The Milk Bottles

By Harriet Outlaw
Posted 6/3/16

Sometimes memories make the best stories –even if the memories may not be exactly the way things happened. Let me tell you the story of the milk bottles as I remember it.

Dipping my little hands into the barrel of dried peas, I  felt them flow …

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The Milk Bottles

Posted

Sometimes memories make the best stories –even if the memories may not be exactly the way things happened. Let me tell you the story of the milk bottles as I remember it.

Dipping my little hands into the barrel of dried peas, I  felt them flow through my fingers - great fun for a girl of four playing in her parents’ store. At five o’clock Daddy came home from work and Mother went to the adjoining house to start supper. One evening, as Daddy began closing up the store, the screen door squeaked open and a strange woman entered on silent bare feet. She was quite thin, dressed in a most unusual fashion. Her colorful skirt was long and full and she had a dirty quilt wrapped around her shoulders.  Walking to the tall wooden counter she raised her hand, lifted a bony finger and pointed to the milk bottles on the shelf behind Daddy. When he asked if she needed milk, she was silent; just kept pointing. Daddy handed her a bottle and she tucked it inside her quilt shawl. When Daddy told her the cost of the milk was a nickel, she looked down, turned and left. During the Depression, Daddy often gave groceries to those in need, so he did not think this too unusual.

The next afternoon, the exact same thing happened.  This time I paid closer attention to the stranger as she pointed to the milk, took it and put it under the quilt. Daddy came from behind the counter and held the screen door open as she walked down the crooked wooden steps. We watched her continue down the dirt road and turn into a small lane where the Romas had camped until the week before. Back then we called them Gypsies. I loved to walk by the Gypsy camp, hear the music and smell the meals cooked over the open fires. I always wanted to see inside of one of the colorful caravans.

   The third evening when the lady left with the milk, my father took my hand and we followed her. As she turned down the Gypsy camp lane, she walked to the edge of the clearing and disappeared into a mist. Daddy went home, fetched my brothers and a couple of shovels. I had no idea what he would do, but I soon saw with my very own little four-year-old eyes. Daddy and the boys began digging right where the lady had disappeared. My mother was with us by this time, pulling me far away when the shovels hit something hard. They saw there a crude coffin and creaked open the lid.

There was the lifeless body of the woman who had come to get milk three days in a row. She was wrapped in the dirty quilt, and beside her there were three empty milk bottles. When my father reached to pick up the bottles, he noticed movement under the quilt. He pulled the quilt away and there was a beautiful little girl, alive and squirming there next to her mother. Daddy lifted the baby from the coffin and brought her over to Mother, “I guess this is a miracle.” Mother wrapped the baby in her apron and hurried home to bathe and feed the precious child who had been kept alive by the milk.

I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the night that my baby sister came. They named her Beverly and we loved each other more every year. When she was old enough to play in the store in the afternoons, she often looked toward the screen door that opened and closed on its on. We saw her smile at someone she was seeing there in the Hill Top Grocery Store. One day she asked about the beautiful lady who comes in the store late afternoons just as Daddy is closing up. Daddy told her that she must be an angel who comes to see the beautiful little girl playing in the dried peas.

Beverly and I are close to this very day, and I beg you not to tell her about the night we found her in the Gypsy grave, for she knows it not.