Dreams really do come true. Keep dreaming!
Growing up in a small town almost smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, back in the late 50’s through the 60’s meant for the most part, my family and I lived a fairly quiet and almost ‘Leave-it-to-Beaver’ kind of life. And although our mother did not wear pearls and heels around the house, she did wear a dress and an apron almost every single day.
Every once in a while, exciting and out-of-the-ordinary things happened, like the time the circus came to town and set up their big tent in the school playground less than a block from our house. My siblings and I spent every possible minute we could watching the circus crew and performers while they setup the various tents, practiced their stunts and routines, and fed and trained the animals. We stood along the chain link fence that bordered the playground and whenever possible, got as near to the tent opening as they would allow us, peering at the happenings in absolute awe and wonder. Someone from the circus asked us if we would be going to the show. We told them no, we didn’t have money for the tickets. The exact details after that are somewhat foggy; I just remember someone from the circus ended up giving us tickets to the show. And to us, it was without a doubt, the greatest show on earth.
Thunder and lightning storms always brought their own kind of excitement too, and part of the excitement was when the lights went out. One night when this happened, our whole family (after pulling the blankets off our beds) camped out on the living room floor with candles in big metal pots as our only light, while our mom made popcorn…lots of popcorn.
Along with bad storms, came our routine of heading to the basement with our mom. Once in the basement, we would stay there until the storm passed. For some reason, bad weather and storms always seemed to happen when our dad was at work or not home. I’m not sure everyone else felt the same way that I did, but to me, surrounded by my mom and siblings, I always felt safe.
One particular storm memory is when a tornado just barely missed our town. Shortly before the storm, my mom had sent me on an errand to Miller’s Bakery on Main Street to get 4 loaves of bread. After being given the money, she also gave me her standard instructions, “Now remember, don’t squeeze the bread.”
Besides the obvious heavenly aromas and dozens of beautifully baked temptations to drool over, I loved this errand and I also happened to be good at it. Now, I had figured out exactly how to hold and carry the bag securely without squeezing the contents. The latter was very important, as my mom HATED squeezed and misshaped bread.
On this particular visit, I remember having the hairnet-wearing clerk ask me as she handed me the brown paper bag of bread, “Little girl, do you have far to go? There is going to be a bad storm.”
I told her no, I just lived over the railroad tracks. Picture in your mind a roughly 3 block distance; don’t picture the 3 or 4 rows of railroad tracks that I had to cross at about the age of 8 years old. It was a shortcut and saved me from having to walk an extra block home. It was the route my siblings and I took all the time.
As I left the bakery, I must have been oblivious to any dark threatening clouds or the scary pre-storm stillness. I just remember as I safely crossed the railroad tracks and the road, with a little less than 2 blocks until home, the sky opened up and I was pelted with the heaviest rain of my life (to this day). Along with the rain came hail, followed by a fierce and intense wind that almost blew me off my feet. It made walking very difficult and all around me the wind was blowing tree branches and leaves and assorted debris everywhere.
As I pushed myself in the direction of home, I kept telling myself over and over again, ‘Don’t squeeze the bread!” But, somewhere along the way, I thought I’d get in bigger trouble if I let the bag fly away and got home with no bread, so I decided to hold on to that bag…for dear life. As I got half way down the block, while passing the elementary school, out of nowhere I was lifted up… into the arms of one of the janitors. He ran with me to the school, where the other janitor was waiting safely inside. They recognized me as one of the Spence kids. I was drenched and scared, and of course I was crying. I had squeezed the bread.
After the storm passed, one of them drove me home and walked me to the door. My frantic mother answered the door and pulled me into her arms and held me there. All I remember is crying.
Through tears I both confessed and apologized that I had squeezed the bread. I’m guessing when my mom saw the state of the weather beaten bag; she already knew what the contents looked like. I just know it was the only time I remember her not seeming to care that every loaf of bread and probably every slice was squeezed beyond recognition. Later my older sister told me, somewhat disgustedly, that they had been down in the basement praying for me and my safety for what seemed like hours.
It wasn’t until years after our mother had died, when our aunt from Ireland came to visit and told us our mom had always been terrified of storms. Mom had never told us and we had never known. We had learned firsthand that there is safety in numbers and true comfort in being together.
I think she’d be pleased to know that none of us kids are afraid of storms. And I think she might get a kick out of knowing that I grew up to be pretty picky about my bread… and my produce.