Our home – The Morrissey Compound, as I call it – is in a very quiet suburban area of Madison; a tiny enclave of seven homes in the middle of a nicely wooded tract of land. The homes are built in a huge circle, and our driveways all lead to a giant, round cul-de-sac. There’s never any traffic. It’s quiet and peaceful. The only noise you’ll hear is from the neighbor’s dogs (or, more likely, our two Collies) or the wildlife that abounds in the tiny neighborhood.
Last night around 7, as my wife and I were watching “Better Call Saul” on the DVR, there was a knock on the door. The dogs immediately went on high alert. I can see the giant cul-de-sac and part of our driveway from my reclining chair, so I looked out and saw – nothing. No car in the driveway, no car parked in front of our house in the cul-de-sac.
I got up, turned on the porch light, and opened the door. There stood a small young man – couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old – dressed in a heavy winter coat, holding a shovel. He was barely as tall as the top of the shovel. I said “hi”. He said “I’ll shovel your driveway for five dollars.”
We’d had 2 or 3 inches of snow and there were still just a few flurries in the air. I’d figured to hand-shovel the driveway the next morning for some much-needed exercise. So I said to the young man, who was looking me right in the eye, “nah. I can take care of it.”
The only word I can think of to describe his face at that moment is “crestfallen”. I think the last thing the young man expected to hear was “no”. He was stunned. His mouth opened a tiny bit as he processed the rejection. It seemed to me that he just couldn’t understand why anyone would turn down his offer.
There was a moment of silence, as the dogs poked their heads out of the door and assessed the situation.
The young man was still frozen in silence, and then, slowly, he turned and started down the porch steps. I said “wait a minute. Where do you live?” He turned to face me, pointed to his left, and said “right over there”. I said “do you live with Daphne?” Daphne, our neighbor two doors down, is a saint. She works in some management capacity at UW-Health and takes in foster children. He said “yes.”
I said “will you do a good job?” His face lit up, and he said “for sure!” I said “OK then, go ahead; and come knock on the door again when you’re finished.”
I closed the door and explained to my bride what was going on. I told her when I saw that crestfallen look on the young man’s face, I felt a real pang. He really wasn’t ready to hear a “no”. I told her I felt I had to say yes when I saw that face.
My wife is one of the few people who know that despite my huge frame and usual business-like (some would say “gruff”) manner, the heart of a teddy bear beats inside my chest.
I fetched my wallet, and decided to take a ten-dollar-bill out of it, and stuck it in my pocket. We resumed watching Bob Odenkirk ply his talents as a sleazy lawyer. About 15 minutes later, there was another knock on the door. Again, I paused the DVR.
There he stood, his shovel at his side, and he said “I’m done.” I said “did you do a good job?” He said “yes.” I handed him the folded ten-dollar-bill. He didn’t look at the bill to see that it was a ten and not a five. He looked me in the eye and said “thank you” and turned to leave. I said “what’s your name?” He said “Armand.” I reached out and shook his hand, and said “we’ve just done a good business deal. Good luck to you.” He said “thank you” again and turned to leave the porch.
I went back to take my place in my ultra-luxurious reclining chair, and my wife and I made some small talk about young Armand the entrepreneur and resumed watching Saul ply his trade.
What I didn’t tell my wife is that what I really saw on our front porch last night was not a kid with a shovel looking for work. What I really saw was a time-warp playing out on our front porch.
That wasn’t Armand from two doors down at Daphne’s house. That was me, in the small village of Hortonville, back around 1957.