In the days before air conditioning when oscillating fans provided fleeting relief, and winter chills were waylaid by Franklin stoves placed in the kitchen near the stairway to warm upstairs bedrooms, Aunt Josephine, a large, smiling, accommodating woman, the first born of a family of five, stood in the town’s only grocery story with her younger sister and nephew staring at a cold, blue tube almost six inches long.
Their husbands remained in the 1953 Plymouth. “Hell, one grocery store is just like any other.”
They had risen at four thirty, and, while the men milked, the two women stoked the stove, visited the outhouse, prepped the Windsor oven, gathered eggs, pulled a slab of ham, sliced it, returned the remainder to the aging room, hauled milk from the milk barn, worked the small hand pump attached to a pipe that ran from the windmill into the kitchen, started the Coleman coffee percolator, laid out the men’s breakfast of ham, sausage, scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, bread baked the day before, newly-churned butter, milk as fresh as that morning’s sun, remembered to bring the butter and jelly to the table, ate while standing, washed and dried the dishes, placed a towel over the glasses in the rack, swept the floor, rushed to the outhouse one more time, then changed into hand-sewn flour sack dresses, nylons, and the same type of shoes their grandmother wore, came downstairs, and loaded the car with the necessities for a pre-McDonald’s day trip. As long as they returned by six that evening they’d be okay. “Cows don’t milk themselves.”
In the refrigerated grocery store aisle. Aunt Josephine, holding the six-inch blue tube, said to her younger sister, “Pauline, look at this. What do you think?”
“It’s only ten cents.”
“For a dime I could buy-“
“Look.” She handed the cold blue tube to her younger sister.
“Just put em in the oven and in less than twenty minutes- Jeez.”
“Come over here.” Her younger sister motioned toward the frozen food section.
“What are those?”
Aunt Josephine touched the rectangular package of frozen chicken, peas, a dollop of mashed potatoes, and four apple slices.
“Why?” She placed the package back in the freezer and returned to reexamine the blue tube.
Back home that evening, they served supper with the blue tube biscuits, said nothing, but planned to return to that grocery store. After all, cake mixes were a dime too.
Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
Image via Pixabay