Alice found herself in a bit of a pickle.
Ed and Alice had married right out of high-school back in the ‘sixties. Ed joined the military rather than get drafted.
After batting about the states, they moved back to Eaton Rapids after Ed mustered out. Ed worked various jobs to support his growing family. Often times, that job was as a mechanic.
Shortly after moving back to Eaton Rapids, they had been invited over to a neighbors for the first grill-out of the spring.
The neighbor, unhappy with how long it was taking the charcoal to get started, decided to add some more lighter fluid. He started squirting it on the already smoldering coals.
Ed came up behind the neighbor to inform him that squirting more fluid on a burning fire was a bad idea when the flame from the fire started running up the jet of fluid being propelled from the rectangular, metal container the neighbor was squeezing.
Seeing the flame rapidly climbing toward his hand, the neighbor squeezed more energetically thinking he could outrun it. The neighbor pitched the container to his right just as Ed was drawing abreast.
The released can sucked in the flame and a goodly amount of air and promptly exploded, showering Ed with burning lighter fluid.
Ed’s recovery was long and slow.
Much of the family’s food came out of Alice’s garden that year. The first thing she did after coming home from the hospital and seeing Ed all wrapped in bandages was to double the size of the garden.
Once Ed got back to work she shrunk it back to “normal” size.
Then, as Ed neared the end of his career he uncovered fraud at work. He found maintenance logs signed off as done. Furthermore, they were signed off with his name and he knew he had not done the work.
Since he would be held responsible if the brakes failed on any of those rigs, he made copies of the fraudulent logs and logs that proved the equipment he supposedly maintained had been on the road at the time. Ed ran up chain-of-command in spite of severe pressure from his management. He ended up in the CEO’s office and several people got fired.
Ed knew the gig was up. He knew he had a target on his back after he was written up for dropping a paper towel he had used to clean a dipstick on the floor. Ed planned to pick up the towel after he reinserted the dipstick. Ed was written up for “Creating an unsafe working environment”. Two more write-ups and he would be fired.
He and Alice talked it over. Clearly the fraud was more pervasive than they had imagined. There was no way he could work in the shop for three more years, looking over his shoulder all the time. There were too many "accidents" that could happen.
So he quit, just a few years short of his retirement.
Those were tough times.
Alice doubled the size of the garden and they got through it.
They were now in their seventies and if there was ever a time to double the size of the garden, it was now.
But it was complicated. Many of the people Alice knew who could plow the garden or prep it were gone, either dead or moved to Florida.
Life had been good the last fifteen years and Alice had let the garden lapse. The brush encroached; blackberries and wild rose, sumac and poison ivy. There was almost nothing left of the garden.
It was going to take a lot of muscle to get the garden ready for May planting and Alice did not know where that was going to come from.
Most of her kids had moved away from her, admittedly, domineering personality. Her one son-in-law was laid up with a broken upper arm.
So Alice responded in classic “Alice” style, she networked.
Ed and Alice were at Bingo when Alice started asking around. She knew none of the oldsters were capable of helping with the garden, but maybe they knew somebody.
A lifetime of habit made Alice’s voice loud. A lifetime of loud speech made her voice gritty and her desire for attention made the inflections novel, rather like the classic pig-calling “Sooey, sooey, sooey!”
Consequently, everybody at Bingo heard about Alice’s desire for a strong, young man to come over and get her garden ready for planting.
As Ed and Alice were packing up to leave, Doreen came up to them and suggested that she could send over one of her new neighbors. They lived a mile west of Eaton Rapids and Ed and Alice lived a mile east.
Alice agreed to pay $10 an hour as long as the helper was not a total slacker. It hurt Alice to pay that much but she was in a bind.
Two men showed up at first light the next morning. Mostly they spoke Spanish.
Alice was leery about hiring them. She had her own prejudices, many of them based on TV shows about drug runners and news reports about Cartels.
She looked them over. They were wearing work-boots that were very broken in. They had callouses on their hands and work-gloves tucked into their back pockets. They had battered straw-hats on their heads and carried their lunch in a five gallon bucket.
Alice wavered. She had not asked for TWO men. In her experience two young men were less productive than a single worker because they played grab-ass and distracted each other. Then she realized that these guys had started walking at least forty minutes before sunrise to get to her home. They WANTED to work. Alice figured she could always fire them part-way through the day if they were unsuitable.
Of course they didn’t have any tools. Two miles is a long way to carry a full set of hand tools.
Fortunately Ed loved going to auctions and the shed and garage were bursting with used hand-tools of every type. She opened the garage and let the young men pick through the tools at the front. Their eyes lit up when they saw machetes and axes and shovels and mattocks and….
Alice checked on them every hour. She brought a pitcher of sweetened tea. She told herself that she would get more work out of them if they had caffeine and sugar through the day.
Seeing their lunch, a couple of cold pancakes each, she scoffed and fixed them a hot lunch. She was not going to pay $10 an hour and not get her money’s worth because they ran out of gas in the afternoon.
Alice considered herself to be worldly and a hard-as-nails boss to work for.
At the end of the day, the garden was nearly a half-acre in size and tall brush to the east and west that would have shaded it was leveled.
Alice went out to pay them. Two men, ten hours each was a steep, heavy price for retirees on a fixed income but the two men had earned every penny.
And then the men asked “Can you pay us with pots and pans and the machetes? We moved here with the shirts on our backs and we have nothing. We saw some cooking things in your garage and we would rather have those than money.”
“Do you have children?” she asked.
“Si, senora” the older man said.
“How old?” Alice asked.
“Eleven, eight and six” said the slightly older man, proudly.
“Eight and five” the younger man volunteered. "They are cousins."
Alice, a woman who thought she had a heart of granite, melted.
Many a younger man thought Alice to be overly full-of-herself and pompous. They scoffed at suggestions that she could be a force.
The wind of righteous indignation filled Alice’s sails. “And you have NOTHING?” she asked.
“We will see about that!” Alice promised them.
Every one of her peers had closets and outbuildings and attics crammed with “stuff”.
Every one of her daughter’s peers had tub upon tub filled with outgrown children’s clothing.
Alice pulled out her phone and pushed a couple of buttons. “Jenny, do you still have kids clothing that will fit kids under eleven?”
Alice had her faults. She was judgmental, slow-to-forgive and had deep-seated biases. In her defense, she reserved the severest judgment those who failed in their Biblical duty to clothe and feed the cold and hungry, especially if those in need were children. She could not tolerate that in anybody, much less those she considered her friends. It was woven into every strand of her DNA.
Alice was the hub of the phone chain and the two, honest laborers had gained a powerful and ferocious patroness.
*Hat-tip to George True for asking how Eaton Rapids might respond to having almost a thousand migrants drop into their laps. This is a work of fiction and there could be many other outcomes. However, women like "Alice" are common in these parts and based on the guys who roofed my house, an honest day's labor for a day's pay is still the norm among some.