Border Outpost: An errand

I recently thought about someone I knew when I lived and worked in Portland. It was just a passing notion that she could still be alive, though that proved to be only fancy on my part. She died a decade ago.

She was an accountant and kept the books for a whole raft of fishing boats and their captains. She also was the record keeper for the carpentry company I worked for as a dog laborer. I say “dog laborer” because there was a lot of “go fetch this” and “go fetch that” involved and I was just the designated dog. True, I learned carpentry eventually, but more importantly, I learned how to work alongside others and what materials were needed for whatever job. The boys at the now-defunct Rufus Deering Hardware would have been familiar with this ratty-tatty coated young man who drove a beat-up Ford pickup for the carpentry outfit.

Helen was surprised I knew stuff, like who Shakespeare was, and could recite lines from A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad” by rote. I kept a paperback copy in a hip pocket and those lines have since faded with time and wear. This was during what one could call the Orwell “down and out” phase of one’s life, when things weren’t working out quite the way I hoped, but met with a lot of interesting people and experiences  along the way.

Helen was one of those people. She made me an offer once that if ever I got in serious trouble, she knew the type of helper who could help. I didn’t figure out what she meant initially, until it dawned on me shortly afterward that the help would come from certain individuals whose persuasion came with a price. These weren’t lawyers, either. I passed on the offer, mainly because the type of help I needed was a change of scenery. That came later.

So Helen calls me though my then-boss to come up to the office. Would I make some deposits for her at the following banks? The boats were due in and the men on board needed to be paid, or thoughts to that effect. I’m the designated dog for the job and maybe I’ll have to deal with a few hundred dollars in deposits. I wasn’t worried about it when I walked into the first bank.

Picture this: a rather scruffy-looking workman, unshaven, unkempt with windblown hair (O to have that head of hair again) wearing faded jeans and a faded Carhartt barn jacket with the one side pocket blown out. I hand the teller envelope number one. She looks up from behind her desk, eyeing me suspiciously.  She records the deposit and hand me the receipt. I stuff the receipt in the jeans pocket. No big deal.

Next bank,same thing after I hand the teller envelope number two. This teller knows me vaguely and asks,

“Running errands for Helen, are you?”

I nod. I liked this teller but never worked up the courage to ask her out. That was a long time ago, remember?

“Okay,” she says quietly and hands me the receipt. I never bothered to look at the receipts until I was standing outside on Congress Street. What I hadn’t known about my errand was that I was delivering about $225,000 in signed checks and cash. Here I was diddly-bopping down Congress Street with nearly a quarter of a million dollars in two envelopes stuffed into the chest pocket of a battered Carhartt jacket. The errand was over by then, but not my extreme embarrassment.

When I got back to Helen’s office, I asked her why she would send me out on an errand with all that money.

“You’re the only one I could trust. It would never enter your head to flee to Mexico or something like that.”

I suppose that could be taken as a compliment. Rather, I could take it as a sign of extreme gullibility, naiveté taken to an absurd length. What would I have done had I known how much was in those envelopes?

No, this is not a skill-testing question. I know what I’d have done and I can thank Helen for making me pose the question. Would I have done any different if I knew? Of course not.

That’s why I’d probably make a poor politician. Thank you, Helen, for sparing me a political life.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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