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When I was young, the world was full of children. Nearly every household had three or four, making it very easy to find someone your own age to play with. No one's mother worked outside their home (except Mrs. Oliver, who took in ironing on the side) and no matter how far down the block you went, if you fell off your bike, there was always someone near with a hug and a band aid. It made the world seem very safe, but also rather small.
No one ever left the neighborhood (only fathers had cars, and cars included you only on Sundays) so every day the world was forced to come to us. Pete, the mailman, was our main connection, for the mail could get through where the party line failed. The Fuller Brush man, supplied us with household items, and Beth, the Avon lady, took care of our personal needs.
Once a month, the meat truck backed into our driveways to restock our freezers. The egg man came by twice a week, and when we needed fruit or vegetables, Angelo was there with his wagon every other evening. We had an Awry Bread man who carried loaves of fresh bread and pastries, even potato chips for a treat.
But my favorite was always the Twin Pines milkman, and Hank, the milkman's son.
Hank was in high school. His thick, dark hair duck-tailed in back. The sleeves of his T-shirt were tightly rolled. During the summer, he handled his father's route. He was my first love.
The kids always knew when he was coming. They could hear his truck blaring WKNR, Keener Radio, the only station in the city that played rock 'n roll—hard rock like Martha and the Vandellas and Neil Sedaka.
Hank practiced his dance steps as he lugged the bottles to the houses and carried the empties back. Children would trail the truck, listening to the music and begging for chips of ice from the smooth clear blocks. Usually, he shooed them away, but he was always nice to me. Once he even let me sit in the truck.
"I'm not always going to be a milkman," he told me. "Nosiree. It's a big world, you know?"
And I nodded, thinking but school's just two blocks away, and the mail always comes, but I said nothing, content to sit there, holding my ice with frozen fingers, my legs dangling awkwardly from the huge seat.
Then one summer he wasn't there. He'd gone away to college.
That was the year of my father's Surprise. He took us for a ride in a small airplane. Actually, the surprise was more for my brother, Bob, who had forty-seven Revell models hanging from his bedroom ceiling. The plane was tremendously loud, and it bounced whether on the ground or in the air.
"Look over there," my father shouted when we reached the clouds. "That's where we live."
I looked out the window.
The neighborhood was but a colored square, a single patch in the crazy quilt of the city. The patches spread farther than I could see. It made me feel small and foolish.
I was unusually quiet walking back to the car. My parents thought I was airsick. Bob chattered excitedly all the way home, but I just sat with my eyes wide open and stared out the window for the first time.