The Locker Room
In the summer of 1981, at the rambunctious age of 12 years old, I dug out an embankment behind my grandparents’ cottage.
It was my first taste of working for The Man. The Man, in this instance, was my Papa. He needed to clear an area to add a shed-like extension to the back of a modest cottage they’d purchased just a couple of years prior. This extension, just a patchwork of wood and nails with no insulation or internal walls was going to turn their cottage, a 2-bedroom one bath hut that slept six with a fold out sofa bed, into a 3-bedroom one bath castle that slept 14. That’s a lot of bunk beds and strong bladders.
Papa came of age during WWII and he and my grandmother were children during the Great Depression. They knew the value of hard work and money, sometimes too well. The ground to be dug was some of the nastiest New England glacial till, full of various sizes of rocks intertwined with a maniacal network of roots. It was three feet deep, and the thought of digging it up was making my skinny little arms ache. In the end, we agreed on a wage of 50¢/foot after my grandmother insisted that 25¢/foot was bordering on forced labour.
No matter what I did that summer, the embankment was always there. When I came back from swimming in the lake, I could see the roots and rocks sticking out of the ground just around the corner of the house as I went in the kitchen door. When I left to get an ice cream on an evening, walking with my brothers and my grandparents to a lovely little restaurant and ice cream parlour in the harbour, I’d see the pick axe, shovel, and wheelbarrow parked just off to the side of the stairs as we made our way down to the road. And of course, it was there when I was watching my Papa digging when I just couldn’t be bothered.
I couldn’t escape the work I’d agreed to do because Papa was always asking me at breakfast if I was going to dig some more that day. My desire to work hinged on my desire to get praise from my Papa, a query-free breakfast, and more importantly, using my pay of two quarters to play Defender, my favourite video game at the arcade in the harbour.
Hard work, it was. Mosquitos and cobbles combined to make it a thankless job above and below the surface. I took a lot of showers that summer.
By the end of the summer, as I moved closer to being a teenager, I could feel my muscles for the first time. Turns out, swinging a pick axe was good for a pubescent boy.
In the end, I made a few dollars, built some muscles for the first time, and helped my Papa transform their cottage into a family retreat. We joked about the pay and toil for many summers afterwards. I didn’t earn a lot of money that summer, and I didn’t have any great epiphanies about life, work, or becoming a teenager. But, digging out the gnarly plot of land made me feel both proud and grateful in the years that followed.
The extension that was built in the empty space I’d helped create was filled with bunk beds and cribs. It allowed me to experience summertime with my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents — all at the same time. We celebrated the Fourth of July, ate countless chicken casseroles on the deck, and played spirited games of solitaire with my grandmother.
The uninsulated back room where all the kids slept was important enough to warrant a name: the Locker Room. My mum even cross-stitched a sign to go over the doorway. We drew hearts for our summer loves on its exposed framework and learned to keep warm in our sleeping bags as the late August nights brought a chill to the air, permeating the thin plywood walls.
My Papa always reminded anyone within earshot how I, his eldest grandson, helped make the summer cottage a place for the whole family by digging out the embankment. More than the quarters or even my grandfather’s praise, it was an amazing feeling of being part of something that would end up having such a remarkable impact on our family’s life. I’m not sure summers would have been the same without the mobs of cousins, aunts, and uncles enjoying it with my brothers and me. I wonder if my Papa knew that his modest cottage in the woods would change so many of his children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
I suppose it doesn’t matter if we realise how our work will impact the world. It just matters that we do the work. Especially the work that nobody wants to do. Sometimes this looks like thankless work. Other times it is the work that feels risky, scares us.
I’ve done a lot of this kind of work in the last decade. I’ve started things that have failed, others that have succeeded, and still others that just ended -neither failing or succeeding.
Each new venture brings new challenges. Every time I decide to start something, new fears appear in places I never thought I’d find them. But each of my ventures has one feature in common. The successful ones have more, the failures less.
What is the one thing all my ventures have in common?
…the first person to imagine the potential, not the risks.
…the friend connecting me to someone who can help.
…the artist willing to work with us at risk, to build something remarkable.
…the leader sharing her networks, to help us take the first step.
And, you, the curious person taking the leap into the unknown with us, handing over your hard earned money for our book, a subscription, or our first experience.
Together, all of you are doing the work that matters. It’s work that might change the world. In reality, we don’t know if it will, and that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that we show up, we do the work. We build it together.
Thank you, for being that person.
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