After five years of sleeping with 19 other little girls in white iron beds with white counterpanes, all of us crying ourselves to sleep in concert, now there I was, an eight year old, sleeping with just my little brother, snug in our twin beds, wondering where all those other kids were sleeping.
Our stepfather had thoughtfully wall papered the bed room in our new home with scenes of cowboys and wranglers roping dogies, sitting around the campfire and otherwise being wall paper cowboys. Before dark enfolded our sleeping space, Bobby would make a finger gun, blow the smoke off it, and fire away. Ka POW! Ka POW! He’d aim and shoot, aim and shoot until he told me he’d run out of spit and all the wall paper cowboys were dead.
There would be no sleep for me until he felt he’d shot enough of those cowboys. Then he would focus on the lamp atop the bedside table. The shade bore a picture of a large, masted pirate ship whose skull and crossbones glowed in the dark. The boy was terrified of it, mostly because he couldn’t explain it. It was his best excuse to climb into my bed, looking for comfort.
In the orphanage, he’d traverse the whole massive building, from the boy’s side of the dormitories to find me in my bed, where he’d wrap my hair around his fingers and fall asleep, firmly attached. Sleeping alone was not in his repertoire.
Here, in a quiet country town, there were just the two of us in our room. He had a lot to talk about, to work out, to discover. Whispering in the dark, he’d drop off to sleep only to terrorize the bed sheets with his nightmares. I’d have to tackle him to wake him, tuck him back into his own bed, and then fall asleep in my own. With him, sometimes the night was more exciting than day time.
Waking was perfumed with bacon, every day. We both woke with our mouths watering. Bacon was an alien food, unknown to us in the orphanage. Mama fried as much as we were willing to eat, before the soft boiled eggs appeared. What we had known of eggs happened once a year. at the Easter egg hunt. Even way back then, eggs were an extravagance. Here, we’d just walk to the nearest farm and buy the brown eggs Mama swore were more nutritious than the white ones.
The local doctor said we were both malnourished, so Mama was on a mission to fatten us up. The dreaded oatmeal was replaced by bacon and eggs with stacks of toast, and hand squeezed orange juice, which must have cost a fortune in a household with no income. Every morning the beautiful orange was ringed with a froth of bubbles, ambrosia we couldn’t believe was ours to drink unfettered. Tall glasses of ice cold milk were savored until we realized they wouldn’t disappear and we could stop the gulping.
Sunday evenings as the sun went down, dinner appeared, sweet-bitter shortcakes whipped up by Mama wielding a wooden spoon, were baked until the tops were firm and brown. Then came the sweet strawberries and whipped cream, with milk poured around the cake. We couldn’t believe dinner was dessert. The only better thing was pretzel soup. Salty Amish pretzels in a bowl of hot milk swimming with pats of butter? What could be better?
Still, morning at Mama’s table convinced us we were rich kids. With Dad out of the house doing whatever he did, we could chatter without being shushed, unlike dinner time when table silence was strictly enforced, its heaviness oppressive. Such an atmosphere couldn’t be conducive to good digestion. We were nervous and apprehensive and didn’t understand how disturbing we were.
To this day, breakfast is my favorite meal.