I say I worked for free but the deal was this, I was allowed to choose any one item within reason from inventory as a reward for my efforts with the broom…”
by laine perry
I’ll tell you this…at age seven I swept the chalky floors of my Grandmother’s junk shop, where she hawked wares, charm, and experience to the three or so tourists who might stumble out of the B-bar-B tavern next door flush with vacation money the bar couldn’t make a dent in, and feeling brave enough to go a round or two with my Grandmother’s take on nostalgia.
I did it for the privilege of being in her company. I preferred her company above all others. She was the only person I thoroughly trusted. The only one who fearlessly answered truthfully all of my exacting questions, and she was smarter than any person I’ve come across since.
My Grandmother told me John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn had come in once. She told me that Ms. Hepburn had kept her gloves on the entire visit and that made me smile. The picture of my Grandmother sizing up those two, and particularly John Wayne, made me feel closer to her than a worm was to dirt.
I swept the floors for free. I would have done anything she asked of me just for her company. It helped that she loved me, loved my wildness, my as yet unyoked spirit, our shared wit and dry humor. We loved each other the way we understood each other…perfectly.
Back at my Mother’s place things were more than bleak. I was always doing things that upset my Mother. Once I ate two green olives from a jar and was chastised for having ruined any chance of a supper. Things were so insane on that front that I had long ago stopped bringing any of it up. When I worked in my Grandmother’s shop life opened up and everything I instinctively knew about life resumed a certain glow.
I say I worked for free but the deal was this, I was allowed to choose any one item within reason from inventory as a reward for my efforts with the broom.
Usually, I declined to take anything. I knew my Grandmother would take me up the street for a patty-melt at the café in town, once our doors closed for the day, and that was enough for me. But on one day in the springtime, I spotted something marvelous. It was an oval pendant, a hologram of Jesus. When I looked at it head on, it was a passport photo of a handsome Jesus, and when I tilted the pendant a tree of life sprang forward.
I held the pendant in my hand angling it back and forth enchanted. My Grandmother smiled and said,
“We’ll have to find a chain for it.”
I pocketed the thing and continued sweeping. Once, during the work day in that dusty, treasure filled place our eyes met and we smiled at each other knowing life was both this way and that, and we knew then, and there to embrace it.
(illustration: dee sunshine)
Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.