Friday, November 14, 2008

Chocolate Eclairs

The only deliveries that come to our house these days, come by UPS. When I was a boy, many things were delivered to our house.

The milkman delivered our milk. Every other morning before six o’clock, he parked his milk truck at the end of the driveway, walked right into the kitchen and checked the refrigerator to see how much milk, butter and cream we had left. He put in what we needed and took the empty bottles my mother left on the counter for him.

Coal for the furnace came in a big dump truck that backed in the driveway next to the house. My brother and I watched from the window as the driver hooked one end of the shiny metal slide onto the back of the truck and slid the other end in our cellar window. Then he tipped up the dump body, opened a metal gate and let the glistening black coal clatter down into our cellar coal bin.

The fish man came in a red pickup truck with a big white icebox in the back. When he opened the icebox door on a hot summer day, a cloud of steam drifted out. Inside, pieces of fish lay on crushed ice and a shiny scale hung from the roof. He weighed the fish, wrapped it in white paper and then wrote the price on the outside with a black grease pencil from his apron pocket.

At the farm across the field, they still used iceboxes to keep things cold. Twice a week, the iceman came in a truck with the word ICE written in big, snow-covered letters on the side. He pulled a block of ice out of the truck with heavy iron tongs and carried it into their back shed where he put it in an oak icebox. In the summer, he sometimes tossed us ice chips left from picking the big blocks into icebox-sized pieces.

But our favorite delivery was the Cushman bread man. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday around noon, he pulled his black and white panel truck into our driveway, took a big tray full of bread and pastries out of the back and carried it into our kitchen. If my two sisters, my brother and I had behaved, my mother let us pick out a box of cupcakes or cookies. Our special favorite, however, was chocolate éclairs.

Those éclairs were delicious. The pastry shell was crisp, the custard filling thick and creamy, and the rich chocolate frosting dark and sweet.

My mother was upstairs one day when the bread man arrived. We had just finished lunch, so my sisters, my brother and I ran up the back stairs and pleaded with her to let us get something for dessert. To our delight, she said yes.

The four of us piled noisily back down the stairs and looked in the bread man’s tray. There was a chocolate frosted cake with white frosting squiggles across the top, a sugar covered jelly roll, big round sugar cookies with chocolate centers, and several kinds of pie. Everything looked inviting through the cellophane windows in the brown and yellow Cushman boxes.

“No éclairs,” we gasped.

The bread man smiled and winked. “Let’s take a look in the truck. There just might be one box left.”

We followed him outside. He opened the back doors of his truck, and we peered inside. There were two tiers of shiny metal shelves. One was stacked with loaves of bread and the other with desserts. On one of the shelves, the bread man found a single box of éclairs.

He handed it to me. I examined the éclairs through the cellophane window. “I call the second from this end,” I shouted as I bolted for the kitchen door clutching the precious éclairs. My brother and sisters chased after me.

“No fair. You don’t get first pick,” my older sister, Karen, protested.

I ran inside and put the box on the kitchen table. Karen got there just as I was opening the cover. “I’m the oldest, so I get first pick,” she proclaimed.

My younger brother, Kelley, was right behind her. “I want first pick,” he exclaimed. Four year-old Krissie finally caught up with us. She could barely see the éclairs in the box. “I want one. I want one,” she chanted.

“I’m the oldest, so I get first pick,” Karen repeated as she pulled the box toward her. But I wasn’t giving in. I slid it back in front of me.

“He handed it to me, so I get first pick,” I replied.

Kelley pulled the box in his direction. “I want the one on the end.”

“No. I get first pick,” Karen asserted with finality as she pulled the box back in front of her.

“Who died and left you the big boss,” I protested, yanking the box back toward me.

“Yeah. Who made you the boss,” Kelley chimed in.

The sides were drawn. It was boys against girls.

I picked up the open box, but Karen grabbed it and tried to pull it out of my hands. I held on tight. My brother came to my aid and grabbed onto the cover.

“Mo-o-om!” Karen shrieked. “They’re hogging the éclairs.”

“Mo-o-om”, Krissie echoed.

“Give them to me,” Karen snapped.

“No. I had them first,” I shouted back. I wasn’t giving in without a fight.

“Krissie. Get Mom!” Karen ordered. “Now you’ll see. You guys won’t get any.”

Then as if on cue, Kelley and I stuck out our tongues and sprayed the open box of éclairs with saliva.

“OK, bossy. Have an éclair.” My brother sneered.

“You spit on them,” Karen howled. She let go of the box and slapped the bottom as hard as she could. Eclairs went flying everywhere.

“OK, now you have an éclair,” she taunted.

There was a long pause as we looked at the broken éclairs lying around us on the kitchen floor. Kelley and I began to giggle. We picked up pieces and pelted our older sister with them. She was soon spattered with custard and chocolate frosting. And she was outraged.

“Mo-o-o-om,” Karen screamed at the top of her lungs. When we heard our mother’s footsteps coming down the front stairs, my brother and I ran out the kitchen door, laughing with delight. We could still hear Karen shouting as the screen door slammed behind us, and we headed for the safety of the barn.

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