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My Great Uncle Hugo’s tool shed tilted toward the edge of the hill.

To enter, you had to place your left foot on the door jamb and pull the rope knot with both hands. The warp against opening was powerful. Inside the reliquary, tools that had rusted shut years ago lay swabbed in sheets of cobwebs, hand tools like the Low-angle Sweetheart Blade, and a Yankee screwdriver.

Weekdays for forty-seven years Hugo, Aunt Bea’s right-hand-man, sat behind his uncluttered mahogany desk on the 19th floor of the Pittsfield Building in the Chicago Loop. He wore a three-piece suit, brown and white spectators, and a gold pinky ring, in the shape of a snake with diamond and ruby eyes. He’d answer the phone, “Shay Employment Bureau and Medical Agency, Blanche L. Shay, Director,” while filing his fingernails or reading the Chicago Tribune

When he turned one-hundred-two, he told us that avoiding manual labor throughout his life had indeed contributed to his health and longevity—a lesson he’d learned from an early experience so indelible it confirmed his occupational course. He raised his hand to eye level and turned the index finger to the light, while he explained an incident that happened ninety-two years earlier. While fixing his bicycle chain, the pedal slipped and the loose chain sliced off a good bit of the “meat” from the top of that finger.


Jean Cassidy Summer, 2015

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