Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘Memories & Milestones’ Category

My Brief Military Career

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GI_cartoonThe U.S. draft did not affect me because, fortunately for both the military and me, I was born, raised and worked in Canada until I acquired a  Social Security card and joined the Detroit News in my early 30s before moving to California a half-dozen years later.

But I did have a fleeting turn with the military in my 20s. A handful of us reporters at a southern Ontario daily — K-W Record — responded to a call to donate two years of our time to serve as reservists. After Press Club conversations with local military poohbahs, we drew straws to see which company we would approach. I wound up with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. They told me I was a second lieutenant, the company’s PIO  and signed me up for an intro training weekend.

I got the Friday off and drove to Camp Borden about an hour north of Toronto. A light rain began as we assembled in the mess hall where we were assigned to small squads according to numbers handed us as we entered the building. Each unit comprised three or four regular enlisted men and three or four reservists. My sergeant (enlisted) had a map marked into squares. It was announced that each squad would search the square marked with its number on the map. And, we were told, “There’s a case of beer out there and it’s marked on the map.” The first thing I looked for after the sergeant unfolded our map was the X marking the beer. Then I hunted for the grid with our number. We were nowhere near.

So I asked the sergeant to give me one of his regulars and, while he and the rest of the men searched our grid, we would get the beer.

That’s when I learned I was not compatible with the military. He gave me a flat stare and, pressing his forefinger on the square with our number on it, said, “Sir, we can’t do that, we’re assigned to this area.” I agreed and pointed out that he and the rest of the unit would complete our task while the two of us – I wasn’t going to carry a case of beer all by myself and I needed a regular who was familiar with the camp’s terrain – would get the beer and meet them back at our bunks. He was unable to translate that thought and repeated to this civilian reservist, “Sir, our orders are to search this area.” For once in my life, I was thinking clearly. I scanned the group and recognized that his regular-enlisted 2-IC liked the logic of my approach, so I said, “Corporal, come with me.”

We got the beer (and let the sergeant share) but that obliterated any thought of further military service. The next morning, I claimed a family emergency and drove out of camp.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 9, 2016 at 8:26 am

How People Remember You . . .

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rabbit. . . can be fun, I’ve found, after bumping into about a dozen 70- and 80-year-olds over the past decade who recall our high-school days at Scollard Hall, the all-boys Catholic boarding school in North Bay, Ontario: — 1947 to 1952. We had a Grade 13 in Ontario in those days to give kids an opportunity to earn a few college credits before having to leave town to attend one of the handsful of universities in the bigger Canadian cities.  I was a day hop, not a boarder, and learning by osmosis more than class subjects because there were students from far away as Venezuela, Italy, England, the U.S., and most Canadian provinces.

But back to how I was remembered.

At a group gathering during a reunion, they said i must have been the model for The Fonz in TVs “Happy Days” except “He couldn’t dance like you.”

On another occasion, the old-timer leaned on his cane and said, “Yeah, you’re the guy with the three pens.” I’d forgotten about that. I used to use three pens so I could write three lines worth of detentions – penalties or punishment given for some infraction or other – such as “I will not be late for first class after lunch” 500 times. Those three pens cut down the writing time a lot. Then he added, “And you sure could jive.”

A retired salesman who had to give up a promising professional hockey career because of a shoulder that kept  separating just flat out blared, “You were the best jiver in the ‘Bay.” Another old colleague, recalling my dance-floor days, rolled his eyes and said, “Man, you made us live!”

This patter and pattern have tumbled through my mind as I recall those dazzling days when I could jitterbug/jive/swing/whatever historians call it today. It was a shuffle and shucking done to a boogie-woogie beat and, while I can’t claim to have been the best in the ‘Bay, there was no one better.

It all  began in Jack McGinty’s living room. His home is now a rooming house abutting a McIntyre Street motel. His sister, Leona, taught me when I was 14 or 15 how to cut a rug on their living-room rug. Jack and I were close friends, along with Frank Klein (who became a well-known cop and civic leader in Sault Ste. Marie), Tom Lyons (who acquired his own firm in Peterborough and became a competitor at international curling bonspiels), Dennis Murphy (who rose to monsignor-ity in the Church) and Bernie Bucholtz (who went on to play several years of professional football in western and eastern Canada). As it turned out, we were pallbearers at Jack’s funeral after he was killed in a freak traffic accident. I was 17.

I always got a picture of him in my mind when I went into swing that gave me access to every gal in town. When the beat got down, all I had to do was point to one and she skipped out and we had a boogie ball. This is said not as a boast, although it is with pride, because we both were having fun.

That’s all I’ve ever wanted out of life – to be able to have fun. And I’ve had to deal with hundreds – probably thousands – of people who have done their utmost to deter me. So I toss the big-bands CDs into the tuner and turn up the volume  just right then bob and bounce to the beat while I picture Jack and the living room where his sister taught me to boogie a long time ago in an era far away.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 26, 2016 at 9:44 pm

We Were Crawling Through a White-Out . . .

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imagesD40MGR1V. . . between Detroit and Chicago on our way to our new home in San Diego when we heard about the massive Sylmar earthquake 45 years ago.

We’d been on the road a couple of hours so it was about 9 a.m. Tuesday when the first tidbits about the temblor interrupted the car-radio reports on the weather and traffic conditions. Our search for the next highway rest-stop became more intense because we wanted to wait out the snowstorm and discuss whether we really wanted to continue.

After all, we had stumbled into several hurdles since we tried to rip out our Canadian roots and transplant ourselves on the Left Coast. The earthquake might have meant to be our final warning.

This was after we had torn out the transmission of the family flivver four days earlier. We had planned to haul a trailer with our goods across country but our two-door hardtop decided against it just as we were approaching the Ambassador Bridge linking Canada and United States at the southern edge of Windsor and Detroit. Fortunately, it happened on the Canadian side and the garage we used over the years back in Windsor, Ontario, knew us, recognized our problem when we made a quick panic phone call, hauled everything to his locale and worked over the weekend to get us road-worthy again.

He even towed the loaded U-Haul trailer to our neighbor’s, who also came to our rescue and let us – three adults (my brother drove his VW bug down with us) and three kids — camp with them for the weekend. In between partying and panic attacks, we unpacked our belongings, returned the trailer, acquired several boxes and repacked our stuff, and arranged for a moving company to pick it up and deliver it to the address we would give them as soon as we settled. (It got here a bit more than a month after we arrived.)

The hiatus did give me the opportunity to drop back into The Detroit News to pick up my farewell check instead of having them mail it to me.

We finally pulled into a roadside diner stop a few miles short of Chicago. We couldn’t see it from the road but the kids saw a parking lot packed with vehicles, so we pulled in. Over some cups of coffee and assorted eats, we crowded around the TV set with the horde of other travelers to catch the latest on the California quake. And we wondered if our move to the West Coast was meant to be.

But the kids – in their tweens — were upbeat and undeterred about taking up a new life in the environs of Hollywood and Disneyland and surfers so we waited until the snowstorm subsided, topped off the gas tank and were back on the road before noon.

We got shafted that night by a motel owner in Lee’s Summit just outside St. Louis. He recognized us as refugees fleeing the frigid north for southern comfort and fleeced us for our rooms. It taught us to just walk away from the desk when given a price. That brought an immediate discount and, after a bit more haggling, the cost would to fit our budget. After all, this was February and most of these digs were empty.

The problems and perils we’d tumbled over moved quickly into the backs of or minds as we slipped into the adventure of sliding along route 66. The Golden State was still here when we arrived so I bought a short-sleeved shirt to wear when I walked into my new job at the San Diego Union on President’s Day.

– 30 –




Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 11, 2016 at 9:09 pm

Whadda Week ! ! !

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It began innocuously enough with my Meals on Wheels images[8]circuit Monday a.m. I emptied Rosie in the afternoon to make room for stuff that would be taken out of the house during the termite tenting Wdnesday through Friday. We had to seal, using double bags given us by termite-exterminating company, “anything and everything you put in your mouth.” That included food, toothpicks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, straws, and any bottles or cans that had been opened. Unopened sodas or condiments or booze could be left alone, except wine with corks because those seals might not be enough to keep out the termite-throttling gas.
Moved all the outside plants into the center of the patio and disassembled the concrete-block wall at rear of the property between the neighbor’s fence and the garage. All this so the tents over the house and the garage will have a tight seal. On Tuesday, I put medicines and groceries into boxes and crammed them into Rosie – my little red 1997 Nissan 200SX parked at the rear of the house. And I called SDG&E to have someone come and restore gas service and reignite the water heater pilot light on Saturday. A.S.A.P. Termite people told us to request one for Friday p.m. but none were available. When Bev came home from her Tuesday at Oasis, she double-bagged the food in the fridge and freezer and then we toddled off to bed.
The exterminator truck pulled up shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday and we had to enlist last-minute help from Keri to house Bev’s indoor plants so they wouldn’t become collateral casualties of the tenting. We were told we could probably get back into the house about 10 a.m. Friday. They took Bev’s cell-phone number and said they’d call us about 15 minutes before they were through. We told them to put the house and garage keys into the mail slot before they left. Then we drove down to Chula Vista, where we were scheduled to check into Fredericka Manor after 3 p.m. We had toured this seniors’ independent living complex a couple of weeks earlier as part of the deal for allowing us to stay free of charge for these two days so we could experience the community. We were to have dinner both nights with residents and lunch Thursday with our marketing rep, Anita Peterson, to become acquainted with and have questions answered by folks who lived there.
Since we were way early, we drove around the South Bay a bit and then dropped into the shopping center on H Street directly across the street from the old Union-Tribune office. I worked there for more than a half-dozen years back in the ‘70s before moving to Mission Valley to become a business writer with the Union. We did some shopping (I got a couple of pairs of jogging pants for hang-around wear), had lunch at Panera and headed to Fredericka Manor a bit early but we were ready to sit down and take it EZ.
That’s when things took a dramatic turn.
Because a couple of residents suffered some sort of gastric attacks, all the dining facilities were closed down for a couple of days. The marketing director appeared a few minutes after our arrival and notified us of that development. She very apologetically said we had to be booked into a downtown Chula Vista bed-and-breakfast, had reservations that evening at Italianissmo Trattoria and would have lunch the next day at a Greek restaurant with Ms. Peterson. She joined us and also was full of apologies for having blind-sided us and assured us they would take care of everything and we should just turn in our meal tabs to be reimbursed.
Bev and I drove to El Primero Hotel, the B&B at the corner of Third Avenue and G Street. We were booked into 111 on the first floor at the head of the stairs just over the front desk. It was an all-white room, clean and quiet, and Bev crashed almost immediately. We called Italianisso and moved our reservation (we really didn’t need one) to 7 p.m. from 5:30. It was a short walk and the food was worth a much-longer walk.
Sleep was troubled all night but we did feel rested in the a.m. Had fruit for breakfast and chatted with innkeeper Mr. Roque. He’s writing a book on the history of his 84-year-old hotel. We also met and talked with his wife and one of his daughters before we drove to Bed Bath and Beyond in a shopping center on H Street immediately east of I-805. Bev ordered her collapsible hose from there and made a clutch of other purchases. We took a quick re-con drive to pinpoint Zorba the Greek Restaurant’s location and headed back to El Primero for a short respite. Mike called and invited to his home for Thanksgiving (next Thurday). Lunch with Ms. Peterson was enjoyable and the food was fine but the place was noisynoisynoisy. We took the rest of the afternoon off and did some reading and dozing. Lou called and we spent about an hour talking to him and Jean. Walked uptown about 6:30 p.m. and Bev thought she’d been to the Fuddruckers bordering the city park years ago so we tried it again since Thursday night football was being shown on one of the TV screens. It was OK but the place was NOISYNOISYNOISY!!! So we ducked across the street to a bakery to pick up dessert that we munched on the street. We bought a couple of lotto tickets at the 7/11 across the street from our B&B before heading “home” and did some reading before dozing off.
We were up and moving about around 7 a.m. Got coffee for the room, showered and moved some luggage down to the car. Chatted with Mr. Roque about his book. Then Bev and I took the rest of our stuff to the car and had breakfast before heading out. Said farewell to Mr. and Mrs. and drove by the house as the guys were pulling down the tents. They said we could get in in about 30 minutes so, as planned, we headed to Trader Joe’s to pick up some victuals. We returned just as the truck was pulling away and they told us everything went well, the place was ours and the keys were in the mail box. We were back into the house at 11:10 a.m. Friday.
Bev attacked the fridge and freezer and I unpacked the cars (There were some groceries and medications in Bev’s car as well.) That took an hour but Bev worked all day getting the fridge/freezer/pantry/medicine cabinet back in order. It took me another hour to get my office and bathroom drawers re-organized. After I cleaned out my email, I took a nap. Bev made pasta and shrimp for dinner and I passed the rest of the night TVing and chair-napping before tottering off to bed about 11 p.m.
Our cleaning lady arrived about 8:30 a.m. today (Saturday) and, right after explaining logistics involved with the arrival of the SDG&E representative who is going to turn our gas meter and pilot light back on, he rang the doorbell and put everything into order.
Off we went to Walmart and Sam’s Club to re-stock our necessities and let the water heat up. It takes about 30 minutes. Weather’s been cooperating all week. Days have been warm and nights cool but not cold. WE returned home shortly before noon and I reinstalled fences at the northeast corner of the property between the garage and neighbor’s fend and on the south side of the house between our house and the neighbor’s fence. Then I wrote this memo, showered and sauntered off to Saturday p.m. Mass at Our Lady of Refuge. – and said a few thank-yous for getting us through this week.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 21, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Saw a Lot of Old Farts Yesterday . . .

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Saw a Lot of Old Farts Yesterday


couple. . . and they looked just like us.

Bev and I took our first tour together of a senior-living facility. We’ll be going back … but more on that later.

We’d made a 10 a.m. appointment with marketing rep. Anita Atkinson at Fredericka Manor in Chula Vista. Enroute, we picked up Heather at the airport, who’d decided to take an impromptu mental-health break for a day or two. We were shown several quarters, both cottages and apartments, spread out over the 24-acre community, spoke with several of the folks there, and had lunch in the dining room during our 2½- hour visit. Got most of our questions answered but will get more info when we spend two nights there as our house is tented for termites later this month. That’s how the whole program was arranged – we called about spending the time there during the termite-ing and Ms. Atkinson said that was fine as long as we took the tour first.



Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 5, 2015 at 7:09 am

Added to Newspaperboy Confessions: Ch. VIII

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The perks of roaming the streets of downtown North Bay peddling the daily Nugget during the mid-‘40s were wide-ranging and the lessons long-lasting.
As I cited earlier, it developed street smarts in a 9-, 10- and 11-year-old who’d just moved into town from the bucolic burg of Feronia that was about an hour’s dirt-road drive away.
We had no electricity (our substitute was coal-oil lamp) indoor plumbing (an outhouse, of course, and washtub for once-a-week baths) central heating (piling and chopping wood and kindling for the stove was a daily chore) nor storm windows.
Our main connection with sidewalk civilization was our twice-a-month (1st and 15th were paydays) rides – we used the bus in winter because my father put the old ’30 Nash coupe on blocks – for groceries and quick visits with friends, and our battery radio that was turned on only for the nightly news.
So diving into the ‘Bay’s commercial core and culture was fantastically eye opening and educational. Without realizing it, I got to know many of the movers and shakers in the city of 18,000. I’d run in and out of the soon-to-be mayor’s jewelry store and sell him a paper if someone hadn’t beat me to him. I’d crash highly animated political (I didn’t know then that’s what they were about) debates in several of the sports and shoe shine shops along Main Street.
And I’d see Mr. Smith sneaking some suds in the Continental Hotel with a paramour Mrs. Smith ostensibly knew nothing about. These encounters usually resulted in a sale because it seemed like the cheating husband felt buying a paper sealed my lips. I never intended to hunt down his wife and tattle, but I was pleased that he thought I might if he didn’t buy a paper.
We unwittingly made life-long connections because everyone remembered you as the kid who once sold papers. In some cases, that wasn’t so good.
Among the things I learned was how you could sneak into the theaters to watch movies. A fellow paperboy said his older brother, who was an usher at one of the cinemas, told him to buy some confections once you slipped by the ticket taker. The theater made more money on the candy bars and Cokes, he said.
And there were immediately-satisfying events. Like the time I found a crumpled-up $5 bill right in front of the check-out counter at the Arcadian Grill. FIVE DOLLARS! That was about what I made in a month of newspaper sales. I showed it to the restaurant manager, and he said no one reported a loss, and then ran across the street to show it to Hector Bentley (he operated a magazine stand in front of the Post office and used crutches to get around but was always dressed in a hat, suit, shirt and tie with shoes shined at all times) and he said no one had mentioned a loss to him. It was a remunerative as well as memorable day.
Another sweet memory is stopping by Central Bakery on the way home. It was right on the bend where Main Street angled north into Klock Avenue (later Algonquin Avenue) that turned into the two-lane highway reaching north to the precious-metals mining towns of Kirkland Lake and Timmins. On most days, there would be a couple of sugar-dipped doughnuts still soaking in the sweetness at the bottom of the tray slanted in the window for display. Because it was near closing time, I would get them for half price. Even thinking of them now, they surpassed their weight in gold.
When I joined a local senior softball league a few years ago, the first team I played with was sponsored by a local doughnut shop. Their array was sweet-toothsome, but no match for those Central Bakery “leftovers” from so long ago.
– 30 –

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 11, 2015 at 8:13 am

Some More Newspaperboy Confessions: No. VII

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One of the most utilitarian tools I ever had in all my years was a canvas bag for my newspapers made for me by my godfather.Boy_Smoking

He was Augie Cicci, a close friend of the family who owned and operated a shoe-repair shop on Algonquin Avenue for several decades. It was closed a few years after I left North Bay when  he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in critical condition when a robber failed in his attempt to kill Augie with one of his own cobbler hammers. (Augie eventually became lucid enough to greet visitors from his hospital bed and the cowardly crook caught and jailed for a time.)

But back to the bag.

I’d been peddling the North Bay Nugget for about a year and was picking up more and more to, of course, make more money. I would pick up 20 or a couple of dozen that were the maximum I could arm-carry comfortably while foot-padding around downtown and in and out of restaurants, shops, and beer parlors. On good days – payday, Friday and Saturday — I usually rushed back to the Nugget for a second load.

Augie’s shop was on Algonquin Avenue (it was Klock Avenue then) next door to what would become my high-school hang out – Demarco’s Confectionary (the family-owned-and-operated shop finally closed down a few weeks ago after some eight decades of accumulating customers). It was across the street from the Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption a couple of blocks off the western end of downtown. About once a week, usually the quiet Wednesday afternoons when retailers shut their shops to stock their shelves for the upcoming weekend, I would trot down and visit with Augie for a bit. This was long before I realized Demarco’s was a hangout. We always saw each other at Christmas, Easter, Italian weddings and several weekends in between when our folks exchanged visits. That’s how he came to be my godfather for my confirmation when I was 12 or 13 at St. Rita’s Church, so he wasn’t yet my godfather when he made my newspaper bag.

My mother had a piece of canvas big enough to turn into a pouch large enough to hold as many papers as I could carry without my knees buckling. She gave it to Augie and he worked it through his heavy-duty sewing machines and produced a bag with a leather strap that allowed me to carry 30-plus papers with ease.

I learned quickly that it made several downtown merchants uneasy. You see, it was also large enough for a wily little street rat to tuck stolen candy bars, toys, cigarettes or most anything you could think of into that bag without being seen.

When I found that out, I enjoyed several of the sweetest moments on my forays downtown.

A fellow named Maroosis, owned a sports-equipment store about mid-town. His window display included baseballs and hockey pucks and catcher’s mitts and team sweaters and so on. And so did the shelves in his store. I used to drop in occasionally and putter with a fielder’s glove or a pair of skates or other piece of sports equipment I would dream of owning. He never bought a paper from me and rarely talked to me but was always exceedingly friendly to most of the other customers who were either jocks or, of course, bought stuff. He supplied both local high schools with their team jerseys and jackets as well as equipment and for most of the fastball and hockey teams in town. He was the main game in town. (When I was older and got more involved in sports, I bought my equipment — skates, gloves, pads, hockey sticks, ball mitts, etc. at Mr. Lefebvre’s, who was much friendlier and allowed me to make  purchases with some money down and regular payments.)

To Mr. Maroosis, I was just a nobody kid – and he taught me how to have fun with that.

When I entered his store and no one else was in there, Mr. Maroosis would head into the back and leave me out there alone. Dicey, wouldn’t you think, to leave me out there with all that stuff and my great big newspaper bag? I would have thought so if I hadn’t spotted very early on that he had a peep-hole through the wall dividing his sales counter from his stockroom. So I knew he was watching me – and probably hoping I’d do something stupid so he could collar me and kick my ass into the arms of the nearest cop. So I would pick up a ball glove and punch my other hand into it making believe I was playing ball and then pick up a handy ball and pop it in and out of the glove and then put the glove down and try on another one and, every once in a while, look over my shoulder without glancing at the peep-hole. I’d do this for probably only 10 minutes or so because that’s a long time for a kid. And then I’d sorta sigh and drop whatever I had wherever I was at the time and slip silently out the door pretending I was unaware he was watching. I’d scoot into the entrance-way of the shop next door from where I could see his reflection in his store windows as he came right out to collect whatever I had been toying with and put it where it belonged — and to make sure nothing was missing.

I’d drop in and visit his store again the next afternoon — I always (ALWAYS) asked if he would buy a paper and he never (NEVER) did — and the evening after that and then the following afternoon and – well, you get the idea.

If for no other reason, I’ve thanked Augie hundreds of times for that bag.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Still More Newspaperboy Confessions Ch. VI

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Boy_SmokingBilly Larochelle and I rarely bumped into each other after I relinquished my spot in the waiting line for Nuggets to rumble off the presses six days a week in downtown North Bay. I moved to the other end of town and we went to different high schools. He also matured into an excellent multi-sport athlete. He wasn’t much bigger than I, but he had many times more talent, athletic skill and toughness.

But we spent a lot of time together for a couple of years pounding the downtown pavement selling papers and conning passersby.

The conning began rather innocently. While scurrying into and out restaurants, shops and saloons peddling our papers – he and I leap-frogged each other in our chase for customers – I managed to lose my money one day through a hole that developed in my pants’ pocket. (When I started newspaperboying, my mother gave me a little change purse but it wasn’t designed to use for gathering coins and providing change while maintaining control of an armful of papers so I did like my colleagues, I banked on – and in – my pants pocket.)  I lost more than usual because it was a payday Saturday and I was near the end of my second batch of papers. I’d bought 20 papers to start and ran back for another armful. The papers cost 2 cents each and we sold them for 3 cents. On paydays, we’d get quite a few nickels “and keep the change.” So I’d lost about a buck.

I told Billy my problem — and that I’d probably get what-for going home without any money. We were sitting on the curb in downtown Main Street and Billy thought for a minute. Then he said, “Cry.” I said, “What?” And he repeated, “Cry.” So I put my hands to my face and started “sobbing.” A couple of people stopped to see what was wrong and Billy told them I’d lost my money and that I’d get a licking if I went home without any dough. And he added some eloquent embroidery by adding that I’d been beaten up by bigger kids and my family was poor, and whatever else came to his mind.

It wasn’t long before a lady gave us  — me – a quarter to buy one of my remaining papers and a couple dropped a couple of extra nickels to buy the remainder. Then a guy who’d been drinking a bit stopped to listen and he popped a $1 bill – A $1 BILL!!! — out of his pocket and said, “Here, kid.” Hallelujah! Billy had saved my skin. But he wasn’t through. He said, “Keep going.” So I did and after a few more encounters, I – we – wound up with almost five dollars.

Billy wasn’t concerned about getting a fair share or an even split, he was just going to enjoy what we had. So we hopped to a nearby restaurant and got ourselves each a tin roof sundae (a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped heavily with chocolate sauce and handsful of salted peanuts). Then we went to a movie and got ourselves each a candy bar and a Coke. And we stopped for another tin roof after the theater. I still had about $3 left and offered to give him one dollar but he said, “Never mind.”

What he did do was have me run the same scam a few more times before we parted ways when I no longer sold papers. None but he and I ever knew about our venture. And it was certainly fun while it lasted.

When we did bump into each other on occasion around town as we grew up, one of us would just say “Cry” and we’d both break out big grins.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

June 28, 2015 at 2:01 pm

More from the Old Newspaperboy No. V

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Milt Robinson is perched prominently in my memory banks. I have no idea what ever happened to him and I remember little about him. But his image still glistens in my brain. He was the first person I saw when I got my first pair of glasses. And he watched me make a spectacle of myself as I stumbled over a block or so of Main Street as my brain adjusted to my new spectacles. I was nine years old.


From the beginning. Much of my first decade on earth was spent learning how to see. Fortunately, I was far-sighted and, by squinting and crossing my eyes, learned to read people’s body language and movements, and facial expressions as well as lips. This all helped me tremendously for the rest of my life.

I don’t ever remember not being able to read, but I had to look cross-eyed to make out the words, or anything else I wanted to see clearly.

While I was born in town (in an apartment my mother rented over a small grocery store at the corner of First Avenue and Wylde Street just down the hill from St. Vincent de Paul Church) almost all my earliest years were spent in Feronia, a hamlet that was a seven-mile walk from town and is now a suburban enclave of North Bay.

After enrolling when I was 5 years old in the one-room schoolhouse that housed grades one through 10, I skipped grade two because I could read and knew my addition and subtraction tables and was Miss Brunella Guenther’s star pupil until our family moved into town on New Year’s Day 1943. My father finally snagged a spot with the section gang working out of the main yard (where the round house and maintenance facilities were) of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway, which later became the Ontario Northland Railway.

School resumed for me at St. Rita’s Separate School when the Christmas holiday ended. Other than being a stranger in the schoolyard for a bit, the major memorable event that spring was beginning to sell newspapers – The North Bay Daily Nugget — on the street.

I’d tried taking on a weekend Toronto Star route. That’s when I saw German prisoners of war in their denim overalls and smocks with the large red circle on their backs stretching their legs around the Canadian National Railways station when I picked up the papers early Friday mornings. The POWs were being herded out to camps/farms out West.

The Star route lasted only three weeks because the four brothers who had the route before me made the collections the day before I delivered the papers and the route manager didn’t do anything about it. Fortunately, my mother deterred him – loudly — from extracting payment from me for the papers. That whole episode became part of my education.

When school resumed in the fall, among the earliest events was a visit by the school nurse. One of her chores was to give everyone an eye test. The only thing I recall about that is the look on her face that made me think I was really stupid. She was just amazed that I could function as well as I did. She got the news to my parents that I had a vision problem.

As it turned out, my mother had begun cleaning downtown offices for a few clients to augment our income. (We also took in roomers for the three upstairs bedrooms in the large house we rented). One customer was Ken Barry, who happened to be an optometrist. And he outfitted me with my first pair of glasses — appurtenances I wore for more than six decades until I had my cataracts lasered and replaced by tri-focal inserts nine years ago.

Back to Milt Robinson. As I said, I remember very little about him but I recall he was a classmate because we both ran downtown after the final afternoon school bell to purchase our armfuls of Nuggets to sell on the street. After a quick paper-sales run through downtown, we scooted into Ken Barry’s office to get my new glasses. Mr. Barry was a bit of a blur because everything happened so quickly. When I stepped outside the office, the first person I ever saw with clarity was Milt Robinson.

And I still see him clearly.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

May 30, 2015 at 8:43 am

Confessions of a Newspaperboy Book IV

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School was never my best subject. My real education is rooted in my time peddling papers on the streets of North Bay. It branched in earnest about a decade later when I became a young reporter asking everyone and Boy_Smokinganyone question after question after question.

While I only sold papers for about three years, what I saw and heard shaped me into a pavement kid and honed survival instincts that served me well during my eight-plus decades. Among the memorable moments was a piece of advice given me by Nate Rivelis, owner of a Main Street ladies’-wear shop, one of the many Jewish merchants lining the  ‘Bay’s eight-block commercial core. He became one of my first regular customers along that commercial strip. He told me later it was because I was reliable. That is, I always used to enter his store about the same time of day every day and ask him if he wanted to buy a paper. None of the other paperboys had done that before. It taught me to ask for the business. It served me well in picking up several other downtown customers.

(An aside:  It also helped me as a reporter, too, because I would drop by regularly to talk with the police chief and city clerk and desk-duty sergeant and mayor on my rounds because, for whatever reason, most other reporters didn’t take the time for such a nicety. As a result, I established reliable upper-level contacts and sources.)

Anyhow, among the memories that pop into mind when I picture Mr. Rivelis is a question he tossed at me one afternoon. “How much money do you have in your pocket, Cecil?” I told him I had about 20 cents. He shook his said and said, “No, no, exactly how much money do you have in your pocket.” I said I didn’t know. And he said: “Cecil, if you don’t know how much money you have in your pocket, you’ll never be rich.” Well, I never became rich but, to this day, I always know how much cash I have in my pocket.

Shortly after retiring from selling papers on the street, I launched my Main Street shoeshine venture. I quit peddling papers because we moved to the east end of town, which put me several blocks farther from the Nugget that was at the west end of downtown and I would have wound up getting my papers after most of the prime selling section was saturated by a swarm of two to three dozen other paperboys. And home delivery was beginning to take hold.

There were a few shoeshine shops in dry cleaners and pool rooms and barber shops along the main drag but I could under-price them because my overhead was low: no employees, no rent to pay, no equipment to maintain. I carried three cans of shoe polish – black, brown and oxblood – two brushes and several soft rags in an empty wooden butter box that also served as a foot stand so I could burnish the brogues. My competition was a half-dozen or so other street shoeshine boys cluttering the entrances and exits of the handful of beer parlors sprinkled around the commercial core.

Pubs were divided back then: men on one side and another side for women. Men could only enter the women’s doors accompanied by a female. They opened at noon, closed at 5:30 (to make sure men went home for supper), reopened at 7 p.m. and closed at 1 a.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. Saturdays. All those blue laws crumbled in the late ‘50s. The best shoe-shining times were payday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and early evenings because we’d catch guys going into the pubs – especially if they were with a lady – and coming out to head for a night on the town. I kept a copy of the Nugget for the customers to read while standing there getting his – or her, because a few women did stop now and then — shoes buffed. I also had a half-dozen papers to sell to shoeshine customers. I always stopped to ask Mr. Rivelis if he wanted a paper and I’d pick up one for him.

On these stops early on, I noticed people would look into the windows of his store and nearby shoe stores and then glance at their shoes to see if they looked as nice as the ones in the window. A lot of the times, a guy would wait outside while his wife or girlfriend was shopping in Mr. Rivelis’ store. So I set up my sidewalk shoeshine shop in front of his shop.  Business boomed. While foot traffic was good at the beer parlors, many of the guys were usually in a hurry to get in for a couple of cool ones or rushing out to get somewhere and didn’t take time for a shine.

When my father saw that I was heading downtown regularly to make a few nickels, he made me a compact wooden shoe-shine box. It was about the size of a lunch pail. He fashioned a couple of blocks of wood to look like a footprint where the customer placed his (or her) foot while its shoe was being shined. Very professional. And he added a shoulder strap so I could carry it more easily.

One day, Mr. Rivelis, who used to get his shoes shined regularly, looked at me and said, “Cecil, if you’re going to keep on coming back here, why don’t you leave your shoe-shine box in the store.” And that’s how I got to maintain a downtown shoeshine venture for another couple of years that grew out of networking while I was selling papers on the street. On the way downtown, I would put together a couple of bunches of radishes or onions or beets from our garden and knock on a few doors to sell them before I got to my shoeshine stand. There were also mornings when I rode with the local milkman and his horse-drawn wagon or the bread man on his route to earn a buck or two before attending to my downtown business.

Other gigs garnered during my shoe-shining career included part-time phone-answerer and dispatcher for a cab stand, a parking-lot attendant (I just sat in the entry/exit booth to hand out tickets when cars arrived and collect money when they departed) and a behind-the-counter server at a downtown diner. The folks would come to my shoeshine stand to get me when they needed me. I kept the shoeshine business going for a couple of years until I reached my mid-teens and was old enough to get summertime work on the railroad. I broke away from hard labor after a couple of summers when I got a full-time job as day manager for a lunch counter followed by a lucrative summer as a hotel bellhop. These all stemmed from my stint as a newspaperboy.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 29, 2015 at 12:18 pm