Mary Paula Hunter aka Paula Hunter
MPH aka PH is excited to post this new work--a Finalist at Glimmer Train!
MPH aka PH is excited to post this new work--a Finalist at Glimmer Train!ONE FOOD PEOPLE A story in 5 parts
Bacon grease in its semi hardened state is hard to take. Hard to take this yellowish white version of lard in a Del Monico peach can, knowing that not too long ago, you'd tipped the can's razor sharp edge to your lips in a dangerous bypassing of a juice glass. But that's where my mom stored the bacon grease, in cans once full of my favorite flabby fruit slugs suspended in the most satisfying drink apart from pre-set strawberry Jell-O. She filled these beautiful green cans little by little, layering liquid grease over hardened grease until the can could hold no more. Bacon consumption was usually halted until a new can of peaches was finished off. With 6 kids in the house, you'd think empty cans would appear at a rapid rate but I hid opened cans of peaches behind the large Aunt Jemima cookie jar until I personally polished the whole thing off. Took longer than you'd think as I've always been good at rationing.
We were one-food people. My brother Thaddeus, called Little Buddy, only ate Campbell's Tomato soup simmered in whole milk. He insisted, sitting in his bulbous brown snowsuit-all year long-that there be unincorporated chunks of tomato pulp within this milky red pool. Stirring was a judicious affair. At twelve, he added apples to his list, stockpiling cores behind the Lazy Boy. Dad on the other hand, was addicted to popcorn popped in the all-important bacon grease.
On most nights after a long steaming bath-a personal performance venue Dad found perfect for tirades aimed at stupid editors at work, do-gooders, and anyone associated with the army--he heated a scoopful of the solid grease in a blackened tin pot. Then, he tossed in way too much popcorn. The smell of sizzling bacon fat dissolving and flowing from its home base, that is the neatly striped bacon strip, is invigorating (as a kid I associated bacon frying and the splattering of its fat all over the stovetop with the stories of Paul Bunyan) but the same fat melting from a secondary state produces a putrifying odor. This, I believe, is a fact. However, I tolerated this nauseating smell as soon as the furious and seemingly never ending firing of Dad's popcorn artillery pushed the pot's lid so high, it actually tipped off, fell to the worn linoleum, bounced around and hissed in a final landing on the top of my father's barefoot.
Screaming, delicious swearing, hopping on one foot and more shooting popcorn came next. WONDER SALVE, WONDER SALVE he shouted pointing to the ceiling as popcorn flew around like indoor fireworks. This was an order we all understood having had this magical salve globed on our cuts and burns many times since Dad's friend who believed in the superiority of his homemade medicines gave us a crate of the brown jars imprinted with the yellow letters: WONDER SALVE. Younger sister Pippa, if she was breathing, always took off for the second floor in a quick retrieval of an already-opened jar. As the protector of everyone in the family and the only one who couldn't abide life in a warzone, she acted fast in a crisis. Her quick response time and her amazing anticipation of all emergencies made her the unofficial manager of the wars and disasters of our daily life. But if she lay under an oxygen tent at Sparrow Hospital or just gasping for breath in one room or another, I'd rush to the upstairs medicine cabinet where little blobs of hardened turquoise toothpaste decorated the shelves along with other globules of dried toiletries, often with a single hair sticking out of them like a sapling anchored in asphalt. Screwing tops on toothpaste tubes or on the cute blue jars of Vicks Vapor Rub showed a lot of depressing forethought and an acknowledgement that grand schemes should be suppressed in favor of day-to-day concerns.
Lucky for me, Pippa even in a breathless state could manage to smooth the brown salve over any of Dad's burns of the feet or hands. By 7, she'd met most of Dad's medical needs, anyway, including the extraction of an infected molar. She had the touch, he always said through clenched teeth or between loud commands to the Lord our God. Besides the rest of us were too busy to help, consumed as we were in lapping the popcorn straight off the floor, me with my nose pinched due to the nauseating smell of the still odoriferous bacon grease.
Finally Dad, no longer howling in pain, could return to the preparation of his favorite bedtime snack. Popping the popcorn was only step one. Step two was simpler: he scooped out of the blazing pot a mountain of popcorn, using a wide and deep serving bowl instead of a regular cereal or soup bowl. To our delight, this resulted in an overflow, a second-albeit punier--downpour and like the dogs we never owned since the stray Dad brought home bit Little Buddy's upper lip off, we scrambled on all fours with tongues extended, competing for this sparser crop. Next, Dad oblivious to the crunch beneath his feet, padded to the refrigerator where he poured milk over this heap, creating a deep albino lake with a lumpy mountain in the middle. You babies wouldn't like this, he said, sitting at the kitchen table behind this oversized receptacle, holding high a large silver plated serving spoon, perfect for shoveling the instantly decomposing popcorn protrusion into his cave-like mouth.
You're right I responded silently, too busy searching for and claiming the vanishing popcorn to respond out loud. My reason for living, outside of canned peaches and canned peach juice, was CAPTAIN CRUNCH. A mean cereal capable of tearing up an entire mouth but especially the upper palate where its deep golden ridges tore into the thin skin like ice skate blades on soft ice. A box of the stuff could not survive long since it was too big to hide, I often got no more than a handful but what a handful it was! As I sat back on my haunches, savoring a last mouthful of popcorn I watched Dad gulp with a wolf's ferocity the greasy milky congealing and quickly disappearing mush. You don't know what you're missing I thought. I'd never trade the sweet cruelty of CAPTAIN CRUNCH for something so soft and vague it made PUFFED RICE look uptight.
By ten I had discovered two reliable accomplices in the nightly ritual of ridding my dinner plate of all food. First and best were baked potato skins and next was my younger, sickly sister who'd do anything to get me and our older sister, named Queen Libby, to like her or at least to provide her with moments not like those found in most Ingmar Bergman movies. Named Pippa, she ran an underground railroad for abandoned or unwanted food. She only wanted peace now that I look back on it. You would too if your asthma was a near constant, landing you under claustrophobic oxygen tents in Sparrow Hospital and your skin bled through your white blouses due to raging eczema. Born before steroids was her bad luck.
But as eager as she was to aid and abet, Pippa was not the first choice, that honor went to the nearly always present baked potato. The beauty of this excellent agent of surreptitious food disposal resided in the action required to clean the thing out, namely the scraping and spreading of the yellowy potato pulp. A diner appeared to be involved in the process of eating when in reality, the fake eater-me--was more like an excavator and dirt spreader. I began by splitting the potato and plopping in some butter. I even shook some salt over the oozing butter just to create a true to life scene. Then, I scraped out the pulp, better known as the potato itself and flattened the stuff, patting it attentively with the back of the fork as if I preferred neat food. I enjoyed the final subterfuge the best--spreading the potato pulp around the plate, clear to the edges with fork tines, thinning it so that it miraculously dematerialized. Who said that nothing comes from nothing and vise versa? I got nothing from the insides of a rather large, pesticide riddled potato which I guarantee started as something. The stuff disappeared before my eyes! Hatch marks were all that remained. Helped that our plates were off white and interestingly cracked providing a nice canvas for potato camouflage.
The next step was trickier as it involved watching adult eyes carefully as meat loaf, turnips, boiled spinach, etc. were stuffed into the empty potato skin cavities. This was time consuming and somewhat nerve wracking. Glasses of warmish whole milk were sometimes tipped over, butter plates were sometimes thrown, the end of the world as we know it was occasionally predicted along with the offering of a few gambling tips but the stuffing did go on. By this I mean the disappearance of all food except for the much loved blob of Jell-O. Exceptions to the latter: if the Jell-O was jazzed up with unseeded grapes, it too must go. Crunching into a grape seed is very painful. Unfortunately the only way to know the state of the often added grapes-seeded or unseeded--was to sample one which was like playing Russian Roulette but did illustrate actual eating.
If, however, there were scalloped, mashed, riced, or boiled potatoes in place of the baked potato, I winked at Pippa. She ate everything. A miracle, I thought as the rest of us designed our own methods for food disappearance. My brother Woody's methods seemed typically direct. His big hands were always in fists by his sides. Now and then he'd uncurl them, letting bits of ground beef, squash, and congealed yellow noodles fall through the register grate beneath the back legs of his chair. That's why he always sat there! Always across the table from me sat Pippa, a born collaborator. After the winked signal, she'd extend her itchy hands under the table and when no one was looking I ducked under to deposit my entire dinner, item by item. All of this had been negotiated. I mean she wasn't stupid, just desperate. A bargain might go like this: I won't tell Mom I hate her tomorrow if you take my food tonight. I promise! She asked for no material objects (I did offer a ring I'd stolen from Queen Libby but she thought better of accepting stolen goods for second hand food) just peace and besides she claimed to really like the food Mom made.
Every year on the day after the day school ended in June, my parents shipped most of us kids to South Dakota to live with my Dad's folks. That is everyone who was breathing, meaning that generally one or two asthmatics had to stay back in East Lansing. One year in a startling change of plans, they sent Pippa, the most asthmatic of us all in late July. Her breathing had improved after a recent stay at Sparrow Hospital and Dad thought it would be a gas to surprise Grandma and Grandpa with a stray grandchild. His scheme for plunking a kid down on his parents' doorstep, unbeknownst to them, began when a printer Dad met at work bragged about an upcoming trip to the Corn Palace where he planned on getting Lawrence Welk's autograph. He'd bought a new Jet Star 88 and was itching to get it out on the long stretches of highway through the cornfields of Iowa and then Minnesota. Dad knew the car wasn't really new but that didn't bother him, it was a free ride to South Dakota for Pippa and a great story to boot. He wrote us a postcard with the following inscrutable message: 5 YEAR OLDER HITCH HIKES FROM MICHIGAN TO SOUTH DAKOTA TO FIND GRANDPARENTS. Pippa admitted to screaming and kicking when hoisted in the backseat but was soon pacified when the printer's girlfriend gave her what she claimed were a million Lik-M-Aid packets. Find the Publisher of the Madison Daily Leader Dad shouted as they pulled away. Mom cried when the printer waved and tossed a cigar out the window. Smoke was tough on Pippa's lungs, she told me later between sobs. I told her negligence made her unique, at least amongst the mothers I'd met in my dual existence in East Lansing, Michigan and Madison, South Dakota.
Grandpa however wasn't negligent but he wasn't about to let an orphan into the house, especially one who couldn't talk or wouldn't. As one of the pillars of the community, he got asked for money, a lot. The town actually demanded that he help pay for the new clock on the bank. Grandma said it was such a nuisance to be famous and well-respected. And to Grandpa's credit, he did give Pippa a chance. Said he asked her full name and the full names of her parents. At least he said he did. Queen Libby was doubtful because he seemed to be off in la la land, a lot. But I can just imagine Pippa's scabby face staring through the screen door, not even looking up at Grandpa's scary blue eyes shining through his wire-rimmed glasses. Lucky for her, Queen Libby heard another faint knock as she poured half a glass of perfectly good orange Kool-Aid into a cactus plant Grandma kept in the front foyer. She never finished anything, even Kool-Aid because she was preparing for all the parties she'd attend at college where she said it was considered gauche to drain a glass or eat more than half a grilled cheese sandwich. Anyway, Queen Libby reluctantly opened the door for the blue-tongued girl, letting her know right off the bat that she had dibs on the sugar cubes Grandma kept in a pretty crystal jar on the tea table.
Unfortunately, before anyone knew it, Pippa was wheezing up a storm. Something about the heat (100 degrees at 7 a.m. when our weeding chores began) made Pippa's improved condition, as she called it, worsen. Slumped over her weeding bucket, she literally sucked on air. One morning during the first or second week after her surprise arrival, I yanked her upright but this resulted in her tumbling backwards into Grandma's beloved peonies. No one admitted to knowing the truth about those crushed beauties although I considered collaborating when Grandma threatened us with kool-aid rationing unless we divulged the truth. Luckily, her eye caught the glint of Pippa's empty metal bucket and she switched gears quite dramatically, taking the opportunity to deliver, in her oversized bra and girdle, a short sermon on the sins of omission (a rootless weed) and the sins of commission: the hard to define act of haphazard or random weeding. Queen Libby was admonished for asking if this was truly a sin since even random weeding resulted in fewer weeds and wasn't the goal, no weeds? Lucky for Queen Libby, Grandma's maid, Mrs. Hanson suddenly appeared to drag Grandma inside so that none of her fellow Methodists associated her (Mrs. Hanson) with the sin of near nakedness. Somewhat contrite and wanting to free herself of Mrs. Hanson's powerful, wrenching grip, Grandma asked Mrs. Hanson for forgiveness, let Queen Libby off the hook for her disrespectful ways and in a last act of generosity, allowed Pippa to go inside where she was to help Mrs. Hanson fold the napkins for Grandma's impending Current Events Club luncheon.
Before quitting time (at 12:30 Mrs. Hanson rang a bell), I staged a fake bathroom visit and found Pippa standing on a chair, her face right up against the vents on the big air conditioner, sucking on frozen air. This therapy seemed to work but had nothing close to the curative powers of what lay at the bottom of the tall, bottom-heavy highball glasses Grandma and Grandpa left each night on the green felt card table where they prepared for Bridge tournaments with two imaginary opponents.
A highball, by the way, has nothing to do with balls but Queen Libby said that it had something to do with being high and that's what Pippa was, I guessed, after I let her drain these glasses. I got her started on a dose of the gold liquid after I saw Mrs. Hanson, one morning, dip her finger straight to the bottom of one such glass and then vigorously rub her front teeth, the way girls at a sleep over brush their teeth when they've forgotten to pack a toothbrush. Helps just about any kind of pain she said as she plopped some warmed up, oatmeal into my bowl. Put some in here, I said pointing to my old gray breakfast. She said it didn't work on pains unless you drank it or rubbed it straight on the problem. Besides she said I didn't have any aches and pains. True but Pippa's constant wheezing and whining made sleep impossible and that was becoming a pain, especially when the weeding wake up call was 6 a.m.
That night, I waited to hear Grandma and Grandpa stop arguing over who made a dumber play and stumble off to bed. Then, I slipped out of the twin bed I shared with Pippa, sneaking back with the highball glasses. As I coughed and sputtered over my sample, Pippa drained her glass and begged for more. Tomorrow, I promised as I ran the glasses back, placing them squarely on the coasters with the Indian heads painted in reds and bronze. For the rest of the summer, she wheezed, to be sure, but sleep came over her quickly after she waited patiently for the last drip to roll onto her outstretched tongue and I finally fell asleep to the gentle whine of her labored breathing. It was a much softer wheeze and the coughing completely disappeared. I loved it when she hugged me even if Queen Libby called us lesbos and drunkards.
Sunday night was almost always a reprieve from the daily war on people's feelings. With 8 of us in the family, there were a lot of feelings and as a rule we left none untrampled but by Sunday evening we needed to take a breath, something we did crowded on to the stained red davenport, younger ones on the floor slumped against the coffee table. Dazed, with a few of us wiping away tears or rubbing a recent point of contact, we aimed ourselves at the not-quite green metal television set tucked far off in a corner of the somewhat cavernous room.
Little Buddy, the youngest, and an expert crawler was the channel changer. Before he could read, he knew what was on when and on which of the three channels. Rising to his knees, his onesie pajamas stretched taut over his unusually tall frame, he flipped from one channel to the next before the ending credits appeared. He's sharp, Dad said shaking his head. Other than Dad's short pointed observations, talking was absolutely not allowed and by extension screaming, hair pulling, skin twisting, limb yanking, kicking as well as any other dialogue obscuring activity. Violators were banished to a bedroom. I was banished once for refusing to can my whimpering. For some reason, I couldn't digest the idea of the "reprieve". I wanted to prolong the war of the week but everyone else wanted to find out who killed the teacher in PERRY MASON.
Accompanying Ed Sullivan, Perry Mason, Bonanza, and the Disney Special was the typical Sunday night dinner, served in the living room. This meal included and was limited to hot cocoa topped with hardened mini marshmallows, lemonade with ice splinters (Dad often hit the metal ice cube tray with a hammer as the lever meant to release the cubes never worked), popcorn, and truly the piece de resistance: stove top fudge. The chalky, perfect for gnawing, fudge came in two shapes. First there was a plate of fudge chunks or chunkettes. Cutting anything in a mind numbing pattern the product of which would be uniformly shaped pieces wasn't Mom's long suit, as she said. That involved too much small-minded attention to keeping a sharp knife sharp and a mind focused on a task rather than on the unfairness of all expectation. She seemed to enjoy presenting us with fudge oddities. Triangles with a point lopped off, ultra thin rectangles, tiny indeterminate pieces-closer to a crumb than a real piece. One assumed that she hacked rather than cut.
Second was a stack of fudge topped graham crackers. Along with the popcorn, the crackers in this simple concoction satisfied the not quite heard of nutritional categories of grain and fiber. The ultra cold lemonade, in our opinion, quite adequately fulfilled the fruit and/or vegetable category. But this unnamed item-Graham Crackers with Fudge--was much more than its parts due to the wonder of stove top fudge and what it did for the humble graham cracker and vise versa. Crunchy and chewy were these delicacies as well as deeply flavorful because the chocolate was made more lush, if that is possible, against the backdrop of the rather bland cracker. A perfection in food melding one upped I thought only by the malted milk ball. The big problem with Mom's version and I have to admit I thought and still believe that she invented this wonderment, was that she stacked most of the crackers after smearing on the thick swath of smooth chocolate. Unfortunately this was like brick laying, the result being a sturdy wall which crumbled when pried apart. We all knew that plate throwing or graham cracker destruction would ensue (Mom's hands were big enough to grind a big stack in one scrunching handful) if anyone chipped the crackers or broke any part of the cracker wall in an attempt to extract one slab off the top. Hence stacks of fudgey graham crackers often went untouched. Luck was a stray cracker or two, hanging precariously off the too small plate as she whisked in from the kitchen with a saucer held high on her enormous outstretched palm.
A happier bunch could not be found, I am certain. The food was to everyone's liking (even those who strictly adhered to a single food diet made an exception for this array) and the varied entertainment miraculously appealed to everyone. And why wouldn't we each find something to like? Every guest on The Ed Sullivan show displayed awe-inspiring talents, more brilliant than anything we'd ever seen in East Lansing, Michigan, except when JFK's motorcade tooled down Michigan Avenue right in front of our house. Dad may have thought it typical of a Catholic to be so flashy but he didn't mind Topo Gigio, an adorable talking puppet from Italy of all places and a regular on the Sullivan show. The line up was world class: Cassius Clay, Maya Plisetskaya, or the Beatles all of whom entertained us so well, the show was the family favorite. Close runner up was the spectacular ranch program, Bonanza, a drama stuffed with impossibly handsome men for us girls (we didn't know about Woody back then) and featuring guns, horses, and wide open spaces for the guys. Sure, there were a few nights when Mom knew we were out to prove her inferiority. Certainly one such episode was the out of the blue vomiting by one kid or the other, an indication that there was something wrong with her fudge or was it the lemonade? But all in all, superior entertainment along with a crowd-pleasing menu transformed a living room of battles to one of warmth and harmony.
The Lucon Theater in downtown East Lansing, Michigan was a place right below Valley Court Park on my father's list of where to herd his 6 children. I'd say it was 5 on a list of 10 and not a place any of us found particularly special even though the candy selection was great. No greater than the Rexall, however, and the Rexall also sold cosmetics which meant it had samples of makeup anyone could fool with-not just grown ups. Certainly the Lucon's candy offerings were no greater than those found on the shelves of the newsstand at the MSU student union, which also displayed magazines like PLAYBOY and the more graphic, HUSTLER. Valley Court Park sold no candy but had the advantage of being across from the new eatery, McDonalds. We all agreed that being whirled around on the Merry Go Round by our stampeding father as we screamed and clutched a bag of fries or squeezed the waxy cup of a chocolate shake was much more satisfying than sitting in a movie--the subject of which we rarely understood--trading Dots for Black Crows.
Still, with a quarter a piece, we had 30 boxes of candy between us and this did make for a mouth-tingling experience, once our eyes adjusted to the dark so that we could find each other's hands for a trade. Sampling 20 to 30 candies in the dark made us expert tasters and soon we didn't care that THE BELOVED was a bit over our heads. We were busy--preferring participation to anything passive--identifying jaw breaker flavors, prying apart our teeth stuck fast by a Milk Dud or a Sugar Daddy, ripping a Lik M Aid wrapper and gambling that the first sprinkle of sour sugar on an outstretched tongue was lemon not lime.
Fights erupted mainly over the toys found at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box. Trades were often regretted and returns demanded much to the outrage and refusal of the person on the receiving end of a plastic ring or charm. At this point, Dad, who typically spent the two darkened hours roaming the theatre commenting occasionally in a loud voice on the action up on the screen would stand in front of our row, demanding that we stop fighting and that we eat our Milk Duds. He now and then checked our Milk Dud boxes to be sure that we'd polished them off because his only demand when doling out the quarters was that we ate what he ate as a boy. No Milk Duds, no money and a full or even half full Milk Duds box was cause for a loud verbal thrashing which embarrassed my older sister, Queen Libby, cowering as she did when people behind us began demanding that Dad move or sit down and that we all shut up. On more than one occasion the usher, whose burgundy uniform decorated in gold piping and fringe was a source of great envy, reminded us to stop whispering so loudly. People had complained, he said.
Rarely was the weekly movie at the Lucon of interest to any one of us 6 kids. Of course there were exceptions. I remember a wintery day, snuggling in the velvet seat when a scene caught my eye. It was Piper Laurie in nothing but a slip stroking Paul Newman's forehead, consoling him after his thumbs were brutally broken for a reason I didn't understand. This movie, THE HUSTLER seemed to mean something to our father, however, who provided a kind of solo Greek chorus as he paced back and forth in the wide aisle behind the last row, spitting out the same lines in a nice rhythm: Oh, he's playing with fire! You can't do that! You can't do that! Oh, he's playing with fire!
Queen Libby covered her ears and bent foreward in her seat, fearing that per chance another kid in town was forced to attend these inscrutable movies on Saturday afternoon and would link her to this chanting weirdo in the back. No such misfortune. The sparse audience was made up of people we'd never seen. Random adults and some college students we hoped would use the opportunity to kiss and fondle each other.
On another occasion, I noticed that the two people on the screen were black. This I'd never seen. I'd been to the adjacent and reviled city of Lansing so I'd seen black people on the streets but never in a movie. Something about the way the black man held the black woman's wrist-not brutally but passionately like a prelude to a kiss or perhaps something more intense-caught my attention and I stopped fishing in the bottom of the Cracker Jack box for stray peanuts. Then the next thing I know, Dad is getting us all up. Let's go, let's go, let's go. Candy boxes not yet emptied fell on the cement. Someone's Necco roll threatened to escape, rolling as it was down the sloping cement floor. One of us was crying-undoubtedly the owner of the Neccos. And the next thing that I remember is squinting hard in the sunlight, outside of a door we'd never used before, preferring as we did to exit the way the we entered through the red carpeted lobby, breathing in the wonderful odor of popcorn saturated in fake butter. The 6 of us stood in shock, clutching our remaining candy boxes, blinking in the sunlight and looking at each other for an answer. Why were we so lucky to get the candy without having to endure another boring movie? It must've been Queen Libby who snapped us out of our stupor and signaled us to follow Dad who was charging ahead, his long coat flapping in the wind, spouting something none of us could hear.
Even to this day, noise made by people makes me nervous. Growing up, we couldn't close the car door hard enough to get it to shut because the noise of car doors shutting really bothered my father. Now and then, a friend would slam the car door shut before I could warn her and my father would seize up like an unoiled lock and then he'd scream and then he was fine.
Both my parents described people by the way they shut car doors. "He's smart, he shuts it with barely a tap," my father whispered to my mother who nodded approvingly.
Clicking on a light or worse, the snappy noise when you turned it off sent both parents into spasms. "A light switch can't be used over and over like that".
We often sat in the dark, trying not to make any noise. Sometimes we'd build a fire in the fireplace. The crackling noise of burning kindling was fine--no people involved, hopefully. We faced the fire, squeezed onto our old red sofa, except Dad, who lay motionless on his back right next to the fire. My eyes were glued to the flames as they wrapped around the shifting pile of logs. I was scared, imagining the logs barreling out of the grate through the metal mesh fireplace curtain, setting ablaze my sleeping father who looked like an unwrapped mummy, listening in his sleep to the cracks and pops of this out-of-control indoor bonfire. Finally, I screamed as the logs rushed out and his white office shirt was covered with orange jewel-like bits of fire.
At one point, we decided that as a family we would only whisper. My father thought that the human voice was too unpredictable and that if we always spoke in hushed tones, he'd know what to expect. Unfortunately, our friends weren't allowed to play with us anymore because their mothers thought we were all sick.
Somehow time became as big a problem as noise. Managing, controlling, actually expanding time became our mission. Five minutes can equal an hour if you really try. This theory was tested in the grocery store, mainly. The four of us kids were dispatched throughout the store right when we got there; my father immediately got in the shortest available check out line. We ran frantically, whispering to ourselves the items we were to retrieve. Cornflakes, Pop tarts, cottage cheese, Wonder Bread, Fruit Cocktail, Jell-O--any flavor, Miracle Whip, Olive Loaf, Glad Wrap, and so on.
As Dad got closer to the cashier, we panicked; our grocery cart was only half full. We sped like little cartoon characters up and down the aisles, sometimes crashing into each other. We weren't allowed to get freezer items until Dad had begun unloading our food onto the conveyer belt. He was desperately afraid of the frozen food melting. I used my arms like a basket as my sister tossed frozen juice cans at me. Hunched over; using my chin to keep the cans from spilling out of my numb, tingly arms, I waddled as fast as I could down the aisles. My sisters were behind me with stacks of ice cream, Popsicles, frozen peas, etc. Dad was already bagging up the food. He threw the money down, got his change and bolted out of the electric door like he'd been shot from a cannon. We followed, wheeling the groceries out and loading them onto the floor of our Chevy Bel Air. He drove with an urgency most people reserve for emergencies. But this was an emergency, he muttered to himself, "the ice cream is melting".
At home, we grabbed the bags out of the car and crashed through the screen door. We formed a receiving line at the fridge. The freezer and fridge could be opened no longer than 20 second which Dad timed on the stove clock. We tore through the bags for the cold stuff, throwing them into the fridge. Once the door was shut, it couldn't be reopened for hours, Dad said.