Winter Cup of Milk & Surgar

When I see the scene outside, with the landscape outlined in snow, I am taken back over the years to a place I spent many weekend winters as a youngster. My family was the only one, at the time, that had moved outside of the Italian fold and lived outside of Toledo, Ohio. Toledo was where my grandparents had came to and called home when leaving Italy after marrying and entering the United States via Ellis Island like so many other immigrants.

At least once a month, we would pack up our suitcases and head up to Toledo for a visit. One of the highlights of these trips in the winter was my sister and I got to spend time at my cousin Julie’s house. Julie lived in a neighborhood right off the lake, and that neighborhood had some of the best snowfalls I have ever seen, even to this day and those winters there was a sight to behold.

Terri and I were giddy with excitement to go over to Aunt Carmen and Uncle Joe’s house. It was always brimming with activity. With four children in the family and a neighborhood of kids, there never seemed to be a dull moment. Those days left an Indelible mark on me.

I would walk in my aunt’s house and be immediately met with the strongest whiff of coffee brewing imaginable. I don’t know what my aunt and uncle put in their coffee but the two of them should have been in a coffee commercial for sure. The sight of the two of them, hunkered down over that old kitchen table drinking a cup of java was a picture of the American family everywhere in America. It kinda reflected them having a moment of reflection, bonding and reprieve from the day’s worries and stress in that moment of coffee. I remember them sitting there, taking a good long time to drink it, savoring every drop, just like the commercials say. There was something about those times, the look on their faces, that will stay with me forever. I think it was the look of pure contentment, of peace. Even with four kids and the noise of the house, that coffee was going to be drunk and they were not, most days, going to be pushed to bypass this ritual. I loved the tradition, the fact that they shared this moment, in an otherwise hectic household!

I can still hear the sound of the slamming door. It was, for some reason, a welcome sound to me. It still brings a smile to my face just thinking about that door, the familiarity of hearing it and the repetitiveness of it, every time I was there.

It might be Jenny, the beautiful oldest daughter that had to be the most outspoken cheerleader I have ever met slamming the door. She was this petite brunette with eyes and a face that would melt a man’s heart at any age and a body hand carved to perfection. What was included in the package was a fiery spark that, once ignited, it became a force to be reckoned with and for some reason, my aunt and uncle seemed to be a catalyst for sparking it, or at least in her mind they were. Looking back, maybe it was that boyfriend that just seemed to honk when he came to pick her up also that added to the turmoil? I never met him but he sure was lucky to be dating my wonderful cousin. He would honk his horn as his car pulled up to the front of the house, she would look out the bay window to see it was him and then she ran out that front door, slamming that screen door while my aunt were screaming at her. Jenny would either scream back or pretend she didn’t hear.

Personally, I think that screaming was an art form perfected by my grandparents. When I stayed with them, my grandparents did the same thing, only they spoke in Italian so I could not understand what was being said but it sounded pretty much the same. But, when they did it, my sister and I laughed so hard. With it being spoken in a native tongue, not only did it sound funny but their faces took on these weird contorted expressions that, as kids, we thought it was all pretty funny!

Joey, the next child in the sibling line up, also was known to slam the door. He was a great hockey player in the neighborhood. He was a good looking young man just a few years younger than Jenny. We could tell, he was a young version of our Uncle Joe in appearance. Personality wise, they seemed very different, in fact, they clashed. Terri and I loved Joey, we wished he would pay more attention to us but he didn’t seem to be around the house long enough to spend time with us and we were sure two little girls were boring to a big rough tough guy like him.

Joey played hockey on the rink down the road and was great at it. We were told by Julie, his sister, he loved to fight. I am not sure if he instigated them or if it was the nature of the neighborhood. He was muscular, well built and looked confidant and secure with himself so I am sure it was not due to anyone picking on Joey, no one would be that stupid to intentionally tick him off! Joey seemed to have an edge to him thought that always made me think he was not going to take anything from anyone on that rink, and apparently he didn’t. Boy, he would come home and have the scars, the cuts and bruises to show he didn’t! He would leave the house with those skates over this shoulders and the door slamming with Uncle Joe yelling at him but I never about what. Then next, there, the familiar sound came, the door slamming, and it was quiet again.

The house was somewhat quieter now with only two kids left. By now, Uncle Joe would be leaving to head into work or go do some chores or whatever Uncle Joe did when he left. As a kid, I really didn’t know and wasn’t concerned. My life was about living in the moment, and having fun. We were ready to go outside and play. Our agenda was building snowmen and making a igloo as, where they lived was pretty close to Michigan and had fantastic snow to build things with. We would get bundled up now to go outside to play for the day. And then, as we headed out, with our cousin closest to our age Julie, leading the way, the door would slam behind us. Only to be opened again and then slam again with the sound of a strong boy’s voice yelling ,‘Wait up!”

Ohps, we forgot Jeffy again! Jeffy was the youngest. I never asked if he was an accident but he was not only the youngest but there was quite an age gap between him and the other three. He was a sweetheart boy, quite large for his age but he always seemed a little out of place. He wanted to tag along with us and yet seemed oblivious to the fact of his age difference. It is funny, looking back, to say that now, because the same thing is true of me, in regards to my sister and cousin but, at the time, I never noticed it either. Hindsight is twenty- twenty! Anyways, we all loved Jeffy. He was a bundle of love, energetic and always wanted to please, sometimes maybe too much. He could be exasperating with his limitless energy and questions and yet you could not help but love him. He had a heart of gold and a warm spirit and just wanted to be loved and belong.

We would stay out there for hours. We would build snowmans. We would make snow angels and walk through the neighborhood just loving the feel of walking in snow drifts and getting lost in the piles that had gotten pushed by the roadside. Jeffy and I could get in ones over our head and have to scream for help to get out. Terri and my cousin Julie found that so funny and Jeffy and I found it sort of scary but kept doing it to make the older two laugh. Our igloos we used as bases for our snow ball fights. We switched teams because we wanted to each have a turn being on the winning team.

Our noses would turn so red, they looked like bright red cherries. Our fingers would get so cold, they would be numb as would our toes, and yet we would still stay outside. I laugh thinking about it now as I live in a neighborhood with children and see snow all over and not one child outside in two days. When I was a child, you could not get me inside! Aunt Carmen would yell over and over again till she got so angry, her face turned as red as our noses to get us in the house.

When we finally responded, my favorite part came next, warm milk with sugar in it. I had never had this from anyone nor have I had it since. In my mind, this was a pure gift from Aunt Carmen and my cousin Julie. We would hunker down over the mug of it and sit at that rickety kitchen table just as my Aunt and Uncle had done in the morning. We kids would have removed all our wet clothing and sit on those chairs, teeth chattering and grab our mugs and it was like a reenactment of the morning scene with my aunt and uncle. We would sit there and we would kinda have a moment of reflection, bonding and reprieve from the day’s activities that moment of drinking that mug. I remember sitting there, taking a good long time to drink it, savoring every drop, just like a commercial. There was something about those times, the look on our faces, that will stay with me forever. I think it was the look of pure contentment, of peace.

Ah, the price of peace = a warm cup of milk with sugar in it. Could peace come so simply to our world?
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