I don’t have many specific memories about my time in kindergarten. I do remember milk and graham crackers. During the morning break, the kids who were able to pay a nickel were allowed to have milk and graham crackers. Needless to say, I was not among those who had a nickel. After all, a nickel a day amounted to 25 cents a week, enough to buy a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread.
On some occasions they would end up with extra milk and crackers and the teacher would choose a lucky child to get them. For me, the few times when I was chosen, the treat was so amazingly good that, even today one of my favorite snacks is graham crackers and milk.
Everyone in our family had certain jobs to do. Even though I was only five-years-old, I was expected to do my job. Some of these assignments were easier and even more fun than others, like feeding the chicken and gathering eggs. One of my more difficult jobs was cutting wood. Since our stoves burned wood as well as coal, getting free wood was a real blessing. My Uncle Dave, one of my mother’s brothers, was a plasterer before the days of dry wall. This means that strips of wood called laths were used to provide a base to hold the plaster on interior walls. Because of his work, he sometimes would have access to old laths when an old building was torn down. This wood was dumped in our backyard and that is when I received my assignment. Every day, after school, I was expected to take a small ax, cut the laths so they would be short enough to fit in our stove. Part of the job was to stack this wood in to neat piles. When I watch five-year-olds today, I can’t even imagine any of them with an ax in their hand. In fact, it is difficult to imagine them doing any kind of work.
Since Jack was the oldest boy, his job was to carry in the coal from the coal shed in our back yard close to the alley. Anyone who grew up in that era will remember that a coal bucket sitting by the stove was a common sight. Every morning, Jack would take the coal bucket out to the shed, unlock the padlock, fill the bucket with coal and bring it back to the house. This wasn’t a difficult job unless it was wintertime. Then, while the rest of us were able to stay in our semi-warm house, Jack would make his way through the snow to do his job. On one particular morning, it was so cold that the padlock was frozen and the more Jack tried to work it loose, the colder his bare fingers became. Before I tell you what he did, you need to remember that he was only eight-years-old. Bending down to the lock he tried breathing his warm air on the lock, and when that didn’t work he decided to try thawing it out by licking it. I doubt that I need to tell you that his tongue immediately stuck to the cold metal. There he was, all by himself in hip deep snow, probably below zero, ten yards from the house, his tongue sticking to the lock while he tried to yell for help. As you can imagine, he was able to yell loud enough to get anyone’s attention, and even if we had heard him we wouldn’t have understood what he was trying to say. He was yelling, “Mom!” but it came out more like, “Ahauh!” The final solution to this problem was leaving a piece of his tongue skin on the lock.