January 28, 2020 By Debbie Lunning

The Back Room

Two blocks from our house in Metairie, Louisiana, lived an elderly couple who needed a hand cleaning out clutter. The large room in the back of their house needed to be purged, and a neighbor recommended me for the work. At 12 years old, I felt that 25 cents an hour for my first job was a grand opportunity on Saturday mornings. I was thrilled to do this on my own and hoped I would learn something useful.

I learned how to use a coffee maker to keep Mr. and Mrs. Howell’s cups full. I washed dishes, swept the floor and spent the rest of my time going through the jungle Mrs. Howell called the back room. There were department store style racks of clothes, boxes of clothes not opened in years, tall stacks of magazines, newspapers and books strewn about every surface and crammed together. I had never seen anything like this place: dark, dusty, forgotten and sad. Mrs. Howell patiently gave me directions where to move items and what to throw in the trash. She never tired while I was there, and she wasn’t in a hurry. Always kind to me, she would tell me when we were done for the day and remind me of next Saturday.

I grew to feel sympathy for her. She had so many belongings from so long ago and she was getting old like my grandmother yet lived amid junk instead of a tidy simple home. I was glad to be helping her tackle the clutter. We worked together a few months of Saturdays, making enough room to open the blinds on the other side of the room for light. She seemed more cheerful as the room emptied.

After a few months more, she was pleased enough with our progress to let me go. I discovered her back room was a nice sitting area with a desk. She hired me a few more times to do housework, but the back room remained uncluttered. That first job was enjoyable because it made me feel useful and put a smile on Mrs. Howell’s face.


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