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Crying Over Spilt Milk--Quite Literally

Updated on August 24, 2013

It Was a Dark And Stormy....Day

Oh, how the rain did pour; oh, how the wind howled. Oh, how rotten I felt. I was home sick from school,. At only ten years of age, my mother never liked to leave me home by myself, and especially if I was sick.

My mom was the typical 1950's stay-at-home mother/housewife. She was always there for me, helping with crafts, available for questions, playing games.

This day, however, I felt too crummy to do anything but stay in bed. As luck would have it, my timing was bad, and there was no "sickie food" ** in the house. I should have made an appointment, instead of letting the flu catch up with me at random.

Well, poor mother had to run to the store for some sickie food and cough medicine. My mom did not drive, (few mothers did in those days), and in any case, we had only one car which my dad drove to work.

Luckily, the little mom-and-pop grocery where we then did our shopping was only a block away, so mom walked to the store almost daily. This particular day, however, she kept stalling, waiting for a break in the weather.

** "Sickie food" equates to comfort food that goes down easily, especially on a sore throat. We had no ice cream, applesacue, graham crackers, jello, chicken noodle soup, milk or orange juice...all things then considered appropriate to feed to sick kids.


A Break In the Weather

Finally, the rain let up, and mother ventured out to grab the few needed items, with strict instructions to me about not answering the phone or the door.

As luck would have it--or should I say, lack of luck--just as she left the store, the skies opened up yet again. Mom clutched the bag of groceries tight against her trying to keep it dry. No plastic sacks back then--single-thickness paper bags held your grocery purchases--and the ecology movement had not kicked in yet, so neither did many people bring their own re-usable bags to go shopping.

Almost home--just 2 doors up from the house, the bag gave up the ghost, ripping apart from having gotten all soggy.

These are the actual stairs of the house in which I grew up.  Typical of many houses in San Francisco, the stairs are under cover.
These are the actual stairs of the house in which I grew up. Typical of many houses in San Francisco, the stairs are under cover.

A Terrible Waste

CRASH! Down onto the sidewalk went the carton of milk, the bottle of orange juice, the box of cough medicine, the loaf of bread....I reiterate--this was before plastics were prevalent. The medicine and orange juice were in glass bottles, the milk in a waxed cardboard carton.

Mom scooped up the bread, the box of medicine, and the milk, and put it under cover on the front stairs. She then opened the front door and yelled for me to bring her a broom and dustpan so she could clean the broken glass from the neibhbor's sidewalk.

I took one look down the stairs and begain to wail about the horrible waste--the bread was on the step below the milk and cough medicine, (the bottle broken inside its box); both were happily puddling under the bread which thirstily soaked it all up. (Yep--no plastic bread bags then, either--and the cellophane wrappers were not hermetically sealed.)

I don't know how many readers are old enough to recall the over-the-counter cough preparation known as "Pertussin." It had a very strong and distinctive smell of the herb thyme. It permeated the bread which had to be thrown away anyhow, soggy as it was. To this day, I don't care for thyme--it reminds me of being sick and of that day. The smallest whiff is enough to bring that day rushing back.

A Mix of Knowledge

Why, at that tender age, was I so concerned with waste to the exclusion of being aware of the rest of what was going on?

Part of it can be put down simply to the fact that I did not feel well, so my brain was not processing at full capacity. (Which at age 10 is probably not much to start with!) ;-)

The rest can be explained by the fact that both my parents were of New England Yankee stock. Both had lived through the first Great Depression of 1929, and that made for a double-dose of the usual Yankee frugality.

The Yankee motto? "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." This was drummed into my head from the time I became old enough to understand spoken language.

Scolded While Sick!

Mother scolded me for just standing there crying, and demanded that I hurry up with the broom. Years later, it occurred to me that she was not so much yelling at me, but was thoroughly disgusted with the turn of events and merely venting her frustration.

Naturally, she was not happy, as this meant a trip back to the store to re-purchase the same items. Once she got the mess cleaned off the stairs and the glass off the sidewalk, she headed back to the store.

This time, the weather had calmed down, and she managed to complete the mission successfully. It was a very dramatic day in a childhood that was usually very calm and peaceful. I suppose that is why it sticks in my mind with such clarity.


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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, peachpurple,

    Yes, it was a pretty bad day, and no, crying doesn't fix the problem, but at 10 years of age, we don't yet understand this, or know how to control our emotions.

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    your mom must had a bad day, sometimes it is really no point crying over split milk

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Sally--

    Oh, I can sure relate to that, and indeed, looking back, it was all very out-of-proportion. In my case, however, there was no transferrence. My father lived to see both his grandchildren born and grow into little girls. (He passed when the youngest was 5.)

    I do not remember Cheracol--I don't believe I ever took any--or if I did, I was not with my mother when she bought it.

    Cheers! And here's to water under the bridge! ;-)

  • Sally's Trove profile image

    Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

    Reading your words, the first thought that came to mind, and the first feeling, was loss. I remember, in those same days, going to the store on my bicycle for my mother to buy a bottle of bleach. On the way home, the paper bag broke and the bottle crashed to the ground. I was instantly in tears, feeling a huge hole in my heart. A second memory is of putting on a brand new pair of bermuda shorts then going out to play, falling, and ripping them. As I look back, the tears seemed to be so out of proportion to the event. But at that time I think what happend was that the bleach and the shorts were transferences of the emotionl pain of losing my father. There was no getting back the bleach, the shorts, or the dad. But there was plenty of crying over spilt milk.

    I do remember Pertussin. Do you remember the old Cheracol that you had to sign for at the druggist's because it contained codeine!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks, Nell...

    I always love to hear what you have to say. :-)

    It wasn't so much that she dropped the stuff, as that the bag had gotten soggy from the rain and ripped apart.

    This probably happened to more than a few folks in the days of flimsy paper sacks. ;-)

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

    Hi, I remember this sort of thing happening to my mum! usually when it was raining or snowing, then she learned to stock up! ha ha she never trusted herself not to drop things again! lol great story, cheers nell

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, Gus..

    Yep, absolutely!

  • GusTheRedneck profile image

    Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

    Diz - You were correct - shoulda made a sickie food appointment ahead of time.

    Gus :-)~