By Laura Yash
Sure, you could buy margarine in the store, but you couldn’t get it coloured. Ike was in the White House and the Monkees were believing in things, but we were still stuck with this grey-white stuff, and if you wanted it yellow you’d have to knead little beads of dye into it yourself. I was never great at that sort of thing, so it would always come out streaky. One time Joe was holding his toast and looking at the yellow-grey marble slathered on it when he just threw it at his plate.
“It’s outrageous,” he said.
“Is it, Joey?”
“It shouldn’t be allowed. I can’t eat this crap.”
“You know, we can buy real butter,” I said.
We could. Neither of us was making all that much money—I was still a waitress, working at a diner where they didn’t tip so good—but we weren’t struggling, like Joey’s poor mother with the seven kids struggled. We could afford better.
“I don’t want butter,” he told me. “I want the margarine I got as a boy, and I want to buy it yellow.”
Joey didn’t come from Wisconsin.
“You don’t buy it, though,” I told him, “I do.”
“I want my wife to be able to buy it yellow, not wasting her time messing around with chemicals. It’s un-American.”
“How do you figure?”
He reached out to me—right over that rickety, old pine table—and took my wrist. “Big Butter is pushing us around, Cathy.”
“Lord knows I don’t mess with Big Butter,” I said. Didn’t try to shake him off, though. When Joe touched you, he meant it, and you couldn’t ignore that.
“Big Butter thinks they’re King, Cathy. Thinks they get to tell us what we can and can’t eat.”
“Am I going to have to throw that out?”
I nodded to his bread. He released me, and I rubbed my wrist, though it didn’t really hurt. I just didn’t want to look in his eye, in case I saw his point.
Joe didn’t come home Friday night but showed up on Saturday with a big box. I asked him where the hell he’d been.
“Illinois. Cathy, ask me what’s in this box.”
“No word, just gone, with me not knowing if I should call the cops or a lawyer.”
“For Christ’s sake, don’t call either. Just look in the box.”
What else could I do? I opened it. There were piles of paper-wrapped blocks, stacked up like bricks in a wall.
“Go ahead,” Joe urged.
I picked one up, tore the paper a little, and stood facing a sunshine yellow I hadn’t seen since God knows when.
Brighter than butter.
“What are we going to do with all this?”
“I’m going to give people a choice.”
“So you’re a bootlegger now?”
“Cathy, I’m an American citizen.”
I know it sounds dumb, but it didn’t at the time, and that was the night we made Joe Jr.