Once Upon A Time in…
by John Delach
My last piece, “A Bagel Infamnia,” resulted in more comments than any other I have written. Here are two that the author’s have agreed to let me share with you.
Your piece reminds me of the smells from the local bakery that wafted out in the early morning…if you had an early paper route, or was up to go duck hunting or perhaps just coming home after a night out the smell was unbelievable. I grew up in a small town, and before bread was brought in each day form Dallas or Fort Worth in semi trucks we had two bakeries on the square. You could go in to the bakery and buy a loaf of the hot, fresh baked bread and with butter slavered on it you were in for a real delight…not as good as my grandmother made but a close second. Then gradually the big bread factories were able to ship in bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods and there went the bakeries. Later the local dairy and the ice house went the same way…gone like the buffalo…
Your piece had me recalling my early days in White Plains. We had an ice man who delivered regularly to those not having electric refrigerators which included a couple of apartments in our building. The way the guy carried two huge blocks slung against his legs in big tongs and with his black heavy apron to keep him warm or dry(never knew which) always interested me.
We had a fish truck at least once a week probably on Fridays out of deference to Catholics abiding by the meatless Friday dictum. The truck was basically a pick up with a dog house roof over two sloping pieces of plywood sectioned off to hold the fish on top of ice cubes. Very primitive but functional. There was a cutting board for the fish monger to gut and clean purchases and a typical market scale hung from the roof beam. Beneath the cutting board were compartments with wrapping paper and knives. I don’t recall if he had a bell to announce his presence but somehow the mother’s always knew when fish monger was there. It looked like a social occasion as these women all gathered around waiting their turn. It’s a really fond memory.
On occasion the “scissors grinder” came down the block in an old truck and he did have a bell he loudly rung to announce himself. Out came mothers but in spite of the “scissors” appellation they all seemed to be carrying knives rather than scissors. It was the same sort of gabfest the fish monger created.
Another odd truck was the asphalt truck to repair cracks and potholes in the street. You could hear it coming because the flame heating the asphalt had a distinct roar. The crew had buckets they filled and then poured into holes or if it was a crack they carefully followed it with a slow pour then moved on. The asphalt (we called it tar) cooled pretty quickly but always left a slight bulge over the hole or crack and on hot summer days it became pliable and for kicks we sometimes carved it out. The crew was always filthy as one might imagine and when we engaged in our vandalism we learned why. The stuff was really sticky and hard to remove from hands and jeans. This usually earned us a smack on the butt or harsh words when we returned home to frustrated mothers.
I’m not sure about a produce truck. I seem to remember one but I also suspect I may have created a memory because I recall no details.
An Italian bakery (commercial) opened a block from our apartment. They did have a modest retail counter as well and we kids were often sent there to buy a loaf. We knew when a batch was out of the oven because the aroma wafted over the neighborhood and that’s when we’d run the errand. I remember for reasons unknown that it cost 20 cents, maybe I recall because it was probably the first time I was asked to engage in a commercial transaction. The bread was warm and delicious smelling. Most times we kids couldn’t resist tearing off a small end piece to eat on the way home. My mother, and I suspect others, scolded me for this but it was too hard to resist so we continued to do it. Then one day the baker’s assistant gave me a small chunk of bread the size of a “spaldeen” with the admonition “eat this and not the bread”. Apparently enough mothers’s conveyed their complaint to the baker who found a Solomon like solution.
The coal truck showed up often in cold weather. It parked in the drive and directed a chute into one of the cellar windows. That particular window had a sloped cement sill instead of the flat ones in the other windows. The chute fit perfectly into it keeping it level so the sliding coal didn’t spill out. The pile in the cellar seemed huge to us and after a delivery we opened the cellar door and played in the pile which annoyed everyone. It stirred it up so coal gas rose into the upper floors; it got our clothes making them and is filthy. The “super” got mad as it meant him having to shovel coal back on to the pile from where we’d scattered it. The good news: So far no black lung symptoms.