Hungry, I opened the fridge searching for some form of sugar-free satisfaction. Milk. I'd bought milk last week, organic whole milk, more on a whim than from any solid plan. And there it sat, forgotten and unopened, at the back of the shelf.
I don't drink milk. For most of my adult life I've avoided milk as an easy way to reduce my caloric intake, much in the same way I don't drink regular soda. The fact that I have not avoided certain other even more calorie-laden foods is beside the point for now.
My childhood home was a dairy. Milk, and everything about its production, was central to our existence. We cared for a herd of 30 - 40 Holsteins, milked them twice a day every single day, then bottled and delivered the rich, raw, unprocessed milk. When production was good we had an abundance of smooth, yellow-white nectar for the house.
I remember learning in Sunday School about manna and nectar, which God provided for the Israelites in the desert. In my mind manna was some sweet cross between popcorn and bread that was both crunchy and chewy. Nectar was a cross between milk and some exotic fruit juice.
That's how significant milk was to me, and how satisfying as a food.
We drank milk with every meal. In fact were not allowed to leave the table until plates were cleaned and glasses were emptied - starving children in foreign places and waste-not-want-not were invoked, as well as the promise of the standard punishment for disobedience (a two-inch belt applied with energy to bare bottoms).
Emptying glasses was only a problem during those times milk production was down. Too many cows dry and not producing at all, or new heifers not fully up to optimal production yet. Or maybe there was a new batch of customers which meant less or no surplus milk at all. Then we had to drink powdered milk. Horrible gloppy blue liquid, the powder never dissolving completely, tasting much like the soap used to teach us to mind the words that came out of our mouths. Three glasses a day.
So maybe I stopped drinking milk because I could, not just to save calories.
On the rare occasion over the years when I had access to raw milk, the green grass and sunshine flavor of it made me wonder why I didn't drink more. Then I'd read some article about the perils of dairy fat and remember. And any milk that is not whole milk tastes to me like powdered milk, which I cannot tolerate.
As I pulled the carton out of the fridge, all of those memories strolled through like a family of visiting ghosts. As with so many ghosts these days, I was more curious than frightened at their presence. I pulled down a goblet from the cupboard and enjoyed the satin flow of milk swirling gently to take on the soft curved shape of the glass.
I sniffed first, an old habit to check for spoilage, and found my head filled with nectar - earthy, sweet, primal. The first sip was snow cold and cream rich. It frolicked over my tongue, down my throat and settled into my stomach like a comforting hug. My body was so happy to welcome her old friend, I had to restrain myself from chugging the entire glass down. I would take enough to fill my mouth, savor its impact on tongue and roof and cheeks, then swallow and savor the sensation of my whole world being exactly right as the milk once again offered me solace I'd forgotten I needed.
The light is winning. The hungry ghosts of childhood grow dimmer while the pleasures of life produce a warm protective radiance. Some things - my brothers, a kinship with trees and birds, the simple pleasure of a glass of milk - have traveled the ribbon of years in solid reassuring companionship. Pleasures whose light kept the dark at bay long enough for me to survive and claim my own light.
photo from Flickr