“Get up! It snowed,” my father’s voice broke through the winter darkness.
A snow day! Dammit, I’ve got to help shovel the trailer park road so Dad can get to work. Can’t he take a day off like the rest of the world?
My father was standing in the doorway as the hallway light forced its way into my room. I saw him in silhouette through squinted eyes, but even then I could tell that my dad had his “uniform” on – his black steel-toed boots, old jeans, and the scratchy flannel he used as a winter coat. He was ready to go; all he needed was his black lunch pail that was undoubtedly sitting on the kitchen table, “Come on. I got to get to work.”
“Okay, just shut the door, give me a second. It’s 6:00 in the morning,” I begged. He turned and left, leaving the door cracked and a blade of light piercing my bedroom darkness. I would one day read in Thomas Merton that enlightenment is painful, like a sudden light in a dark room, that’s why so many of us would rather avoid it. I was still ignorant about Trappist monks, but was gaining the experience I would need to later understand his analogy.
I lay there wondering how my father could be so relentless like this. If yesterday’s weather reports were true, the better half of a foot of snow waited for me out there. The hills would be treacherous. But my old man would still be heading to work. He never missed work. I could see him out there now, alone in the dim light furiously casting the snow out of his way, not looking up between shovels, just like when he worked his machine in the factory. All the other neighbors were still sleeping in their trailers planning to call off or go in late. I admired their sensibilities, but resented that they left all the work to my dad while they slept in. More than once my father shoveled the whole damn road himself. The thought of him alone working out there in the dark pulled me out of bed. I hated getting dragged into work like this, but hated more the idea of being the kind of person who left it to men like my dad.
With my eyes half shut, I dressed clumsily in the shadow of the hallway light. I walked down to the living room. My mom was up and shuffling about in the kitchen. Tammy was still sleeping; she’d be out there soon enough, but being the girl in the family and my father’s traditional ways she got to sleep in even though she was already a teenager. No doubt she’d take her time getting out of bed. I didn’t blame her.
“You heading out?” my mom said.
“Yeah, I guess. Did we get a lot of snow?”
“Yes, I think so. The car’s covered.” Of course, there was that too. “I’m going to head out in a second to clean it off,” she added, reading my thoughts.
I threw on my coat and boots and headed outside. Dad was already down to the tree out front of the neighbors’. I stumbled down the steps still covered in snow. Mom would get them later; my dad couldn’t be bothered with it, snowy steps don’t have anything to do with getting to work, just roads and cars. I joined him and got shoveling.
“Just like a blister, showing up after the work’s done,” he said half to me, half to the snow.
My father had delivered his sermon. I wasn’t awake enough to debate, though I didn’t know what the hell he meant by “Work done.” There was still half the road to shovel. Still I got the message. Part of my father’s ongoing ruminations on work, that usually went something like, “Pick a ditch. Keep digging that ditch. Don’t quit until you finish, then find another ditch,” his trailer park translation of the private school mantra, Find your calling. Follow your passion.
I got started and felt my muscles quicken as the cold air woke up my lungs. My father and I worked in silence, lifting the heavy, wet snow into banks on the side. Our shovels scrapped against the gravel road, the only sound. The one road light shining on the snow that continued to fall and to heap itself on the trees across River Road. Otherwise, the darkness refused to yield, the sun still an hour from rising.
I felt the sweat gather on my brow; I stood up to catch my breath. I don’t know how my father would even get to work once we dug him out of the trailer park; no plow had come down River Road and the snow was just as deep there. Part of me found this all kind of pointless, but we were almost done, another fifteen minutes, then I could go back to bed. I could see my mom back at the trailer. She had cleaned off the steps and was starting on the car. The trailer park fading into darkness behind her.
This road was the one way out. I looked over at my father; he was still shoveling. Neither of us said it, but we both knew he was shoveling so that I could leave.
Thomas E. Strunk explores nature and working-class life and strives to express the longing for spiritual, emotional, and political liberation. His literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pinyon, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Northern Appalachia Review and East Fork Journal. Thomas blogs at LiberationNow.org. He lives in Cincinnati.