It is amazing, even to me, that I am living in a world that has seen so many changes since I released my first kitten like squall in Doctor Lefts Maternity Hospital in the Bronx, to the present day sitting writing my blog on a computer in Patchogue, New York.
I was born just after the second world war. Perhaps in the age of innocence. The disparity between the rich, middle class and poor was not as great as it is today. While we never even aspired to be rich, middle class was attainable. The gap between the poor, middle class and rich has widened considerably. For too many middle class may be an impossibility.
When I was a little girl there were a few peddlers selling their wares and services from a horse-drawn cart. Can you even imagine it? The man who sharpened knives and scissors came down the street once a month ringing his bell. Housewives would run down the long flights of stairs and wait while he used his grinder to sharpen the blades.
There was the peddler who shouted through the streets, “Onions, Potatoes””. My grandmother would shout back, “How much for potatoes?” Then I, the runner at six years old, would fly down with the twenty-five cent piece and retrieve the five pounds of potatoes for her. I loved doing this because I would usually get to pet the old horse while I waited for him to bag the loose tubers.
Further up the street there were carts filled with more perishable goods, bananas, tomatoes, flowers, and the like, also displayed in horse-drawn carts. These entrepreneurs only trotted up to the farmers market with their carts, and then back to the curbside, which they had already claimed probably with their fist. The carts were loaded and arranged attractively with the appealing produce. Crates were used to display the fruit and vegetables in bleacher style, stacked so you could see it all and limiting the detrimental piling up of the wares.
You purchased fruit and vegetables only in season. They were selected individually and usually only bought two or three at a time. The customer didn’t touch them but rather pointed to the peach or tomato they desired. Since nothing was hot-house grown the produce bruised easily. It was carefully protected by the peddler until it was purchased.
Shopping for food was a ritual that occurred every few days, therefore a pleasant relationship was formed between the women shoppers and their peddler. Pleasantries were exchanged, and like today the smart cart owner would learn the language of the neighborhood. Sometimes when it was a good customer, or the housewife cute, the cart owner would suggest which was the freshest of his wares then push the not so choice to someone he didn’t know well, or hadn’t taken a shine to. My grandmother with her beautiful grey eyes and diminutive size often got the best. She was very proud of this.
Yes, the world has changed with its refrigerated trucks, supermarkets and grand warehouse stores. The hot-house fruits and vegetables don’t taste quite as good. I have purchased tomatoes recently that were so hard you could use them as soft balls. Shopping is not a social event. We rarely bond with our produce providers. Is that a good thing or not?
Do I long for those days? Yes, having those family members, who have long since passed beyond the veil, close to me. I miss them terribly. But I do not miss spending an entire afternoon choosing food. That time is better spent doing the things that make 2011 so great and creating memories for those I love. Horse drawn carts and all they represent are cherished memories and they serve to remind me that all that has gone before was not the best or the worst that is to be. There is still much more to come. What an adventure this life is.