I’m looking at an old photo taken of my kindergarten class back in 1956-57. There we sit or stand, the future of America, a group of white, middle class kids, growing up in Roslindale Massachusetts. It was the ’50’s, supposedly those happy days when everyone was kind, and everyone went to church, no anxiety in this group. There I am sitting in the front, I’m wearing my bow tie, suspenders and I have a big smile on my face. Around me are my classmates, none of whom I can remember but were all part of my early life. There is one girl sitting to my right who has a constipated look on her face next to her is a boy who looks to be a future insurance salesman. Most of them betray their Irish heritage that even a black and white photo cannot hide, freckled faces and that pale white skin that would instantly glow bright red once they were out in the sunshine. In those days there was no need for any SPF 50 sunblock, we were kids of the ’50’s, we romped and played on a gravel surfaced playground, went headlong down the hill at Fallon Field on our sleds in the winter and tumbled down on streets in makeshift plywood cars. No need for helmets, special safety equipment and no parents hovering in the background watching our every move. We were the free range generation, stumbling and bumping our way through life, learning by doing, with scrapped knees and a few broken bones we went out exploring our tiny world. I only get flashbacks of my kindergarten years, I barely remember my teacher, Miss Hayes but what I do remember is when she brought in a jar filled with heavy cream one day. She instructed us to shake the jar as hard as we could and pass it along, so there we were, shaking this jar filled with cream for all we were worth. Grabbing the jar I gave it my best, putting all of my four year old body into it, shaking and shaking until I passed it along to the kid next to me. As I think back to that day, we looked like a bad Richard Simmons exercise video, the only thing missing was a soundtrack to the oldies, then again the music of that day would one day be those very oldies. We continued to shake that jar, and passing it along, Miss Hayes encouraging us in her best Knute Rockne imitation. Then, slowly, gradually, the liquid in the jar started to change. There was less and less of a liquid and a more solid lump forming in the center of the jar, as it began to change our shaking became more frantic as we began to notice this magical transformation. We were getting giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait to see the final results, the jar was now being passed with greater frequency, each of us anxious to be the one who would hold the final product. It be came a race to see who would be able to open it up and see this miracle poured out into the waiting bowl.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, well the eternity as defined in the four year old brain, we stopped shaking the jar. Miss Hayes took it, slowly unscrewed the top and then carefully poured out the contents, the result of our hard work. With huge eyes we looked upon what we had created, it sat there, a solid mass that shined and jiggled in the sunlight streaming through the windows. She then took out a box of Saltines then taking a butter knife she slowly dipped it into the mass and spread some on several of the crackers, then passed them out to each of us. We hesitantly took a small nip of the cracker with the daub of this stuff on it tasting what we had made. Butter!
It’s kind of funny the things we remember from our childhood. The simplest things that gave us the greatest joy and that day when we made butter was one of those moments of childhood bliss. It was an ordinary day, nothing historic, nothing that would make the headlines but for us this transforming cream into butter was the highlight of our school day.