“Call Del Pero’s and tell Al to bring home some meat for dinner,” she said before leaving in the big Dodge station wagon. My step-father was a butcher at a meat market in Yuba City. “Make sure the kids take a bath and polish their shoes before bed.”
I hated making that call, though it was one of the few instances where Al and I exchanged words. I felt like I was intruding on his work world, and he would be annoyed at me, as would anyone else who answered the phone. Why didn’t he already know we needed groceries? “Mom wants you to bring home some meat for dinner, and some lunchmeat for tomorrow. I don’t know what kind, doesn’t matter, I guess…” Fact is, it was a standoff, He thinking she picked up something with her tips, and her not having enough tips. Sometimes I didn’t have to call and we would feast on a meal from the pot of beans or spaghetti sauce that had been simmering all day. After American Bandstand, I’d fry up some potatoes and make cornbread or cook the spaghetti and make a salad. The kids and I would eat, because my step-father often stopped at the Owl and had a couple beers before coming home to a house full of kids and a cold plate sitting on the stove. Who could blame him? “I never loved him,” my mother confided on her death bed, though he was a good man. But, I digress.
In some ways it was a cold house, devoid of parental signs of affection—a house kept busy with work, making a living, cleaning, struggling to keep a family of seven well-fed and dressed. But to me that was normalcy, and it was not all work and no play. Little brothers and sister, you were too young to even evoke much of a memory, I hate to say. My closest sibling, Denny, and I created our own adventures though. The irrigation ditch was full of frogs and crawdads in those days. A raft could be built from old lumber to make it easier to track down and catch critters. We stomped all over those ten acres with Al’s .22 trying to shoot jackrabbits and pheasants—never came close to hitting anything. We laid pennies on the railroad tracks and waited for the Southern Pacific to pass and claim our prize. There were a few other kids on Murphy road, but I didn’t really get to know them.