Monday, September 5, 2011

labor day.

"Everyone outside and help carry groceries."
The loud, bellowing voice carried through the living room, into the school room, and out the sliding glass door onto the back porch. As if the command wasn't strong enough in and of itself, names would promptly follow accompanied by orders for the specific tasks forces present.
"Michael, Grace, open up the front passenger-side door and bring in all the cereal."
"Richard, James, in the back of the truck is a man-door and table saw -- I want those set in the garage. Then I want you the two 25 lb bags of rice that are in the back seat and bring them inside and refill the tupperware containers in the pantry with one of those bags."
Man-door was a very descriptive term essential to notating the specific difference between a door with a lock on it a human would walk through and a "door" used as a loose term to often refer to a "garage door", something you would drive through and close behind you with a button on your car's visor.
Had Dad said "in the back of the truck is a door and table-saw -- I want those in the garage" there would have been an immediate uproar and indignant outcry from the small barefooted natives he beckoned.

Mom was very present. 
"James, Rick, that means now. Dad gave you very specific instructions and I want you to get and go do them please. Smiles on your faces!"
For some reason when Mom requested smiles it was always impossible to maintain scowls.
"But what about Bethany? She needs to help! She's in her room."
Bethany was very not-present.
"No, Bethany's reading for school in her room. Leave her alone." Being responsible made you so hatefully immune sometimes. Responsibility was something that, looking back on how we saw it at that point in our lives, I would most likely pair with today's equivalent of a new theory from Stephen Hawking. 
My younger brother and I definitely never understood the phenomenon of how being responsible could get you out of what we saw as unavoidable hard manual labor.

Out the front door, along the brick porch into the garage and out the front to the driveway where a the Nissan Titan awaited our load-relief services, the two brothers interacted as only siblings can.
"I wish we had a fork lift, this would be so much easier you know."
"No it wouldn't. That's stupid. It wouldn't even fit in the garage."
"So? We'd get to drive it."
"That's true." The logic did make sense. 
"Doesn't Dad let you drive the fork lift at work sometimes?"
"Only like three times. Here, help me."
Our backs strained, arm muscles flexed, and we grunted appropriately as men should when conquering a beast. The tailgate opened and we saw it.
The man-door. 
"One of us has to hop up in there and grab the other end."
"No, we can just grab either side."
"It's too heavy."
"Well I don't want to get up in there though."
"You have to."
"No I don't."
"Yes, you do." Somehow this worked, and the younger brother reluctantly conceded. I think in middle-school student disagreements the purest logic is repeated insistence or demanding.
Soon with much pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting, yelling, arguing, and slamming, we successfully maneuvered the monster into it's new dwelling.

"I bet we're going to have to put this in today."
"What? No. Dad has a meeting with the salesmen I think."
"That's what he just got back from. It was this morning. It's always in the morning."
We bear-hugged the massive bags of rice and stomped heavily into the house, the hardwood floor soaking up our dramatic pattering thuds. 

A younger sister trotted by on her way back to play with the neighbor girl again. "Rachel, you're so lucky your Dad doesn't shop at Costco. Ours ONLY shops there and we have to bring all the stuff in."
Rachel was not content to be outdone.
"Yes, but my Dad brings groceries home and we have to go up like a hundred stairs to my house."
"You don't have a hundred stairs."
"I know, but it feels like a hundred."
"Eldridge childrennnnnnn! Family meeting!" Mom's voice could not be ignored when those words were hollered. It meant there was more work ahead, unavoidably. But when a family meeting was called -- as opposed to simply finding the victims and announcing their future personally one-by-one -- it was exponentially better. It meant there was also an exciting reward ahead. Something that could change the entire day. 
We sat in the living room sprawled out on different articles of furniture, belly-down on the floor with feet kicking in the air and elbows on the carpet with our chins in our hands, and we waited. 
"Here's the scoop." Mom liked starting out that way. "We have a lot of things that need to be done today, some of you still have chores from yesterday that you didn't do, so you'll have to finish those too. But what we'd like to do since it's labor day is work for a few hours and then...." 
Mom's pausing for dramatic effect was always flawless. We shrieked indignantly and garnered smiles from both parental units.
"Mom, don't do that!"
"Tell us Mom!"
Even Bethany got in on picketing against the evils of suspense. 
"Please Mother, don't do that. Just tell us."
Mom smiled and shushed us, then cleared her throat. Silence was king for a brief moment, the lull before the storm of excitement.
"If you do that, if you finish your chores and the few things Dad has for us to do today, then..."
Then she spoke and the dark clouds over our heads opened up. Lightning crashed, thunderous happiness pounded our chests and joy reigned from above like only a late-afternoon drive to the cousin's house at the beach could.
"We'll go to the Abbeys for a potluck this afternoon!"
Powerball lottery winners had nothing on us. A forty-five minute drive to the North Shore to have dinner at the Abbeys, jump on their trampoline, walk across the highway to the beach and have one of Uncle Chris' legendary bonfires was Christmas in September.
The rest of the afternoon sped by in a blur. The roar of the table saw blended in with the engine sounds of the fifteen-passenger maroon-colored Chevy van headed North to the cousin's. The smell of Windex and salty beach air became indistinguishable. Trotting across the yard with the mower and the pumping of legs to stay afloat in the water blurred together. 

"I need three hours of work from each one of you. Your Mom has a list of jobs you can pick from, but if you get done with yours and it's done well enough to pass inspection, then she'll have other options for you to pick from. But I want to be on the road, everyone in bathing suits ready to go at two o'clock. Understand?" 
Labor day may have meant several hours of work that we'd hoped to avoid, but that night the kids who weren't lifted into the van already asleep for the ride home were out cold before the road curved inland from it's path parallel to the coast. 

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