At the Deli

The best memories always seem to be family related.

I grew up in the only Christian family in a Jewish neighborhood. I guess I was in middle school before I found out that the lions didn't eat all the other Christians.

A few blocks north of our row house was the "Deli".

Now it was not like what passes throughout most of the country for a deli, this was a true Jewish Deli.

There was the great oak barrel of pickles and you stuck your hand down in the brine squeezing them to pick out the biggest, firmest pickle you could find. On the counter was the aluminum tray of Coddies (cod fish cakes) and saltines and folk helped themselves and snacked on them while browsing the store. I always suspected they were delivered on Mondays and Wednesdays and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they simply turned the uneaten ones over.

The rolls of fly paper hung from the ceiling as the big ceiling fans turned slowly giving the illusion of a breeze but mostly simply mixing the smells and the hot, humid air.

At the farmost rear corner of the Deli was an old wooden table littered with newspapers in Hebrew where older men gathered, some clean shaved, others bearded, all speaking at the same time in a mixture of English and Yiddish. Often in the mornings they would have a plate with a half eaten Bureka sitting in front of them and as their hands slapped the table the small white cups of coffee would dance in the saucers.

The Deli roasted their own beans and you could tell when coffee was being roasted from a block away. The whole neighborhood took on the air of expectancy when the coffee was roasting and people walking on the street raised their heads and sniffed the air, their destination forgotten as their paths converged for that cup of just roasted coffee.

As a kid, I was not allowed coffee, it would stunt my growth, but Mr. Blumberg would always give me a small glass filled with milk with just a touch of coffee added, and would tell me "don't let your parents see that" in a voice that everyone in the deli heard. But as a child, I knew it was "our secret" and I would take my glass to the back and sit at the end of the table trying to be as near invisible as a goy can be at a table filled with adults in a Talmudic Dispute.

Eventually mom and dad would call me and everyone at the table would stop talking and look at me. As I'd gulp down the last of my "coffee" and run to catch up I'd always hear someone at the table say "Such a good boy."

Little did they know.