By CL Bledsoe

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When I was a kid, my mom took me & my sister away from our dad. I was close to my daughter’s age, now. My mom had her reasons. She and my father had issues, obviously, and had always butted heads, but more than that, she had come to realize she had Huntington’s Disease, as her father and his mother and her mother, stretching back. She took us to Missouri, where her brother lived. He was a coach at a little country school, and we enrolled, there. It was so small, they had three classes in one room, and we had already learned the material they taught.

In the lunchroom, they had not just regular milk, but chocolate and strawberry milk. I’d never heard of such a thing as strawberry milk, and I was afraid to even try it. I considered myself an outsider, a visitor, and something like that must only be for the regular kids. Or for rich people.

Also, if you ate all your food, you could get seconds. My first day. the other kids all thought I was nuts for being so excited when I went for another serving of tater tots. I realized I was the only one doing it, so I only went back once the whole time I was there.

It took a few days before I worked up the courage to try the strawberry milk. I kept expecting to get in trouble when I selected it off the tray, and when I got to my table, I looked around, expecting someone to come take it away. But no one did. I opened it and tried it. It was glorious.

* * *

My mom had all these old cookbooks from the 50s & 60s — many of the recipes just looked disgusting — and sometimes powdered milk would be mentioned as a substitute. It’s something I’ve had, but not in decades. I discovered non-refrigerated milk recently. My daughter’s school did a food drive, and it was on the list of items they wanted. I picked up all this stuff at Dollar Tree, and they had it in cartons, sitting on the shelf.

When I was a kid, we did a food drive every year at school. We were supposed to bring in canned goods, but my father would get mad if I stole food to from the house to take to school. Every Thanksgiving, though, he would get a turkey dinner prepared at a local store, and it came with canned cranberry sauce — the kind that comes out in a tower with the ribs from the can still visible. I only learned about the tower years later, because we never opened these cans. So I would take them to the food drive. That was one thing that was acceptable to give away.

* * *
My father grew up during the Depression. He dropped out of high school to work to help support his family. This is one reason why he complained so much about food costs. But he loved sweets, which had been scarce when he was a kid, apparently. It was difficult for him to reconcile this. One method he had was to gather pecans. He had several pecan trees on various farm properties, including two by our house. He would gather up big, black garbage bags full of pecans and take them to various women he knew who were good cooks. In appreciation, they would make him pecan pies or other treats.

He loved ice cream, but hated paying for it. For years, we would make it at home, cranking that handle to stir it. Eventually, the ice cream maker broke somehow, and he was forced to either replace it or start buying ice cream. He settled on ice milk, which, if you’ve not had it, is like snow that is thinking hard about being ice cream, but dreams are not the same as reality.

I am a cheapskate in many ways, but I understand that sometimes you have to pay for quality. Ice cream is one of those times.

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