The Coke Box

In the Chinese tradition, it is expected for family members to pitch in and work at the family business.  As with many Asian families, this was the cafe.

At our cafe, we were always well-stocked with all the chocolate bars, potato chips, pop, and cigarettes.  It was my job to work at the cash register and handle the sales of these well-stocked items.

I was very proficient in making change for these purchased items.  If you gave me a one dollar bill for items totaling thirty-five cents, I knew exactly what change to give back without having to use a calculator.  35 cents, one nickel = 40 cents, one dime = 50 cents, two quarters = 1 dollar.  Easy Peasy!  Why I failed miserably in math?…I have no idea.

In those days, 35 cents could get you a bottle of pop, a bag of chips and a bag of jelly beans.  A large pack of cigarettes was 25 cents and the small pack was 20 cents.   You can guess by now that I’m going back to the early 60s.  I would have been about seven or eight years old.  Too short behind the cash machine my chin could touch the top of the counter.  Therefore, I used a wooden Coke Box  exactly like the one you see at the bottom of the pile in this picture.

Flipped over, I stood on the bottom of the box.  From there, I could reach behind me for any pack of smokes and hand them to the buyer.  The gentlemen who made the purchases were so confident in me, they didn’t even have to tell me what type of cigarettes they wanted.  I would have the pack in their hands before they could say “Boo”.  What a hustler!

Jumping the Clouds

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As kids, we would play a game in the neighborhood.  Since the name of the game is considered politically incorrect, I will call it “good guy chases bad guy”.  This was a more elaborate game of tag as we had our toy guns and water pistols.

I remembered being the victim of a shooting and so had to lay myself down and play “dead”.  As I laid there,  I looked up to the sky and became mesmerized by the big billowy clouds that floated by.  That’s when death and after-life came into my childish brain.

Being surrounded by Catholic friends, I was made to believe that when a person dies they go to a place called “Heaven”.  No one told me what “Heaven” was but I imagined it to be the clouds.  I pictured everyone in white flowing gowns with attached transparent wings.  They would jump from one cloud to another visiting each other.   At one point, I saw a small dot floating up into the sky.  I convinced myself that it was someone who had just died and was floating to “Heaven”.  It was probably just a speck of dirt in my eyeball.

As one gets older, the thoughts of “after-life” takes different turns and twists.   Whether, you come back to the same beliefs is questionable.

Yesterday, I was in my old neighborhood.  It has been over 5 years since I have been back.  I decided to pop in to visit Arlene who lived next door to us for over 25 years.  Since it was an unannounced visit, I took my chance.

We held each other for a very long time.   At first sight, I was in shock.  Hair gone and far too much weight loss, she was going through her third series of chemo.  It was 32 years ago when she was first diagnosed and she has fought the battle during all those years.

Not only living day to day wondering if the cancer will return, she has lived with hardship and despair.  Married late in life, her husband died within three years of their marriage.  Forever the kind-hearted, she looked after her father-in-law until his death.  She would look after our Alaskan Malamute when we were away.  Not only would she feed and water Cadence, she would sit with her for hours so Cadence wouldn’t feel lonely.

It wasn’t until she was in her 60s that she was able to start pursuing her dream of getting a Masters Degree.  An accomplishment that has been fulfilled.

Seeing her again brought back the thought of “Heaven”.  I can visualize her jumping from cloud to cloud with her white flowing gown and transparent wings.