When I was about twelve, my parents wanted a pool. A real one. Concrete with a washed-gravel surround and a diving board. We lived in sunny Tacoma, Washington, where we reveled in four days of summer each year but this didn’t phase these sun worshipers. No. We would carve out a slice of Palm Springs North and bask in whatever heat the stingy sun would impart to its disciples.
This was long before the days of credit cards and home equity loans. Dad was a teacher so funds were thin but we had the nicest lawn in the county. And mom kept the roses perfectly. So we started a yard care business. It was a good match. Dad bought a truck – a metallic green Chevy – and tossed a mower and tools in the back, and took out a classified ad. He was immediately swamped and I was expected to traipse along on weekends and during the Summer to help out.
On most days, I loved it. We left early with fat lunches that Mom packed the night before. We might stop for a shake and sat together on the tailgate, swinging our legs. Dad paid me four bits an hour. I had no clue what to do with this kind of wealth. In the summer, this was up to twenty bucks a week. I was rich and got to spend all day with my Dad. Life was pretty good.
One day, I didn’t want to go. I was thinking about just how good all my friends had it. While I worked, bleeding and sweating my way to wealth, everyone else played baseball at Hatley’s or rode bikes to the Safeway to swipe a candy bar. I was a kid. I wanted a little bit of summer. It seemed pretty normal to me. So, one morning, I said “No.” It was weird. I expected the seas to part. I absolutely expected lots of yelling. At the very least, I expected to be dragged to the truck by my ear. But Mom and Dad just looked at each other. They probably winked. “Fine,” they said. “Stay home if you like. Sheesh. We’re not slave drivers you know.” Dad went to the phone and called one of my friends to help for the day. That was it and everyone was happy.
Dad left and I got dressed. Mom got me breakfast and I was feeling good about my place in the world. I yelled to Mom that I was going to Doug’s and started to head for the door. Before I had even reached for the door knob, the world hiccuped. My Mother’s head spun a full one-eighty while she kept washing dishes. “Oh no you’re not.You’re not going anywhere.” That part about not being slave drivers? Out the window.
“But…I don’t have to go to work. I wanted to play.”
“You don’t have to go to work but you are not going to play. You are darn well going to work around here all day. You’ll get the same breaks you get with your Dad and I’ll make your lunch. You can start with weeding the back rhodies and we’ll keep going until your Dad gets back.”
It was genius. I worked all day without the breaks I usually got driving from yard to yard. There were no milkshakes. No cooling off in the shade for a minute. And Mom? Until she died, there were no two men on the planet who could keep up with her. She defined taskmaster. I weeded. I swept the garage and the drive. I cleaned my room. I vacuumed. I worked right up to break time and lunch and kept at it until Dad drove up the driveway with the truck. Mom made sure that I was in the front when Dad drove up, too. He hopped out of the truck and made a big show of pulling out a crisp five and handed it to my friend. With money in his pocket, my buddy waved as he ran home, yelling over his shoulder that Dad could call him anytime.
He never needed to again. I learned my lesson. I never skipped a day again. And we got our pool. Which I enjoyed on my days off.
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