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We were sitting this afternoon in one of our favorite little restaurants in an older section of town, and I noticed a metal door, something like a mailbox, in an outer wall. We stared at it for a couple of minutes, wondering what it might be useful for. Not mail, surely. It was situated in the dining area, behind banquette seating. But it did have a rather familiar look to it.

I never asked the waiter what the opening was, or had been designed to be, but it reminded me of a smaller but similar door set in the wall of the home where I spent my first few years. That opening was in the porch wall of our living room. The opening led to a chamber, lined with metal, that connected to another door out on the porch. Every day, the milkman drove his truck to our neighborhood and deposited dairy products in similar chambers up and down the street. He must have come very early in the morning, because we didn’t see him often. We’d get out of bed and hurry to the little door in the wall, and there would be our milk, visible through cut-outs in the door.

The milk came in a glass bottle, with a cardboard cap that came off via a slit that you could lift with a fingernail. Under the cap was rich, smooth cream in a thick layer on top of another, more watery liquid that almost, but not quite, had a blue tinge. At least it seemed that way to child’s eyes. We took turns shaking the bottle to “homogenize” the milk for our cereal. It was part of the morning routine.

I wonder if the little door is still there in that old house.

I haven’t thought of that for years. Now that the memory comes back, it’s accompanied by one more.

In our house, despite not-quite-poverty and wartime shortages, we ate butter. Butter on vegetables, butter on potatoes, butter on toast. Even in those rationing days, my mother would trade other coupons in order to get her hands on butter. Real butter, from cows, not (nasty word) margarine. Yuchh! Even the idea of it was nauseating, except for one little thing.

My uncle and aunt always used margarine—preferred it, I think. It came from the neighborhood store, in one pound white slabs. That’s right, white. Think Crisco. Somewhere. though, on one of the flat sides of the slab, there would be a spot of yellowish-orange. That spot was one of the delightful entertainments of our youth. We’d race over to Auntie’s place—they lived just across the alley from us—and ask, very politely, if she needed her margarine kneaded today. If the answer was in the affirmative, the lucky child would get to squeeze the margarine until that yellowish-orange dye spot had melded into the whole mess and turned it into a lovely butter-colored spread. We never stuck around to eat any of the stuff, and I always thought she and Mom had a good laugh over our efforts.

We take a lot for granted these days. If we don’t get to have butter, it isn’t that we can’t afford it, or that it simply isn’t available. We’re constrained by our doctor’s cries of “Cholesterol” and other ugly words. If we still got two-layered milk, he’d probably tell us to throw out the top layer.

We don’t even have the consolation of the margarine squeeze.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.

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