by Karen Topakian
“Can I help?” asked my mother at age 11 walking into the dining room of her extended family’s Providence home one Wednesday afternoon in 1937.
She directed her question at cousins Dolly and Eddy, ages 14 and 12 respectively, sitting at the oilcloth covered table, folding a big stack of orange advertizing circulars from Jimmy’s Market, a neighborhood independent grocer.
For the past six months, Eddy had a weekly job jamming them through residential mail slots.
“Sure,” Dolly chirped.
“How many did Jimmy give you?” asked my mother enthusiastically.
“It’s the same amount every week. 100,” answered Dolly without looking up from her stack as she carefully lined up the paper edges to form a precise tri-fold.
Eddy quickly nodded in agreement.
My mother smiled as she pulled a big stack closer to her. “I like doing this.”
Eddy glanced up at my mother, rolled his eyes and returned to folding, slowly.
“Jimmy must like chicken. Last time it was on sale, too,” announced my mother pointing to an ad.
Her cousins kept folding.
“Eddy, what time will you deliver these tomorrow?” asked my mother.
“Whenever I feel like it,” answered Eddy sullenly without looking up.
“My mother reached for more circulars trying to keep up with Dolly.
“He really pays you a penny a piece?” inquired my mother.
“For every one he delivers,” responded Dolly. ”He does have to go to every house in the neighborhood.”
“I think that sounds like fun! And he gets paid,” quipped my mother.
Eddy reached for another stack and shrugged.
A couple of minutes later Auntie Anna entered bearing fruit.
Dolly politely declined, “I don’t want to get my hands sticky.”
Eddy didn’t answer. My mother accepted.
Anna placed a small plate bearing a sliced apple and a tangerine in front of my mother.
My mother took a few bites, careful to keep her hands clean.
As soon as they finished folding, Eddy left the dining room; Dolly started her homework and my mother walked back to her quiet home a few blocks away.
The following Wednesday afternoon, my mother eagerly entered her cousin’s dining room and noticed the empty table.
“They’re not here,” said Auntie Anna seated in a rocking chair next to the radio.
“Don’t they have to fold today?” inquired my mother discouraged by their absence.
“Jimmy didn’t want Eddy to do it anymore,” announced Anna.
Anna shrugged. “I don’t know. Eddy said something about customers complaining.”
My mother shook her head and walked back home. She tried to figure out what could have happened.
A few days later, she spotted Eddy riding his bicycle down the street. “Hi Eddy, what happened with the circulars?”
“I got tired of delivering them so I stuffed them down the sewer.”