Why do I love NaBloPoMo? Because when we've gone through the easier to write posts, the lists, the reactionary, the rants, the stream of consciousness, we open the mental vault and see what else we can find. In today's post for National Blog Posting Month, I'm remembering sweet childhood moments. One in particular, of afternoons spent at our east side neighborhood Italian grocery store.
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When I was little, I would go grocery shopping with my grandmother. She loved the Italian market in our neighborhood. She didn't know English, aside from saying "Sank you" in thanks for service, and "Yes yes" in response to any question in the world, so I would go where she had to go, and work as her translator.
We were a household of six children, supported by one widowed mother and cared for by one loving, affectionate Colombian grandmother, our abuela. We didn't shop for anything fancy or any specialty items at the Italian market, but my grandmother came from a country where you bought your food fresh daily so we walked there. If it rained or snowed, we took the bus. They had what she wanted at the small grocery store, meat she recognized, tomatoes onions garlic cilantro, the way she remembered them being in South America.
There was a single door that opened to the store, people were always leaving or coming, and someone would have to step aside to let the other person through. When the way was clear, I'd heave on the heavy door and let my grandmother go first. As soon as you walked in, you stood at the deli counter. Slices of Italian beef were next to tubs of dark olives steeped in olive oil. My grandmother would point and a non verbal exchange with hands and smiles transpired between my abuela and the butcher and a few minutes later, he would carefully weigh our purchase, looking up to her for approval then tightly wrap our night's meal in paper, handing it to us with a laugh and a smile.
There was a supermarket that had just opened in our neighborhood, four blocks from our house, but with canned meat and frozen vegetables, boxed pancakes and potatoes made with water, it only convinced my grandmother of witchcraft. I wanted to be at the grand supermarket and was ashamed to be in the small grocery store--it was an Italian market run by immigrants just the same as we were. The American kids at my school went to the big market that was surrounded by a parking lot equal in size to the square footage of the big store. At the front entrance, leading you into the supermarket as proof of its superiority, were automatic doors.
I would plead my case for the supermarket every day that we passed it, "Abuelita! You don't need anyone with you to open the doors! All you have to do is stand in front of them and order Open Sesame! Like this!" And I would jump in front to show her the magic.
"I have you," she said unimpressed."I don't need to worry about not having anyone with me." And with that, we would continue to our Italian market so my grandmother could do her real shopping.
The few times we did go into the supermarket, because of the kindness in my grandmother's heart, we saw aisles of boxes stacked to the ceiling with factory made cookies and cake mix along with ice cream by the gallon tubs. I wanted all of it: the plastic wrapping, the uniform filling of the rows of Nabisco cream wafers. I was drawn to the efficiency and the modern appeal of assembly line food. So perfectly arranged and neat, like Americans.
But no dice, whatever my grandmother bought to feed the mouths in our house had to be recognizable as coming from nature. My grandmother had to see the hands that rolled the pasta, she had to witness the sausage as it was weighed. Hand packed and hand made was the only way she would buy ice cream. From the bologna we'd see linked by the Italian butcher while we watched through the glass counter to the bread that was sold unsliced and whole and then tossed in a paper bag. No Wonder brand white bread from a bag of 24-slice count for us, and we could wish until our eyes crossed for blister packs of ham with dots of cheesespread from the supermarket--it would still never find its way home to us.
We would buy no more than my abuelita and I could carry home, two bags for each of us. My face would burn red as we passed people I knew, our plain brown paper bags instead of plastic that they gave out at the big supermarket. I worried the whole way home that we smelled of salami and olives, which of course we did.
I never hated the small neighborhood grocery store, I just didn't want another reminder of how different we were from the blazing beauty of all things American. The Italian store was dark wood and crowded, the small windows out front barely let enough light in to see to the back of the store. Not more than one person could go down an aisle at the same time. The floor creaked and leaned to the left and when a fresh layer of sawdust was spread in front of the butcher's window, it became slippery. I didn't want to be at the Italian store, but neither did I want to ever give up time being with my grandmother. Being alone with her always won.
In 2010, I read in the newspaper that the original Italian market closed. They moved to a larger, new location. The creaking wooden floors washed down with bleach every night would give way to black and white neat, even tile. The meat counter that was our first stop, right next to the front doors where my grandmother would motion for the best cut of meat for the most affordable price, was now in the back with a modern space of its own, apart from the rest of the store.
And there were automatic doors.
You think I'd be telling myself dreams come true if you wait long enough.
The funny thing is, I cried when I saw the picture of the new market. There were orange awnings with the family name in white swirls of scrolls over large rectangular windows. In between the expanse of windows, were doors, the kind that open by themselves. All you have to do, is stand in front of them.
You don't even need anyone with you.
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