I walked by the big white house with the barn-like garage and the well kept yard every day on the way to school. Sometimes the older lady who owned the house would be out working in the yard, and she always waved and smiled at me. One day she called me over and asked me if I would like a job helping her take care of the yard. I replied, "Yes!" before I even thought about how small I was and how big the yard was.
The first day on the job, she showed me the rotary push mower that I would use to mow the lawn. The blades were sharp and the machine was oiled. I could tell it was well cared for like everything the lady possessed. I had the lawn about half mowed when she called to me and said it was time for a break. I said, "O.K. Martha", because I knew her name was Martha Spain. Over the cookies and milk she had prepared, we had a discussion about respect for the elder, and how I should call her Mrs. Spain. Without thinking I said, "O.K. Martha", and went back to finish the lawn.
After the mowing, we clipped all the borders, and I understood why the place always looked so neat. When we completed the job, she went inside and came out and handed me a five-dollar bill. I could not believe my eyes! She knew I was amazed and said, "Maurice, you worked all day, and I pay for a job well done."
I skipped all the way home and told my family about my good fortune, and that I would be doing the job every two weeks. I worked for Martha every two weeks, and even after I went to work at the local drug store, I continued to do her lawn because I liked her and her milk and cookies, plus she paid well. I always said, "Thank you, Martha", and she just smiled because she knew her effort to have me call her Mrs. Spain had failed.
We used to rake and burn twice a year, and one day while keeping my eye on the burn pile I looked through the dusty window on the big white garage and asked Martha what was covered up in the corner. She said, "Lets take a look." Underneath the old tarp was an old horse-drawn sleigh with a U.S. Post Office enclosed carriage on it. Martha told me it belonged to her late husband when he delivered the mail, and she told me how much she missed him and thought about him when we burned the leaves because they enjoyed doing that together.
I wanted to change the subject, and I spotted an old banjo clock in the corner and asked her about it. Martha said, " It hasn't worked for years, would you like to have it?" I said I would, and after we finished the yard I took my new treasure home. The clock was key-wound and was made to chime the hours. I opened up the back and was amazed at the number of springs and gears that made this marvelous machine work. I discovered that it had been over-wound, and I was able to have it operating in no time. I hung it over my bed in the bedroom I shared with my brother. The clock chimed the hour twenty-four hours a day, until my brother told me the tick-tock could stay but the chimes had to go. I let the spring that controlled the chimes run down just to keep the peace. After my brother and I left home, my dad moved the clock down stairs and kept it going, chimes and all, until I retired from the Navy. The clock was lost in a fire, and it was one memory I hated to lose.
I was home on leave from the Navy and went to see my friend and ex-employer. I told her the lawn needed mowing, and she said, "I have a new lawn mower with a motor, but it doesn't do as good a job as you did with the old one." I said, "I know", and did the lawn with the old rotary push mower. When I came in, Martha had the cookies and milk ready and reached for her purse. I said, "No charge, Mrs. Spain." She said, "Call me Martha."
I miss you, Martha.
©2002 Maurice D. Karst
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