Saturdays without Morrie
I never really had side jobs; I pretty much always worked at newspapers.
But the one time I served as someone’s cleaning lady, I learned an important lesson–be careful what you regift.
It was 2002, and I was in college. While working as a stringer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I decided to supplement my income by spending my Saturday afternoons cleaning the house of one of my career mentors.
She was loud, Italian, opinionated, didn’t tolerate nonsense and had many other qualities I appreciated in a person.
The few hours I spent cleaning her house included many perks: it paid my bar tab, allowed me to do my laundry for free and was a short walk from my college apartment, which had a great view of the city skyline but absolutely no heat.
My Saturday boss would usually order food or cook for me, sending me home with recipes I still use today–especially the homemade, Italian sauce. And we always drank decaffienated Crystal Light iced tea, which I continue to enjoy.
She made fun of television shows, the news and, sometimes, herself while I dusted, swept, did her laundry and mine, polished furniture, scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom, and vacuumed all rooms.
Now that I think about it, given that I actually like to clean, there really wasn’t a downside.
But she did warn me of a flaw.
“The most annoying thing about me is I’m always right,” she said.
More than 10 years after I began working for her, I have to admit she was, in fact, always right.
Buying a Christmas present for someone who is always right is a little tough. Looking back, I probably just should’ve tied a bow around her favorite drink–Tia Maria. But, instead, I think I went to Lazarus and bought some typical gift like a page-a-day desk calendar.
Truth be told, she could’ve made her own desk calendar full of witty quips and humerous quotes. She was known to send her journalism classes to court–sometimes still wearing their pajamas–to cover high-profile trials among some of the city’s best veteran reporters. She’d pause while drinking her morning tomato juice to remind students that “screaming old people make for great copy,” or ask questions like, “What’s in Idaho besides potatoes?”
I was one of those students, and I didn’t realize how much I learned about covering courts until I had to cover courts. She was my professor a semester before I called her a friend, mentor or Saturday boss.
She had no problem pointing out my flaws as a person or professional, and she was right about those failings too.
Yet, underneath the cantankerous facade, was a woman who made sure I always got home safely, had a home-cooked meal, invited me to a Christmas party with her family, helped me understand my own family and convinced me my small town roots could stretch as far as I wanted them to.
I unexpectedly missed her on a recent Saturday while sifting through boxes of Christmas decorations, wishing I had my own cleaning lady. In one of the boxes I found some things I had saved since Christmas 2002–a couple knitted stockings I can’t seem to get rid of, an ornament replicating the Kaufmann’s clock in downtown Pittsburgh and a picture frame that makes me laugh every time I see it.
Though my boss had padded my Saturday pay during Christmas week, she also gave me a wrapped gift. I opened it at her house to learn it was a picture frame. But when I got home and actually opened the frame box and attempted to add a 5×7 photo, I was met with the likeness of her teenage nephew.
When I discussed the gift with some of our mutual friends, we all got a good laugh. Whether it was regifted or she erroneously put her nephew’s photo in a gift intended for me, we were unsure.
Eventually someone lightheartedly brought it up and asked her about it. Her answer was classic and part of why I’ll always remember her fondly:
“You know, doesn’t he look like a young John Kennedy Jr.?”