Today, Charlie stuck his head in the computer room and said, “I put the money on the dresser.”
Flash back to my high school years and our cleaning lady, Claudia. Now, Claudia lived, literally, up a holler in a tar-paper shack with no electricity along a road that required four-wheel drive. There she thrived, alone, with a goat or two and maybe a few chickens. She’d walk the mile to our house on cleaning day, then my dad would take her home that evening, going as far up the dirt road as possible before letting her out.
The woman was smart. Educated. Today, I suspect she would be diagnosed with Asperger’s or some such syndrome, but back then, she was just different, and rough. I liked her. I found her odd but interesting and as honest as she was gruff.
But it’s Charlie’s words that snap me back to high school. I wander home to find my parents sitting at the table, mystified by a note Claudia has left. (Her notes often were hysterically funny. Once she’d written that the gas man stopped by to do a load of laundry (that would be my brother, who worked for the gas company and wore the requisite company shirt.))
This time, her note just about got the best of us. “The lion ate the money.”
Out there, even for her. Mom and Dad were, literally, scratching their heads, considering every possible nuance, and coming up empty. Me, too – at least until I walked into the living room, my eyes straying toward the TV and the stereo speaker stand above it. There stood a metal sculpture of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz – a 6-inch open, round figurine. I stared for a second, then whooped. “Got it!”
Stuffed neatly inside that lion was a hundred dollar bill my father had left lying out on the desk that day. Claudia, with her gloriously honest soul, had hidden the money and left a cryptic clue so no one (like the gas man) would be able to steal dad’s hundred dollar bill.
Grateful, incredibly grateful, for people like Claudia, to whom $100 could make an amazing difference but whose very nature was honest, upright, and accountable.
As I put this into words tonight, I realize that tears are spilling down my face. I don’t think I ever fully understood the reason my parents hired and kept Claudia employed … despite her less-than-stellar cleaning skills.
Thank you, mom and dad, for showing – no, living – this lesson: The real meaning of being human is that sometimes you let cleaning ladies clean even though they do a job that’s rough and breaks more things than you’d like simply because it allows them a sense of self respect along with a little honestly earned money to live on.
I suspect my parents did more for Claudia than she ever did for them, and suspect that was the plan all along.