Reality Check

Henry Sperling calculated his inescapable decision. The end came in December, shortly before Christmas.

That final night, when he walked away from my mother, he left her with a collection of bittersweet memories—and one shiny, yellow and chrome, two-door Hudson-Terraplane.


As a kid, I loved to run. For no special reason. There were times when I would run pell-mell up or down a hill and shout at the top of my voice … yelling in pure physical exuberance, just for the hell of it.

When I first entered high school, I turned out for freshman track. Long distance running. “Cross country” they called it then. Mr. Vere Windnagle, the jug-eared track coach, also served as the school’s vice principal and official disciplinarian. Out on the track, he did his damnedest to take the joy out of running, with an unending spew of sarcasm. But that didn’t matter. I had to drop any ideas about making the track team anyway, when I landed another afternoon newspaper job.

This time, I went to work as a paper boy, delivering the Oregon Journal after school. My route included the old tenement area around the Hawthorne Bridge, where I had lived with my grandparents during those earliest days of the Depression.

I handled this job on my bike during the week. On Sunday mornings, however, the load was extra heavy. That’s when my remarkable mother would often help me out. Before daybreak on Sundays, we’d both crawl out of bed and quickly slip into old clothes. Usually she’d shake herself awake, light-up a Chesterfield and heat up a cup of coffee. Then, off we’d go. She’d drive me to the pick-up point and even help me roll papers. We’d load up the right front seat with fat Sunday editions. And she would then slowly drive me around the route in her Hudson- Terraplane. With the window open, I’d stand on the running board, holding tight with one hand and tossing papers with the other. When it was too far to toss, I’d grab a paper, hop off the running board, run up to the door, dump the paper, run back and hop on board—while she continued to ease the Hudson slowly down the street in second gear.

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