birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Snow shovels

My first job? As an 8-year-old, shoveling the neighbors’ driveways. I think we got paid in part by the amount of snow that fell, in part by the dimensions of the drive, and in part by the wealth of the neighbor. My brothers got the rich people’s driveways. My sister and I got our grandparents’ drive, the Brodericks’ drive, and occasionally one or two others that paid at the lower end. 

The grandparents lived two doors away; the Brodericks between their house and ours. Those two driveways adjoined each other, and like most of the houses on the block, well-off or not, led to stand-alone garages or barns well behind the house. The houses were set back from Clark Street, a maple-shaded Midwest street, with room for parking on both sides, and still two lanes down the middle. We are talking long driveways, often forty or fifty feet from the street to the garage. 

We are talking “Lake (Michigan) Effect” snow that in the 1950s routinely dumped a foot or two at a time on our small town. At 5,000 people, we were one of the larger in the county, and had enough wealthy people to build elegant Victorian homes, and turn-of-the-century brick and stone houses on the finer streets. We lived on a street that had nice houses (my grandparents, Mrs. Hanlon, the Starks), old 19th century wood frame houses (ours), and slightly down-at-the-heels twenties bungalows. 

I shoveled snow. My older brother, older sister, next younger brother, and I all shoveled snow. We got up at 6:00 a.m., shoveled for half an hour, went to 6:45 a.m. Mass with my mother at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church two blocks away, came home, shoveled the rest of the snow, ate breakfast, went to school. By that time, it was light out. If there was more snow in the afternoon, we shoveled again. I shoveled neighbors’ drives in the winter, and washed their cars in the summer. 

By the time I was in seventh grade I could babysit, and added the income from that ($.25/hour for the family with six children younger than me; $.50/hour for the better-off family with three pretty-well-behaved kids) to my income. What did I do with the money? I don’t recall. We got an allowance of a quarter a week. A dime had to go to the Christmas Club at the Union Bank, and a dime went into the Sunday collection basket at Mass. 


fat snow man
holding our shovels while we played
between driveways

I enjoy being a girl

Babysitting