I then walked down to the drug store to get some ice cream and then down to the Kress’s five and ten cent store and walked on home.
The highlight of the week came when Roberta asked me to go down to the mill and pick up a gift for her. Well, what she said exactly was “Lee, sweetie, will you run down to the plant and pick up my poke.” I said pick up what and she said pick up my poke. I had no idea what she was talking about and really couldn’t make head or tails about it. I guess I had a quizzical look on my face because Roberta said: “Surely child you know what a poke is?” When I said no she said something under her breath about my mother moving off to the big city and taking up uppity ways. “A poke is a sack, a bag. Every year the mill gives a goody bag to all the folks who work there”. “What’s in it I asked”, hoping to hear something that would interest me. Well, it varies from year to year. Sometimes a ham, sometimes a turkey. Candy of some sort. Oranges and tangerines. And there are always something very special. The folks who put together the bags know everyone who work there and they put something just for us in the bag. She told me to under no circumstances open the poke before I got home. Well I walked up to the mill and waited in line with a bunch of people in their 50s and 60s. I finally got to the front of the line and there was old man McIntosh. He live around the corner form aunt Roberta. He recognized me right away, though I do not know how, he was as blind as a bat. He once mistook a kite I was flying in Roberta’s back yard for a hawk and got out his shotgun and blew it away thinking it was after his chickens. But anyway he said “General Lee! Good to see you. Here to pick up Roberta’s poke”? Yes sir. I looked at the table full of the tremendous bags crammed full of all sorts of stuff. He turned to me, held out the bag and sort of smiled and motioned to me that me that he wanted to whisper something: “Don’t you dare open that until you get it to Roberta. They usually put some personal stuff in these pokes and there is likely to be some female products in there.” Having been raised in a family where the fried chicken legs were intentionally called drumsticks and breasts were simply called white meat, I had no idea what “female products” were and had no desire to find out. If I had been stopped by a robber on the way home and he put a gun to my head I still would not have opened that bag. Female products, no tellin’ what that might me.
I got back to Roberta’s all excited. Surely there was something in this bag that could be for me. I ran in the front door and cried “Aunt Roberta, Aunt Roberta! I’m here with the poke!”. She came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron from washing up the morning dishes. She said “Well bring it over here”. She opened it up and began to bring things out just like Santa and his big old sack. She pulled out a box of peppermint sticks. She said “Oh these are great for sticking in an orange and sucking out the juice” She then pulled out a bag of oranges. Then she pulled out a whole ham, a box of chocolates, a book of Christmas stories and two jars of homemade preserves of some sort. I kept waiting for the “female items” when Aunt Roberts cried out “Oh, Law” as she pulled out a package that contained twelve small cans about the size of one of those little container that 35 mm film comes in only a little bit bigger around. I had no idea what in the world it was (thinking it might be a female item, I didn’t ask). She pulled it out and said: “This ain’t my poke”. I said what to you mean old man McIntosh gave it to me himself. She said “That ol’ fool is as blind as a bat”. As she quickly looked at the tag on the bag. “This is for Robert Bishop not Roberta Bishop”. Robert Bishop was Roberta’s brother-in-law. He was a nice enough fellow for someone whose brother ran off and deserted his wife. He and his wife Effie had lived on the other end of town, down the street from the mill. He had been a supervisor at the mill and lived in a nicer, more expensive house. Only thing was that he had died a couple of years before. Roberta had always liked Robert, he came over occasionally to do some carpentry work or plumbing but she had never liked Effie. I never before knew why but was about to find out.