When I saw the Blue Man Group perform in Sioux City a few weeks ago, I was struck by the simplicity of their act. Packed with deadpan humor, the show leverages comedy in the human nature of everyday people they pluck out of the audience.
During the two-hour performance, the Blue Men never say a word. Yet, I walked away feeling entertained and engaged. They made me laugh with their dry sense of humor and caused me to really think about the messages displayed on a scrolling marquee above the stage.
As a part of their shtick, members of the Blue Man Group appear and act like Martians tapping audience members to assist them. One was a delightful senior they handily selected and escorted onto the stage to eat Twinkies. The Blue Man Group couldn't figure out how to unwrap theirs, so she helped. Totally unscripted, the woman played along, slicing, eating and sharing the treats and quickly became the unofficial star of the show.
Speaking of helpers, there were people in my childhood who helped around our house. With a clan of nine, included our wolf/mutt mix, "Lucky," there was plenty to do.
Once a month, Mother paid a middle-aged woman named Hattie to deep-clean tubs and sinks, nooks and crannies in our two-story century-old home. Hattie, who looked more like a maid than a housekeeper, had a tall muscular physique, more stacked than round.
She always wore the same outfit: a traditional black maid's dress with a white eyelet apron. Wrapped around her head was a colorful scarf tied at the nape of her neck.
Lugging a bucket of scrub brushes, rags and cleaning solutions through nine rooms, two bathrooms, one pantry and two porches, she never said much. Quietly, she'd scrub, sweep, dust and polish layers of our life from every surface imaginable.
Even though I don't recall having a conversation with Hattie, I viewed her as a force of strength and determination. There seemed to be no job too big or too small, as she transformed gritty and crusty to smooth and shiny. I believed she could face and overcome anything, and I loved and appreciated her for that.
Mr. Elbrow was a handyman/carpenter. In his eighties, he, too, quietly went about his work mainly in our kitchen, handcrafting cupboards, counters, baseboards and molding. He worked slowly but steadily, shuffling back and forth from his sawhorse on the driveway to the kitchen and back again.
I don't remember seeing Mr. Elbrow without an old worn out pencil lodged at the top of his ear, perpetually smeared eyeglasses resting at the end of his nose and Dickies coveralls all coated in sawdust. As I observed him work away, I tried to imagine his other life – the one that didn't include lumber and fixtures. Did he have a family? Children? Grandchildren?
The Ironing Lady didn't come to our house. Instead, Mother would drop off and pick up our laundry every week at the Ironing Lady's house. Even though I never knew her real name, I favored her, not so much for her ability to press into purity wrinkles out of anything. More so for the homemade bread, still warm from the oven, she'd tuck in with our freshly ironed clothes and linens.
How could I forget our mother's helper, Joanne, who was a fixture in our home when the six of us kids were infants and toddlers? Joanne would come to our home after school and stay until suppertime. She didn't seem to mind reading books to us, changing diapers and playing house. She even helped to make the place presentable, if that was possible with so many rug rats running around.
Last but not least were the non-English speaking painters my father hired most summers to apply fresh coats on walls and ceilings. I was a teenager, and they couldn't have been more than five years my senior. Occasionally, exchanging Italian phrases, like "t posso aspettare il fine settimana" ("I can't wait for the weekend"). They were decked out in white painter's pants, shirts and caps, and I always wondered, why white?
Speaking of helpers, there's a library in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, that not only loans books, but people, too. These "living books" help others by sharing their expertise and knowledge over coffee with patrons in the library's café.
I wonder what Hattie, Mr. Elbrow, the Ironing Lady, Joanne and the Italian painters would think of that.
2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on FaceBook.