Sunday, October 18, 2009

4 o'clock rituals

Gurgles. Chugs and gurgles in rhythmic patterns announced the afternoon ritual. At precisely quarter to four, the coffee pot began to beat out the time in splunks and glugs. The car door slamming at four o’clock and measured footfalls on the pea stone driveway coincided with the coffeepots final burst. The kitchen scene was set with The Hartford Courant in place, the grey Formica table cleared, and the coffee poured into a mug. Year in year out with few variations, the lunch pail was placed on the sink counter, thermos rinsed, milk added to the steaming mug and with a quick peck on Mom’s cheek Dad would turn to sit down. Silence - Newspaper pages turned, coffee swallowed, and supper prepared quietly through this wind down time.
Caffeine released into a tired body soon brought him back from his work experience. Complaints would spill out, filling the air with punctuations until the available sounding boards had absorbed the trials of his day. Maniacal supervisor, Murphy’s Law in action, or the unbelievable routines of the goof-off crew which included the waste of expensive material tumbled out until the stream ran dry.
Supper was served with small talk about day’s events or idle chatter about friends and family while the television droned out the news from its corner in the living room. A monotone with splashes of commercial volume, neither conversation nor television background was too heavy. Indigestion was to be avoided. Once the meal was eaten, the table was cleared. A shared chore as each of us piled the remains onto the drain board. Unlike other households where the dish washing fell to our friend’s chore list, my brother and I were free to begin homework or catch a TV program.
Gazing out the kitchen window over the double enamel sink, Mom and Dad did the dishes. Every night, side by side with elbows bumping, Dad sloshed the sudsy hot water in the deep white sink washing more than the dishes. Periodically he stopped to spray soap residue away, while Mom dried and put everything away. The quiet murmur of conversation drifted into the living room during lulls in the programming. Summer breezes through winter sleet, they washed and gazed together.
The pendulum electric clock buzzed from its perch on the wall. Black metal hands moving time forward as daily rituals began and ended. Late night cups of dark tea consumed while forearms supported weary bodies that leaned into the grey table surface. The table’s chromed legs dulled by wear met glossy polished green linoleum. A few perfect triangles marred the surface from the iron leaping from the rickety ironing board during morning ironing sessions. The tea bag toss with Mom’s load protest splattered gravity defying droplets of tea upward toward the sink window. Midnight found Mom sitting at the table with a warm cup of milk and a Sear’s catalog to slow down her revved up mind. Endless games of solitaire or twenty-one illuminated by the domed ceiling light whiled away winter nights.
In summer with shades pulled to create the illusion of coolness in the half light, sweat ran in rivulets as Mom and I peeled blanched tomatoes before cramming them into sterilized mason jars. The cellar door was left ajar to omit its cooling dampness. The aroma of Bread & Butter Pickles clung to us, the cheap perfume of summer pickling. Dad, Mom and I chopped, sliced and diced bushels of our gardens riches, corn, green and yellow beans, eggplant and peppers. Canning shelves were weighed down by summer’s end with jellies, jams, pickles, canned tomatoes and relish. The freezer full to capacity with summer’s frozen produce.
Life revolved around this 15 by 15 foot space. Our kitchen, unimaginative and under equipped by today’s standards, functioned as an all purpose room for ironing, meal preparation and consuming, bill paying, homework center and more throughout each day and night. The sunny yellow walls, stenciled cabinets, gingham curtains, chrome coffee pot, white enamel electric stove and refrigerator were witness to our families ups and downs. Emotions bounced off the semi-gloss walls and echoed up the stairway. Listening from my bedroom door through the years, the fights my parents had over and with my brother crawled up the stairs to greet me.
My brother, older by five years, preceded me through school. I looked up to him when I was really little despite the “big boy” tricks that were played on me by him and his friends. Their two favorites were running off to leave me alone in the woods or making me test their skill at bridge construction. Crying, I’d stumble home let down by my big brother again. In winter, bloody noses from ice covered snowballs with rocks inside were my bane.
Trouble attracted my brother like a magnet. Whatever his friends or even our cousins suggested to him, he would do. Blame or a guilty sentence was not a burden to either group. All fingers pointed unwavering to my brother, the scapegoat. Escalated from his youth through his teens and beyond, his crimes were not drastic by today’s standards. His petty offenses and misbehavior plagued my parents. I grew more aware during my elementary school years especially with comments from teachers in September of “Oh, your Albert’s sister”. It was the tone of their voice that hurt me; they expected the worst from the onset. More writing on the walls or drawing on the playground with discarded stolen chalk from a waste basket. The weight of remarks as well as my brother’s behavior was too much for my little frame to move out of the way or sidestep around. This shadow loomed over me constantly. My unspoken goal was not to cause my parents or teachers any problems. This no problem and good behavior strategy made me almost invisible as I minced my way through each year but his troubles increased.Information on my brother’s activities came through my friends. Scrubbing away at the dishes, my parents tried to clean up the problem. Active in the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star, their thorn was visible to everyone. Their problem solving discussions did not include me. Tears, frustration and anger exploded around and at my brother. Unscathed his journey continued. My burden increased.
I became a comedian; a ready quip or a bit of wit to carry me over the rough spots. Hiding behind a smile, I could make my parents or others laugh. This clown just might get them to forget who I was related to.

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