Hard Times

The Frostkist Dairy and Ice Cream Company was located a few blocks away from where we lived The Frostkist folks helped out people in the neighborhood, too, by selling us run-off skim milk at five cents a gallon. Limit: one gallon to a family per week. So once a week after school, my grandparents gave me the job of wheeling my old red wagon over to Frostkist, with a lidded gallon bucket, to pick up our allotment.The guys at Frostkist would joke around with me on the loading dock, and fill my bucket with milk. But the exciting thing was—every week they’d give me one of their Popsicle or ice cream bar seconds. These were badly formed bars they couldn’t sell.Once, they gave me an entire box of a dozen deformed frozen Popsicles. Great! I licked away at one fruit Popsicle on the way home with the gallon of milk. However, by the time I got home, the remaining Popsicles were softly melting. I handed them out to other kids who were hanging around. I heard no complaints.

It was also my job to pick up stale bread, two-or-three- day’s-old, at the baker’s. Sometimes the baker would give me a cookie or a bear claw, to eat on the way home. That kind of friendly gesture was typical.

There seemed to be a sense of communal spirit during the Depression. People shared the troubles. I think people went out of their way in those gritty times to show others a little touch of kindness along the way.

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My grandfather taught me how to make an instant “poor man’s dessert” using that stale bread. Here’s how you do it: Take a piece of white bread. Wet it under the water faucet.Sprinkle sugar lightly over the bread. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of that. And there you have it. Delicious!

On those special mornings when my grandmother was willing to go along with the fun, my grandfather would also make huge obscene pancakes for breakfast, one at a time. These were doughy giants, believe me. Each pancake covered the entire bottom of our biggest frying pan. He’d make ’em about one-half inch thick. When he figured they were ready, golden brown on top, he’d slide one on my plate and pour Log Cabin syrup all over the top. And in his best, bawdy style, he’d sing out, “Go ahead, eat your way through this one, Billy. It’ll put lead in your pencil.” Then he’d chuckle to himself and pour out the batter for another one, coming right up.

After one of those giant pancake mornings, I’d plod down the stairs with a full belly, indeed.

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