My father passed away back in 2013. Today he would have turned 91. He was a newspaper mailer who worked at the Boston Herald.
Shortly after he died, the demolition of the Herald building, sandwiched between Harrison Ave and the Expressway, began in earnest, to give way to a mixed use development that now buffers the South End from the noise and sight of the trucks and cars coming and going from the downtown. Each day, as I drive by the site of the Herald, now home to Whole Foods and million dollar condominiums, I think of him.
My father would arrive each night at that brick building, to a job that changed very little over the years. Sure the equipment was sometimes updated, and while the news may have changed with each edition during the night, the monotony of the “runs”, getting the editions of the paper from the presses to the trucks, was constant. The mailroom, dimly lit, painted brown below and faded mustard yellow above, seemed to get dimmer as the fresh faced mailers who started the shift grew weary when the night moved to dawn.
As the presses ran and the papers entered the room on the overhead conveyers, a fine mist of inked paper fell, and my father and the other the mailers sucked it in while they smoked, talked, or yelled over the din of the machines.
Between the runs, my father and some of the other guys, and at that time they were mostly men, would drink their whiskey, play cards, argue the news, and talk about their families.
My father, in that dim, monotonous mailroom, for most of his adult life, took pride in his work. He showed each night in well-creased dark pants, to better hide the accumulation of ink. His shirts were neatly pressed, almost always plaid. And even though each night his shoes would walk the dirty floors, those shoes would be shined.
He worked with good men, men with names like “Sudsy”, Jimmy, Johnny, Frankie, Hank, “Sunshine”, Artie, Mort, “Motor”, Tony and “Hot Dog”. They had their own language, too. “Hey, Hi O” meant, “Hey, I’m talking to you.” “Shithouse on 3”, meant the stacker on line 3 was spewing newspapers. A “ring knife” was used to cut the rope after the “mailer’s knot” was used to tie the papers. A “huskie” was a worker, usually a son of a mailer, who worked the Saturday overnight shifts or came in on a “call” on a weeknight. I was a huskie through high school and college, a kid fortunate enough to see how hard his father worked. A “snipe” was a piece of paper that was put on each stack of newspapers, and a “skid” was a pallet on which papers were stacked. And, my father was a “Record” guy because he came over from the Record American newspaper when it merged with the Herald back in 1972.
My father and the mailers made a decent living. They had good benefits. They worked overtime shifts. With their hard work and pride, they were able to raise families.
Even more construction is underway now at the site of the old Herald. Gone are the yellow trucks that lined the parking lot. Gone are bricks that were the face of the steel, which supported the floors, on which stood the stackers, tie up machines, and skids. Gone are the lights that shined late through the night, to every dawn. And gone, passed away, are most of the mailers of my father’s time.
As for my father, I’ve gotten well beyond the point of mourning his death. I now remember and value his life. I remember him when I smell a cigar, or see a Veteran wearing one of the blue hats indicating their military service. I remember him when I tell my children something he told me, and chuckle to myself after using one of his many expressions. I find myself many times thinking about my life now, and remembering what his life was like at the same age. I am grateful for what he did, and how he did it, so that I do have the life I have.
Whenever I drive by those new buildings on the place that was his place of work, I see my father at the end of the shift, blowing the paper mist from his nose, washing the ink off his hands, shutting his locker, putting the last paper off the line under his arm, and heading home to his family. The old Herald building gave way to new buildings, but, thankfully, memories are forever.