A Child of the Fifties

by Paul Schroder

Chapter 8

Dick's girlfriend had found the family album. Her and my brother were sitting on the couch and going through the pages. There was a picture of both of my brothers when Dick was about my age and Bill, of course, two years older.

Shiela says, "aahhh, you guys look adorable." Someone had taken their picture while they were outside playing.

"Where was I when that picture was took?" I asked.

Dick glanced up at me and said, "you were still swimming around inside our father's ball-sack."

"DICK...," Shiela said, with an intake of breath and a slap to his arm.

I could never expect my brother to give me a straight answer. I don't even know why I tried. I asked him once where babies come from and he said Sears! Now I know Sears has a baby department but I never seed any babies in it.

When he told me I was swimming around in my father's ball-sack, I knew that was a lie because I can't swim. Stupid brother.

"If I'm in his ball-sack then you're in his butt," I told him.

Shiela laughed and punched him in the arm again. "He got you good, Richard."

I wandered away from those two because I recognized the danger signs building up in me that usually led to me getting my mouth washed out with soap.

I wandered into the kitchen to make myself some cinnamon toast. The toaster was the only cooking implement I was allowed to operate. But I knew how to spread melted butter on warm toast and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on it. Good stuff.

But that was snack stuff. My favorite lunch though was a good ol' peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yuumm! I kept having mental visions of this delightful repast along with a cool glass of milk. And perhaps, if we had any, some potato chips to put under the top slice of bread. I don't think they had crunchy peanut butter yet, or if they did we didn't buy it. So potato chips just added the perfect crunch, or panache, to my favorite sandwich.

I couldn't make my own PB&J sandwiches though, because peanut butter wasn't homogenized in those days. When you opened the jar, there would be a thick coating of peanut oil on the top that needed to be stirred back into the jar. But the peanut butter was really, really thick and you needed muscle strength to stir it.

Mother was visiting with Grandmother that day. I elected to stay home, so Dick was appointed to watch over me. I finished my cinnamon toast and was still hungry.

But I knew if I asked Dick to make me a sandwich he would just throw a piece of lunch meat between two slices of bread and say, "there you go. Now just add your favorite condiments. My part's done."

So, thinking ahead, I wandered back into the living-room.

"Shiela, how would you like a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a nice, cold glass of milk?"

"Oh, thank you sweety, but I'm not really hungry right now."

"Well, I am!" Dick replied. "You can make me one."

And I replied with, "well... I can't really make it on my own. I was hoping to get Shiela to make us each one."

Then I batted my eyelids at her and pressed my forefingers into my cheeks to simulate dimples. Dick did this to her all the time.

"Awww..." she says. "Okay sweety. I'll make you and Richard both one."

I did my wiggle dance on the way to the kitchen and started getting stuff out. The peanut butter jar was huge and really heavy. I slid a chair over to the counter below the cabinet where mother kept it. Climbing up on the chair I reached into the cabinet and, very carefully, removed that big ol jar. I just set it on the counter and didn't even think about carrying it over to the table.

Then I drug the chair over to the cabinet with the glasses and plates. I got out two sandwich plates and two large glasses. Then I slid the chair back to the table and carried the plates and the glasses over to the table as well. Shiela was just standing in the kitchen, smiling and watching me.

"Wow, Paul. You are really a terrific helper, you know that?"

I was beaming. I would forever be a sucker for a compliment.

Dick had wandered in right after she made that comment, and, of course, he had to respond as well.

"Yeah, kid. Yer gonna make a terrific husband for some guy someday."

Sheila takes a big intake of breath and says, "Richard, you're a terrible brother! Go back out to the living-room and I'll bring you your sandwich."

She points towards the living room so my brother huffs and he grumbles and then he does what he's told.

Me and Shiela have a good time together making sandwiches. She decides she's hungry after all and makes three sandwiches. I get down another glass and plate. I've already brought out the potato chips and I show her how I add them to my own sandwich. She decides to give it a try herself.

Now, I'm not normally supposed to have a regular sized glass of anything to drink, because I'm at a klutzy stage. But I don't want to ask her to come refill a juice glass for me. All three glasses are twelve ounce. She pours the milk and I slide mine carefully to where my usual spot is at the table. She puts the stuff away and calls Dick in to carry the glasses. She takes their two plates out to the coffee table.

Dick sees that I've got a full sized glass of milk but he doesn't say anything. He's probably hoping I'll spill it so he can rat me out.

I run back to my bedroom and get my latest comic books and bring them to the table. I can't read yet but I make up stories to go with the pictures. Sometimes I crack myself up. As I'm enjoying my sandwich and taking careful sips of milk, I find myself wondering if I will still like PB&J sandwiches with potato chips when I'm all growed up. The answer is yes, little man. Yes indeed.

The shrieking sound of an ambulance threaded it's way onto our street. It stopped with flashing and revolving lights at the top of the street. Jimmy and I heard it while we were playing at the sand-pile. We ran through my yard to the sidewalk in front of my house. My mother had already beat us there. Sirens always draws mothers from their homes wherever there are mothers. The same thing flashing through all their minds.

"Is it my child? Is my child safe?"

Hands to their mouths, they would mentally tally where each of their children were supposed to be at that particular time. They would look worriedly to one another and then to the ambulance. In their minds was the knowledge that some poor wife, husband or child was in a panic or perhaps grieving over some horrible occurrence.

Any emergency vehicle, be it an ambulance, police car or fire engine, had the effect of putting children into a whirling, bouncing mass of muscle, bones and sinew. The excitement level was nearly off the scale.

My mother knew that, without interceding, Jimmy and I would be running up the street to rubber neck.

"Paul," she says, "you and Jimmy stay put!"

"Awww... Mother! Don't cha wanna know what's goin' on?"

"Yes, of course. That's why Missus Bindle is sending Chad up the street to observe for us. He won't get in the way like you two would."

The Bindles lived right next door to us and Chad was the one I learned the sword swallowing trick from. He's also the kid that told on me that I was giving away my brothers Monopoly pieces. He was about a year older than Dick but, for some reason, they never became close friends. It could be because Chad was a moral, upstanding specimen of a young man while my brother was a stinker doodle, frog licker. The two had nothing in common.

So, Jimmy and I danced around like we had to pee while watching people gather at the end of the block. It wasn't fair. History was probably being made right now and I would have to watch it on television because I'm not allowed to get a front row seat.

The ambulance was stopped in front of the Ester's house. This was an old couple that rarely ventured outside. They were frail and unable to get around on their own. They were able to stay in their home because Misses Ester had given birth to seven daughters. They each took a full day out of their week to take care of their parents. This gave the Esters full time help in their old age.

The ambulance attendants rolled a gurney out of their house. Mister Ester was on it and he was loaded into the back of the ambulance. A minute later another gurney came out of the house with Misses Ester on it. She went into the ambulance as well. There wasn't room for the daughter. She stayed, presumably to lock up and notify the rest of the family. Then she left.

She was over heard telling a neighbor that her papa had chest pains and it scared his wife so bad she got them as well. Then the lady got into her car and left for the hospital.

Chad gave us the news. He was all teary eyed. He used to do yard work for the old couple. Misses Ester would give him some treat or other when she paid him.

Chad's mom gave him a hug and thanked him and told him to go inside. She and my mother visited for awhile, standing on the sidewalk. Jimmy and I wandered back to the sand-pile.

We were both kinda quiet and introspective when we got back to our toys. This sand-pile was in the field behind mine and Jimmy's houses and was absolutely huge, probably three foot high. Jimmy and I would make roads zig zagging up this mountain. He and I weren't the only ones attracted to this giant sand-pile. A few of the neighborhood cats would occasionally drop off a surprise or two. We would excavate these desiccated cat poops and our dump trucks would haul them off to a place we designated as the "poopy graveyard."

Our hearts didn't really get back into the game though. Neither of us really knew the Esters but we both had grandmothers and we knew that old people would eventually die. Somehow, we both knew that this was the Esters time to go.

I was thinking about my last time with my Grandmother and I had shamed her at the ball park. And then I still didn't go with my mother to visit her a few days ago because I was still ashamed. I thought, what if my grandmother dies and she doesn't know how much I love her? I started to weep. Then I looked at Jimmy and he was crying too.

Neither of us said anything. We just gathered up our toys and went to our respective homes.

My mother was just setting down the phone when I walked into the house. I carried my toys to my room without saying anything, tears streaming down my face.

My mother knew how I felt after that ball game with my grandmother. She even knew why I didn't go with her to visit grandmother a few days ago. I walked out of my room, looking for her, and she folded me in her arms. I just quietly sobbed.

"I just got off of the phone with your grandmother," she tells me. I look up into her eyes. "She wants to know if you'd like to come spend a couple of days at the farm. She says you can bring your Roy Rogers outfit because she might have a surprise for you."

I just nod. I don't trust myself to talk. How does she always know how to cure a problem before I even tell her what the problem is?

Grandma's Farm

To begin with, Grandmother's farm hadn't really been a farm for about a dozen years or so. At least longer than I've been alive. My Grandma had three, teenage step sons living at home at the time. The oldest one, Johnny, had a milking herd of about a dozen cows. They had a big old barn where he would milk them. But they no longer kept any other animals because the kids were in school and Grandpa worked for the post office. He sorted mail as it traveled on trains. Special trains would carry box cars where they would sort the mail as it was being shipped. That means he was traveling a lot. And, of course, you can't farm and travel. He gave up farming full time when his first wife passed away.

Grandpa was only my Grandpa by marriage. I didn't know that at the time. My uncles had a different mother that had passed away. The boys were young, the littlest about my age when he met my Grandmother. They were good boys but really missed their mother. Grandma fell in love with them as well as my Grandpa. So, here was a lady, without any real responsibilities, that took on the obligation of becoming a wife and a mother to three young boys. I didn't understand this until I was older, maybe ten or so. I knew my grandmother was a saint, I just didn't realize how big a saint she actually was.

I loved visiting at the farm, but I missed having someone my age to play with. So, after a few days, I would really start to get homesick. That's why my stays tended to last for just 2 or 3 days.

There was an intriguing room inside the barn that was used for storage. It wasn't locked so I'd go in there and look at all the old timey stuff. Grandpa was raised on this farm and there were tools and clothes and mementos from his parents and maybe even his parent's parents.. I figured the stuff went clear back past the cowboy days and so whenever I looked around in there I would wear my Roy Rogers chaps, cowboy hat, belt with two holsters and my two revolver cap pistols. There now, if great grandpa's ghost is in that room, my appearance should look normal to him.

After inspecting the old timey stuff, I'd wander around the barn. There were two or three cats in there because barns always had mice, my uncle Johnny said. Plus, he'd squirt some milk to them while he was milking. The cats would follow him from cow to cow. It was really funny to watch.

I climbed up into the hay loft and found a depression in the hay with four tiny kittens in it. I laid down next to them and was running my hand across their soft, downy fur and then I fell asleep.

"PAUL... ARE YOU IN HERE?" My grandmother's voice.

My eyes shoot open but I'm unable to see anything and so I start to panic.

"Grandma... where am I? I can't see."

Then I hear the laughter of young, teen voices below me.

"You see Mom! I tol' ya we should look here."


My memory catches up with reality and my panic dies down. A few seconds later the lights come on in the barn.

"I'm coming down, Grandma."

I picked up my cowboy hat, checked that my guns were still in their holsters and made my way to the ladder where I carefully climbed back down.

All three of my young uncles are gathered together with my grandmother. They all have grins. Then I look at my grandmother and there is no grin there.

"When you didn't come into the house in time for dinner, I sent the boys to look for you. Paul, you scared me. I didn't know what had happened to you. Thank goodness Johnny thought of the hayloft. Now go into the house and wash up. We are eating dinner late this evening."

I was feeling really, really awful. This was the second time in as many weeks that I had hurt my grandmother in some way. It was a very contrite little boy that sat with the family at the dinner table. We had cold spaghetti and meat balls thanks to me.

After dinner the boys set about clearing the table and washing the dishes. I stood up from the table and sort of fidgeted, not knowing what to do with myself. Grandmother walked over to me and pulled me into a hug. I tried to cry as quietly as I could into her apron, but I'm sure the shaking gave me away.

"Shhhh..." grandmother said. "I'm not angry or upset with you. You couldn't help falling asleep. You didn't do anything wrong."

I stepped back far enough to peer up into her face.

"But I scared you. And... I made you feel bad at the ball game."

At the mention of the ball game, three young teens are set to laughing while in the middle of their chores. I guess they heard what had happened.

Grandmother chuckled along with them and said not to let it bother me. She had gotten over it very quickly and, besides, the story made grandpa laugh and laugh, and, I got the feeling my uncles had listened in.

We had a nice evening just watching television. My uncle Johnny went back to the hayloft and got one of the kittens for me to hold until bedtime. He put it back before mama cat could get upset.

The next morning, after the boys did their morning chores and then got on the school bus, grandmother suggested I put on my cowboy duds.

"How come, Grandmother?"

"This might be a good morning to go horseback riding, don't you think?"

"Oh my gosh yes...YES!" I shouted while tearing up the stairway to the boy's room and my belongings. A real horse. I was going to ride a real horse! Jimmy would just fart and blow away if he could see me now. I was dressed in a flash and ran back down the stairs so fast my guns bounced out of their holsters.

"Okay, Grandmother I'm..." I stopped talking because I could see Grandma was on the phone."

"All right, Floyd. Thank you. Yes, he'll be disappointed. No, no, you couldn't help it. Tomorrow, I'm afraid not, his mother will be picking him up this afternoon. He's just here for a couple of days. Well, yes... I think that will work. Okay, bye."

I could pretty much follow that one-way conversation. And I was sure it meant I wasn't going to get to go horseback riding after all. And I was right. Grandmother said her neighbor's horse threw a shoe and couldn't be re-shod until next morning. However, if I just wanted to sit on the horse and pose for a picture that would be okay.

"Hooray..." and I throw my official Roy Rogers, genuine stetson hat into the air.

The neighbor was an older, affable fella that had grand-kids of his own. He also had a Polaroid camera. He set me on the back of his old, gentle gelding and had me hold the reins. He told me to hold my hat up in the air like I'd seen Roy Rogers do, and smile big.

That same evening I was showing Jimmy a photo of me, posed like our cowboy hero, on the back of a real, live horse. He wasn't reared up like Trigger does and his sister pointed out that he wasn't wearing a saddle, but he was a for-reals horse. Jimmy's eyes bugged out and that made a perfect end to a perfect day.

Unfortunately, Polaroid pictures didn't have any longevity. They would turn dark and useless over a period of time. Keeping them in a dark album helped but the chemicals in them would continued to develop them. I feel sorry for people whose childhoods were memorialized with these cameras and multiple pictures. Talk about fading memories. But that picture remains forever in my mind.

Next week, me n' Jimmy go through a solemn Native American ceremony. And why don't you go through an email ceremony and send me an email? If you do I shall blow sacred smoke in your direction. (I promise it isn't the same smoke my editor blows up my butt!)

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