
Tony grabbed the newspapers and threw them into the blue and yellow “Chronicle” truck.
I waved goodbye and grabbed my skateboard which I’d stolen from Michael who always got the cool stuff for Christmas. He never used it. My arms and shoulders ached from the canvas bag which held the newspapers. Sundays were the worst because the papers were so big. I had to deliver them in shifts, grabbing as many as I could and loading them into the front and back of the canvas newspaper bag flung over my shoulders.
As I got on her skateboard and pushed myself along with one foot, I thought “That lazy bum, where is my brother when I need him?”
That’s when I heard the music – guitar music, fast paced and full of rhythm and life. Where was it coming from? I heard tambourines and singing along with the guitars.
I looked over at Tony who was still messing with newspapers. “Hey Tony! Hear that music? Wonder where it’s coming from?”
Tony looked over at me. “From there, right behind you.”
I turned around – “That’s St. John of God Church. No way! They don’t play that stuff at Church!”
This wasn’t like that organ music I heard at St. Agnes Church while trying to keep that stupid hat from slipping from my head.
I never thought the priests and nuns were that different than the hippies. The hippies smelled of incense, and so did the church. The hippies said, “Peace,” and the priest always said, “Peace be with you.” So did the nuns. I never understood why people made such a big deal about all of it.
Then, shortly after Dad left, Mom decided that we didn’t have to go to church anymore and that we could be any religion we wanted. She danced with the deadheads at the park instead.
All I knew was that I was glad she didn’t have to go because she could watch Dark Shadows at 4:00 instead of walking all the way to St. Agnes School and Church on Tuesday afternoons.
It’s a long road to freedom, winding steep, and high…people sang at the tops of their lungs and even stomped their feet.
“Hey Tony, let’s go check out the music!”
Tony smiled and waved. “Naaaa, I’m Buddhist!”
“Buddhist? What’s Buddhist?”
“Too hard to explain,” Tony said.
“Okay, well so what, who cares? I’m not any religion anymore!” I beckoned Tony to cross the street. “You’ve got time, don’t you?”
“Ohhh, well okay.” Tony and I both crept into the back of the little church.
I still had the canvas newspaper bag flung over my shoulders and clutched my skateboard. For a moment, I wondered if it was all right to walk into a church without a hat on, but no one seemed to notice. They were too busy singing, some dressed in Sunday clothes, others wearing jeans like me. It didn’t seem to matter.
I was especially fascinated with the strumming guitars. I taught myself how to play a beginner’s guitar.
“Pretty good,” Tony said as we sneaked out before everyone else. “But, I’ve gotta get back to work now, Mary.”
See you later.” He patted me on the head and winked at me.
“See you Tony.” I got on her skateboard and whizzed down the street.
The hill on the street we lived on was the most fun to ride down. I would always jump off the skateboard just at the right time, in front of the steps to our house. It was a trick that made me feel like I was in a circus act, and I loved it.
When I jumped off right in front of the house, I saw Jennifer sitting on the steps.
“What are you doing out there?” My shoulders still ached from the newspapers, and when Jennifer ran up to her and put her chubby little arms on my shoulders, the weight of her made my shoulders hurt even worse.
“No one is awake yet, and I’m hungry and I wanna play,” said Jennifer.
That figures, I thought, wondering why I always got stuck fixing breakfast for my little sister, and why Michael wouldn’t even help her with the paper route like he promised to.
“Honey, you’ve got to go inside. .” With the canvas newspaper bag still on my shoulders, I carried Jennifer and the skateboard up the steps and into the house.