I was sixteen wearing a Howard Johnson’s turquoise and white checked uniform. Reaching over into the freezers, making sundaes and serving fries resulted in my arms being painted in sticky splotches with ice cream and catsup. At work, we wiped down tables with rags and our hands smelled of old milk and bleach. As I drove myself home, yawning at 10 pm, I would find a spot I missed; like glue the chocolate and strawberry stuck on my elbow. My shoes felt tacky on floor of my car. My whole life felt sticky during those years waitressing.
Later, I traded in ice cream for gasoline. I stood outdoors in summer heat and bitter cold, gas pump in hand beside countless cars and trucks, gas burping like backwash onto my hands. Henry Cain drove a dark blue Porsche. The gas fill was on the top and I had to hold the nozzle carefully while he stood watching his precious car. I guessed it was paid for by Cain’s Mayonnaise since the factory was nearby. I wiped gas droplets from my hands and accepted the 35 cents per gallon that he handed to me with a smile. My hands smelled perpetually of gasoline, no matter how often I washed them, or covered them with gloves. At night, I used to stand under a hot shower to escape from the gas fumes that seemed to stay in my nose for hours.
In a home stocked with Miracle Whip, the word mayonnaise was a like profanity to my mother. Her jar of Miracle Whip stood proudly inside the refrigerator door and found itself in egg salad, tuna salad and on sandwiches. I didn’t taste mayonnaise until I had met Henry Cain and bought my own jar, placing it next to my mother’s Miracle Whip inside her refrigerator. Anyone listening would have thought I had committed a grievous offense; her remarks and chides echoed through the house. My father intervened and settled the mayonnaise issue – he saw no harm in it, but he did expect me to pay for it myself if I needed such a luxury.
I finally moved onto to another restaurant position before leaving home and there I served seafood with homemade tartar sauce made with Cain’s Mayonnaise and pickle relish. So many jars of mayonnaise and I never once bought Miracle Whip after I left home. The lingering odor that followed me home was fryolator grease but at least I had the taste of mayonnaise to savor and remember.
Julie A. Dickson
The House I once Lived In
The green house with white shutters still stands,
even though the apple tree is long gone from
the front yard, replaced by a disappointing
circle of dirt filled with geraniums – not what
my father had in mind when he planted the apple tree.
His first crop yielded a single yellow apple, which
my mother cut into quarters for us to share,
its crisp sweetness left us wishing for more.
The house looks smaller now, a ranch home
nestled in a neighborhood with one hundred
similar houses, lined up in identical blocks.
I look up at my former bedroom window,
underlined by a white flower box- empty now.
My mother would have mourned the absence
of the flowers, we always planted there.
I recall my brother and I hanging out our windows,
side by side, talking well after bedtime.
He kept a treasure box hidden in the flower box
and one spring we discovered it, rusted
and forgotten after being buried in snow.
Just now, the front door opens and from
my parked car, I see a woman peering out
at me, suspiciously. I wave, as if my friendly smile
will assuage her uncertainty. She waves back
as I leave my car and call out, “I used to live here”
trailing off, hoping she will excuse my intrusion.
Instead she beckons me closer and invites me inside.
Really? I am shocked that, as a stranger she allows
me entrance and I slowly step into the house
I once lived in.
The furniture is new and not at all like when
I was a child, the old brown davenport missing.
Gone was the dining room table where my mother
set out Sunday meals and birthday cakes.
Silently, the woman escorts me down the hall,
where, instead of the ballerina wallpaper I remember,
a brightly painted bedroom greets me. I smile.
Walking to the window, I see my car, the yard
empty of my father’s apple tree and finally,
I slowly lean forward to make sure that
my brother’s treasure box is really gone.