It can be hard to find something to be thankful for during this current economic recession. Perhaps you or someone you know is struggling to stay employed or worse, the job you had is no longer there. Some Thanksgiving celebration it’ll be. Or will it? I guess it depends on your perspective. It reminds me of a short story I wrote several years ago that might help put some perspective on the employment uncertainties we are all facing and maybe help you find some additional things to be thankful for this week. Happy Thanksgiving!
It’s What We Do – A Short Story by Paul Kulpinski
The town of Billet Falls has always been this way for as long as anyone can remember. It’s a town, not unlike many others. It’s full of people who are all busy doing the things they do in the places they do them. There’s the banker who works at the bank. The butcher who works at the market. The nurse who works at the hospital and of course the Mayor who works at City Hall all working to keep things running along smoothly and without disruption, because that’s the way it’s always been done. The people of Billet Falls liked living life that way and no one ever dared to try living life any differently.
It was the first warm day after a particularly long cold winter when Mr. Lincoln and his family moved to Billet Falls. Their home, while new to them, had previously been occupied by the dry cleaner who ran the laundry near city hall. It was a beautiful house, located right in the heart of town. So it was that after unpacking their belongings, Mr. Lincoln decided to conduct some business and establish themselves as the town’s newest residents. His first chore was to open a bank account, so he went to the bank and met the banker.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lincoln”, said the banker. What do you do?”
Mr. Lincoln noticed the family pictures on the banker’s desk and replied, “I do the same things you do.”
“Oh, you’re a banker too?” asked the banker with a tone of concern.
“Not at all. I rear two beautiful children with the help of my lovely wife,” said Mr. Lincoln.
This puzzled the banker who replied, “Oh, that’s nice, I guess.”
The next morning, Mr. Lincoln decided to buy some fresh bread and pastries for his family’s breakfast. So he ventured out early to the bakery where he met the baker.
“Welcome to Billet Falls Mr. Lincoln”, said the baker. What do you do?”
“I am a father.” replied Mr. Lincoln.
The baker chuckled, “I see, and do you do any work?”
“Oh, there is a lot of work to do rearing two beautiful children. Without the help of my lovely wife, I don’t know that I could get all of the work done!” exclaimed Mr. Lincoln.
This confused the baker who was left to wonder as Mr. Lincoln walked back to his home in the heart of town with his fresh bread and pastries whistling a happy tune in the morning sunlight.
By the third day, Mr. Lincoln began preparing for a far-away trip he had scheduled so he stopped by the barber shop where he met the barber.
“Have a seat, Mr. Lincoln” said the barber inviting him into the chair by the front window. “I’ve heard all about you.” As indeed word was spreading about the strange ways of Mr. Lincoln and his family.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” said Mr. Lincoln. “Then you know about what I do.”
“Well, no not exactly. What is it that you do?” asked the barber as his scissors began snipping away around Mr. Lincoln’s head.
“I’m the husband of a beautiful lady who has the deepest green eyes and who embodies that joyful feeling of a cool summer breeze,” said Mr. Lincoln with admiration.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot of work,” commented the barber as his scissors snipped on around Mr. Lincoln’s right ear.
“We’re quite busy actually, what with our two little one’s there’s barely a moment where we’re not doing something new and amazing!”
This wasn’t quite good enough for the barber so he pressed on. “That’s nice, but what’s your real job,” he asked.
“I can’t think of any more important job than that!” Mr. Lincoln thought for a moment then said, “Perhaps after the children are grown, I’ll find one.”
After Mr. Lincoln left with his fresh haircut, the barber turned the sign on his door to “CLOSED” and collapsed into his barber chair, stunned by what he had just heard. If what Mr. Lincoln had said was true, this wasn’t good for Billet Falls. For as long as anyone could remember, the people of Billet Falls knew each other by what they did and the very important titles they held because of it, like the banker, the baker and of course the barber. What could it mean to be just a father? The barber thought long and hard and it could only mean one thing. So he went to the police station where the police officer worked and after talking for a moment, they went to the hospital where the doctor worked and after a while they went to the accountant’s office where the CPA worked and soon a large crowd of the people of Billet Falls, not knowing what to do about this new threat to their way of life went to City Hall where the Mayor worked.
The Mayor was outraged to learn that there could even be one citizen of Billet Falls who was not working at doing something productive. So the Mayor marched off to Mr. Lincoln’s house in the heart of town followed by the banker, the baker, the barber, the policeman, the doctor, the accountant and the large mob of the other townspeople of Billet Falls which had become quite agitated.
The Mayor pounded on the door of Mr. Lincoln’s home. When the door opened he demanded to know what Mr. Lincoln did.
Once again, Mr. Lincoln calmly replied, “I am rearing two beautiful children with the help of my lovely wife.”
“What does it mean to rear two beautiful children with the help of your lovely wife?” blurted the Mayor.
“It means that I build model rockets with my son. It means that I have tea parties with my daughter. It means that my two beautiful children, my lovely wife and I take regular picnics in the parks around Billet Falls. It’s that simple,” said Mr. Lincoln.
“Ah, ha. So you are unemployed!” the Mayor said accusingly.
“No, not at all! I fly airplanes for the airline at the airport.” declared Mr. Lincoln.
The townspeople gasp in unison and then shouted in relief, “Oh, you’re a pilot!”
“No, I’m a father,” insisted Mr. Lincoln. “It just so happens that I fly airplanes to earn money.”
A low murmer arose from the crowd as they grew uneasy again. “I am no different from any of you,” Mr. Lincoln added.
But this did nothing to calm the crowd, until the fireman spoke up, slowly. “So, you’re saying that because I am rearing my son that I am a father, who happens to put out fires for money”?
“Exactly,” said Mr. Lincoln.
Then the nurse spoke up, “I don’t have any children, Mr. Lincoln. Does this mean that I am no body?” There was a great commotion, as the crowd now believed that Mr. Lincoln had been defeated and maybe life could return to normal.
“Not at all,” said Mr. Lincoln. “You’re someone’s daughter and perhaps even someone’s friend, correct?”
“Yes” she said.
“Then you are a daughter of two people who love you very much, who happens to take care of sick people for money,” said Mr. Lincoln.
The Mayor, still frantic about maintaining order in his town shouted, “How can we have a town full of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors? We will never get anything done! The town will collapse!”
But Mr. Lincoln knew that would never happen. “Mr. Mayor” he said, “jobs come and go but the relationships you have with your family, friends and neighbors will outlast them all.” Then Mr. Lincoln extended his hand to the Mayor, “my name’s Tom. Tom Lincoln.”
The Mayor stammered slightly, then with a laugh he shook Mr. Lincoln’s hand firmly and replied, “my name’s Robert James Turner. My friends call me R.J.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, R.J.,” said Mr. Lincoln.
And with that handshake, the matter was settled. Before long, the people of Billet Falls began to think of themselves as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters; friends and neighbors all of whom did this or that for money. Did the town collapse? On the contrary. It thrived as an amazing thing happened – some people actually decided to swap the jobs they did for money, because the banker really didn’t like banking and the plumber hated water. What would have been the scandal of all scandals in the history of Billet Falls in the past, was now a minor event because Susan was a better banker than she ever was a plumber and Henry became the best plumber the town of Billet Falls had ever known.
© 1999, 2009 Paul Kulpinski