church mouse
{scintilla day 1}


Tell a story set at your first job.


My very first job was cleaning a church. Every Saturday, my whole family (my parents and four children) would spend the morning dusting and sweeping, washing and vacuuming, emptying trash and scouring sinks.

Okay, I admit, my parents did most of the work while the four of us ran around in what can only be called the coolest playground ever. We played endless games of hide and seek, as well as seeing who could make the other one jump the highest by sneaking up behind them and yelling, “Boo!” This is where I learned to internalize my scream, never wanting to give my brother the satisfaction of hysterics.

We each had a job or two, and mine was dusting. The smell of Lemon Pledge can take me back there, to my childhood, in an instant. My mom Pledged the crap out of every piece of furniture we owned, pretty much daily, and the church got a good weekly dose as well. We had to dust all the pews. There were a lot of pews, especially if you counted the main sanctuary plus the chapel, and then there were two large, formal sitting rooms filled with big antique furniture with lots of scrolls and nooks and crannies. A duster’s dream. Or nightmare, depending on how you look at it. It just so happens that I like to dust. (And you be quiet, Mr. Mediocrity.)

There was also a grand piano in one of those rooms, with a large photo of a couple hanging in an oval frame above it. I have no idea who the people in the photo were, but I do know for a fact that their eyes would follow you wherever you went. Sometimes we made a game out of that, moving to every possible location to see if they were still staring us down (they always were), but other times, when I was alone in the room, it would really creep me out.

There were a lot of creepy places in this labyrinth of a building, lots of hidden rooms and dark corridors. The organ pipe room was the stuff of Saturday afternoon horror shows, but the creepiest place of all was The Tunnels. Down in the basement, way in the back of the boiler room, was a door that was always locked. Behind that door was a series of tunnels leading I don’t know exactly where, lined with stone slabs. It looked more like catacombs than anything, the kind of place you would expect to find old skeletons. The story went that it had been part of the Underground Railroad, and the slabs were used for sleeping and hiding out. That always shut the four of us up for a little while.

And there was the bell tower. We didn’t go up there often, though I think my dad went every Sunday morning to ring the bell. But he took us up there sometimes on Saturdays if we pestered him enough, though none of us had enough weight to actually budge the thing. That bell was heavy. Still, we had fun trying.

Later, years later, my parents finally decided to retire from the church cleaning job, and my uncle took it over. And then he hired me to work with him for four hours every Saturday, for $60 a month. You can laugh, but back then that was pretty good pay for about 16 hours of work, especially for someone who wasn’t yet 16. By the time I did turn 16, it was time to find a “real” job to pay for the gas I needed to put into my 1967 Chevy Impala, a car big enough for eight people, a car I paid $200 for.

But I still look back on those church cleaning days with fondness. When you clean a place, care for it, it becomes yours, a little. And for a while, that church was ours.

I haven’t been back there in a very long time. But that’s okay, I visit in my memory, often.

And there is a story about a mouse, but it’s a sad one.

I’ll just leave it at that.




this post is part of the scintilla project. see more here.


18 Responses to “church mouse
{scintilla day 1}

  • Brandee Says:

    Funny, the places that become our playgrounds. I love the idea of children running through the pews, voices raised in play, not intimidated by the sanctity of the building. This is what churches should be…places of joy.

  • prairie girl studio Says:

    oh, i loved being with you on your first job! i can just imagine the joy of playing and discovering and imagining ~ you were lucky kids!
    my very first ‘real’ job was as lifeguard and swimming instructor at a pool in the town nearest us. living in the country, i pretty much needed to be 16 to get a job so i could drive myself there. my first set of wheels was a 1968 red, two door ford falcon sports coupe which i believe my dad paid $400 for. the thing i remember about my first pay cheque was buying a snazzy clock radio and two new fluffy blue bath towels for my parents ~ that was the most gratifying thing of all : )
    so i can just imagine the stories your sweet impala could tell as could my ‘falcon eddy’ … now, those were real cars!
    love your words as always ~

  • Debi Says:

    THIS is what a first job should conjure up. secret tunnels and eyes that follow you. i can just see you in this place, running and playing and dusting. it sounds heavenly, pun not intended.

  • Stereo Says:

    Quelling a little squeak to say that this was my childhood too! On the Isle, we volunteered to clean the church every Saturday evening and I remember how me and my brother pelted around the place taking nothing seriously while our older sister revelled in her responsibilities.

    This was such a fantastic ticket to your past and reminds me again why I love this project.

  • Jeannine Says:

    Oh, what an intriguing place for a first job! You said you haven’t been back there in a long time? Can you go back? So many places, including the site of my first job (ice cream shop) are gone. I would love to go back and visit if I could.

  • brian miller Says:

    oh this brought back some fun memories….we used to stay after church…my dad a deacon and he would do things and we would play hide and seek all over the church…

  • Jason Says:

    I can’t ever get enough of your words. I don’t know why it takes something like Scintilla to make me venture out regularly but I am always so glad it did. Your words are wonderful, as always.

  • Kathryn Dyche Dechairo Says:

    This conjured up memories for me that I’d almost forgot. Like a poster I had in my bedroom with eyes that would follow me around the room and how I would go and help clean the bank with my mam and gramps whenever I would visit them. It always had a funny smell there. Love how the scintilla project evokes memories for us all and the best part is that we get to share them with one another.

  • Julie Jordan Scott Says:

    When I was a freshman in high school and a senior in college I cleaned houses, so I relate to the memories the scent of lemon pledge awakens in you. I don’t have a church home right now, but I love sitting inside sanctuaries. Next time I go, I will wonder if there is a little girl who dusts there… and by the way, love to hear about the monster Chevy Impala. My first car was a $400 1971 Ford Cortina. LOL.

  • Cristina Says:

    Oh yes, Lemon Pledge! I love that smell even now. If only all first jobs could have such memories. We’d all still be working them 🙂

  • Kim Says:

    Oh, man, this is magical.

    I think what I love the most (aside from the obvious playground of horrors and mysteries of the church itself) is the idea that it was something you did as a family. Yes, that church was definitely all of yours.

    And I’m going to thank you for leaving that mouse story just where it is.

    Warm hugs to you for telling this one. It’s going to stay with me for a while.

  • Paula Says:

    The scent of lemon pledge taking you back is something that I can totally identify with as pine sol does the same for me. It’s funny how something so simple can bring you back to a time where it meant so much.

  • Shannon W Says:

    So sweet, and so familiar and exotic and nostalgic and a little sad. Thank you.

  • Steve King Says:

    Terrific memoir. As I think I’ve said before–you are a fine essayist.

  • Michael Says:

    Ah, here we see the beginnings and background for a life of everyday magic and wonder.

  • Barbara Says:

    Fun story and I love the little mouse.

  • Barbara Says:

    What an awesome and creepy and wondrous place to be able to spend part of your childhood!!

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