"You can stay with your daddy while I shop," said my mother. She was leading me by the hand as she stepped off the bus. I jumped from the bottom step to the curb holding her hand tightly.
"Daddy's at work," I piped back. The bus driver waved and pulled the door shut.
"Yes, I know," she said, "but he won't mind. It'll be lunch time soon. You two can eat the lunch I packed. I won't be long."
We started across the street from Edwards five and dime. The street changed names, as we got to the curb, from Morris St to Mary St.
"Look! There's the place we ate lunch last time with daddy," I said pointing at the cafe two doors down on King St.
"Yes, it is. You have a good memory."
Yes I did. Who wouldn't remember that place? We walked in with dad and the lady behind the counter smiled and said hello to us. We sat at one of the tables just across from the counter. She came out with a pad in her hand. As I was climbing into my wooden chair she stopped beside me offering her hand to help.
"No thank you," I said. "I can do it myself." It was an effort but I was able to climb and right myself to the table. "There.'
"Who is this handsome boy?" she asked my dad. "He's one for doing things himself, ain't he?"
"This is my son, Mary, and this is my wife, Helen," he said pointing to each of us.
"Hello, nice to meet you both. He's a fine looking fellow, Al," she said looking at me holding a menu as if I could read.
Dad's smile brightened my day as he looked at me nodding.
"Yes, he's a good boy alright."
"What'll you have. The lunch special?" She took the pencil from behind her ear and held it poised over the pad.
Dad ordered for us all. She nodded filling up the page.
"Would you like some Cocola, Rickey?" She looked at me smiling.
"No ma'am. Cuppa tea please."
"The regular little Englishman," she said grinning over me.
"He'll have a coke, Mary."
She nodded and walked behind the counter.
"But we always have tea with our meals," I said to dad.
"Not in restaurants, son. No restaurant in America makes tea you can drink. It just doesn't taste right. Coffee is the hot drink of choice here. There's no way it can be messed up."
"Oh," I said. "We have to go to England for a good cuppa tea?"
"Yes we do, son."
"Can we go now? I want a good cuppa tea."
"It's too long a trip. We'd never make it for me to get back to work."
"Alright, I'll drink the coke."
Mary brought our lunch. She sat mine near the edge of the table so I could reach it. The glass was so large I had to hold it with two hands. My dad squirmed a bit each time I grabbed it. My mother smiled at him seeing his unease.
"He's alright, dear," she'd say. "He's been holding on to glasses larger than that without spilling anything. Just enjoy your meal." She bit into her sandwich. She smiled as she ate watching my dad's tiny grimaces.
When I finished eating Mary came over.
"Big appetite for a small man. even so, I bet you have room for butterscotch pudding."
She looked at me. I looked at my dad. He smiled and nodded. I smiled wide in answer to her question.
"Alright, be right back."
"What's butterscotch pudding?" I asked dad.
"Oh, you'll like it. Wait and see."
She came out holding a glass goblet filled with a golden glob of swirl. She placed it in front of me and handed me a spoon.
"There you go little man. Dig in."
I took the spoon and grabbed the stem with my other hand. I looked at my parents who were smiling back at me. I dipped the spoon into the pudding. The smell was new to me and intoxicating.
I tasted it. The flavor flooded my tongue. It wasn't vanilla, nor chocolate, the two flavors most familiar to me. Though I couldn't describe it I could thoroughly enjoy it. I dug my spoon deep and opened wide to accept a huge portion. It was even better than the first bite. When I finished I ran my finger around the goblet to gather the rest clinging to the side. When I had finished licking my fingers my mother took her napkin, dipped it into her water and cleaned my sticky hands.
"MM, that was good. Can I have more?" My eager face made my dad smile again.
"That's enough for one day, my boy. We'll get some more next time we come."
"That better be soon," said Mary who was standing beside me smiling down. "It was a pleasure seeing you enjoy that so much. And your check, Al. Bring your family in any time."
"Thank you," he said taking the check. He handed her two dollars as he rose from his seat. "Keep the change, Mary. See you soon."
"Thanks. Be sure and bring that cute fella in again now."
"Thank you, dad. That was really good." We walked out into the sunlight. He returned to work, we returned home.
"Do you think dad will come up here and I can get butterscotch pudding again?" I was jumping cracks in the sidewalk.
"I don't know. He may be too busy to walk that far."
"I hope we do. That was good."
Mom began to slow down as we approached the loading docks at Armour Star. Dad worked here in the meat distribution center. It sat across the street from the main national rival, Swift's meat packing plant.
A truck was backing into the bay so we stopped waiting for the sidewalk to be clear enough to continue. The truck stopped and we walked a little farther to the entrance. Dad saw us as we entered and came over.
"Hello, dear," he said to my mother kissing her cheek.
"I brought Rickey so he could have lunch with you while I pick up a few things." He said that would be alright. She left by the door we had entered.
"I'll be right with you, son. Stand over there until I'm finished."
"Yes sir." I walked over to the door he had pointed out.
When he had signed a piece of paper on a clipboard held by the driver, he came over.
"Alright then. Are you hungry?"
"Yes sir. Can we go to see Mary and get some of that pudding?"
"Sorry, son. I don't have time today. Come with me and I'll give you something else you'll enjoy."
I followed him into a narrow room. There was a board used for a bench in front of metal lockers. He walked over to one and took the lock off. inside he reached for a paper bag. He sat down with the bench between his knees placing the bag in front of him. I climbed onto the wooden bench and straddled it like my dad but my feet swung free above the floor.
He opened the bag and pulled out a thermos. Then he rose and pulled out a flat cellophane wrapped package. Under the wrapping sat icing covered cinnamon buns. He split the wrap and pulled out one of the buns ripping it out in such a way that five more lay in the package. He tore another off and took a bite. I copied him. The icing was sweet and the bread was full of cinnamon and raisons. A smile spread across my face as I chewed the sweet cinnamon bun.
"Mm, this is good," I said spitting bits onto the board.
"It is, isn't it. Here, take this to wash it down." He handed me the cap from the thermos then poured a steaming hot liquid into it.
I sipped it.
"Yes it is. A proper cup of English tea made at home and brought here in my thermos."
"It's really good with this bun."
"Yes, it is. Don't tell your mother I didn't eat the sandwich. I'm going to have to tell her I don't like tomato sandwiches one day."
"Why don't you like them?'
"I'll tell you, son. When I first came home from the Navy I found out your mother knew nothing about cooking. She fixed tomato sandwiches for two weeks. I couldn't even go into the garden to pick a tomato after that. And I haven't been ale to eat a sandwich made of them since. I just have to tell her I guess. I don't want to hurt her feelings, though. So let's keep it between ourselves. Alright?"
'Yes sir," I said cramming more Merita cinnamon bun into my mouth. I sipped some tea at the same time and the sweetness swam through my mouth.
We polished off the entire tray of buns and our tea at about the time my mother came back for me.
Dad gave me a kiss then he gave my mother a lingering kiss. He said goodbye to us. His hand patted my head. I looked up. He winked and said, "Remember."
My mother took my hand. We walked out, turned left and walked back to Edwards and the bus stop.
"Did you enjoy your lunch?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am. Dad brought a proper cuppa tea from home in a thermos. We didn't have time to go to Mary's. I like eating lunch with daddy." I struggled to keep dad's secret and I won.
"Maybe you can do it again soon."
We walked up Mary St. On the other side of King St was the bus stop. We waited until it arrived. It took us to another one which was a couple of streets over from our place. We walked home and into the land of memory.