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Paper Routes and flying Mules

I became a paperboy again recently. My son signed up to cover routes for people who go on holiday, and (guess what) he got his opportunity to make some deliveries and some cash just when he was heading off to his grandmother's. So, here I am, every morning, delivering newspapers.

I like the walking, though I sometimes begrudge the time spent. But, I recently ran into a guy who made it all worthwhile.

He's a man living in Field House, a local retirement home, and not even one of my customers. Just someone who happened to be in the hallway when I went past to deliver to someone else. But he's a talker: "I'm 88 years old, you know. I never thought I'd make it that long." And, he was born in 1920 (or 1922) in Wales, and became a paratrooper in World War II and a jockey. He has stories to tell, more about the war than anything else.

He missed D-Day because of the measles "... I was out for two weeks, and when I reported in, they told me `you're lucky, your unit was just about wiped out...'". He saw action soon after, in France: "...and those [deleted] Germans were shooting at you as you were coming down. Machine guns and everything. One of my mates came down right through the roof of a church on fire. It was burning and he went right in. He had no chance. I still have dreams about that sometimes..."

(I've been lucky enough not to have been anywhere near a war. But one could feel it a bit, through his eyes. My own father had been in WWII, in Okinawa, but he never talked about it. Never, other than a few basic facts.)

And then he said "...we'd push the mule out of the airplane and jump ourselves..." and I snapped back from an imaginary parachute jump to listen again.


"Yeah. One guy would pull the rip cord and two guys would get their shoulders behind the mule, and out it'd go."

I was bemused. I'd never even imagined such a thing. "Did it work?"

"Sure. Some had trouble, but mostly no problem."

And that was it for the topic. I can imagine it vividly: the bare aluminum interior of a Dakota, vibrating with the engine noise. A squad of nervous soldiers in bulky gear with the mules near the main door in the middle of the compartment. My paratrooper, being a jockey, was probably in charge of the mules (though he never said so). The door slams open. The sargeant and the lead mule peer down at the rugged hillsides for a few seconds until he gets the signal from the co-pilot. Then, slap them on the backs, yell "Go!" and it happens. I suspect the mule was surprised. I wonder if my imagination was close to reality.

He's definitely a talker. Nothing stopped him, not even my American accent, from saying "We'd been fighting two years, and those bloody Yanks come over, [had sex with] all the women, and claimed they won the war." If I see him again, I shall ask about the mules.

7 August 2008.

[ Papers | | Phonetics Lab | Oxford ] Last Modified Mon Aug 11 18:07:12 2008 Greg Kochanski: [ ]