Yesterday morning, while Fenya and I were peeling and chopping yams for stew, the doorbell rang. This in and of itself was rare, but certainly not unusual. Toweling off my hands, I went to the front door, accompanied by our dog Nitti, who barked incessantly. I recognize this is a territoriality sort of thing for him, but I admonished him anyways since it should be clear even to him that I was aware there was someone at the door.
I opened the door, and there was a brown lad of perhaps 15 on my front step,carrying a small snow shovel. Nitti wriggled out through the screen door as I opened it, and the visitor's first words were, "Is it all right if I pet your dog?"
Charmed by his courtesy, I said, "Sure. His name's Nitti and he doesn't bite."
The boy knelt down and exchanged pleasantries with Nitti while scratching him behind his ears. When he arose, he asked, "Is he the one I heard barking in there?"
"Sounds like he should be bigger, doesn't it?" which is true; he is a 25 pound Bichon cross with a deep bark that sounds like it is coming from a dog at least twice his size. "What can I do for you?"
"Some friends and I are just asking people if they want their walks shoveled," he replied. I did, but Audrey had already agreed to shovel ours in exchange for my cleaning the oven that afternoon. On the other hand, I didn't want to discourage his ambition.
"What's the going rate?" I inquired. He shrugged, "Five, ten dollars." I craned my head out the door. The snow had stopped and it wasn't too deep or heavy, but hey, it's Christmas.
"Tell you what," I said, "If you do my walk to the gate and the sidewalk out front, we'll call it eight bucks; does that seem fair?"
"Sure!" he beamed. I pointed out our shovel and broom if he needed it and learned his name was Aaron, and left him to his work.
I heard Fenya calling from the kitchen, "Who was that, Daddy?"
"A kid from the neighbourhood is going door to door shoveling walks. I haven't seen that in quite some time..."
"I think the last time I heard it, I was the one doing it." I was pretty sure no one had come to the door when we were at our townhouse in Wellington, and not in our first three years at this house, either. It was an unexpected but very pleasant and nostalgic association; anachronicious.
Looking up from her peeling, Fenya asked, "Is he poor?"
I knelt down and began picking up errant yam peelings from the floor where they orbited the wastebasket between her feet like an incomplete halo. "I don't think so," I said, "but it is hard for young guys to find actual jobs at this time of year, especially with the economy the way it is, and this is a good way to make a little pocket money for the holidays."
Thinking about it as I flicked the wet peels from my hands, if it took him less than a half hour to do my walk (and I would be quite surprised if it didn't), he would be making $16 an hour. For a moment I wasn't entirely sure if I made $16 an hour, and considering government deductions, union dues and pension contributions, I was even more unsure, and possibly even a little jealous. Still, one has to take into consideration all the walking and door knocking, the sheer number of people not home on the last Saturday before Christmas, and the fact that he was out there in the elements while I stayed in the warmth, teaching Fenya how to chop vegetables.
When the doorbell rang about 20 minutes later ($24 an hour? Clearly, I'm in the wrong line of work!), I stuck my head out again to inspect Aaron's handiwork. While by no means perfect, it was certainly as good if not better than any shoveling I had produced as a youth. I gave 4 toonies to Aaron, who thanked me, and I wished him the best of luck. Looking down the street as he walked away, I saw two or three other teens out shovelling, as well as a couple of my neighbours.
I think this may have been some of the best money I have spent this Christmas. For the price of two gingerbread lattes, I got a safer sidewalk, and gave my wife a tiny bit of the one thing she always needs more of during this season: time. It also felt good to encourage a young man and reward his going up to a stranger's door and trading service for currency, and to have it happen within earshot of my daughter. The memory of doing the same sort of thing in Leduc thirty years ago and the reminder of how much I might still have in common with 'the youth of today' was even more pleasant.