The milkman arrived at 6:45 am every tuesday and friday for a new delivery. He brought the usual milk and cream and there were other items to choose that included chocolate milk, eggs and orange juice. Mom would greet mister milkman as we called him, wearing her pink robe, and slippers, and her grey matted hair was just as it were when she woke. Primming and pruning could be done after the family was on their way – dad off to work, and my brother and I off to school. Her pink robe, worn and tattered, should have been tossed, but there was nothing wrong with it as far as she was concerned. Mom would discover by accident a hole she hadn’t noticed and then find fabric for a patch with a color that was close but never exact sew it back together and was good enough to continue to wear for another 30 years, just as she did. Mister milkman didn’t seem to notice the holes or the tattered patched robe, and in the rare case where mom had overslept, he would leave the ‘usual’ order and she could pay him the next week for six bottles of milk, if you please with a half gallon of orange juice along with those dozen eggs. On special occasions there would be an order for chocolate milk in a bottle half the size, and so rare we couldn’t wait to have a taste on sunday afternoons, after church and good behavior. Good behavior didn’t happen very often.
Sunday mornings were the time go to church, all dressed fine and mom wore her best dress hand made with a hat that matched and dad wore his plaid pants and striped tie which always stirred a giggle considering he was color blind. My brother and I didn’t like church one bit. We arrived at church an hour early, so that we could attend sunday school, and with kindergarten I already had too much schooling in my opinion. Sometimes, the sunday school was fine. We painted and made pictures that our parents appreciated, as they must. For weeks our paintings would hang by magnet on the refrigerator, and soon there would be another and another, and then the magnet couldn’t hold them all. When we were off to school, Mom would remove the old paintings if you could call them that and we assumed she threw them out or mostly we never noticed they went missing. But she didn’t throw them out, she kept them all, as she did with everything. Mom knew something about hoarding or stowing stuff in boxes and bins as everything was too worthy to discard.
At church, my brother and I fidgeted, fought actually to the dismay and embarrassment of our parents. Mom was busy shushing us, and then the heads would turn from people in the pews all around us wondering how my mom would keep her unruly kids quiet. Church was a one hour practice in being quiet and mom did her best keeping us proper for that hour despite our fidgeting. It wasn’t as if we were addicted to sugar, though that would have been nice, as our diet consisted of milk from the milkman and meat from the butcher and whatever vegetables were stowed in the root cellar. We weren’t allowed, but my brother and I brought our favorite matchbox vehicle toys in our pockets to church and mom would give us a stern eye when she saw us playing with our toys.
Every 10 minutes or so the entire congregation would get up and sing. The choir had good singers who could keep a tune, but the people around us seemed oblivious to singing out of tune. They would sing loudly, and my mom would squint in disapproval. My brother and I mouthed the tunes, pretending we were adults and singing along like the rest of the people. I would make eye contact with my brother while the tune was going on and on and I’d whip out my favorite matchbox car, and he would grin and do the same. As long as mom hadn’t noticed, we had our toys out pretending to be riding down a freeway and then crashing into each others vehicle, trying to put the other vehicle out of commission. My brother had to win of course, that’s what older brothers do. He had to crash his vehicle hard into mine, and then he overcompensated and crashed too hard, and would not only wreck my car but cause a bruise on my hand. That led to a bout of pouting on my part, or maybe a loud ouch. But it was mostly pretend. He wasn’t as discrete as I and mom usually caught him red handed playing with the cars and mouthing the words while everyone was singing out of tune, and with a quick snap of her wrist my brother and I were back to pretending to be stern. Like the rest of the people.
By the time the sermon was over, everyone started shaking hands, and my brother and I shook each others hands too. We started shaking, overly shaking really, and then got to laughing out of control of course as kids do, and mimicking all of the people shaking hands all before mom noticed our bad behavior. A stern shush and a flick of her arm brought us back to strict obedience, and we mustered at least for a few minutes faces that were devoid of any emotion. Those faces broke the moment we looked at each other and then burst into more uncontrollable laughter, all to mom’s horror and disgrace. Dad was nowhere to be found, he was busy ushering old people who needed help moving up and down the aisles. Mom was at a disadvantage without dad by her side and we knew she would use the stern look and arm flick, but when dad was mad, someone could get into big trouble, and it was my job to make sure when it came to big trouble they picked my brother.
Finally we were outside of that church, but not home yet. My mom and dad had to talk to everyone, so my brother and I found a place next to the sidewalk, a fine stretch of dirt to have a matchbox road race, and we were back to competing with our little toys. Church was over, and while mom still didn’t approve of such unruly behavior, she was preoccupied with talking with her church friends and we took advantage of the time going unnoticed. I had my blue buick with a few dings and he had his ford mustang bright red of course and making vrrrrooom noises we traveled those vehicles off road in the flower garden in front of the church, in and out of the pansies and through the tulips and then hiding behind the rose bushes waiting to pounce as matchbox cars do when another car gets too close.
We could have spent the day chasing our matchbox cars, but mom eventually noticed us trampling the pansies and she was mortified with our behavior. She grabbed my hand and grabbed my brother’s arm and led us back to the car taking long brisk steps and we did our best in a full out run to keep up. She had enough embarrassment for the day, and wondered aloud what it would take for us to properly behave. This is a place of worship not a playground she would say and my brother and I would look at each other in the back seat wondering what the word ‘worship’ meant.
When we arrived home, it was time to take off these formal clothes and my brother and I would fling them off leaving them on the floor, which apparently was not proper. My mom would step into each of our rooms to make sure we were tidy, and of course we weren’t. I was less tidy than my brother. He was 2 years older and had learned the trick that he could fling clothing in drawers as opposed to the floor, with less repercussions. In my room the floor was a pillow of discarded clothing. Days worth of clothing that I had tried on and decided I didn’t want to wear it after all. Or clothing I may have worn for a day, and forgot to drop it into the laundry chute – the magical box in the middle of the hallway where you put your dirty clothes and they disappear until mom brings them back to you, air dried and crispy. I left my clothes on the floor to make everything easier to see and find I would tell my mom, but of course my mom didn’t see it that way and she would confine me to my room until I picked up everything off of the floor. Sometimes I stuffed clothes under the bed, but she would look and make me tidy up all the time my brother was taunting me from his room. I could hear the vrrrroooom sounds he was making with his matchbox and I wanted to play too, but I had to fold clothes. I wasn’t sure when the folding process would end, but after a while mom was satisfied or had given up.
Eventually it was time to eat the sunday dinner and mom let me out of my room. I hadn’t made the kind of progress she had hoped, but she wanted the family at the table all together to enjoy dinner. She had made a pot roast from the pressure cooker, and included the onions, potatoes and stewed canned tomatoes from the root cellar. Everything was cooked far too long and was mushy but mom called it tender and no one complained out loud. She always had a treat for dessert because dad liked desert and if we could just get through the dinner there would be something worth eating. Her favorite was making angel food cake which by itself is pretty tasteless and not sweet, but mom had a way of feeding dad’s sweet tooth and created a reddish sugary concoction that was so heavy, that once it was applied to the top of the angel food cake, the cake sunk to half it’s height.
The desert was a hit, and my brother asked if he could have a second slice with proper manners and all, and mom had long forgotten about our poor church behavior and happily granted his wish. I watched my brother with envy as he sunk his fork into that sweet treat, while I had to sit at the table, forcing down another 3 forkfuls of tasteless food which was some mandatory requirement as to how much food a child must consume before mom considers you properly nourished. I didn’t like the mushy meat and especially didn’t like the tomatoes that way. But I had to get down three more bites of food before my brother ate all of the desert. When no one looked, I did a pretend bite that landed in my open and waiting napkin, and followed that pretend bite with a lot of pretend chewing, as it had to look real.
No one seemed to notice except my brother who now saw this as his chance to get even for the trouble I got him into at church, and he pointed out that he saw me put my food in my napkin. What a tattle tale I yelled at him and mom stood up saying she would not have any of this behavior at the table and that both of us would be sent to our rooms. I thought I might not mind going to my room at least I wouldn’t have to eat these mushy tomatoes, but my brother hadn’t finished his second slice of sugary angel food and he did not want to be banished right yet. I looked at my brother with mean eyes as I could do as I waited for my second chance to stuff the second forkful into my napkin. This time he knew better than to tattle or else he would lose his chance to finish his dessert. We glared at each other from across the table, no longer talking, with a mutual understanding my hiding my food in my napkin and he stuffing another forkful of dessert, not wanting to have any outbursts that would make mom mad. Soon my 3 forkfuls had disappeared into my pants pocket, and my brothers forkfuls disappeared as well and there was peace in the house.
~~Fiction by J Wadsworth