My big brother Jim was in the Pacific, I was the lone boy at home with five sisters and undaunted I tried mightily to make a difference, to count the little things needed doing, to contribute as “the big boy at home.” Nights I slipped out of bed, sometimes from under an old overcoat worn down by years but made serviceable as a thick winter blanket, to drag that old coat to cover one of the girls shaking the most, shivers in action or note whose blanket was thinnest, the one we took turns on. Then, chilled to the bone, the cold wind often rattling its terror against the windows of the old house, wearing an old sweater or sweat shirt somehow inherited, I’d slip in beside my mother or father, hang on the edge of the bed but under cover and know the warmth for an hour or so and then slip down stairs to poke up the kitchen stove and feed it with chunky shiny black anthracite from 25 lb bags bought at the local Economy Store. Those scenes were my early teen hours, darkness abounding, five A.M. rarely yet at hand.
I’d become an early riser, a habit that lingers yet into my 89th year; my grandfather having said one time and one time only, “Plant your feet on the floor and go get done what needs getting done before day takes you away.” He’d known hunger when younger than me, “day calling on him.”
As for the coal furnace in the house, it was broken ten ways to Sunday, had most of its parts sold to the junk collector for pittance or donated to piles for the war effort. Its main frame was cracked and replacement funds not yet available. Two ten section radiators had split in several places and, unable to lug or carry them out of the house, I had separated their sections and carried each section off to war, a tank for the Pacific, a long gun barrel bound for Europe. Such images also included the steel prow on his ship not long after the attack at Pearl Harbor.
Mind you, we weren’t completely broke, but food for the gang was our number one need. My father, a former Marine was a guard at the GE, and my mother was a cleaning lady at the same plant; even two paychecks didn’t do the full run for seven of us.
But that old Glenwood stove top, where morning toast was prepared for the first comer before my mother would commandeer the whole top of the stove to make breakfast of one sort or another; oatmeal was universal (then and now without surprise), available eggs beaten with additives to spread the yellow yolks for all of us, pancakes under Karo corn syrup in distinctive cans, as common as evaporated milk and as distinctive in memories marshaled by the Depression Years.
Now and then, after a weekend hambone’s survival, but hardly intact, there’d be ham and eggs in a variety of preparations and shares, a collection of toasted cheese and ham sandwiches directly from the top of the Glenwood, a round-robin sharing for those standing in line with plates in hand for the most generous offering of morning, a taste that lingers still in this mind along with the faces and chatter that we lived on and for and with, and where each day we moved closer to our own destinies, our own new families, the spread of those memories carried to all points of the compass, that old house there yet in place, the Glenwood in the melt of ages, my lonely tears hiding all these images.
Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52, and graduated Boston College in 1956. Co-Editor of A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900 – 2000, Tom has published 28 books, has 30 Pushcart nominations, a Best of the Net award, two short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015, and a Georges Simenon Fiction Award. He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015, and a Georges Simenon Fiction Award. He was named Danse Macabre’s 2016 Writer-in-Residence.
Set in the legendary American West, Tom’s latest collection Jehrico ~ Many Stories of a Mexican Boy Making His Way in the Old West (Hammer & Anvil Books, 2017) is now available in quality paperback exclusively on Amazon.com.