“Sue, you could start a neighborhood newsletter!” Mom exclaimed one morning at breakfast. We’d been talking about how I hate fingernail polish, so I’m afraid that I looked at her rather stupidly for a long moment.
“Grampa can help you! I’ll help you!”
The instant she offered to help, my mouth said: “Yeah!” If I’d been anyone else, listening, I’d have believed I meant it. But at first I was truly skeptical. Then, within minutes, the idea snuggled deep into my pleasure zone like a trusting duckling nestling against a sleeping tomcat.
Mom knew all the gossip on our end of Clover Street. I’m totally bored with the facts of the gossip, such as who visited the Sweeneys last month and how many honor students they brought with them. But I do like a good story and enjoy putting it into pulsating black and white. I couldn’t care who was visiting the Sweeneys from a thousand miles away, but you can bet all of Clover Street read in the CSN about the baby carriage race — organized by the Sweeneys’s hyperactive but attractive 15-year-old nephew, Jeanot (pronounce that, Zhano) — which took place in the Sweeneys’s semi-circular driveway using Missus Sweeney’s collection of antique prams.
The race was over and Jeanot was taking a victory lap with a fragile wicker buggy when Missus Sweeney walked around the corner bearing a bag of early peas from someone’s garden. She freaked, I shrieked, Jeanot spun around to see, and the carriage broke free. It reared up onto its hind wheels and took a lamppost right between its upraised front wheels.
Old wicker comes apart like shredded wheat. Missus Sweeney cried and swore that Jeanot was never going to be allowed back until he grows up. (I think he is grown up; he’s already mile-high to a grasshopper.) Jeanot was a hero about it, though. He took all the blame, put his arm over his aunt’s shoulder, led her back to her spilled peas on the sidewalk, and promised to buy her a new antique wicker pram out of his canoe-building earnings.
Mom and I made a good team. Broccoli even promised to do some page layouts on the screen, but shuddered like one who’d barely escaped death when he heard that he’d have to use the keys with letters on them. He retreated back to the arrow-and-number keys, where he has cowered ever since.
To Mom’s credit, she has done a lot of my typing, and she’s very fast at it. She has made many of my deadlines for me. Still, I’m the one who has to switch to the Family account, click on the correct icon, and do all the saving and printing at the end. Mom’s as fearful of exiting a program as she is of jumping off a collapsing bridge.
For our first issue I decided we’d keep it simple: State our purpose, tell about our street, feature ourselves, and put out a request for information. The result was a one-sided newsletter, (copy included), that looked amateur-ish by comparison to our later productions. You’d almost think it had no purpose and wasn’t about anything.
What I told about our street came from the following data: Clover Street is three blocks long with wide lots and modest houses, and quiet enough that a kid on a tricycle can (but shouldn’t!) ride where the cars go without much danger. People say it was last paved six years ago, but it’s in good shape. It’s a straight lane in a maze of peaceful streets that forms a residential neighborhood about twenty years old, judging by the size of the trees in most front yards. We’ve lived here just over four years. Before that we rented half a house in West Franklin.
In all three blocks of Clover Street there are forty-seven houses. Three of them are empty. One hundred sixty-six people live in the remaining forty-four. Six houses are occupied by various members of the Lewden family. The elder Lewdens, who are in their seventies and both resemble giggling munchkins, live at the end furthest from our house. Their son Amos, the weekend fisherman, and his somber wife, who are in their late fifties, live nearly across the street from us. Various other houses between are occupied by three Lewden daughters (whose names aren’t Lewden any more) and one Lewden son, all in their twenties or thirties, and all with pretty wild-living, but interesting families. (For example, when we start hearing the first Fourth-of-July firecrackers about June 15th, everyone knows it’s kids from one of the Lewden households setting them off. Nobody ever really checks. We just know.)
I’ll mention other people who live on Clover Street as I go along, and most of them are okay. There is an old man, though, named Mitch, (I don’t know whether it’s Mister Mitch, or whether Mitch is his first name), and he’s about the meanest person alive. If we even stop on the sidewalk in front of his house for a minute, as in coming home from school, he shoos us along. If you step onto his grass or cut across the corner of his chickweed garden he comes out yelling “Get out of there NOW and I don’t mean MAYBE!”
Then there are these Reuhausen people I mentioned, who are also older people, probably in their sixties. They aren’t mean, just unfriendly to kids. They’re rude if you go to their door, and they’re greedy. If you go there to sell them something they always act as if you’re charging twice the value, or if you ask them to bake something to donate to a fund-raiser, they accuse us of begging for snacks for ourselves. Kids in the know are very careful about approaching them. Fortunately they’re gone for weeks or months at a time, probably to Florida, so we don’t consider them part of “our” neighborhood.
Brocc (sometimes I pronounce it correctly, when he’s good, but I still secretly spell it like something even a dog wouldn’t sniff) and I went to every occupied house on the street except Mitch’s and asked each resident to take a chance on a really good neighborhood newspaper, that we hoped, at least for the summer, would be weekly. Price: ten cents. That meant that we could have earned $4.30 if every household bought one. Dad had run us an even fifty copies. After all, he and Mom had to send some to relatives we didn’t know. So off we went with 43 of them, my brother on our side of the street, and I on the other. And do you know what? We came home with six unsold copies and $5.60 in change! Everyone I went to bought one for an even dime. Brocc swears that some people gave him a quarter and didn’t want change, one even gave him the quarter but didn’t want the paper, and that five or so weren’t home. It seemed so easy!
Then it became difficult. I truly believed that our plea for information would bring out a whole bunch of people anxious to have their stories told. After all, wasn’t Missus Kaye always warming someone’s earlobe about her daughter in the Navy who was going to be a fighter pilot soon? Didn’t Bud and Winnie Ardrill always stop at our yard, yanking excitedly on a leash, to demonstrate their wonderful dog’s latest trick, such as scratching behind his left ear with his right hind paw? Didn’t April Hemple, who was only eleven last summer, work into every conversation that she had read the first volume of War and Peace and would soon be through with the second?
If these people were so anxious to tell the whole neighborhood how great they were, why didn’t they see how convenient it would be to tell it in The Clover Street News? But for some reason they hid.
Right after the first issue was out I asked April what big book she was reading now. “You’d print that in your paper, wouldn’t you!” she asked accusingly.
“That’s what I was thinking,” I replied, smiling my sweetest.
“I’ll tell you after you print a list of all the books you’ve read!” she sneered, and that’s how she left it. So naturally, in the second issue, I printed an abridged list of the books I’d read and would recommend to anyone, grownups or younger, and included the promise that April would have something for us in the third issue. (She held out for the fourth.)
Still, no one called to brag about anything, at least not in print. So issue number two remained brief. It contained my list of books, a lost and found column by Brocc, a description of the Sweeney pram races, and paid advertising from (who else?) RENTandRUN. Dad covered the back with a full-page ad, and, in addition to free printing, promised us a nickel for every copy sold. My sometimes-not-so-dumb brother suggested that for the third issue Dad include a coupon for, say, a dollar off certain rentals. That way he could get an idea how many Clover Streeters he was reaching with his advertising. Actually, Brocc said, “Dad, why didn’t you put a coupon in?” And the rest of the details came out by my father saying, “A coupon for what, Pal?” and Brocc saying, “Free rent!” and Dad saying, “We can’t give things away. You mean like a dollar off?” and Brocc saying, “Sure,” and so on.
Anyway, Brocc Blocc-head had the credit, and I didn’t mind. He was helping, up to that point.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17