The rumor that I was raised by monkeys is totally false. I know it adds up. Sometimes I even believe it but…no. I was raised by a single mother. Looking back I’m beginning to understand that having me as a daughter may have been the single most challenging job of her life. Things ran amuk very early on. She couldn’t afford childcare and by the ages of 7 and 4 my sister and I had run through any relative living close enough to care for us. I don’t know if we were too much of a pain in the sit-upon or if most likely tossing two more kids into someone’s daily household for “that” many hours 6 days a week is way too much to ask. I would imagine a bit of both. The important thing here is by the age of 7…. I was the boss in our house. The top dog. Numero Uno. My Mother worked what they called a split-trick which meant she left at 10am and often didn’t get back home until 1 or 2 am. Having “me” in charge and her gone so much of the time resulted in numerous unfortunate incidents.
Back in the day we had milkmen who delivered fresh milk to your door in a glass bottle. (yes, really!) Mr. Jenks (I thought it sounded like a cat’s name too) was our milkman and I adored him. He called me, “Little Miss”, he had the best laugh ever and he “always” brought a tray of cupcakes and other yummy pastries for me to choose from when he brought our milk. The days when Mr. Jenks, the milkman came were the best ever. Until the day my Mother answered the door and he handed her a sheet of paper.
While I was giving Mr. Jenks his hello hug, Mom was looking at that sheet of paper in the same way she looked at me when I filled our bathtub with catfish from the ravine. (In my defense. It had flooded and I was trying to save their lives. I could NOT have known Mom was going to come home early and try take a shower)
“What is this?” she asked, Jenks who was distractedly tugging my ponytail.
“This bill. It’s too much.”
As he explained what the bill was for (not only milk but a variety of cakes, doughnuts, and snack pies), my Mother’s eyes began to fill with tears. “I can’t pay this. I don’t have it.” (Back in the day there were NO credit cards people. For real. I swear.) “I can give you”…..she scrambled around in her purse to fish out a couple more dollars…”Can I pay you a little each week? I’m sorry this is my fault. They’re just little girls. They didn’t know. And my oldest, ” she said looking directly at me…”lives in her own world.” (true dat, Mom)
So my Mother was crying, I was flabbergasted and still did NOT understand what had gone so wrong but the milkman…….
Once during that summer a kid punched me in the stomach with the end of a wooden baseball bat. It simultaneously knocked the air right outa me and sent me into a total state of shock. I think how I felt best describes the look on old, Mr. Jenks face. His big happy smile drooped. His eyes got red and watery and he stopped tugging my pony tail, instead placing his big hand gently on the side of my bewildered face.
“I pay my bills, sir. I can promise you I will make good on the debt.”
“What debt?” he asked her, taking the sheet of paper from her hands.
From then on Mr. Jenks delivered the milk and “gave” me and my sister a choice of any one delicacy on his tray. He never charged my mother a penny for the cakes. Just the milk.
My Mom told the story of our milkman’s great kindness right up until the final days of her life. She never forgot him. We never forgot him. And I like to think he never forgot us. I don’t know where he is now since I was 7 and he was so much older. But in my mind it gives me peace to see him somewhere on a porch swing with a glass of lemonade and a beautiful breeze.
So I ask you again. Will you be remembered? Will any of us? It’s not how much money we leave behind or what great successes we’ve had that will live on in another person’s heart. It’s something far more valuable and so much easier to give. So simple, in fact, we often overlook it in our quest to seek out all those things that one day won’t matter at all.