Am thinking it’s about time I share a tale from “Naked Joy”, my upcoming book. It is crucial you realize that when I was a child, my mother fell for “Chiffon” margarine until she discovered “Everything’s Better with Blue Bonnet on it” and switched brands, never again to serve real butter in our home. Mom was a sucker for a good ad with a catchy slogan, and she might be part of the reason I ended up a copywriter, infatuated with Mr. Clean and a huge fan of the Jolly Green Giant. HO HO HO…
According to the Roman Catholic Church, children are not capable of committing sin until the completion of their seventh year, when they have reached the “age of reason” and can decipher right from wrong. Until then youngsters are considered “innocents”.
Call me precocious, but on the brink of five I knew darn well I should not be sneaking into our neighbor’s kitchen to swipe a finger full of butter. This was downright wrong, but some days I couldn’t resist. Tempting as gold, the pale yellow log sprawled across its dish, basking atop the shiny, Formica table. The thrill wasn’t simply the salty cream sliding down my throat, but the prickly sensation of getting in and out of the house undetected, like some preschool cat burglar.
It was the late 1950s and the butter versus margarine controversy rattled the country. While I adored the taste of real butter, my mother insisted oleomargarine was a better choice. She claimed it was not only a healthier spread, it was cheaper, a major draw for a family with four growing kids. Feeling deprived, I soon discovered that our next door neighbors the Gratins, a middle- aged spinster and her shriveled up mother, still indulged in Darigold, the real thing. What’s more, they kept it out in plain sight on their kitchen table.
It was not unusual for the younger Miss Gratin to call to me from their back porch when she’d spot me on the swing set in our backyard, inviting me in for a cookie, marshmallow or whatever bait she might have on hand. I was normally willing to visit, though she never offered what I craved. Recognizing butter as not a proper snack, I didn’t dare ask for a small bowl or even a quick few spoonfuls of the smooth temptation.
In a weaker moment and uninvited, I might sneak over to peek through the Gratin’s back screen door. Across their tiny kitchen I could see through to the front living room, where the two women often watched daytime television programs like AS THE WORLD TURNS and Art Linkletter’s show. I wondered why the daughter often sat close to her mother squeezing the woman’s skinny, wrinkled wrist while glancing down at her watch; it didn’t seem like they were ever going anywhere. Once certain the women were distracted, I’d sneak through the backdoor into the kitchen, headed towards the table where I’d help myself to a few sinful scoops. Within seconds I was out the door and back soaring in my swing, higher than ever.
For a long time I thought I had gotten away with this caper. Until I ran into the not so young Gratin daughter in church years later, who delighted in teasing me, “Oh Nanner, my mama and I used to get such a kick out of watching you devour our butter when you were a little tyke!” Undoubtedly red faced, I thought to myself, “I wish you had just put a stop to my antics back then, and detoured me en route to a life of sin, shame, and addiction.
NAKED JOY—Anxious Moments in the Life of a Skittish Girl