A couple of months after Momma’s death, during one of those nights I had a difficult time sleeping, my mind full of problems for which I could find no immediate solutions, I rose from my bed, meandered out to the kitchen table, after checking first to see if Will was alright, picked up a plain piece of paper and pencil, and began to take stock of our financial resources. I prepared a typical balance sheet or financial statement, listing all of our funds available and anticipated in one section, all of our liabilities such as monthly bills and anticipated expenses in another, and concluded I could manage to maintain a home for Will and me for about six more months. This would take us to about April or May, if I really, really watched our spending. In order to do so, I’d have to put my college plans on hold and find some type of employment to stretch out the money.
A quick look at last Sunday’s newspaper want ads revealed only part-time and minimum wage jobs were available. Those would be easily filled in this, a college town, and the competition would be fierce. Securing one would only stave off the inevitable and not allow me to save enough to pursue my degree in Accounting. Sighing with resignation, having little hope left other than day-to-day survival, I picked up one of my text books, deciding, in the face of adversity, to study and lose myself in academia.
This still didn’t deter my thoughts of impending doom. Although Mrs. Fuller was our rock, never discouraging me, always supportive of what I was doing, and not charging us one dime for all she did for us, it didn’t ameliorate my concerns. Will was a precious bundle of joy and both Mrs. Fuller and I knew it, so we did all we could to give him the life and the tools with which to deal with the outside world when I wasn’t around. He had no idea what it took to provide a loving home for him; he just knew he had one, even if it was without Momma. Will had me and that was all he needed right now. I’d do whatever it took to care for him and continue to provide a home for him.
Finishing my reading assignment, I remembered Dr. Henderson’s offer of assistance in finding employment. Actually, he said if I ever needed money, come and see him. Nodding positively to myself, I decided to try and see him the next morning after my class, if he was available. I rested easier that night and wakened the next day fully energized, confident that everything will work out for the best for Will and me.
The next morning, after making certain Will was properly dressed; boxer shorts not on backwards (we only had that problem once and Will learned the importance of getting the “pee hole” facing the right direction), matching socks, and other important items in place, I gathered up his school papers, checking to see he had all of his work done, and everything he needed for the day, I fixed our breakfast. Although Will struggled at times, he was really doing quite well. According to his teachers, he was quite content at school and making excellent progress given his abilities and limitations, although those limitations seemed to be diminishing as he grew in age and life experiences. I was pleased with his progress around the house and gave a great deal of credit to Mrs. Fuller for her patience and understanding with him and me.
Before putting him on the bus, I told him I might not be at home to meet the bus when he came home from school since I had an appointment with Dr. Henderson, but Mrs. Fuller would be. As always, he smiled, kissed me, and said, “I love you Jay. Don’t worry, Mrs. Fuller and I’ll be fine.”
“I love you too,” I answered, giving him a hug and gentle swat on the butt, sending him scurrying into the yellow school bus. Will always gave a cheerful “good morning” to the bus driver whether it was or not, and scooted to his seat. Once the bus rattled down the road, I went back to the house and gave Mrs. Fuller a call, requesting she meet Will if I was late in coming home from class.
On my way to class, I stopped in Doc Henderson’s office to set up an appointment, and was pleased to hear he’d be available right after this class to meet with me. This was great, I could stop in to see him, visit a bit, traipse over to the library to do some research, and still be home in time to meet Will.
Doc Henderson greeted me in his outer office when I arrived and ushered me into his private office, bade me to sit, and closed the door. Sitting behind his desk, fingers of both hands pressed tip to tip, the forefingers touching his chin, almost prayer like, while he moved his mouth in various contortions as if in deep contemplation concerning my visit, cleared his throat, and stated sternly, “Jay, I hope this is not about dropping out of college completely; you’re much too talented and bright to waste yourself and not receive a proper education. You’re only carrying a couple of classes now.”
Shaking my head, responding, “Dr. Henderson, it’s not that I want to but if I’m going to continue and still care for Will, I’ll have to find some meaningful employment so we can have the money to live and for me to go to school. Those days I’m in class, Mrs. Fuller watches out for Will and I don’t pay her but I should. Daddy is still in the nursing home, so I don’t have too much expense there, except for the little things the county and Medicare doesn’t provide. But there are still transportation costs for Will and me to go visit him every week. If push comes to shove and it means the difference between taking care of Will or not, then Will comes first! Whatever sacrifice I make for him is well worth it. You once said if I was ever in need of funds to come and see you. Well, here I am and I’m in need of money.”
I held my breath, waiting for his reaction to my statement. He sat quietly, peering at me, assessing what he saw, contemplating in his mind the results of his examination, finally saying, “Jay, before we begin any conversation concerning possible employment and the securing of funding, I want you to understand you must be perfectly honest with me and everything we discuss must remain in the strictest confidence. Do you agree?”
Of course I agreed! Doc Henderson was going to help me and I needed it desperately. Besides, Momma taught me there are a lot of things in life better off left unsaid. I nodded my head up and down in agreement as he reached into his pocket appointment book and extracted a business card and handed to it to me. I examined the proffered card, reading it carefully, noting it identified, “Samuel Henderson, Representing, ‘The Cockaigne Agency,’ Matching Clients Requisites with Services.” There was no corporate office address listed, only a cell phone number and a web site.
Puzzled, I read the firm’s name aloud, “Cockaigne – doesn’t that mean an imaginary land or place of luxury?”
“How clever of you, Jay; almost correct, but you neglected to add the words ‘and ease’ to the definition. The Agency tries to match those who desire certain services with the proper department in our firm.”
“As interesting as it may sound, Dr. Henderson,” I pursued, “just what does the Agency really do?”
He pursed his fingers together again and began,
“The Cockaigne Agency has been in existence approximately thirty years and currently has satellite offices in about a half dozen cities where the University has a branch or there’s a medium to large sized private college. The Agency started as a result of recognizing the large pool of talented young people available on college campuses, able to do many tasks, and needing employment, with the service needs of the people in the community and surrounding area. We assessed the wants and desires of the community and found a niche market for various odd jobs which people needed to have done and were willing to pay for. Most jobs are part-time and not the types most others might want to perform for whatever reason.”
“We were able to define the needs and services needed and provide for them with three divisions within the Agency; the Au Pair Division, Reconstruction Division, and the Companion Division. Each division is headed by a supervisor who, when approached with a task or job to fulfill by a client or potential client, assesses the project, determines if our Agency can complete it, assigns a cost to it, and, if acceptable to the client, assigns the various employees with the needed skills to do the job. The Agency receives a fee for completion of the job or project and in turn, it pays employees an hourly wage. Our accounting department issues the checks and the appropriate tax forms.”
He looked at me, expecting me to ask a question, which I didn’t, so he continued,
“The Au Pair Division is basically that; we provide baby-sitting as requested for short-term periods, one night or day. It is very similar to normal baby-sitting, except our employees are screened very carefully to ensure we aren’t employing a pedophile or someone who might have some mental or drug problem. Further, all of our employees in this department are trained in child care and extensively trained in first aid. Should the employee be required to do laundry, dishes, or other chores outside the realm of normal babysitting, then additional fees are charged. If the client wishes to employ a nanny for live-in child care, we insist the employee still be allowed to carry a full schedule of classes and, if his or her grades fall, the employment is terminated. Our hourly wage for employees in this Division begins at minimum wage and tops out a little over fifteen dollars an hour, depending on level of service. It’s one of our most requested services, but I don’t think this is what you had in mind or would be interested in, is it?”
I shook my head “no,” not really wanting to babysit, but if that was all there was, I’d have to consider it.
“The second division,” he continued, “is our ‘Restoration Division.’ It’s sort of a strange name, but the Agency felt it described best what services the employees perform. Our employees do house cleaning, painting, gutter cleaning, snow removal, minor carpentry repairs, some minor plumbing and electrical work, and all of those other odd jobs which needs to be done around a home where the owners either work or have no ability or desire to perform the tasks. Again, the division supervisor evaluates the service needed, determines the cost to the client, and assigns the employees. You’d be amazed how many talented young people attend college today and are willing to utilize those talents.”
“Some clients, during the spring, summer, and fall, contract with us for once a week lawn services while others contact us for service as needed. We actually have a number of cemeteries who contract with this division for lawn care in their memorial parks. House cleaning is often contracted on a weekly basis, but some of our more affluent clients utilize our service to prepare for and clean up after major house parties or events, such as wedding, anniversaries, and the like. The pay range for employees in this division ranges from minimum wage to little over twenty dollars an hour, depending on the employees’ training and skill levels.”
“The third and final division is our ‘Companion Services Division.’ It pretty much defines itself. Our employees are often hired to take or do grocery and other shopping for our clients, spend an evening or afternoon playing cards or visiting with them, or escorting them to social events they wish to attend in the company of someone else. We have some who want our employee to come to their home a couple of times per week to cook a meal and dine with them. Many of our clients are elderly and alone and want some company. It’s a service greatly needed in our aging communities where the elderly are often far away from family. Some of our employees are trained home health care aides, so perform those duties as well. The pay range for employees in this division ranges from minimum wage to a little over twenty dollars per hour depending on training, skill levels, and work required.”
“In all divisions, our employees may earn minimum wage on one job, depending on service and skill needed to complete it, to well over fifteen dollars per hour on the next assignment. Each job has a pay rate attached to it and we pay accordingly. Our supervisors try to match talent with service and work very hard at being fair in assigning services to employees. Our employee may refuse an assignment at any time, with no need for an explanation. I’m certain we’ve had some employees disgruntled and voluntarily terminate their employment with us because of this, but we’re quite strict in adhering to our internal pay guidelines. All of our employees receive written performance evaluations every six months and have the opportunity to provide feedback. So far, we’ve had very few complaints.”
Settling back into his chair, he waited for my response to his explanations. I sat a minute, thinking over the options for employment he’d mentioned. I pondered aloud the types of employment I might consider, “I probably would do best in the companion area; I’m really not skilled in any trade, but I could work in lawn care or something like that.” I hesitated, not wanting to tell him I really wanted more work than just what was offered at a higher pay range to boot.
Dr. Henderson relieved me of the distasteful task of saying “no” by telling me, “The employment opportunities are varied and provide supplemental income for students. It helps them meet some of their expenses or provides additional cash for extras, but not really enough to live on and go to school. I assume that’s the type of employment you’re looking for, right, Jay?”
He was absolutely spot on with his conclusion! I needed a job which would pay household expenses, tuition, personal expenses for Will and me and still allow me to pay Mrs. Fuller something for all of the time she spent with us, plus helping around the house. I just didn’t feel it was fair, not paying her something. She had a limited income and anything would help supplement her income and be greatly appreciated.
“I really need more than what some of these opportunities offer,” I answered, “although I’d be willing to do anything in order to pay my bills and still go to school. I think I’ll just have look elsewhere though. I really appreciate your offer and time, Dr. Henderson, but I’d better be going.”
With heavy heart and dejected spirit, I rose to leave, but was stopped when Dr. Henderson said softly, “Don’t be so hasty in leaving, Jay. There may be something available which would pay you what you want and make full use of your skills and attributes. Please sit down again.”
I returned to my chair and faced him again, this time with increased expectancy as Dr. Henderson thought a moment, stood, walked over to his office door and locked it. Instead of returning to the chair behind his desk, he occupied one of the padded arm chairs positioned next to the office wall, requiring me to turn in order to face him.
“Jay,” he began, “what we’re about to discuss must remain strictly confidential, never to be discussed, always to be denied, no matter what the circumstances, location, or consequences to you. Do you understand and agree?”
I nodded my understanding and agreement, adding, “I hope you know me well enough to know I can keep a secret and keep it well.”
“You’re absolutely correct, Jay,” he responded with a smile. “In fact, you’ve kept one from your high school classmates and most other people concerning yourself for a number of years, haven’t you?”To be continued.
Thank you for reading “Where there’s Will, There’s a Way” Chapter Five -“Seek out a wise man and hold him close.” (Sirach 6-35)
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