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Crying Over Spilt Milk, Quite Literally

Updated on February 6, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Peace, harmony, and lifelong learning are Liz's passions. She's outspoken on education and childhood and is an activist in local politics.

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, applesauce, 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 reusable 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.

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 began 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. You guessed it: no plastic bread bags then, either, and the cellophane wrappers then used 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 the events of that day rushing back.

Our Front Stairs

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 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.

© 2010 Liz Elias


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