Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Carrot Sticks

I had a normal childhood, whatever that is. Drying silverware by bundling it in a dishtowel and massaging the soggy, and encrusted with egg package of metal, until the towel got wet or tore was normal for a kid my age. Tossing, yes tossing the bale into the pantry drawer and stirring them until they sort-of made it into the slots my father built in the drawer, so my working mother could be organized, was standard behavior. It was what I did every day after school from first ‘til third grade; breakfast dishes, floor sweeping and dusting. That’s probably why now I never dust, sweep only when dog hair is knee deep, and dishwashers, whether flesh and blood or mechanical, are my friends.

My mother worked as a secretary for the head of a grocery company. I was a mid-century latch-key kid; this was before the term was invented. Though I had a big brother who never came home until mom started dinner, my mother needed to know where I was after school. She paid me to sweep, dust and wash breakfast dishes for .25 cents a day. My employment allowed her the comfort of knowing I wasn’t annoying Mrs. Wiser, our upstairs neighbor, or getting into trouble around town like my brother did. My employment allowed me $1.25 a week to spend on whatever I wanted. The only independently wealthy first grader, I was the envy of the after school cookie and milk set. They had mothers who baked for them, mine was my boss. Even after I married, and had children of my own, it wasn’t until after she died at the age of eighty-three, that I didn’t have her to look to anymore as an immediate supervisor. I’m the boss now, and like they say, it’s lonely at the top.

But, back then, after I did my job, I did annoy Mrs. Wiser. When my chores were done, I’d creep upstairs and knock on her door because she had peeled carrot sticks in her fridge and her daughter Nanette loved Mickey Mouse Club. Because my big brother said I was too old for such baby TV I, more often than not, would watch Jimmie and the rest of the musketeers with Nanette because I was lonely.

When my own daughters were the age I was when I was a latch-key kid, I stayed home. As they got older I worked mother’s hours because it was important to be there when the big yellow bus pulled up. I did that not because I didn’t want them to relive the lonely childhood I had but because it is a different world now. Actually, back then, the world was just as twisted, we just didn’t hear about it as much. The man in the park who exposed himself to me is proof.

Until then ‘write on’.

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