When I was much younger, …I began working 40 hours a week in a factory. I started in May but the factory shut down for two weeks in July and since I had only worked two months I was looking at two weeks of no paycheck. I began working at a convenience store to pick up a few hours and then I heard about an elderly lady named Mrs. Connelly that needed someone to paint her garage.
I had some experience painting a garage. (It took me all summer but I did paint one once. Sort of) And I needed the money so I called the nice lady and we agreed that I could come by Monday morning around 11 to work a few hours before I had to report for work at the convenience store at 4.
I was wearing old clothes to paint in. And I was ready to go to work. I’m really a Type A personality kind of guy, after all. I knocked on the door and Mrs. Connelly invited me in and had me sit down to visit. I thought she was going to tell me where the paint was, where the ladder was and maybe even where the garage was. But, no.
“First of all.” She said with a determined look in her eye. “Have you had lunch yet?”
“Uh, no, not really.Just breakfast.” I stammered wondering if there was really a garage or not. “I was going to eat something before I went to work at the gas station.” I didn’t tell her I had gone by the Dairy Queen on my way over to her house and had had a strawberry freeze. Technically that was my breakfast, so I wasn’t really lying.
“Well,” She said. “You just sit down at the table. Lunch should be ready soon. Do you prefer chicken or beef?”
“I, uh…” started to say beef but remembering last night’s bad hamburger episode I said, “Chicken, I think.”
Her eyes lit up. “I thought so! I have two chicken pot pies in the oven and they’ll be ready any minute.”
Soon we were eating our lunch of chicken pot pies, and discussing the fact that I didn’t have a girlfriend. The pie was hot, and burned my mouth. For some reason I was in a hurry to eat and get out there and paint. But no one else was in a hurry.
After sitting for over an hour while visiting and eating chicken pot pies and turning down her offer to make me another one we finally discussed the garage. “Yes.” She said, wrinkling up her nose. “It does need painting. Let me show you where it is and where the things are. You tell me what else you need and then you can get started on it.”
We marched outside and indeed there was a garage in the back. It didn’t really look like it needed painting to me. Inside were some tools and cans of paint and some brushes and some old rags. “Is there a ladder here?” I said, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
“I know where we can borrow one!” She exclaimed snapping her fingers. “Come in the house and I’ll call!” I started to protest coming back in but she quickly spun back towards the house and I followed meekly. Soon she was lost in a phone conversation in which she was telling somebody all about me. Including the fact that I didn’t even have a girlfriend.
“She’ll be here tomorrow. With the ladder.” She said after she hung up.
I said, “Maybe I should probably get started scraping and getting the garage ready to paint.” I looked at my watch. “I will need to stop in about an hour or so, so I can get to my other job.”
She looked a little sad I thought. “I suppose,” she said. “We should get you started.” And with that we went back out to the garage. I found a scraping tool and started on the front and began to scrape at any loose paint I could find. Soon, she was standing next to me. “Are you thirsty? I could get you some lemonade?”
“No.” I said, trying to smile. “Not yet.” But after an hour of going around the garage scraping the best I could, I was a little thirsty. I wanted to just put things away and jump in my car and leave. But I knew I should tell Mrs. Connelly first. I walked to the back door and started to knock just as she opened the door and handed me a cold glass of lemonade.
“Thank you, Mrs. Connelly.” I said. “That looks good. But I’ll need to get going soon.”
“Of course.” Mrs. Connelly smiled. “But you enjoy that first.” Soon she was telling me about her neighbors. And her plants and how her husband used to take care of the yard. Of course, I was late for work at the convenience store.
And so my garage painting career began. The next day while we ate our chicken pot pies we waited for the ladder to arrive. And of course there was more visiting and getting to know Mrs. Connelly’s friend, and the widower neighbor who drove her and the ladder over. But by the second week of my vacation I had successfully slapped one coat of paint upon the garage all the way up to the eaves.
I had also learned all about Mrs. Connelly’s daughter who lived out of town, her dear departed husband, her friends from church and I somehow had managed to eat at least 5 or 6 of her chicken pot pies.
I arrived early on Wednesday and began stirring paint as I was in a hurry to get the second coat on before the week ended and I had to go back to my factory job. Precisely at noon I cleaned up and knocked on Mrs. Connelly’s back door. I told her that I hoped to have two coats of fresh paint on her garage by Friday but I could come by Saturday if I needed.
“These days have flown by so quickly,” Mrs. Connelly said, looking a little wistful. “And you’ve worked so hard.” She smiled and nodded at me. Her face brightened a little. “Would you, or, could you plan on coming Saturday. Even if you are finished painting we could just enjoy one more lunch together… If you’d like.”
“Oh, sure.” I said finishing my lunch. Then I hurriedly headed out the door to the paint. “I could do that.” Late Friday afternoon I sighed as I cleaned out the brushes in turpentine. I had finished. And the garage did look a little better I decided. From a distance. And I had painted the whole thing. I felt kind of proud of myself.
Mrs. Connelly came out with more lemonade. I smiled and thanked her and didn’t tell her it was making my teeth sore. I told her now the whole garage was all painted. I had left the ladder by the front and stacked the empty paint cans near the trash.
“But you’ll be by tomorrow for lunch?” She said insistently.
“Oh, yes. Sure.” I shifted a little on my feet.
I was anxious to be done with lunch and one last visit with Mrs. Connelly but I arrived on time for lunch on Saturday. I felt funny in my clean jeans and regular shirt. And I saw an extra car in front of Mrs. Connelly’s house. There were voices coming from inside as I knocked. A strange looking lady answered the door.
“Oh you must be Paul!” She exclaimed. “Mom has told us all about you. Come in!” I sheepishly walked in and met a kind looking man and two boys several years younger than me and their not much older sister. She smiled nervously at me as I smiled nervously at her.
“And Paul,” Mrs. Connelly said. “This is my granddaughter Cindy.” I nodded at her. Mrs. Connelly gestured with her arms, “Now we’ll all sit and have Paul’s favorite. Chicken pot pies!” For some reason everyone laughed.
Mrs. Connelly seemed so happy as we visited at the table. Her daughter winked at me and grinned. I was glad to have extra people there so I didn’t have to do so much talking.
After my 10th or 11th chicken pot pie in the last two weeks I was finally getting the hang of how to eat them without burning my mouth. But I still had trouble not dripping gravy on my shirt. Mrs. Connelly surprised me when she brought out a fancy cake for dessert. And a pitcher of lemonade.
But the biggest surprise was when I was getting ready to leave and standing by the door. Mrs. Connelly’s family surrounded me and her son-in-law shook my hand. Mrs. Connelly handed me an envelope with my garage painting money and with teary eyes gave me a big hug. I patted her back, not sure what to do.
“Thank you for being so kind to my mother. You’ve really boosted her spirits.” Her daughter said as we stood on the steps. “She really needed that.”
“I didn’t do much.” I argued.
“Oh, you’ll never know.”
As I got in my car and looked back at Mrs. Connelly and her family waving goodbye I realized I hadn’t just painted a garage. I had learned how to share a chicken pot pie.