“Tommy, get the growler,” Anne said to her eight-year old son. The boy took the pail off the icebox in the kitchen. His four-year-old brother, Bobby piped in, “Let me, let me!”
Swede with growler at the lake
Tommy turned the bucket over to his brother, and Anne went to the front window and watched the iceman’s cart rolling down York Avenue.
It was April 1933, spring’s early bloom, Anne needed fertilizer, and there was none better than fresh horse manure. Her plantings were her pride. In the summer, you could see the flash of color on the stone ledge from a block away. The four flower boxes stretched across both windows in a military row.
Bobby ran ahead of his brother down the stairs into the street. His mother leaned out the window and pointed to the target lying on the cobblestones. Not having a scoop, Bobby bent over and took one of his brother’s baseball cards out of his back pocket to act as his steam shovel.
Mom gave directions to her son.
“Too much, put half back.”
Tommy walked over to the German butcher’s window to stare at the hanging meats. On the avenue, there was only one parked car, the butcher’s delivery truck, and a debris container right in front of it. Distracted by his meat investigation, Tommy missed the delivery man slowly backing up to avoid hitting the container. The driver didn’t see the boy, and eased his rear bumper into Bobby who fell face first into the manure pile.
“Thomas, pick your brother up, and get up here, now!” Anne yelled as the truck pulled away.
Tommy ran over and lifted Bobby up and cleaned him best he could with a wet newspaper lying in the gutter.
“Wipe it off, wipe it off!” Bobby cried.
When they got upstairs, Anne whacked Tommy, “For not watching your brother,” then pulled Bobby by his one clean arm over to the washing sink where she took off his clothes and dropped them directly into the cast iron bathtub. After scrubbing Bobby and soaking the clothes, she moved the garments into a washing basin, and ran a fresh bath for Bobby and put him in.
Anne took the bucket and walked through the rooms toward the front and the flower boxes. On the way, she passed Tommy and asked what he was doing.
“Reading a comic, Mom.”
Moving the soil around with her single gardening tool, Anne thought about her family.
The Pryors at the lake @ July 4, 1931
She adored the boys, but the man, Tom, was a different story. Her feelings for him, once positive and strong, had cracked into little compartments. His bravado and promises shrunk down to faithless words with no action. Right out of the orphanage at 16, he hated authority and fought ceaselessly with anyone who disagreed with anything he said including his bosses, co-workers, shopkeepers, girlfriends, and bartenders.
He drank the little money he made away, and developed chronic pneumonia that was more here, than gone. Soon he’d be on his way to the TB hospital, she thought. The older boy, Tommy, saw too much, lost affection for his father and stopped accepting his kisses. The father coddled the youngest boy because Bobby adored him, and he was too young to understand the misery in the home. Anne was tired, tired of being mistreated, tired of working two lousy jobs. What she saw the previous night, walking home at midnight crushed her - Tom pinning a young girl against the wall of the Webster library entrance, hungrily kissing her, and roaming his hands all over. Pressed against the door, he thought no one could see him, but she knew his profile, his stance, and the way he rolled his neck to ease his arthritic pain, and he was mauling this whore on the spot where they first met in 1921 when she was fourteen years old. She was furious, but also felt shame and regret. ‘Why didn’t I leave this man the first time he hit me?’
Tom was driving a cab, a job with no boss, but who knew how long that would last before he got bored or fell ill and went off to the sanatorium.
Finishing her chores, on her only day off, she went back to the kitchen, gave the bucket a half-assed wash, placed it on the icebox and began making dinner for the family.
Six o’clock, they heard Tom’s whistling in the hallway, he came in and turned up the volume on the Philco Baby Grand Console, the family’s one luxury item. The radio costs $50, and was well worth it. The only thing he and the missus agreed on these days. He looked at his wife, only 27 years old, still pretty but her eyes and spirits exhausted. He knew why. He felt guilt and shame but hid them behind a practiced smile.
Al Jolson sang “Sonny Boy,” and Tom joined in, he loved the song and gave the nickname to his oldest son. Tom kissed his wife on the forehead, his little boy on the lips and nodded toward his older boy and said, “Sonny, get the growler.”
Tommy went to the icebox and grabbed the bucket off the top.
“Here’s a nickel, go down to the tavern and tell em’ to fill ‘er up.”
Tommy liked going down to the “Old Timers” where the regulars treating him like a regular and he could grab half a cheese sandwich off the bar. Back in the apartment, he passed the bucket to his father. The growler tipped full with a frosty head of beer. Tom poured a glass for himself and took a long pull.
Anne, with her elbow on the table and her hand at her chin asked, “How’s that beer, Tom?”
“Pretty tasty. Want some?”
“No, it’s all yours.” Anne said, and the older boy covered his mouth hiding his smirk. It was an inside job.