A new chapter had begun in my family’s life here in this northern city, most notably making its appearance that first Christmas under the tree. I shouldn’t say ‘under’ the tree but more around and on top of the tree. Waking up Christmas morning and not seeing the tree because it was stacked with presents is probably more accurate. It would seem that living in this northern city had its financial perks for my dad, and to make up for the fact that he now spent more time at work then at home, his strategy was an awful lot of colored boxes. But is was more than the first generation Macintosh computer system that my mom received under the tree that informed me that different things were happening in my family’s life. My brother and I now found ourselves latchkey kids for the first time, and heaven forbid if we were to forget those keys and need to stay huddled together in a concrete drainage pipe to stave off the minus 40 degree weather, until one of our parents came home.
My mom had remained a stay at home mom this entire time but here in this northern city that changed. She went to college and among other things received her diploma in computer tech and desktop publishing. While I was learning basic as a computer language and practicing my skills on a Commodore Vic-20, my mom was programming on a Macintosh, and learning how to diagnose computer hardware / software issues. Even to this day – although she has long ago switched to a PC – she still does a lot of desktop publishing and solving of other’s PC woes. She also studied flower arranging in this northern city to add to her newly acquired potpourri of skills. Over the years this would include her working at local newspapers and local flower shops while freelancing as a desktop publisher and a computer technician. One thing was clear, she had become quite bored staying at home by herself day in and day out.
My dad also dabbled with college but from a different perspective. He became a certified master meat cutter, which among other things then opened up the door for him to teach meat-cutting at the local college. Over the years this also meant that he gained fame and notoriety for being the ‘fastest knives’ in the west, able to carve down a complete carcass in an amazing amount of time. This skill would most notably be celebrated by the many local hunters that called upon his specific skills over the years. He was now being noticed within the company for his achievements, meeting the president for the first time when the president made a special trip via his private jet to the little airport just south of the city.
I was being caught up with all these new opportunities as well. I took on a paper route, although technically not my first job it was my main job that provided well for me during the course of my stay in this city. My first job was an unbelievable $10 an hour to gather shopping carts and bring them back inside the store, most commonly called upon during the darkest and coldest days of the year. I was paid cash and the work lasted for only an hour and perhaps once or twice a month if I were lucky. So it was the paper route that was my real bread and butter, paying me $80 a month for delivering 90 papers regardless of the weather. That was good money for me back then and it allowed me to purchase a few jade statues of animals for my mom, of which I found out years later that it was her polite “Oh, that’s nice” that spurred me on to buy her more, although the truth was she was never a fan of them at all.
I also had the chance to see my dad by hanging out with him at his work. My brother and I would help him with the weekly special signs. We would also help face the product in the deli, change over signage labels throughout his department, and move stock around. In exchange he would allow us to eat wieners and pepperoni sticks. However, as time went on and we became more and more familiar with the store I gave into temptation and stole a chocolate bar upon occasion. I remember grabbing a chocolate bar and then hiding up top a stack of pallets in the warehouse so the other staff wouldn’t catch me. My brother got caught stealing once by the store manager but I managed to slip through the cracks, allowing the misdemeanor to continue for some time.
We had the run of that store it would seem, and it was nice to have a chance to interact with my dad, as these were probably the only meaningful times we did have, given his schedule. I guess that is what made it extra sad for me the day I was walking to school up that s-shaped hill when I paused and stared in disbelief at a large black cloud billowing up from the store, mixed with flames shooting up high into the air, my dad’s work burning to the ground. The irony in this was that although the volunteer fire department shared the same parking lot, it took almost half and hour for them to respond to the fire and begin to fight the flames. It was too late though, the store was gutted and the city had just lost its largest and main grocery store, potentially putting one of the community’s biggest employers out of work.