Parents are People Too.
The warmth of his hand-made patchwork quilt was so comforting, and the aroma of home -made pancakes and bacon was so captivating, Tom couldn’t decide what to do. Should I get up or stay in bed? He couldn’t go back to sleep. His imminent trip to Interlocken Fine Arts Camp near Traverse City kept parading across his mind, filling his head with delusions of grandeur, and promising instant notoriety. Just when he decided to stay in bed for another half hour, bask in his dream a little longer, and pulled the quilt up a little higher, he heard his Dad calling.
“Get up young man. Get outta bed. It’s time to get a move on.” Tom groaned. He lay there until he got tired of hearing the pounding on the bedroom door and Frank, his Dad, hollering. Yesterday he graduated from the 1970 class at Fremont High School in western Michigan. He knew he didn’t have to go to school. He looked at his Timex and saw it was too early to get up on a Saturday. What could my Dad be talking about? Maybe I’m dreaming. Then he heard it again. Wide awake now, he knew it was no dream.
“Okay, Dad, I’m coming,” he said as he sat on the edge of the bed, feet resting on the handmade crocheted rug. His short brown hair was mussed and his cheek creased from lying with his face on his Detroit Tigers pillow. Forcing himself up; he stumbled toward the door.
As he opened it his Dad said, “Get dressed. Now! We’re already late.”
“Late? It’s seven o’clock. It’s Saturday. What are we late for?”
“The milk route! You’re out of school. You kin help me on my route until I give it to you this fall.”
“Milk route? Give it to me? What are you talking about?” Tom asked as he put his hands behind his neck and forced his elbows further behind him, stretching as far as he could.
“Yeah, the milk route. You know, I go to the farmers every morning to collect their milk and take it to the dairy. That’s how I earn money so you can live here. You can’t loaf all summer just because you’re a hot-shot graduate now. You can help me with the route and earn your keep around here. You didn’t apply for college like I told you, so you can have the milk route.”
“But Dad, I have other plans for the summer. I can’t help you.”
“What do you mean you can’t help? What other plans? Get dressed, we’re late.” he said with his arms folded across his chest and an accusing glare at his son. Whenever he did that Tom thought he looked like Mr. Clean with a beard. Tom had all he could do to stifle a laugh.
Frank was a burly five feet ten inches tall with a barrel chest and biceps the size of most men’s calves. He had the word “Maybelle” tattooed inside a heart on his left forearm under his hair, and his callused hands were the size of a catcher’s mitt. He kept his head shaved, but a white beard and mustache covered most of his face. The navy blue watch cap with a golden “M” on one side covered a quarter sized mole high up on his right temple.
“Wait a minute, Dad, “Tom said rubbing his hands through his hair. “There must be a mistake. I don’t want to work on your milk route again this year. And I didn’t know I had to earn my keep. I don’t plan to loaf for the rest of the summer either. I only just graduated yesterday, for crying out loud. And I definitely don’t want your milk route.”
“I didn’t ask if you wanted to help. I didn’t ask you when you graduated. I didn’t even ask you if you wanted the milk route. It’s 1970. You ain’t gonna lay here abed all day while I break my back to support you. I worked that route for twenty years. You can work the route and help me this summer.”
For the past two summers Tom rode with his Dad. He knew the route. He also knew the twenty year speech. The thought occurred to him that if his Dad had graduated from high school he may not have had to work this route for twenty years. He knew better than to say anything.
Frank had picked up milk from his forty customers every morning for the past twenty years and delivered it to the Gerber Foods dairy in Fremont. The dairy processed it into evaporated and condensed milk and baby food products. Gerber paid the farmers for their milk and paid his Dad for picking it up. Each customer had three to six cans weighing a hundred pounds each when full. Dad could carry one in each hand. Tom could carry one in two hands.
Every morning Frank would go to the milk house on each farm, exchanging the full cans, with empty cans. That wasn’t how Tom wanted to spend his summer; or the rest of his life.
“But Dad. . . .”
“No buts ‘bout it. Get your butt amoving. We gotta go. Either help me or join the Army. Maybe a trip to Viet Nam would give you some smarts. Make you appreciate the milk route.”
“I can’t help you this summer. You know I have other plans. Neither your milk route, nor the Army are part of them.”
“You’re not planning to escape to Canada to avoid the war, like half the kids in town are you?”
“No I’m not and it was only one kid. He was expelled from school first. I’m going to Interlocken. Remember? I told you about it just last week. I made my reservations and paid my tuition already. Starts Monday. You know that.”
“No. I don’t remember no conversation like that. What’s Interlocken?”
“Like I told you in September and at Christmas and last week, it’s a music retreat. Three months of intense training with the best instructors in the country.”
“Music retreat? I need you here, the country is at war, and you wanna go play music? There’s no future in music. You need a job with a future. When the summer is over the route’ll be yours. You’ll have a guaranteed income for the rest of your life. Everyone has babies and babies drink milk. A man can’t do no better’n that for his kid, right? Besides, the draft board might pass over you if they see you own a business and provide a service to the community.”
“But dad. . .”
“No buts ‘bout it. Get your butt amoving. We gotta go.”
Tom shook his head and softly said, “I’m sorry, Dad. I can’t go with you. I got to get myself ready to leave on Monday. We already had this conversation last week. I told you I’m going. Besides if I get drafted, you’ll still need to work the route alone.”
“I’m sorry too because you gotta go with me today.”
“We had this same discussion last Saturday when I helped you on the route. You knew last week what I planned to do this summer. Why do you think I took four years of band and four years of choir? I majored in music, remember? That’s what I want to do with my life. Music is my life, just like milk is yours.”
“I heard you last weekend and I remember telling you that you weren’t going to goof off all summer while I stay here and work. I deliver milk because it’s my job, not because I like it. It puts food on the table. That’s more than your music will do for you.”
“I’m good with my cornet. Everyone says so. You didn’t say I couldn’t go. You told me to do what I thought was best. So I am. After I finish Interlocken, maybe someone will hire me somewhere. The need for good musicians is expected to increase by up to seventeen percent in the next four years. If I can’t get hired, I’m sure the Army will take me.”
“Yeah right! Seventeen percent! Maybe. . . if you finish . . .someone . . . somewhere. Sounds like a for sure failure to me. The milk route’s guaranteed, it’s a good plan. I thought you would make the right decision and stay home.”
“Maybe it’s a good plan but it’s your plan, not my plan. You just said you don’t even like it. Why would I like it? I don’t want your milk route. This decision is the right decision for me.”
“A job is to have, not to like.” They stood looking at each other for a few seconds then Frank said, “This was your mother’s idea wasn’t it?”
“What was my idea?” asked Tom’s mother as she entered the room wearing jeans, a pull over sweat shirt, and walking shoes. The aroma of breakfast entered the room with her. Tom knew that Maybelle had been married to Frank for twenty-two years and never backed down from him. She wasn’t about to be accused of something she didn’t do.
Frank turned to look at his wife who still carried a pancake turner. “Did you know Tom don’t want the milk route? He wants music,” Frank said with a sarcastic emphasis on the word “music”.
Maybelle was only five feet two inches tall and weighed about half as much as the scarecrow in the family’s garden. Still, she got her way most of the time. Her brown hair was streaked with grey but her green eyes were as bright as when she was sixteen. When she dressed up she could still make most men look twice. And if she smiled at them, they froze in their steps, causing a great deal of consternation for her husband.
“I knew he liked music and hated the milk route. Why do you think it was my idea, for Pete’s sake?” asked Maybelle. “You’re the one who got him interested in learning how to play an instrument. He told us last week he was going to Interlocken this summer. Why is everything always all my fault?”
“I only was trying to keep him from listening to the record player all day,” said Frank. “That racket has to be unhealthy. You wanted a healthy kid, didn’t you? Besides I thought he was asking for permission and I thought I said no.”
“Mom, Dad, I asked you both. Way back in September if I could go. You both agreed I could go. You even said it was a good idea. We talked about it at Christmas. Last week neither of you objected. I’m going to Interlocken this summer to study music. My idea, my dream is to play professionally. I plan to get a job playing my cornet. Maybe in an orchestra. Or singing in a group. Or possibly alone. There aren’t very many cornet players who can sing too. Dad wants me to go with him to learn the milk route. What would I do with a milk route?” asked Tom, shrugging his shoulders.
“Perhaps make a living,” said Maybelle. “Perhaps keep from getting killed in the war. Your father’s been looking forward to you graduating. He wants to do something else so he can retire from the milk route. With you working the route he can bring in some extra money for us. The draft board tends to overlook some men, especially men who are taking care of their parents. Yes, you told us you were going to Interlocken. You didn’t say you’d refuse your father’s business. We agreed you could think about it. We never outright said you could go.”
“I want to do something else with my life, too. I’m going to play music. I’ll make records, be rich and famous, you’ll see. Just watch,” said Tom.
“I’ll watch you alright. I’ll watch you get your butt amoving, we gotta go. No more nonsense about music.”
“Tom, your father’s right. No one gets rich in music,” said Maybelle.
“No one gets rich picking up milk from farmers either except the dairy owners. My mind is made up. You can’t make me change it. I can’t believe you let me think I could go for the entire school year, pay my tuition, and now you’re saying I can’t go.”
Ted, Tom’s younger brother by one year, came into the room still wearing his Detroit Lions T shirt and his sweat pants, “What’s all the fuss about? Is that bacon I smell? What are you going to do with that pancake turner?”
“Your brother ain’t thinking clearly,” said Frank.
“Not again?” asked Ted.
“Don’t be rude,” said Maybelle as she raised the turner in Ted’s direction “I may use this on you.”
“Not again,” said Ted.
Maybelle took a playful swing at him, deliberately missing.
“Ted, tell them. I’ve been planning to go to Interlocken for years. You know I already paid for it,” said Tom.
“He’s right. He’s been planning to go to Interlocken for years. It’s paid for. He told us last Christmas he was going. Oh, and last week too. Remember?” said Ted. “He told you when you opened his Christmas present for you too. That new screwdriver from the dollar store, if I remember right. Mom, when’s breakfast? I’m hungry.”
“I came up here to tell you that breakfast has been ready for at least fifteen minutes,” she said.
“How could you be hungry at a time like this?” asked Frank.
“It’s seven fifteen, It’s time to be hungry,” said Ted.
“Ted, why don’t you go with Dad, learn the route, take the business? It’s guaranteed income for the rest of your life,” asked Tom.
“Breakfast is getting cold,” said Maybelle.
“No way. I’m joining the Army. Already took my tests. Soon as I graduate I can enlist. Talked to the recruiter and he promised me I could miss the war if I go to Europe and be a medic. It’s already settled,” Ted said.
“The Army?” asked Maybelle.
“When did you decide that?” asked Frank.
“When I heard you telling Mom you were planning to give the milk route to Tom. I knew he didn’t want it. I’m next in line. Had to protect myself. Got a binding agreement. That means I can’t back out now,” said Ted. “Remember I told you I was going to see the recruiter last month? I signed up then. He already taught me how to say “sir”.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell us,” said Frank.
“I thought you knew what happens in a recruiter’s office. I can’t back out now. I’m already enlisted on a delayed enlistment program.”
“I can’t back out either it’s paid for, couple thousand dollars,” said Tom. “I worked every summer for three years in the meat market after finishing the route with you to save up that money. A lot of sausages paid for that training.”
“Ted, tell your brother there’s no future in music,” said Frank.
“There’s no future in music,” Ted said. “Now the Army, that’s different.”
“Tell that to the Beatles.” said Tom.
“Who? Did they join the Army? At least I won’t have to worry about someone telling me what to do with my life,” said Ted. “I won’t have to worry about where my money will come from either.”
“I’m telling you breakfast‘s getting cold. Ted, tell your brother and father it’s time to eat,” said Maybelle.
“It’s time to eat,” said Ted. “But if you don’t want it, I’ll eat it.”
“If it’s paid for you need to go. That’s too much money to throw away. But when you get home, the milk route is yours unless you go to college,” said Frank. “You’ll have plenty of time for music when the route is finished.”
“OK, OK. I’ll go along this morning, but I’m not going to college,” said Tom. My future is music, not milk; cornets, not cows. I don’t want to be tied down to a milk route. I want to travel around the country playing music for people.”
“Why ain’t you going to college?” said Frank.
“Like you said, I never sent in the application, I only have a 2.3 grade point average and Michigan State is requiring a 3.0 because everyone is trying to avoid the draft by going to college. I don’t qualify,” said Tom.
“Alright, go to camp, skip college, and work your life away like I did,” said Frank. “If you want to struggle every day, that’s your decision. I’m out of it,” said Frank.
“Can’t we give him more time to think about it?” asked Maybelle.
“Mom, I’ve thought of nothing else for four years. My mind’s made up. There’s nothing to think about,” said Tom.
“Right, Tom never thinks about anything but music,” said Ted.
“Ted, for once in your life, you’re right,” said Frank. He took off his hat, rubbed one hand across his head, stroked his beard, and then placed both hands on his hips, “If neither of you want the route, I might as well sell it. In fifteen years your mother and I kin retire on what it’d sell for, plus our Social Security checks. You boys have your way but don’t come abegging if you’re wrong.”
“You’re not going to Interlocken to be with Sally Weaver are you?” asked Maybelle, with concern in her voice, pointing the pancake turner at Tom. “I saw her mother, Janet, in the Kroger supermarket yesterday. She told me Sally is leaving on Monday too.”
“Whatever. I hardly know Sally. We move in different circles,” said Tom.
“Circles, smircles, we got work to do,” said Frank.
“Not before my breakfast, I’ll put some bacon and peanut butter between some toast and take it with me,” said Tom. “What’s wrong with Sally?”
“I guess she’s a good person but her family has religious beliefs that are far different from ours. Just be careful is all I’m saying.”
On the milk every few minutes Frank would groan, “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.”
“I just can’t believe it,” said Tom.
“I just can’t believe I’d raise a kid who wanted music instead of a real job,” moaned Frank.
“I just can’t believe I’m actually going to Interlocken,” exclaimed Tom.
“Don’t forget at the next farm we move the bottom cans to the top shelf and the top cans to the bottom shelf,” said Frank.
“Do you think they’ll have a Dixieland brass band this year?” asked Tom.
“Number 14 stays where they are. We can work around them.”
“I hope I have a good mentor.”
“The milk house for this stop is in the barn.”
“I polished my cornet, it looks great.”
“Don’t try to carry the cans in one hand if they are too heavy.”
“I wonder if Sally will really be there.”
“Between the milk house and the truck, some of these farms will have you going in circles.”
“Sally and I run in different circles.”
“Circles, smircles we got work to do.”
That afternoon Tom began sorting his things after having lunch with his family. He was going to Interlocken and not coming home. His mind was made up. Where was that letter of introduction with instructions on what to bring? He wanted to be sure he had enough navy blue trousers and light blue shirts. He’d buy the light blue belt when he got there.
Sunday morning was clear and cloudless. Flowers bloomed everywhere. Daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and irises were Tom’s favorites but they had already bloomed and were gone until next year. The asters, zinnias, and, cosmos were beautiful. Maybelle drove herself Tom, and Ted to the Fremont Christian Church, on Elm Street, the neighborhood non-denominational church. Frank went on the milk route.
Tom had heard people say they were nondenominational because they didn’t know what they stood for so they fell for anything. Some people called it the Nightmare on Elm Street. He knew they were wrong. Fremont had sixteen other churches including three Baptist churches. Tom felt that some of the churches put God in a box and wouldn’t let him out. At the Fremont Christian Church God was out of the box and so was the worship.
The flowers reminded Tom of a yellow Labrador that he brought home one day and convinced Dad to let him stay. One morning before going on the milk route Dad tied the dog on a line that covered a large portion of the back yard. When he returned home early that afternoon the dog had chewed off the two lower branches of their white pine. Then he dug a hole in Dad’s iris garden completely destroying the rhizome of his prize winning white and lavender iris called Celtic Woman. The dog dragged some of the smaller branches from the tree and used them as bedding in the iris garden. That was the end of having any large dogs as pets. Today they had a Yorkshire terrier and one gold fish. Dad was mad at Tom for a month until two rhizomes he ordered at fifty dollars each arrived to replace the one the dog destroyed. Tom didn’t want his Dad to be mad at him like that again, but he was going to the music camp no matter what.
Reverend Richard’s sermon that morning surprised Tom. It was on the topic of dreams. The D was for discernment- discerning God’s calling on your life; R was for recording your dream; E was for educating yourself in the field of your dream; A was associating with those who will mentor you in your dream; M was for maintaining commitment to the dream; and S was for serving others through your dream. The main point was that a man’s harvest depends entirely on what he sows.
On the way home Tom said, “That message was for me. It’s what I’m doing. I’m following my dream of music, going to Interlocken to get educated and get a mentor. I want to entertain others through my work. It was a perfect message. I wonder how he knew what I needed to hear.”
“Could’ve been for anyone. Not just you. I think it was about me going into the Army,” said Ted.
“You’re both wrong, it was about your father’s milk route,” said Maybelle.
When Frank arrived home they went to IHOP for breakfast. While Frank ate his usual farmer’s omelet, Tom told him about the sermon and what he thought it meant. Frank said it meant that his two sons ought to give up their foolish ideas and help him with his milk route. The only mentors they needed were Maybelle and Frank; and the boys could get discernment by listening to their parents. They could sow into their parents’ lives by doing what they expected.
Tom was certain that his father had missed the point of the message, his future would be music. Tomorrow he planned to begin working on the education part by going to music camp. He anticipated a great summer.
On Monday morning after his mother tearfully hugged Tom and said good bye, Ted drove him to the bus station. Tom was wearing a pair of Levis, a tee shirt that said Detroit Tigers on the front and Norm Cash across his shoulders on the back, and his tennis shoes. His hair was combed when he left home but it was already starting to blow in the wind. As he got out of the car Tom said, “Tell Mom and Dad I love them but I’m not coming home. Tell them I’d rather join the Army than to work the milk route. Tell Dad I don’t want his milk route.”
“Okay, right,” said Ted. “I’ll tell them.”
by Delbert Teachout
by Delbert Teachout