Two-Cent Milk

Yesterday I had oatmeal for breakfast, and the waitress at the hotel restaurant brought me a small carton of milk along with some raisins, brown sugar, and blueberries.

Looking at the small milk carton immediately reminded me of my earliest days in the cafeteria in grade school.  Sometimes Mom would pack my lunch, and sometimes if she was too busy I would eat a hot lunch at the school cafeteria.  Either way, a staple of the lunch hour was paying two cents for a small carton of ice-cold whole milk.  It tasted good with either a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Twinkie from a paper bag or a hot plate of Johnny Marzetti on a plastic school cafeteria tray.

img_2891The two-cent milk was an important rite of passage in two ways.  It was my first real use of money and — equally important — my first real experience with being entrusted with money.  Mom would give me two pennies and I would walk to school with that cold, hard cash burning a hole in my pocket, knowing that I couldn’t lose it or I wouldn’t be able to get my milk with lunch.  In those first-grade days I didn’t have much of a conception of how the world worked, or how much things cost, but I knew that my milk at lunch cost two cents.

And, of course, the carton itself was a key test of young kid small motor skills.  You had to manipulate the carton just right to achieve the optimal milk-drinking experience.  The first step, of gently separating the container opening, was easy.  It was the second step, which involved applying just the right amount of pressure so that the carton would pop open in one clean motion, that was the challenge.  If you did’t get it on the first try, with each new effort the container would lose structural integrity and stay frustratingly closed, and you might have to use your fingernails to claw it open, leaving the milk drinking hole looking embarrassingly mushy and torn.

When I was presented with the small container of milk with my oatmeal yesterday, I felt my inner first-grader deep inside, focused on the task of opening the milk as cleanly and proficiently as the big kids did.  Alas, I still don’t have the knack.

Finding The Faces On The Milk Cartons

An extraordinary story is being reported from Cleveland.  Three women who vanished a decade ago when they were teenagers have been found, alive.

The three women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight — apparently were held captive for years in a house on Cleveland’s near West Side.  One of the women escaped through a broken door with the help of a neighbor who heard her cries for help.  She then called police, who came to rescue the other two women from the house.  The three women were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were found to be in fair condition.  Three brothers have been arrested. 

As the Cleveland Mayor has been quoted as saying, there are a lot of questions to be answered in the coming days.  How were the three women held captive for so long in a Cleveland neighborhood?  Were neighbors aware of their presence?  Were there any signs that should have led to their rescue at an earlier date?

For now, though, the families of the three young women are just thankful that they have been freed from captivity and returned to their loved ones.  Their story should give hope to the families of others who have been missing for years, who are shown in the blurry pictures on milk cartons and whose families have experienced terrible pain and loss.  How many of the missing are still alive, held captive somewhere in an otherwise normal-looking American neighborhood, always hoping for a chance to escape?