This is an Author’s note I’m working on for Bruno #10, tentative title: The Scorned.
Growing up I had five brothers and sisters: six kids who needed school clothes and three hot meals a day. Our stepfather worked as a pipefitter, the jobs were sporadic and made the family money fluctuate. Until my mother figured out how to make it all work, we would periodically go on welfare. But this was back when the government gave out food instead of money or food stamps. She’d take me to stand in a long line outside a defunct movie theater with all the other unfortunates.
When our turn came, Mom handled the paperwork then we shuttled the food boxes into the green Belvedere station wagon. Boxes loaded with inexpensive food: rice and pasta, large cans of mystery meat, powdered milk, powdered eggs, big blocks of American cheese, and butter. The labels on the food came with recipes that helped make the bland food half-palatable.
Rice pudding was my favorite. Mom made big vats of it to keep in the refrigerator for her always-hungry kids to nosh when their stomachs growled. And that was all the time. She also made big vats of macaroni and cheese with chunks of mystery meat. We didn’t talk about it, so I naturally thought all of our friends’ families were doing the same thing.
Mom worked at cake decorating, sewing, and selling toys to put clothes on our back and food on the table. Before there were any regulations, she also took in extra children she babysat while their parents worked. At one time, there were twelve plus our six; eighteen children in one house.
I was tasked with making lunch. I’d take a loaf of day-old Wonder bread Mom got at the day-old bakery, lay out the entire loaf on the bread board and start an assembly line slathering each piece first with peanut butter then with jelly. Not the other way around, it didn’t work that way.
I became accustomed to all the extra kids. Mom was too busy with her other money-making duties to supervise the children. That job fell to me. I became the sheep herder and the sheepdog. Maybe this is why I can relate so well with Bruno and his mob of children.