My dad drove a bread truck and wanted to be the next Gene Kelly. Day in and day out, dad would pile rack after rack of hot loaves of bread into the back of that truck just to earn a days pay. The racks were hot, the bread was hot, and the truck was hot. The tiny louvers on the sides of the truck were barely big enough to do anything but just circulate the hot air through the cab. Dad would claim that during a workweek he would gain and lose ten pounds just because of how much he would sweat. I grew up hating the smell of his clothes and the smell of that truck. The aroma was near to the aroma of fresh baked bread, but it was overwhelming. It stuck to everything that came near that truck. Mom used to make dad change his clothes in the garage when he got home from work so that the smell could not get into the house.
As for Gene Kelly, I am not sure where dad picked that up. He must have watched a lot of those old movies staring Gene. He must have admired how Gene looked and acted on the big screen. Dad looked a bit like Gene, he had the same hair and the same nose, but dad was bigger. Dad was easily six inches taller than Gene and he was at least twice as wide as the dancer. Dad hauled a lot of bread. He did his dancing in the tiny, hot confines of that bread truck.
Sometimes I would ride with dad while he worked. I never got to go down to the main bakery because dad had to get up at three o'clock in the morning. Around six o'clock, dad would swing his truck into our gravel driveway and pick me up. We would finish the rest of his bread route around lunch and he would take me to Mc Donald's, Wendys, or some other fast food joint that was on the way.
We would sit across from each other and eat. Not talking very much, unless something exciting had occurred while we were riding-like a fire or a speeding police car. But it was during one of these lunches that I found out about Gene Kelly.
I must have been around twelve. I was chewing quietly on my fries when another bread driver sat down in the booth across from us. Dad and the other driver talked back and forth about the business and both had a laugh. The man asked dad if his bid for a better route had come through. Dad told him yes, that he was going to be starting the new route at the beginning of the next quarter. The man couldn't understand why dad had given up his route that was so close to home. Dad told the man that he wanted the route because it was a busier route and it would make him more money. He needed the extra money because he was going to be taking dancing lessons at a local ballroom. Mom had always wanted dad to take her out to a swanky spot where they could dance the night away, and so dad was going to do it. It was his dream. Gene Kelly. He and mom would trip the light fantastic.
The other driver gave a chuckle and we went on with our business. The day of the bread truck driver didn't end when he had filled up all of his stops. A bread driver would have to go back and retrace his route. He had to check all of his accounts again to make sure that everybody had enough bread to last until he came back again the next day. We finished up around five o'clock that night, both of us tired but happy to have spent the day together.
When we pulled into the driveway, dad stopped the car just short of the garage. He turned to me and told me to keep quiet about what the other bread driver and he had been talking about. Mom didn't know about the new route. Mom didn't even know that dad had made a bid on a better route. He explained that it was a surprise, and that he wanted to tell mom when the price was right. I didn't tell mom.
That night, we sat down together at the dinner table and told mom about our day. She heaped our plates with scalloped potatoes and fried sausages. We went back and forth, talking about the breads, the smells, and the stores. I cleaned my plate and made my way into the living room to watch television. I wanted to stay, but mom told me to go because she wanted to talk business with dad for a bit. When mom said that she wanted to talk "business" with dad, that usually meant that she wanted to talk about bills, or money, or something of a sensitive nature that a kid of twelve had no business hearing about. I left the room and watched television.
They talked for quite some time. At first there were some shouts from father, but nothing out of anger. Dad raised his voice when he became excited, and he never yelled at mom...ever. A little while later, dad came into the living room with a glass of iced tea and a huge grin on his face.
"You're gonna have a little brother or sister," he said as he sat down in his easy chair.
Mom appeared in the doorway. She was smiling too. She asked us if there was anything else we needed, but we said no. Dad and I watched television until it was time for bed.
Dad never took those lessons. He never went out and "tripped the light fantastic" with mom. Eight and a half months later, my little sister Emily was born. She was sick at first, so dad's new route money came in handy for the doctor's bills. She had something wrong with her heart, but the doctors fixed that up and she grew up fast and strong.
I never rode in the truck with dad again, after that day. But Emily did.