He raised the object in his hands. He held it up like an offering, a white box wrapped in a silver ribbon labeled Angie’s Candies. She didn’t understand as she slowly, tentatively slipped one loose end away and the wrapped ribbon fell to the side. With shaking hands she peeled back the top lid to reveal a silver key inside.
“Joe?” Angie stammered. “Joe, what’s going on?”
“If you start a journey downhill, don’t forget the end of the journey will be a climb uphill. But if you start uphill…you can coast easy at the end.”
Joe had always been active one way or another. When he was younger it was running and now in his later years, the knees had gone and cycling had taken its place. He loved the outdoors used his time to not only keep fit but also to clear his head. He used running or cycling as a metaphor to his three kids at the right times, but for Angie and their new store in the new wing of the somewhat-newer Peoria train station, it was almost a daily affirmation.
“We may be going up hill, Ange, but don’t forget…” Sometimes Angie would finish the rest while other times, the unfinished sentiment hung in the air like the scent of cocoa and sugar.
The store had a strong start as can be expected for a Grand Opening year and a show of community support. But even with an economy on the rise and Caterpillar hiring once more, Angie’s Candies was not a booming success. Throughout their struggles, Joe kept finding ways to pull them through. Angie did her part, too. She found new recipes that lowered costs without lowering her high standards of confectionery convictions. Joe visited the manufacturing plant at break and lunch times along with the roach coaches selling their chips and days old sandwiches. He knew the guys would love some of Angie’s chocolate covered cashews or almonds and even brought a few truffles along as well. Joe and Angie never opened shop on the Lord’s day, but they were known to bring a box to Sunday school and if you happened to like it, well, they might have a few more boxes with them to sell for you to take home for the family.
Bit by bit, penny by penny, and bark by almond bark, somehow Joe and Angie trudged through the early years while still managing to create a home where their children were provided for and loved. It was, at times, a meager and frugal life, but onward up hill they climbed.
It wasn’t until the union strikes of 1992 that Joe and his family stood at the edge of a cliff, not knowing if their simple but rich lives were about to unravel at its seams. Joe had run out of ways new ways to attract business, and with the plant on strike, the tightened purses would not, could not indulge in fudge.
One late September evening while Angie closed up shop and the kids played checkers on the storeroom floor, the door opened abruptly and in its frame, Joe’s silhouette stood, breathing heavy from his now more frequent evening runs. He took Angie by the hand and lead her to the back counter, out of earshot of the kids who were too engrossed in kings and double jumps to listen anyway.
“Angie, I know what I have to do, but you’re not going to like it,” Joe started. He had the look in his eye that Angie had grown to know quite well. It was the look that Joe made when he had made up his mind. His eyes seemed to be set deep and their gaze always beyond that which he was looking. His jaw was slightly off kilter and his hands were rested on his hips.
Angie looked up trying to read his thoughts, wondering what he could possibly do that didn’t mean giving up on the business. That wasn’t Joe’s way. But with the accounts the were on the verge of past due and the strike seeming to have no end, Angie couldn’t imagine what other way they could go but to lay this dream to rest.
“What is it, Joe? What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to go back to the plant and work the late shift. They are hiring scabs and I’m going to take the late shift. That way you can still be here and the kids can even help out after school. The late shift makes time and a half and I’ll be able to come in after and set up shop before you get here in the morning. It won’t be the most…”
“No,” interrupted Angie, “no, you’ve kept and built up to many friendships with those workers. If you go scab now, they’ll never forget it. Even if the strike ends, they won’t come around the store afterwards either.”
The silence hung thick and oily in the air. Angie looked at Joe.
“I’ll call down to Emilio’s and see if they still need that night waitress they had a sign for. I saw it go up a couple of days ago. Fran had to quit on account of her mother being sick.”
“I can’t let you do that,” Joe protested.
“Joe, yes you can and yes you will,” she commanded and Joe knew from that look on her face that it was not up for debate.
“Well, okay then, Ange, call him up.”