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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Chores of Childhood

It was a small town, a village really,
and everybody had their special roles.
There were six churches and with them,
six types of leaders, one called priest,
another two were pastors, three more
by name and function, ministers.
Not large enough for multiple choice,
but populated aplenty to require each service,
we had one drug counter, one hardware store,
a small post office, an eight-lane bowling alley,
Sal the barber, and the IGA grocery,
owned and run by my family.
There were also tradesmen scattered about,
working from their homes and trucks,
plumbers and electricians and such.
Also scattered throughout the streets,
most of which ended at the lake shore,
were thirty or more taverns, but
that’s a story unto itself.

I worked in that grocery, performing
most tasks, like checking and bagging,
stocking and delivery, sweeping and dusting,
marking prices on cans with black grease pencils.
I steered clear of the meat counter, though,
never trusting those knife-wielding butchers,
unable to stomach the blood, the smells.
When the summer folks arrived, mostly
rich people who did not cook,
I learned to make potato salads and cole slaw
and baked beans, a vegetarian in the making.
The wealthy did not shop, calling in their orders,
and it was for me to take them their bags of goods.
Sometimes, I broke an egg or twelve along the way,
but they never tipped, so it did not bother me much.
It always amazed me that these people
with so much gave so little.

My work did not end at that store.
A sickly mother, an often absent father,
a large yard, and the usual requirements of living
all gave me chores in slew-size.
I can’t recall if I complained back then,
but I’m grateful for it now, that work experience.
It taught how to cook, to clean, to care.
It taught me the silliness of “someone oughta”.
It gave me strength when my mother’s
sickness turned to death.
It gave me order when my father stayed absent.
It provided the way to responsibility.
It provided me with broad shoulders.
It gave meaning to that lesson about
Saint Francis of Assisi, where he was asked
while raking the garden what he would do
if he knew he would die that afternoon, and
he said he would finish raking the garden.

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