Janet Sheridan: Lessons learned slowly

Janet Sheridan/For Craig Press
Janet Sheridan
Courtesy photo

As long as I lived under my mother’s roof, she tried to thwart my slothful and selfish tendencies. First, she insisted I complete my assigned daily tasks; she said they were my contributions to our family, but I knew they were chores.

Being the middle girl, I drew the distasteful jobs: Barbara did pretend work — pairing freshly laundered socks and putting away toys; Carolyn was assigned skilled tasks — ironing and cooking. Meanwhile, I stuck my head in an oven filled with noxious cleaner fumes and scraped away layers of grease and burned-on splotches of food.

So I resorted to evasive tactics: sneaking away to the bedroom with a book, saying my stomach ached from Carolyn’s breakfast pancakes or insisting I couldn’t concentrate on scrubbing the kitchen floor while Barbara threw alphabet blocks at the toy chest. I can still see Mom’s disappointed look when she found me sitting on the porch steps counting ants and said, “Janet, you know what you have to do. Now go do it.”

Though I obeyed Mom with noisy self-pity, I learned to work in her home, to do a job well and to take pride in doing so — useful qualities to take with me into the world.

Once she’d convinced me of the necessity of working, Mom attacked my self-centeredness. The notion that I should look beyond my wants and find ways to help others didn’t come naturally to me; so she helped. “Janet, you know Mr. Jenkins had an accident and will be in the hospital for some time. And you know the Jenkins have four children too young to take care of themselves. Can you think of a way to help them?”

“Uh, I don’t know, Mom. Maybe you could make their dinner sometime.”

“Or maybe you could do something, Janet. Maybe you could call Mrs. Jenkins and tell her you would be happy to stay with her children — without pay — whenever she wants to visit Mr. Jenkins in the hospital. And maybe you could make that call right now.”

Sighing, I slouched toward the phone.

In college, without the supervision of my mother, I returned to my self-indulgent ways. After all, I had classes to attend, books to study, dates to enjoy and card games to play. During those four years, I remember doing one charitable act, and it was pitiful: My roommates and I were downtown shopping when, filled with Christmas spirit, we dropped our loose change in a Salvation Army bell-ringer’s bucket. Then, we treated ourselves to lunch at the Bluebird Café and felt virtuous.

I graduated with a teaching degree, a husband and continued obliviousness about acts of charity. Busy establishing myself in a career and a new marriage, I felt I had no helping hands to lend; so I participated in food drives, purchased whatever children were selling and deemed myself a worthy member of my community.

Then, I met and married a man who made civic involvement a way of life and expressed surprise that I didn’t. Joel worked longer hours than I, yet still found time to volunteer in various capacities. His efforts made my “I’m too busy adjusting to a new town and learning a new job” argument seem silly. So, with his help, I finally developed a belief in caring for others, an attitude already held by many people in our small town.

This Christmas season, as in Christmases past, compassionate folks will do everything they can to provide a Merry Christmas for the children of Craig. God bless them, each and every one.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at on the first and 15th of every month.

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