A hired man worthy of his hire

Enoch Blethen was presumed to be totally deaf. Leastwise, he never spoke, and it was said he never heard from birth. He was before my time. He lived alone better than two miles from my Grampy's farm and would come unbidden from time to time to do a day's work. He'd walk over and appear in our dooryard just abreast of breakfast, lifting a hand in good-morning.

Depending on the season, he'd go right to work without instruction, haying, hoeing corn, picking berries or apples, threshing dry beans, splitting wood, shearing sheep, whatever.

There is always farm work that can use an extra hand. Somehow, he always knew when it was noon, and he'd come to the house while the clock was striking and wash up at the shed-door bench, as did all who passed in to eat. Feeding hired help was a matter of course, and Enoch knew where his place would be. Silently he sat down, silently he ate, and silently he would go back to work.

Grandmother commented that he never complained about the food, which got a laugh in a house where the food was never complained about. When Enoch came, he was family.

Now and then Grammy would forget and ask Enoch if he'd take some more stew, or another biscuit,. Then she'd remember and poke him and point. He'd nod and pass up his plate. Then, fed, he'd go back to his work, whatever it was, and continue until the sun began to drop behind the barn.

Now, my Grampy was close enough to real-old days so that he, like his generation, always called a Yankee quarter of a dollar a "shilling." He knew the difference, but it was the custom. And Enoch Blethen's pay for his day's work was always three shillings. He couldn't ask for it, so somebody had lettered him a bit of pasteboard with his price on it: "75."

When Enoch was ready to walk home, he'd pull this cardboard from his pocket and hold it up for Grampy to read. Grampy, knowing about all this for some years, always had three quarters ready for Enoch, and Enoch would pocket them, wave his hand goodbye, and walk home. It was a straight business arrangement with a workman worthy of his hire, except for one thing. Grammy always had a double cut of her most recent pie for Enoch to carry home.

She'd say, "Poor soul!" That was the only time sentiment, or pity, entered the transactions with Enoch, and Grammy would excuse it with a casual, "I can't help it, the poor man!"

Then Grampy would say, "Don't carry on so. Enoch likes pie just as much as anybody who talks good."

The swift seasons rolled. Enoch came when he wished, and sometimes he'd paint the buildings, and sometimes he'd dig potatoes, and sometimes he'd help scald a butchered hog. He was always welcome, and he always got 75 cents. Or three shillings.

Then one year, he came on Christmas. Grampy and Grammy and everybody else supposed that Enoch didn't know it was a holiday. The "everybody else" refers to the family, which was home for the occasion. There were the sons and daughters, the grandchildren and in-laws, Grampy's brother and Grammy's sisters, and a visiting clergyman from out-of-state because that afternoon Cousin Clara was to be married in the parlor to a young man who became my Uncle Steve.

The old farmhouse had plenty of room for Christmas. So as this merry company was at breakfast, Enoch arrived, lifted a good-morning hand, went to the shed to get the bucksaw, and began to saw cordwood into stove lengths.

There was no way to tell Enoch the difference, and it would displease him to be signaled to go home. At noon he came into the house to eat. It was a lam-baster of a roast-chicken dinner with all the fixin's and with-its that Grammy and the women had slaved over all morning, including a plum-pudding boiled in a pudding bag, served with both hard and soft sauce.

If Enoch noticed a holiday spirit, he was obliged to keep it to himself. And when he finished eating, he went back to the woodpile, so he didn't know that there was a tree in the parlor and the children opened their presents and carols were sung before the minister started the wedding. Enoch sawed wood through the wedding ceremony and paid no never-mind to the tumult when the bride and bridegroom drove off in a buggy with ribbons flying.

As evensong approached, Enoch loosened the tension on the saw blade, hung the saw back on its peg, and came in to show Grampy the card that said, "75." Grampy was ready for him, but this time things were different. It was Christmas. Instead of three shillings, Grampy handed Enoch a $1 bill. Enoch looked at it, put it in his pocket, lifted a farewell hand, and walked home.

Christmas night, the farmhouse was quiet. The wee ones were tucked in. Some folks had gone home; some would spend another night. Grammy was exhausted. Grampy was dozing in his rocker. The old clock in the corner tick-tocked.

Night comes early at Christmas season, and Grampy came to with a start when the clock struck 7. He thought it must be a lot later than that! Then Enoch Blethen walked in, blinking in the lamplight. He'd walked all the way back to bring Grampy his change.

A happy Christmas to all.

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