Monday, September 6, 2010

The Great Milk Incident

"Go back in your room and make your bed." I have repeated that request to my son every morning. He does not have many chores around the house, make his bed, collect the garbage, small things like that. Once in a while we ask him to help with cleaning his room, and after a series of sighs and huffs, occasionally mans the vacuum cleaner. Not even an allowance is a incentive to do more chores. 

As a child I had similar chores, cleaning my room every Saturday morning before I can leave the house and taking out the garbage every night, were some of the regulars. An allowance was few and far between as money was on a tight leash. One thing my mother did when she found out that the community center in the project where I grew up had set up a milk program, she signed up right away. The milk cost about half of what the local supermarket was selling milk for so it was going to be a big savings in my house with four kids. The milk came in one style, quart containers of whole milk, no low fat or skim, and especially no soy as this was the seventies, where peanut butter was safe, white bread was healthy, and whole milk made the body strong.

The milk program was set up like this, you order a couple of days in advance how much milk you needed, then a few times a week you went to the community center to pay and pick it up. My mother would order the milk and it was my chore to go before school and pick up the milk. Even though your order is reserved, when you arrive at the center, you wait on a line and when you got to the table, an elderly lady would look up you name in a long, thin red leather ledger book. She would run her finger down the green pages, would stop at your name, check your order and pencil in your payment. I would wait on line with mostly elderly patrons, they all knew me and would let me move up to the front of the line if the delivery truck was late (as it was often) so I would not be late for school. I would collect my quarts in double bagged paper bags and walk home, making sure I had no leaky cartons and the count was accurate.

The weekday orders were easy, the milk would just need to last a couple of days before I lumbered out to the center to get a fresh order. The weekends were longer, a couple of extra quarts did not pose a problem, I would just take two bags and balance out the load, pretending my twelve year old body was holding up the pillars of an ancient castle and I needed to be strong as to not let the castle crumble. The bigger dilemma occurred on the long holiday weekends, where because of the Monday holiday, my pickups on Friday needed to last until the following Wednesday. That's where I needed a pair of extra hands to assist in my completion of the milk pickup, and my mother volunteered my older sister.

Now, my sister and I were not adversarial, in fact we pretty much got along on a regular basis, but this is my chore, I knew the routine and did not want my older sister commandeering my mission. The long weekends did pose a logistics issue and I knew I needed help, but when I found out the number of quarts my mother ordered, I knew problems were dawning. Twenty-one, my mother wrote down on the small envelope containing the payment. I stared at the number again, "Twenty-One?" "Yes, and take you sister with you, you will need the help." As we both leave the building, I am silent. Twenty-one, I say to myself, and with conjuring up my keen math skills, conclude that twenty-one does not divide equally into two, which means one of us will be shouldering the extra quart, and as manager of this mission, it will not be me. 

We arrive at the center and after introducing my sister to Benny, Eunice and the other elders running the milk program, we collect our order and are on our way home. I, of course, have two bags, each containing five quarts. My sister also has two bags, one with five and the other with five plus the twenty-first troublemaker. We get about fifty yards and my sister starts complaining to me about the extra weight and how heavy the bags are and I was mean by making my load lighter. I am getting annoyed with her and start complaining back about how I do this chore, how I have to come in the rain and snow and I miss the good cereal and playing before school and other stuff. Now we are standing on the corner, our bags on the floor and arguing. "I do not want to carry the extra one!" she says and takes it out of her bag and places the container in one of mine. I then proceed to grab it out of my bag and return it to hers. The situation is heating up as we both maintain our stance regarding the single quart. My sister is fuming now, picks up the quart, places it on the concrete sidewalk and starts to walk away. I pick up the quart, run up to her and drop it in her bag. She again takes out the quart, places it on the sidewalk and resumes walking. I am raging now, I have lost my command of the milk pickup and need to up my authority. I run up to the quart, grab it and yell to my sister, who is still walking, "I will leave this milk here if you do not come and take it!" She turns and smiles; as my sister, she knows that I am usually not an ultimatum kind of guy and eventually I will pick up the milk and follow her home. I grab the trouble maker and hold it over my head and call out my sister's name. She stops, expecting again for me to push the issue and resumes walking. As she turns I grip the quart and with all my might bring my arm down like a rocket, and with it the quart of milk. The sound the quart of milk makes as it meets the concrete sidewalk startles me, and I jump back from the explosion. Milk erupts around me like a wave crashing against a pier, as my blue Keds and school pants are splattered with creamy whole milk. My sister screeches as she watches me destroy number twenty one. 

After the incident, I pick up my bags and we both walk home in silence, and after calming down, realize I have to now explain to my mother that we "lost one" between the center and home. We walk up the two flights of steps and into out apartment. We take the bags and place them on the table for my mother to put away. My mother notices my pants are wet and asks what happen. My sister and I both look at each other and I tell my mother that one dropped as we walked home. My mother looks at me, then looks at my sister who seconds my account of the events. My mother is not happy and I am sad about the whole incident. I feel like I let down my mission, and my mother. From then on I always took the balance of the odd count, trying again not to let the columns of that castle crumble, even when there is an extra pillar.


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