I discovered very early in my life, that somehow, God would place remarkable occurrences or people in my very ordinary, unremarkable life. There are no coincidences in our lives. We can tell ourselves that the events that happen in life are just chance happenings, but it is obvious to me that the things that have taken place in my life are by divine design.
At the time they happened, it all looked random of course, but looking back, I see an invisible hand, designing opportunities for that skinny kid so he could draw upon them later in life. It was the year I was a sixth grader at my elementary school St. Bartholomew, that an older classmate named Mike Andress was looking to hand off his paper route to someone. I heard about it from a classmate and asked him if I was old enough to do it.
“You have to have a bike and you have to pick up your papers and have them thrown by 4:30 before people get home from work”. Mike told me. My brothers and I had all gotten stingray bikes that Christmas so I had a bike, but being young and scrawny I couldn’t put the bag over my shoulder the way Mike Andress had done. He was the star basketball player at St. B’s and was strong and muscular. I was a skinny 6th grader. My dad said I could do it, and after fixing a big basket to the front handlebars of my bike, he drove my bike into town and would store it at Dunlap’s a local lumber and hardware store where he worked on Jackson St.
Every morning, my parents would drive me into town where my dad would let me get my bike out of their warehouse and ride to school about 6 blocks away. As I would ride to school, I would listen to a transistor radio to WCSI the local radio station. I would sing the songs I would hear as I rode, and every day, right after class, I would run down and get my bike off the rack and ride to the newspaper offices to pick up my papers and start my route. I would throw newspapers on porches, in front of shops, and; because I had Route 2A, it was right in downtown Columbus, to all the stores that lined Washington Street, onto Brown, and Jackson Streets and Fourth Street.
My father gave me permission to enter the Sportsman’s Bar but only to place the newspaper on the end of the bar. I delivered newspapers to people up in the apartments that were in the second and third floors of some of the businesses that lined Washington St. In one such apartment, lived a singular older woman named Mrs. Vaccarella… Gabriella Luciana Vaccarella. On the first day I walked the dark hallway lined with three apartments, I recall Mrs. Vaccarella peeking through a crack in the small door she had barely opened. She looked at me with these piercing brown eyes to size me up.
“Where’s Michael”? she asked with a bit of suspicion. As I looked in her direction she narrowed the crack in the door opening, not sure who I was. I responded with confidence,“Ma’am, Mike isn’t your paper boy anymore, he gave his route to me” She looked me over, and probably figured she could take this skinny kid in a fight if I was lying to her and said, “Okay then… I’m-a gonna have to train you like-a I trained him, so come-a here!” in her thick Italian accent. She directed with her hand motioning me toward her door.
For a moment her hand disappeared, but came back a second later with a paper bag filled with blue ribbons made of silk or nylon and about a quarter inch wide and about six inches long.“These are what you tie my papers with…you roll-a the paper,” she made gestures like rolling a newspaper with her hands,
“Then-a you tie them with-a this blue ribbon…capiche?” shaking her head in the affirmative. Every sentence ended with “capiche?”“Yes ma’am, I understand”, she interrupted me, “I not-a finished yet!” a look of impatience came over her face.I stood there blinking and she said, “Don’t-a stand there blinking come-a here!” again she motioned with her hand sticking out her slightly open door.
“You then lean-a the paper right-a here…” pointing to where the door met the door jamb. She could tell by the look on my face I didn’t get it. So she took the paper from my hand and said, “Okay, one-a lesson and only one-a lesson and if-a you don’t get it, I’ll call-a the newspaper and have a them send a me a new paperboy…capiche?”I didn’t know what capiche meant but I wasn’t going to lose my first job because of my linguistic ignorance so I just nodded yes. She took the newspaper and leaned it against the door and closed it.
When the door closed, the paper leaned over right to where the newspaper would fall into the crack of the door when she opened it just a little bit. That way, she wouldn’t have to expose herself to any harm by opening the door all the way or having to walk out into the hallway to get it. The ribbon, well, that was a story for later, but for right now, “Tie-a the news-a paper with-a the ribbon. Capiche?” Everyday, like clockwork as I climbed the stairs with one lightbulb hanging in the hallway, the door to Mrs. Vaccarella’s apartment was closed. I would remove the rubber band on her paper and tie a blue ribbon to it and lean it “against-a the door”
As I would turn to leave, I would hear her door open ever so slightly, hear the sound of the newspaper falling in and the sound of her door closing with the words. “Good-a boy, you remember! This-a gonna work out!” She would later say to me, through the door of course, attempts at humor like, “You a young-a boy, why you move-a like a me?” “Speed it up, get-a here faster tomorrow! Capiche?” We would begin a banter through that door, Mrs. Vaccarella and me. She would ask me about my school, if I had a pretty little girlfriend, “if-a my mama and-a papa were Italian. How many-a brothers and a sisters did I have? Why she not-a see me at-a St. Bartholomew in-a Mass?”
When it was hot, her hand would pass me a coffee cup with Coca Cola in it through the crack in the door. She would wait for me to drink it and then open her door again to retrieve her cup. In the winter, she would place a pair of gloves against her door and tell me to “put them on-a those boney hands” then she would give me the same cup but this time with hot chocolate. If I would say I couldn’t stay, she said, “Shut up and-a drink it”
She would laugh like a hyena when she got tickled by something I would say, but only one time…only once did she open her door. It was the day I delivered her newspaper for the last time. I was moving on to Jr. High school and had to give up my route. When I had dropped off her last paper, I called to her behind her door.“Mrs. Vaccarella, I won’t be coming anymore, I have to quit my paper route.” There was silence. I said,“I’m starting Jr. High school in the fall and I won’t be coming back into town.” I didn’t hear any stirring coming from her apartment, and thought, maybe she was asleep.
As I turned to walk away, I heard the faint creak of her door and looked to see she had opened it all the way. She hadn’t made a sound, but for the first time I had my first look at Mrs. Vaccarella. She had a tear trickling down her cheek. “My little Blue Ribbon boy…come-a here.”I walked over to her door and for the first time I saw what Mrs. Gabriella Luciana Vaccarella looked like. She was thin with high cheek bones and a very dignified long neck. She had dark circles under her eyes but with full make up they were only an imagination. Standing with a book in hand, a novel, her frame stood straight…nothing bent over, no trembling even though in the eyes and estimation of a 12 year old, she was fully 70 years old.
Her apartment in one of the sparsest buildings in downtown Columbus, was bright and white with lovely furniture in it. A picture that looked like a sunset somewhere in her homeland of Italy hung over her white leather sofa. She looked at me for what seemed like a full minute. I felt as though I was being studied and even; for a moment, I felt she could see right through me.
Then, taking my face in her hands in a caress, she ever so gently slapped my right cheek and spoke in Italian looking into my eyes saying,
“Nella vita c’ e dolore, ma na vi e la crescita”
that meant, “In life, there is pain, but there is growth”.
She smiled at me, and said, “Douglas Pacheco…I’m-a not-a gonna forget that-a name boy! Capiche?” I smiled back and nodded yes, with a lump in my throat. The door closed. And that was it.
I turned down the hall to finish throwing my newspapers and entered into the summer of 1971. In the spring of 1979, an article was published in my hometown newspaper about me going to South America as a missionary. My time was taken up with raising money for airfare and speaking at area churches. One morning in early May, a letter arrived by mail to my parents home. It was addressed to me in lovely handwriting. As I opened the letter, out fell a hundred faded blue ribbons and a note that read, “to my blue ribbon paper boy!” with a check for $1,000 signed by Gabriella Luciana Vaccarella. The God of the Unremarkable had shown up once again.