Over the years I’ve shared several stories about my work life … like my first real job, slinging hash at Carters Hamburgers, the small diner where I worked throughout my college years. How I loved that place and everyone associated with it … especially my manager Erdie Pugh and his wife Ann.
A few years ago, upon learning about the untimely passing of the one and only mentor in my work life, Jerry Apoian, I waxed nostalgic about our time together at Young & Rubicam advertising agency.
And, recently I told you about mean Old Biddy Burgess, who stiffed me out of my money for raking all her leaves … it was “payback time” for her when my father fixed this dilemma for me.
But there was one more job I had, and I saved this tale for Christmastime.
When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I had many little jobs in the neighborhood, like pulling weeds, raking leaves or shoveling snow, but none of those jobs had any meaning like the hours I spent working for an elderly widow around the corner. I went over to see Mrs. Moss every Saturday morning. I would dust all her collectibles, including her most-prized possession, a beautiful Christmas village, complete with a train which traveled around the entire village. Through the years, she and her late husband had collected many village buildings, figurines of the town residents, trees and bushes, even cats and dogs running out in the street. The entire village and train encompassed a large portion of her finished basement and was left up year round since it was way too burdensome to try to tuck away out of sight. It was truly exquisite when the basement lights were dimmed, or shut off, and the display was lit up.
Mrs. Moss was quite elderly and could no longer go up and down the basement stairs, so, after I raked her leaves one day, she asked if I would be interested in another job since she had no family to help with this dusting task. My job entailed dusting the entire village downstairs, as well as her fine porcelain collectibles that were placed on shelves in her curio cabinets in the living room and bedroom. She said it would take about an hour to do this chore and asked me if $0.50 would be an adequate sum for me? (Please remember this was circa 1967 or so and $0.50 was my going rate for all the little jobs I did.) I said “yes” and Mrs. Moss suggested I get permission from my parents to come into her house to do the dusting and my parents were fine with it.
So every Saturday, I would walk over to her house and, while I worked, we’d talk about many subjects, and they often revolved around her life as a young girl at my age. Mrs. Moss gave me an outlandishly large feather duster to accomplish the dusting task. I had never seen one of these before and told her my mom and grandmother used old flannel sheets they had cut up and hemmed to do their dusting.
After this chore was finished, she’d serve us tea from an ornate silver teapot. We’d sip that tea in bone china teacups and my mom would send along baked goodies for us have with our tea. We sat on high-backed chairs with velveteen cushions, and on sunny days, the sunlight would stream through lacy curtains that hung in the huge bay windows. I remember thinking how her hair was snow-white and she had high cheekbones with skin that was a pale pink.
When I was ready to go home, I’d leave with two quarters in my pocket, destined for buying 45s, a “Tiger Beat” magazine about all the bubblegum music idols, or “Teaberry” and “Black Jack” chewing gum.
About a month or so into my gig, my mom took me aside and said I needed to do the right thing and just do the dusting for Mrs. Moss for free because this was the neighborly thing to do, just like your father shovels the walk for the older folks in the neighborhood, or we take a plateful of goodies to them at Christmastime. I said “but …” and she interrupted me by saying “your father and I will give you the money that you would get from Mrs. Moss – do this for us, because she is a lonely lady who likes the company and probably really could do the work herself – just imagine how you would feel to be old and alone in the world.”
So was I going to press for my parents to hand me fifty cents after that little lecture?
The next week I went to see Mrs. Moss, toting treats like usual, and when I was done with my work, she handed me the money and I said “no, Mrs. Moss, you keep it – I enjoy your company very much.” She tried a couple of times to press the two quarters into my hand and I told her I had to leave and head home for dinner and skipped out the front door. I told my parents that she persisted and I resisted.
The next Saturday I went to her home and knocked on the door as usual. There was no answer. She usually anticipated my arrival and was prompt in answering my knock. I went around the house to use another door, but there was no response there either.
I tried knocking again, and finally gave up and went home and told my parents. We didn’t have a phone number for her, so my mom dragged out the White Pages. Her number was evidently unlisted, or perhaps Moss was not her real name?
I went back the next day to no avail.
I even stopped by after school a few times. I knocked, but no one came to the door.
Next, my mom searched the obituary notices – nothing; it was as if she vanished without a clue. Did she take a tumble and end up in the hospital, or a nursing home? Mom said not to go back and call at the door anymore.
I never knew what happened to this kind lady and I guess I never will.
The loss of the wisdom imparted by Mrs. Moss was felt and I missed our Saturday morning get-togethers. I remember I felt all grown up and worldly, sipping tea from that English bone-china teacup served from a beautiful silver teapot.
I believe in holding onto the memories that you hold precious and bringing them out and dusting them off every so often so that you can appreciate them all the more.
[Images of Christmas village by Jill Wellington from Pixabay]