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The Trauma of Cream-Topped Milk

 

Once a week, the milkman picked up empty bottles on the front stairs of the small, one-story rural house, always replacing them with the same non-homogenized, cream-top milk.

            The mother of the household believed dairy products were healthy for growing children, who were lucky to have something so fresh and rich. She also thought good nutrition included finishing everything on your plate and drinking a full glass of milk with each meal.

            Janet, the middle child, was traumatized by the taste and texture of the big blobs of gooey, slimy cream. Before pouring, she shook the tall bottle as hard as she could, trying to make the lumps sink to the bottom. Peering into the glass, her stomach began to churn. Sometimes the milk even looked like her grandmother’s old, wrinkled skin. Janet would close her eyes and think of something else. But when she tried to drink, she always gagged, was always close to throwing up, always close to tears.

            Stewed tomatoes, runny eggs, bread pudding, and canned prunes were other gelatinous textures placed in front of her. She wanted to please her mother, but she hated those foods. She ate them slowly, taking small bites, or sometimes swallowing as quickly as possible. But milk was the constant stressor, since it was a requirement two or three times every day.

At breakfast, when the three children prepared for school, readying themselves for the arrival of the bus at the end of their gravel driveway, Janet would drink a little from her glass, and when no one was looking, poured the remainder down the sink.

Nighttime was infinitely more difficult. Five people sat at the dinner table: mother, father, and the three sisters. There was little conversation as food passed from one person to another. Each person took a helping from every dish and the children filled their glasses with milk.

            The husband always left the table first, oblivious to the ongoing battle. Within a few minutes, the eldest and youngest daughters followed. Neither left anything on her plate or in her glass. Janet usually stayed behind. Her food would be eaten, but the milk barely touched. Large chunks of cream could be seen floating on the surface. She tried to hide her feelings, and didn’t complain. Refusing to drink risked an intense, scary confrontation with her mother, and she’d still be required to finish. Janet tried to outlast her mother at the table, hoping she’d leave so the two eldest daughters could clean up. On a good night, her mother would disappear to the living room for nightly television and knitting. Then the child would jump up from her chair and hurry to the sink. If she was unlucky, she’d swallow what she hated and gag, as her mother glared.

Even when the milk was dumped successfully, the win was temporary, since the battle continued daily. Janet was always worried, scared, watching. Not surprisingly, she quit drinking milk when she left home and went off to college.

            Years later, she learned her younger sister hated the creamed milk too, but she’d perfected the art of pouring it down the heater vent, unnoticed, without confrontation.

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