Back in first grade, oh, so many centuries ago, life was good, but school seemed very tough. After all, there was learning about numbers, words, and learning to (horror) read! I was actually the last kid in our class to learn how to read I was very scared of the whole process it seemed so overwhelming.
Yet, there were also the fun aspects of school playtime and recess, and we had pet gerbils to feed and watch. And then there was lunch. One thing that we always got with that was milk. Back then, that is, the late 60s and early 70s, we drank whole milk, vitamin D enriched, with all the fat and other nutrients that the FDA recommended. Of course, these days, kids get the low-fat, vitamin enriched, homogenized, pasteurized etc milk with no saturated fats, no this, no that, and none of the other! Everything just about tailored to reduce fat and increase vitamins and nutrition.
Each day, one of the boys yes I know, so very sexist was sent to get the milk it was quite the honor to do it and I could not wait for my turn. As we did everything alphabetically, it was a while before my turn came around, after all, R is pretty far down in the alphabet. I imagine in today's schools they'd do it randomly so as to not be accused of being alphabetically-biased!
When the boy returned with the little carrying rack, which was essentially a metal mash rack with little openings sized for the small milk cartons, each one of us got a carton, and then we lined up for Mrs. Bresnahand to help us open it. Shed do it one of two ways: pull back on tabs, or use her pencil to stab a hole in the top. I noticed that most of the boys wanted the hole. Yeah, that was cool! By the end of the first week of school, Id pretty much figured out how she did it; so, when I got my milk carton, I just went straight to my seat and sat down. Taking out my pencil, I stabbed the carton myself! That first day, I kind of hit a little too low on the carton it sort of bled a little on my desk. But, no problem that's what a tongue was for. Yeah, I know, not the cleanest means of wiping up spilled milk, but what six-year-old boy knows better? Hey, at least I didn't cry over it, ha!
Over time, I got better at it, and was quite proud of myself when I was able to make a hole as well as did Mrs. Bresnahand. For a boy of that age, in that era, it was quite the feat of manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and deductive reasoning.
And then came my turn to get the milk. As with the previous boys, one of the boys whod done it before went with me to show me the ropes. Down the grand staircase we went; down, down, all the way to the cellar. There in the corner was the big old refrigerator. It sort of looked like the freezers Id seen in the ice cream parlors on Martha's Vineyard; chrome on the outside, a row of little doors on the top, and you just flipped them over to reach down into the inside.
Now, back then, my stature was rather small. So, to reach the milk cartons, I had to climb up on the fridge, reach down in it, and pull out each carton one at a time. The other boy showed me where the carrying rack was; I stacked the cartons in it, and carried it back to class. Oh, this was my proudest moment Id done it Id successfully completed the task of Milk Monitor. To a boy of those tender years, that was almost as good as being a Crosswalk Monitor, a noble position, reserved for only the best of the best of the oldest kids, the Sixth Graders.
Then, after lunch, I learned there was a final task to be completed: I had to gather up the empty cartons, put them back in the rack, and then carry them back down to the storage room. This was where one element of confusion entered the picture: what did I do with them, once I got there? I looked around; there was no trash can around, and none of the other Milk Monitors had brought their class cartons down yet. So, what did I do? This was a truly high-stress moment for me; what if I got it wrong, would I be stripped of the honor of Milk Monitor forever?
The mere thought of it was too terrible to contemplate only six years of age, and my life over. Yet, I couldn't stand around waiting for someone to show up and tell me what to do; this was a quandary I had to solve on my own. Looking at the cartons, I saw that they were roughly cube-shaped, and that suggested a solution. When a child is presented with blocks, what do they do with them?
They build something.
So, taking the cartons out of the rack, I built a wall on top of the fridge. I thought it looked mighty fine, and then I put the carrying rack away and returned to class an ear to ear grin on my face. Yes, Id done it, Id figured out a solution. Granted, it was one that could only make sense to a child of six, but (at the time), that was all that mattered.
Over time, I got more creative with my stacking: round towers, slanted walls, pyramids, and so on. It was years later, when I finally became one of the big kids (a Sixth Grader) that I learned it was the janitor who came and took away the empty cartons. According to what Mrs. Bresnahand said, he'd been curious as to why every once in a while some of the cartons weren't just piled or scattered across the top of the fridge. It always made him smile to see what new arrangement would be there.
Interesting how a small boy can bring joy to a stranger with nothing more than some empty cartons and a little imagination.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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