Anyway here is another of my essays, going into some events and experiences that shaped the person I grew to be. Looking back, it surprises me to trace down some of these threads and see how much of the distant past is still woven into the adult I became and now the older person I have come to be!
My parents obviously believed in kids doing chores. From the time I was barely more than a toddler, I had small tasks to do. One of the earliest I recall was picking up off the floor the paper dots left by a hole punch. I cannot remember what they came from, only that there were all these little circular bits. They were about a quarter of an inch in diameter as I picture them now. It was easier for me to squat on a small person’s short legs than for an adult, and I often hunkered down in that posture when playing. Dad tried to make a game of it and called the exercise, “chicken picking up corn.” I must have been pretty young and very naïve to consider this a game but maybe I did. I am sure there were some other little jobs I learned to accomplish but they do not come to mind.
By the time I had started school, I began to do some real tasks. When we went out to the rural community of
where my father
taught in the one room school, we lived in a tiny mobile with not electricity
or running water. To keep from having to go out to the outhouse at night, the
family used a chamber pot. My job was to empty it first thing each morning. I
carried the bucket to the outhouse and dumped it faithfully, always trying to
do it long before the other kids arrived for school. I would have been
mortified to have the boys see me although I doubt they would have thought much
of it or said anything at all! Camp
As a digression, when I moved much later to the upper
Valley in California, I was stopped in my tracks at
the way the locals pronounced the name of the common nut widely grown in the
area. I was like, “What the blazes is this pee-can you are talking about?”
How chamber pots could grow in an
orchard boggled me. I soon learned to understand the accent of the locals,
mostly dustbowl refugees who had fled the drought stricken Midwest
in the 1930s and the word no longer grated but at first it was a shock!
Also while at
, I began to wash dishes. My dad
terrorized me with horrible stories about the sickness caused by leaving soap
on the dishes. I know this was a genuine problem in military mess halls until
some years later but I am pretty sure we were using detergent by then which did
not have the drastic emetic effects. Still, I did my best to ensure the dishes
were all rinsed very well. Camp Wood
About the same time, I graduated to other complicated and serious tasks. In the early nineteen fifties, the main mining operations in
were shut down. Phelps Dodge, the mining company, started selling off all kinds
of old and surplus items, too worn or not economical to move to use elsewhere. Dad
began to collect a lot of “stuff” with the idea of using the materials to build
facilities on a patch of land he had acquired down near the Jerome, Arizona Verde
River. Among the things we acquired were a couple of sheet metal
sheds used as garages in one section of the “company” town. As we dismantled
them, the job I learned was how to pull nails out of the boards that had been
the structure’s frames. I often straightened the nails, too. I got quite adapt
at those tasks and learned how to slip a small block of wood under the hammer
or crow bar to get more leverage when the nail was reluctant to pull free. I
still do that sometimes!
I had learned early to pick up my playthings before bedtime each night. Anything left out was likely to disappear and probably be lost for a long time if not forever. Moving on from that, around age ten or so I began the habit that stays with me to this day. At least a time or two a year, I get into a kind of cleaning and sorting frenzy. I try to get rid of as much of the “overburden” we tend to accumulate as possible and to make sure the rest is structured into tidy collections, neat piles, boxed, tagged or otherwise organized. I hate to see windblown trash in my yard—a real fight at times both in my old
homes and here when we get the spring winds. I still pick up that kind of mess
regularly. No one ever told me to do it or made me; I just took that on myself.
For most of the years from age ten until I left home at twenty three, we burned wood for heat. Another chore! We cut and brought home many pickup loads of pine, juniper, oak or whatever else we could get. Although dad cut the larger stuff with a chain saw, at least to truck length, my brother and I did a lot of hand sawing with an old camp style buck saw to get the wood to stove size. Sometimes we also had big circles from larger trees which had to be split. We used old axe heads as wedges and pounded them down with a single jack or smaller one-handed sledge hammer until chunks broke free. And there were also ashes to carry out and dump in a safe place. We were truly warmed more than once in those processes.
At times I had household chores too. I usually helped mom with the laundry every week to ten days. We ran several loads of clothes, towels and bedding through the old Maytag washer, pushing them through the rollers of the wringer to get the excess water out and then hanging them on the clotheslines to dry. I never got my hand or even a finger caught in the wringer but I know some kids did and it was a frightful hazard. After the wash dried and was brought back inside, there was also ironing to do. It was a somewhat tedious task but one I did not mind if I could listen to the radio or later my little record player and sing along while I worked. I also composed poems and stories in my mind while I ironed.
By my mid teens I had learned some cooking. I enjoyed making cookies and was always coming up with a new recipe or blending contents from two or three recipes to make my own variations. Cookies are really easy to make, since exacting measurements and the precise demands of cakes or pies were not required. I also made biscuits. Although I could and did roll the dough out at times and use a cutter to make neat rounds, I really preferred to do drop biscuits which I called “porcupine biscuits” since they had pointy bumps on them. I learned to make several hamburger based dishes and of course things like beans and wieners or macaroni and cheese. We ate a simple and economical diet most of the time but always had veggies too and some salads.
With all these experiences behind me, I had no problem with work as I became an adult out on my own. I’d been working since I was about ten, doing variously a cowboy and ranch hand, handy man or jill-of-all-trades job from mid teens on. Now I had to learned to do desk jobs, starting with my university studies and moving on to civil service positions, but I never forgot how to get dirty and use my hands and muscles to accomplish things. It does not bother me to wear old clothes and engage in the “trudgery*” of packing and loading boxes to move, preparing and maintaining a garden, taking care of animals, or doing the heavier cleaning that sometimes is necessary to keep one’s home space livable. I might have resented some of my chores at times, but the legacy I got from them has served me well and will for all my days.
*Trudgery is a word coined by my late brother Alex when we were busy
cleaning out the mobile our mom and dad had lived in after mom passed
away. He had the quirky Celtic humor too and skill in words which he mostly
applied to legal writing after he finished his schooling and workjed as an attorney.
We made many slow trips carrying things back and forth for yard sales, trips
to the dump or moving—drudgery at a trudge—which became known as trudgery.