A Most Laborious Labor Day

A Most Laborious Day —Adapted from . . . And The Whippoorwill Sang
     It’s 1979. We’re in a recession and feeling it the hardest in our country
home. My six kids are old enough that I can leave them home alone. At least
that’s what I tell myself. I find a job as a morning prep person and night dinner
cook in the small town’s favorite Italian restaurant.
     I’m not a morning person. The rooster next door crows at 6:30 AM, waking
the neighborhood dogs. That’s my alarm clock. Rousing the kids who sleep
through the racket, I get them moving, dressed and breakfasted as I gulp down
my third cup of coffee. They all pile into the local school bus and go off to their
various schools.
     I get to work at 8:30 AM and begin making mountains of meatballs as ‘Aunt
Mary,’ the mother of the restaurant’s owner, stirs a huge cauldron of red sauce
and rolls out sheets of pasta dough. Hours later we’ve made hundreds of
homemade ravioli and rolled so many meatballs that my hands are cramping. It’s 2:30 PM. I leave to get home in 􀀛me for the 3:30 PM bus and onslaught of
starving kids rushing through the front door. They head for the fridge and snacks
laid out on a table, while telling me all about their day at the same time. I’ve learned to listen to all of them at once, a gift that may come in handy one day–or not. It’s Friday, one of the three or four nights that I work as a cook at the restaurant.
     Homework gets done or so they tell me, chores when I can catch them,
pets cared for, and last night’s tuna casserole set out for dinner. I’m off to work
again at 5 PM. The summer heat registers 95° in the kitchen of the restaurant and
it feels like 110° or more. I’m dressed in short shorts, tank top and flip flop sandals
like the other cooks. Massive vats of boiling water for pasta and sauce simmer as
the fryers and range emanate even more heat. God is good. Tonight I get to work
the salad bar and scrub huge pots and pans.
     The bartender/owner brings me a mandolin to slice the salad veggies. I
prefer a knife but he’s the boss. Within minutes, I manage to slice off the ti􀀛ps of
three fingers on my left hand – not completely off but hanging and bleeding all
over the wood cutting board and vegetables. The grill cook rushes to get our boss,
Donnie, and after appraising the situation, he leaves and returns with a roll of
black electrical tape. Whatever works, I think, and struggle to carefully place the
ti􀀛ps of my fingers back on and tape them with my right hand. The pain is fierce.
Donnie pops in to tell me to switch places with the Gopher cook so I don’t
bleed on the food. I realize then that he’s not sending me home. The dinner rush
hits and I’m soon busy working the microwaves, getting food out of the huge
walk-in, and setting up plates. That’s the job of a gopher.
     Wild storms strike the area, breaking the heat wave and slowing business.
Donnie sti􀀛cks his head into the kitchen. “It slowing down, Micki. You can go home
now.” The man is all heart. I grab my purse, say goodbye to the cooks and dash
out the back of the kitchen to where my car is parked. The storms have slowed to
a few rumbles and flashes of ground lightning as the rain tapers off to a fine
drizzle.
     Home looks really good–a deception of course. I walk in to find eight-year-old
Nicole crying on the couch. The heat made her sick and triggered a migraine.
     “I told you girls not to let her out in the sun,” I snap at her two younger
sisters.
     “She got away from us,” Noelle says, looking upset.
     But 15-year-old Kelly has a bigger problem, forecast by wracking sobs. She’s
holding Puff, my oldest daughter, Kim’s, white rabbit; he doesn’t too healthy.
     “It’s my enti􀀛re fault,” Kelly sniffles.” I left him outside in the storm. Kim is
gonna kill me.”
     I figure the poor little guy was either trauma􀀛zed or struck by lightning. He
begins screaming, which rabbit’s do before dying. I try pouring whiskey down his
throat and then warm tea but he lets out a final shriek and dies in my arms.
Sixteen-year-old Dante suggests laying him out on a table in the basement unti􀀛l
we can bury him the next day. Kim comes home from her date and that scene
isn’t pleasant. She stomps up to her room and slams the door. Mike ambles in a
little later on and we all sit on the long red velvet secti􀀛onal couch watching TV
unti􀀛l my husband walks in. The recession makes it necessary for him to work five
hours away in New Jersey and come home only on weekends.
     We are a sorry lot that greets him with our tales of woe. First thing he does
is rip off the black tape on my fingers, removing the ti􀀛ps that I had secured so well
with the tape. I refuse to scream from the pain as he pours salt on the wounds
but tell myself that it’s good that I won’t have fingerprints left on those fingers
when I strangle him in his sleep. I sip on some scotch and water — not a very good
year — to ease the pain and tension from this laboriously horrible day.
     I get to sleep in tomorrow and don’t work Monday, which is Labor Day. The
next day I can collect my paycheck. At $1.25 an hour it comes to about $40 a
week. Reagan’s trickle-down economy has not yet reached the ti􀀛ny town of
Williamsport, Pennsylvania – or me.

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