From when I was maybe six years old until just before I started high school, my mom didn’t work. My dad paid the utility bills and gave my mom an allowance of $200 every two weeks for groceries, clothes, household issues—everything that wasn’t a utility. I still remember how she’d gear up to fight for a raise every year or two. By the time I was in eighth grade she was up to $220 every two weeks.
Even way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, that wasn’t a ton of money, especially when she was also funneling funds to my broke grandparents. There weren’t many unnecessary activities that cost money outside of the occasional meal at a restaurant. However, Friday night was my mom’s night to let loose.
My dad bowled on Fridays. And Sundays. And whatever other day he could find somewhere else to be. It was just my mom, my sisters, and me. Mom had this routine every Friday:
- pick up beer, Coke, and potato chips
- order a pizza
- settle in for the Friday night shows
Right around when my father moved out, my grandparents moved in with us. They quickly became assistants in the Friday night ritual, which is how I ended up wandering down the street with Grandpa in the middle of winter.
Grandpa would get dispatched on Friday to pick up supplies. This entailed walking a few blocks to the liquor store with me, the shopping cart clanking behind us, so we could fill our cart with goodies and drag them home. Mostly, it was one of those auto-pilot activities where you go do it without thinking, but there was one trip that still brings back not-so-fond memories.
It was the middle of winter, and we’d spent the week weathering a snow storm. Chicago winters can be brutal, but they are perhaps most cruel to anyone who needs to walk anywhere. Hardly anyone shoveled their sidewalks in my neighborhood. They were too busy clearing their parking spots and securing them with household goods. Anyhow, if they did clean the sidewalk, there would just be an ice slick, which nobody could walk on, so why bother.
When Friday afternoon rolled around, my mom handed Grandpa $20 and the same list as usual: a box of Jays potato chips, a 24-pack of Lite beer, and two 8-packs of Coke. Then, he kindly requested my assistance. “Hey girl, come on and help me at the store.” With that, we grabbed the cart and headed out.
As I mentioned, nobody shoveled, so we dragged the grocery cart through the street to the liquor store. We paused once or twice to check out the items people were using to hold the parking spots they’d so thoroughly cleared. Later, Grandpa would probably swing by and grab a few things he liked, bring them home, and show us what he’d “found” in the street. We were basically casing the neighborhood on our way to the store.
Our cart was loaded down for the walk home with the chips, 24 cans that would explode if you shook them too much, and 16 glass bottles that incidentally would also detonate if they were shaken too much (assuming they survived the trip). Then Grandpa started singing.
I know—how charming, like one of those old movies with the jolly, wise elder singing songs of yore. Nope. I got to waddle down the middle of the street through slush, snow, and potholes, while Grandpa sang, “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me.” As if that wasn’t embarrassing all on its own, I was a chubby, self-conscious kid, so I cringed for three blocks. People came out onto their porches to gawk at us. Children snickered and threw snowballs at me. Cars honked at us to get out of the way. Grandpa yelled, “Come on girl, what’s the hold up” between verses. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I was somewhat traumatized. It was, in a word, horrific.
I made it home and told my mom about my terrible experience, confident that she would comfort me. She checked to make sure the snow hadn’t penetrated the chip box. Priorities.
Later that night, Grandpa showed us the neat dining room chair he’d found “just lying around” and added it to his basement stash. Then we all gathered around the TV for pizza, drinks, and Dallas.
Another week down.