Every once in a while, one of my five senses is stimulated in a way that triggers my brain to remember something that has been stored there for many, many years. It might be hearing a song that I haven’t heard in 40 years, or seeing an old car or tractor from 50 years ago. Last week, it was a taste that took me back 60 years.
We haven’t kept chocolate milk in the house since the boys left home to live their lives, so I was surprised when my wife brought home a half-gallon. The neighbor’s little girls come over to visit pretty often, and Judy likes to have it on hand for their refreshment. Since I hadn’t ever heard of the brand she purchased, I poured a glass to sample.
Wham! Instantly, the taste of this delicious drink made me think I was sitting in the one-room schoolhouse where I received the first five years of my education.
In most years, my country school was home to about 25 students in grades first through eighth. We didn’t have school-provided lunches (How did we ever survive?), so everyone brought their lunch in paper pokes, flour sacks or lard cans. There were seven electrical devices in the school: six single-bulb lights that dangled from the high ceiling and one small, secondhand refrigerator that sat in the back of the room.
Once per week, the Sealtest milkman would pull up in his refrigerated truck to deliver his brand of both chocolate and white milk, to stock the little icebox. The teacher would pay him, and the students could purchase a carton for lunch or recess, for the outrageous price of 3 cents each. The school madam graciously allowed us to charge the purchases through the week, but everyone had to pay for what they had consumed the preceding week each and every Monday morning, before classes began.
A classmate had let me have a taste of his chocolate milk, once, and I immediately knew I had to have it. But when I asked my parents if I could buy a carton each day, my father adamantly stated, “We milk 12 cows by hand, every morning and night. You can have all the milk you want for free.”
I explained that it wasn’t Sealtest chocolate milk, and I continued to beg for a month before he finally relented, telling me I could buy three cartons each week. I also remember him telling my mother that they were probably spoiling their only son with such extravagant spending, and he would probably grow up to be a lazy, shiftless bum.
So, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for the next five years, I got to drink a half-pint of the most delicious nectar that ever came out of a cow. Every Monday, Dad would dig a thin dime out of the coin pocket of his billfold and send me off to school with the instructions, “Don’t forget to pay your milk bill today, and be sure to bring back the change tonight … or else.”
And I knew the “or else” involved a completely different sense — one that was on the opposite end of my body from taste. I never forgot to bring home the penny.
Crownover lives in Missouri.