Sweat dripped off my nose. A blister sprouted on the small of my hand. I shoveled and shook my bloodied fist at the heavens. Why must rural living suck with such intensity? Why don't dirt driveways gravel themselves?
I heard footsteps. A young boy, probably twelve years old, put on some gloves, and began to work. "Do you mind, Ma'am?" he asked, mid-shovel. He tucked his long hair back in a baseball cap, his legs planted firmly to the ground.
"How much are you charging?" I would give him anything.
He gazed at me, and shook his head twice. "Nothing, ma'am."
I looked down. My face reddened. I still was such an outsider here.
We worked in companionable silence. I forced a Pepsi into his hand, and heard his footsteps crunch against my completed driveway as he returned home.
Later on, when talking to another neighbor about the encounter, he said, "Oh, that's Eli. Great kid. He just likes to help."
The seasons twisted like a kaleidoscope. Eli left middle school, and moved on to the high school. His bike gave way to a truck of his own. He grew a mustache and stayed out of his house as often as he could.
He lifted his arm as we passed in our car, as if a full wave would exhaust him. My husband and I called him "Joe Cool" as we watched him saunter around the neighborhood, trousers sagging, a cigarette dangling from his lip.
One late spring, Eli knocked on the door. He was dressed in a white colored shirt, holding a tie in his hands. It was high school homecoming. "Is your husband home, Ma'am?
I nodded, and listened from the kitchen as my husband explained, "First, you twist this part under that part. You loop it through, and pull it up." I pressed my hand against my swelling belly, felt the kick of my growing son.
I prayed he would always have a daddy to teach him such things.
Eli graduated high school,and found a job working construction. And then he disappeared.
"Drugs," a neighbor confirmed. "He'll be in for six months. He broke into most of the neighborhood houses to get money."
Our house was never touched.
Come spring, Eli returned home, his shoulders defeated, and his eyes clouded with steel. Once again, he rode his bike around the neighborhood, the truck long sold to feed other needs.
We lived in darkness for the six days, thanks to Hurricane Irene and her bad attitude.
On day three, Eli's family had power. Soon, we heard that knock on the door. He stood there, holding an extension cord. "For your fridge, Ma'am.Use this as long as you need it."
Each morning, I sat at my kitchen table, hearing my fridge hum with life amidst the darkness. Humbled. Reminded once more of the thin orange cord that binds us all. Empowering us. Until, once again, it is our season to return the favor.
*We're writing about seasons of change at Write on Edge this week.*