When I turned eight my parents abruptly informed me that no more allowance was forthcoming. I was somewhat baffled since I had never really gotten one to begin with, so I immediately demanded back pay. I was serious and they thought it was funny. I suppose it WAS pretty funny. In any case they prodded me into generating my own income by suggesting I contact our neighbors and ask if I could do any odd jobs for them. Thus started my working habits at a fairly young age.
I was raised in the mountains of Colorado about twenty miles west of Castle Rock between 1971 to 1980 from the age of seven. The community we lived in was quite spread out and I really was one of those kids who had to walk quite a ways to the bus stop, often in horrible weather. Sometimes going to see a friend took an hour or more before finally reaching them. I didn’t complain because I never knew any better, it’s just the way I was raised. There were, of course, a few kids my age around, but I was close with only two or three over the years. In time the majority of my friends turned out to be those I sought comic book money from by doing various chores. Most of these people were, in fact, senior citizens.
Their names live on in my memories. Ed, Jack, Darlene, Kathy, Paulene and Paulene, Cecil and others had me doing all kinds of things for them over the years. Shoveling snow was usually the biggest one, but often it was gardening, chopping wood, cleaning gutters, hauling coal (a lot of people still had coal fed furnaces) cleaning trash, and clearing weeds.
Jack, the gentleman I eventually did the most work for, had me accompany him once a month to town so he could have someone help him to shop at health food stores, which were, at the time, rare… and for some reason remarkably tiny. Nothing like Whole Foods existed. I used to buy carob bars ( I know, ick… ) and other weird trinkets when I was out and about with him. One of his stops was around the corner from a used paperback bookstore, which for me, was like hitting the jackpot. Forty-five years later the bookstore is still there but the market is sadly, not. Jack definitely needed help carrying his groceries, but one of the weirdest things he’d have me do was swap out wheels on his pickup when the weather was bad. One set had chains preinstalled on them, the other had regular tires. By this time I was in my early teens so my strength and size were more valuable and I could swiftly handle such cumbersome duties. In the winter the weather was often harsh where we lived, but once we had usually reached a lower altitude, increased traction was no longer needed so his solution was to change the chains in this strange manner. Honestly it made no difference to me, there was no judgement on my part because I took any opportunity to get into town and explore. The money I earned was secondary. The saddest thing I did for him involved one of his dogs, which I of course knew quite well. One of them had crawled under his home and died. Jack needed me to get him out of there so I wriggled into the structural space and crept on my hands and knees through all the spiders and bugs. I got a hold of him by his leg, and dragged him free. It was quite a distance, maybe thirty feet or so. Once outside I proceeded to dig a grave. I buried him with as much dignity as I could and placed a makeshift marker in the spot. I cried the whole time.
One of the Paulene’s I knew was the owner of a car dealership and had two homes, one of which was close to my normal school bus stop about three quarters of a mile from my home. One day she asked me to do something strange. Her house was built in such a manner that the foundation walls were in place for a basement, but the builder had, for some reason, filled it back in with dirt, and most of it was to the rafters of the main floor. There was enough room to go down the stairs to a hollowed-out area where the propane furnace sat, but the rest was inaccessible except for a doorway to the back yard directly across from her makeshift mechanical room. Since it was a walk-out design, there was a way to exit the “basement” without going upstairs. By this point you’ve guessed what she wanted me to do, dig out her basement so she could finish it. It was easily a thousand square feet, and to add complications, the heat from system had dried out the soil (for what was likely thirty years or more) all the way to the mantle. I cheerfully accepted, and for the next several months I spent every evening after school digging out that rock hard earth. I’d end my shift with watering down the top so the following day I could scrape off about a half inch. I did waste a lot of time watching TV upstairs as she was really never there, but I ultimately got it done over the course of several months. In 1979 I made 100.00 off that job and walked away feeling like Midas.
Looking back I now see a common thread most of these people shared. Ed Cummins lived in a trailer and had advanced emphysema. Cecil Bookie had a small home in the valley where she sat, retired. Miss Rodgers was pretty much in the same boat as were several others, and Paulene was a widow. Basically they were all… lonely. It never occurred to me then, but often I spent more time just sitting and talking with these people than I did doing whatever they said they needed. Perhaps that was their primary goal to begin with. And while I enjoyed their company I didn’t label it as friendship until much later in life. Looking back I’m glad to say it was mutually beneficial as well as an honor to have served these people.
My understanding is when I left the neighborhood another kind young soul, a neighbor I knew of but was not friends with, took up my services and continued where I left off, so that’s comforting. I’m glad those who relied on me were not left with burdens they couldn’t handle on their own. These days the culture of youth going door to door to ask for work has vanished. My wife and I have lived in the same home for twenty years now and never once has there been a knock from someone looking to earn a few extra dollars. Perhaps it’s because the comradery I had grown up with in this country has grown increasingly caustic, full of fear and suspicion. Some are faster to grab a gun instead of wield a smile when the doorbell goes off, but perhaps the real truth is many people want to be left alone these days, and that’s a shame, because those who desire solitude will assume the rest want it too.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood