The inner conflict before the story…
Here are some thoughts I had as I began today’s lesson:“I don’t want to make a list of conflicts, as instructed in lesson 4 of the memoir course I’m taking. Maybe it is closer to the truth to say that I don’t want to write about conflict.”
“Maybe I don’t want to write about conflict because is is unpleasant to think about.”
“Or perhaps it is that I don’t want to be reliving conflicts that are already done and settled.”
“Instead, I’m going to write about the milk box.”
In my neighborhood, back in the 1950’s, houses had a little square door in the wall near the family’s side entry door, called a milk box. One door opened from the outside and another door right behind it opened from the inside. In between these doors there was a shelf the thickness of the wall. It was intended for milk delivery.
Our milk box was painted milk white. It was rarely used.
In those days milk was delivered by truck to homes in reusable glass bottles that were carried by the delivery man in square metal baskets with dividers for the bottles. People could leave their empty bottles in the milk box and fresh milk with cream floating on top would be left in their place.
The reason our milk box was rarely used was because our milk delivery man was such a nice guy. He would stride up the driveway, holding his basket in one arm, slightly leaning with its weight. He’d open the storm door at our side entrance and walk right into our kitchen, a huge toothy smile on his craggy, stubbly face.
If it was winter, he’d stomp his feet on the rug in the hall. In summer, the sleeves on his steel grey uniform would be rolled up, revealing his strong, hairy forearms. I remember watching him load the quart-sized bottles full of milk into our fridge, talking the whole time about some happy thing or other. He knew my name and he was one of the rare adults I was allowed to address by his first name, “Bob the Milkman.”
(You see? This is why it is so hard for me to make a list of conflicts. Life back then was sweet. We trusted people. We played in the streets.We knew our neighbors. Delivery people were our friends.)
Okay, now that I think of it, there was a conflict surrounding the milk box.
The story within the story:
Vanessa McKee was a special playmate who lived across the street. She was funny and inventive. I called her Van. Van’s mother had a kitchen cupboard FILLED with candy. Though it was fifty years ago, I can still see Mrs. McKee’s stash. There were boxes of chocolate bars and bags of Tootsie Pops, Hershey’s Kisses, hard candy, and Bit O’ Honey.
The Tootsie Pops were my favorite because they lasted so long and at the end of the sucker, you got a second experience of sticky, chocolaty splendor as you chewed the middle. Even that would last awhile because it would usually stick to your molars.
The candy cupboard was my favorite thing about Van’s house.
I often pleaded with Van to ask her mom if we could have some candy and she would almost always refuse. Candy wasn’t special for her, it was available to her every day but never wanted.
One summer day Van and I were playing at my house with our plastic Johnny West dolls and plastic horses, saddles and bridles and there was something that we needed from her bedroom. (I was dreaming about a cherry Tootsie Pop.) Though her parents were out of town, it occurred to me how to get into her locked house.
I convinced Van that all we would have to do was climb through her milk box.
She went for it, and we ran happily across the street.
We stood in front of the chocolate brown milk box, pondering. The little door was much too small for Van to climb through, but I was three years younger and several sizes smaller. I remember feeling the pressure of the shelf on my ribs as I wiggled though the door, falling into a pantry closet.
The plan was for me to unlock the side door so we could retrieve the toys. Once she was in, I made my pitch, “Let’s get some candy.”
This time she said okay. We were in front of the candy cupboard…my dream had come true. She opened a little box of what looked like Hershey’s Kisses and gave me one. Popping it in my mouth, I tasted something awful. It was not sweet. It was not good. It was dog candy! She had taken advantage of the fact that I could not read!
All was not lost, however. Vanessa had a good heart (like a real chocolate center) and soon we were leaving with our loot — two Tootsie pops each.
I can’t wait to start interviewing Mom. She’ll be able to tell me so many important details, like where were the dairies? When did they start pasteurizing our milk? How much did this service cost? In fact, I DID call mom tonight. She was delighted to remember Bob the Milkman. And she told me how it was that he went from being a delivery man to a trusted friend. Bob showed up at our door one day to warn Mom that he’d almost run over my brother and his friend in the street. From that day forward, Bob stopped leaving milk in the box and started coming inside. In fact, when we were not home, Mom said,” Bob would open the garage door and let himself in. He’d see what we needed and would leave those things. I was always happy with what he left for us,” Mom said. “He was a happy man and never had a gripe.”