Divorce can devastate a family…I think we’ve heard that nugget of “no doi” wisdom before — but it’s accurate. When my parents divorced in the early/mid ’70s, and my mom remarried, our family went from solidly middle class to barely scraping by. Like Julie (who wrote in her post), we ate a lot of puffed rice cereal, Top Ramen, home canned fruits, home baked bread made from grinding our own wheat, growing vegetables in a garden and, yes, drinking powered milk.
At the time, I could live with (and even like) the other food stuff — after all, it was the ’70s where a kind of DIY environment pervaded. But milk is something that most kids really love – and if you’re like me, really craves. Well, before the divorce, we had plenty of milk. In fact, we used to get it delivered in those glass bottles by a real milkman. But as the late ’60s gave way to the early ’70s, I believe milkmen were displaced by the cheapness of buying milk from Safeway.
By 1977, those golden days of milk, milk, milk, were replaced with powered milk. The stuff was awful. It never tasted like milk, no matter how much powder you put in, and the only way to really mask its sour taste was a pile spoonfuls of sugar over your puffed rice and choke down your breakfast as fast as you could.
And then one day, we got a vacation. Not a vacation from milk, but a vacation to milk — real milk. We went to Wisconsin (milk heaven) to visit my step dad’s family, and instead of flying (too expensive) we drove in our Plymouth Volare — with a pop up camper in tow — across the country camping along the way at various KOAs, state parks and the like. It was so much fun. At night we set up our pop up, made a fire, ate, told stories and generally enjoyed the great outdoors. And yes, the powered milk came with us. But I was having such an amazing time that I didn’t mind having to pour that hideous bluish white liquid over my cereal in the morning. When we finally got to Wisconsin, it was great to finally meet my step dad’s family. They were a friendly bunch who welcomed us with a lot of warmth. But what made me take notice of their comforts was the abundance of milk. I’m talking gallons of whole milk that my grandmother bought at the grocery store. We got to drink as much as we wanted, and she never complained about having to buy more (or at least I never heard any complaints). They also had a basement where there was a pool table and (get this) a refrigerator with more milk! Yep, my grandmother went into hyper-hospitality mode with the milk. She bought five gallons at a time (storing most of it in the downstairs fridge). My mom offered to help pay for the amount we were drinking, but my grandmother waved away her request by saying, “Oh, kids need milk.” And boy did I! I drank milk for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. I couldn’t get enough of it. At one point, I surmised that my step dad’s parent were incredibly wealthy if they could afford all that milk. Little did I know that they lived middle class lives that had money in the budget for real milk. Of course this being Wisconsin, you couldn’t drink anything but real milk — but how was I to know?
I suppose one could say that those years of living without abundance was a character building exercise. And maybe it was because to this day I don’t ever take for granted that I’m able to drink real milk — and hope to the holy cow that I never have to drink that crappy powered milk again.