Every other Wednesday of the month was payday for Mom, who often struggled to make it financially with three kids at home. After receiving that paycheck every fourteen days, she went to the bank on her lunch hour and then raced to slip the IOU funds back into a little leather money pouch at work. That night we'd all take a trip to the local grocery store located in Spring Hill's one and only strip mall located by the old nursing home. It seemed big at the time, but compared to the huge superstores of today, the place was small and very poorly lit. But it had things you rarely see today, a full on meat department with blood covered butcher leaning over his counter to talk to us kids, an ice cream counter back by the water fountain, and lastly, a manager tower that looked over all three cashier stands. Big stuff.
Mom always had the same shopping list, with nary a violation. Apples, bananas, oranges, turkey bologna, cheese slices, dry wheat bread in plastic brown bag, milk, frozen orange juice, trash bags, eggs, ground meat, Grape Nuts cereal, oatmeal raisin cookies, flour, margarine, cat food, at home perm set and rollers, frozen turkey loaf, hamburger helper, tuna helper, can of tuna, candy orange slices, and last but not least frozen Sara Lee cheesecake. Sometimes she'd let us get one of those huge swirly colored balls in the cage, or the magnetic game where you used a pen to draw metal shavings on a goofy guy's face. That was after much begging. Marshall and Cathy were masters at getting what they wanted. I was a lonely observer hoping for a bit of luck to grace my step. Being the youngest, I quickly learned the rules: that whatever was theirs was not mine, and whatever was mine was theirs as well.
That night, after putting everything away, we would pig out on snacks and go to bed with aching bellies, then it was back to starvation mode for the rest of the two weeks. There was an allotment of two to four cookies per kid, but Marshall usually ruined that by sneaking in the pantry and eating up mine and Cathy's extra share. He also had a nasty habit of eating cake mix out of the bag. We were told to forgive him as he was a growing boy and you know how they were. No, I didn't, and I wanted my cake mix back so I could make a beautiful, three decker cake like the one on the box!
I can still remember every detail of that store, and the happy, excited feeling of having a full cart. It meant life and joy and hope. It meant that, even though Dad was gone and we were alone now, we would make it. Mom was making it happen. The days of him knocking her tooth out, and spanking us every afternoon for getting fingerprints on his bible were over. No one spoke the words out loud, but it was agreed that occasional starvation was much better than daily abuse. Sneaking to the side of the house to tell my friends to go away because I was scared, was all over.
It was a little comfort to be part of that picture world of Betty Crocker and Mr Wimple's "Don't squeeze the Charmin!" That night our TV set flickered, showing a world of happy families who had everything. Their TV sets were blazing color episodes of Mork and Mindy. Ours was flipping black and white stripes, with foil around the antenna. All I can say was, it was okay. Times wouldn't always be great in the future, as they never can be. But for the moment, we were making it, and that . . . was something.