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Why have I kept my clarinet years after the last time I marched in a football halftime or played in pep band during a basketball game? Am I attached to heavy red uniforms that transformed us to soldiers at the gates of Toyland? Maybe it was the endless unheated bus rides in the dead of winter after a late basketball game. I’m pretty sure it’s not the memory of a trombone player draining his spit valve.

I have kept my clarinet because it is important to me.

I paid for it myself with $10 a month payments earned by babysitting. Each month, my mom would drive me downtown and I’d take my dollar bills and odd coins to the counter in the back of Fawson’s music store to make my payment. I also bought reeds and books. Sometimes my mom supplemented me, but mostly I had been able to earn the $10 myself.

So what’s the big deal earning $10 in a month? I was making my money babysitting at the going rate of 50¢ per hour (ice-cream cones went for a nickle back then). This rate was not per child. They could bring in the neighborhood kids and it was still 50¢ per hour. Once I babysat in a trailer home during an earthquake that shook the trailer from side to side. Then the father came home with his girlfriend, got his son out of bed, packed a suitcase for the boy and loaded us all in the car. They dropped me off with $2.50. There was no bonus for the earthquake or for implicating me in his crime.

I babysat until 3am without time and a half. I babysat on New Year’s Eve without holiday pay. I babysat in a house that I swear was haunted.

I paced with crying babies for hours, played Shoots and Ladders until my eyes glazed over, and one summer when I was thirteen, I tended two brothers who were 12 and 10. I made meals, did the dishes, and cleaned up the house (mostly after the children were in bed), changed every type of diaper, and caught every type of cold.

So the end result? I valued that clarinet. It’s not how much we earn, it’s that we value the things we work for.

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