by D’Andrew Allen Parker
It was six o’clock in the morning.
An obscure but warm, yellow ray tickled my nose and woke me up. I was upstairs, nestled comfortably on a twin bed in a small bedroom in Bridgeport, West Virginia. I heard the faint clanking of metal pots downstairs, the noise loud enough for me to sit up from my bed and attempt to figure out what was going on.
Before I fell asleep on the previous night, my mom had entered the house exhausted from a long day of work. In addition to her nine-to-five, she picked up small part-time shifts at a bookstore formerly known as Waldenbooks. I loved that store. Before my mom started working there, we could sit in that capitalist gallery of knowledge acquisition for so long, and never regret a minute of flipping through a myriad of texts; artful, political, instructional, imaginative. Fictional, universal, moral texts.
I don’t know when my mother ate lunch, or what she ate. She ate, though. Work for her started in the morning. I never remembered hearing an alarm clock sounding off. Maybe she was lucid dreaming and knew how to wake herself up? It would make sense because her mind would then be able to overcome the physical apprehension we all know so well: to leave the softness of a box-spring fortified, gelatinous cloud of relaxation. Her routine may have helped, too. Bath: check. Lotion: check. Deodorant: check. Brushed teeth: check. Perfume: check. Foundation: check. Eyeliner: check. Eyebrows: check. Maroon-ish lip gloss: check. False eyelashes: check. Hair: check. Outfit: check. Smile: check.
I was cold when I woke up. Normally, the temperature of my room would hover on the toasty side. Sometimes a bead of sweat would fall down the side of my temple from the biting warmth of the air; however, it was much better than putting on an extra sweater and doubling up on blankets to avoid the discomfort of shivering. We were in the thickest part of winter. Where did the blankets come from? As I walked downstairs, I realized that it was my mother who had laid them across me before she went to bed.
I walked into the dining room, which was set up similarly to my grandmother’s house: a table, a centerpiece, an assortment of China, and a large wooden case of decorated plates and silver utensils that sat parallel to the table. I walked past it to discover my mother working in the kitchen. Because she was unable to pay for the gas to be supplied to our house, not only was the house frigidly cold, but the water was, too. It was great for drinking. Nothing better than an icy mug of water! But in the winter, you don’t want an icy mug of water. You want a fiery mug of coffee or hot chocolate.
Fortunately, our stove ran on electricity. My mom turned on the oven and opened it to allow heat to permeate the kitchen. It felt much better than the walk-through-the-freezer trek I had made from my bedroom to the downstairs kitchen. On the stove top, four large pots whistled and bubbled. The water in the pots sang with every wisp of steam that escaped their metal trenches. In the oven, a double-part turkey cooker was also filled with water. I thought to myself, “Why is my mother heatin’ up all this wa—”; before I could finish that thought, she grabbed two different colored dish rags that lay across the silver neck of our kitchen’s water mouth. Turning towards the stairwell, my mom jerked her neck in a direction that signaled for me to follow her.
Climbing the stairs was so much different this time. I was pensive. So pensive that when I walked across the hallway on the upstairs platform, I bumped my pinky toe into the banister that jutted out from the railing. One of its wooden legs cracked a bit. Oh well. I didn’t know then what it would mean to work for it later.
In the bathroom, my mother reached for and opened the metal sliding doors to the bath-shower. Reaching down, she closed the drain. It was at this point that I understood how thoughtful my mom had been. After she poured the water into the bathtub, she twisted the knob to the right, which ushered cold water into the base and countered the steam pit. She dipped her hand into the water several times; to check its temperature, to make sure that it was tolerable. Leaving the bathroom, she instructed me to get into the water quickly so that I would be able to bathe in warm water. After that, I cleaned out the tub so that she could do the same thing for my brothers.
She did all of this—before she went to “work,” of course.
I learned that work for my mom was not limited to punching in or punching out, but moving forward, sharing the glow of an obscure and intangible love that knows no bounds—a love that presses on in the face of trial, and tries in the face of challenge. And for her, work was enjoyable. It wasn’t something she had to do, but something she wanted to do. She taught me how fulfilling work can be when the only barrier to your success is the one you are not willing to break. Or fill, I suppose.
D’Andrew Allen Parker is an educator based in Washington, DC. He holds a B.A. in Music, with concentrations in voice and piano, from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Recently, D’Andrew graduated from City Year Washington, DC, and began his work as a Special Education Inclusion Teacher at Cardozo Education Campus, the school at which he served as an AmeriCorps Member.