For some people, Labor Day means the end of summer. Or the start of fantasy football. Or maybe even, heaven forbid, a chance to think about labor unions.
For me, it means turning into a financial archaeologist. If Indiana Jones traded in his fedora and bullwhip for a stack of bank statements and credit card balances, he’d be having a typical Rochat September – not to mention a very strange weekend at the box office.
Of course, for Dr. Jones, all that’s at stake is something like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. You know, the little things. For “Colorado” Rochat and the Kingdom of the Fiscal Skill, it’s all about the treasure known as Missy.
Regular readers will remember Melissa “Missy” Hargett as a regular star of these columns. For the unfamiliar, Missy is my disabled aunt-in-law, who’s my age physically but often much younger in mind and spirit. My wife Heather and I have looked after her for five years, every day learning more about this woman of few words and much love: her passion for hearing the Harry Potter stories, her eagerness to hustle plates into and out of the dishwasher, her conviction that every stereo speaker in the world should be cranked up to “11.”
It’s been an adventure in a different sort of parenting, and a delightful one. But it also means we get to take an annual Missy Exam of sorts, a guardian’s report that each year goes into how Missy is doing and how her resources are being used.
Most of it is pretty straightforward, of course. But it does take time, especially the “archaeology” as we double-check, review and summarize the year’s expenses. Calling it tedious is like saying Peyton Manning was a little inaccurate last year.
And yet, every year, it’s oddly heartwarming as well.
Every year, the numbers start to become memories.
A restaurant receipt? There she is at Mike O’Shay’s on a Saturday, grinning her 100-watt smile as the staff welcomes her to “her” table.
A run to the grocery store for cold medicine? There we are on the couch together watching Star Wars, as Missy kicks her blanket-covered legs in excitement at the final scenes.
Colored pencils and craft supplies? A hundred art projects lie behind those entries, charged into with abandon and glue sticks.
Piece by piece, the mundane becomes magical.
That’s probably true for most of us, now that I think about it. Everything around us has the potential to evoke a memory. We touch a thousand things and more every day, and each touch leaves an impression.
Computer experts used those principles to build the World Wide Web, where each link and association draws you deeper in. But parents have known this longer than programmers. They know how much can be woken up with just an old report card and a stray stuffed animal, how many things can be released by a crayon-scratched paper in the bottom of a drawer.
And if we leave that many impressions in an object, how many more do we leave on people?
Lives touch lives, and change them piece by piece. We can teach patience or exasperation, kindness or frustration, with the smallest of gestures. It ripples, and feeds back, and reinforces. I know Missy has shaped both of us, with her careful pace and open appreciation (or undisguised disdain) for everything she’s experienced. I know we’ve shaped her, too, and that in both cases, the sculpting is still going on.
It’s an adventure. And it’s still an exciting one.
You might even say, in our own way, that we’re keeping up with the Joneses.