Yesterday's Magazette

12 – Bygone Deli Odors

Remembering Mr. Zucker’s Deli

By Helen C. Frederick

Mr. Zucker’s delicatessen was a tiny, smelly place. The combined odors of apples, pickle brine, weird meats and spices may have been pleasant to adults, but not to my four-year-old nose. The walls were lined with shelves of dull colored boxes, cans and bottles. The ceiling fan whispered er. . .ick, er .. .ick, er…ick. For the most part, Zucker’s Deli made me just a little uncomfortable.


When my mother and I walked in, the floor boards would creak, and Mr. Zucker always popped out from behind a faded, green curtain like a chubby, red faced, carnival barker; all grins and customer greetings. A couple of times I would step on one of those creaky boards again, just to see who else would pop out from behind that curtain, but it only worked once per visit … and only for Mr. Zucker.

Mother usually spoke with Mr. Zucker in low tones about something called credit. She would then go right to the meat case. The things behind that cold glass prompted many questions from me, but the answers were generally so grim and unappetizing (pig’s feet … ? calves brains … ? cow’s stomach … ?) that I would quickly turn my attention to the opposite side of the store, and the picture gallery.

Four or five steps and a creaky board later, I was gazing at the sunny breakfast faces of Mr. Quaky Oats, Chef Creamy Eat and Angie Myma. I was sure the log cabin on the syrup tin was Angie Myma’s home. The crispie elves were always fun, but the picture that fascinated me the most was the one of the little girL with the umbrella. Salt was pouring behind her from the package under her arm. I wondered what her mother would do when she got home with the empty package. She would cry, I was sure, because all the grownups I knew were very careful with foodstuff.

People were pulling themselves out of something called “the depression.” I didn’t know what a depression was, except that it had something to do with money and food. It also caused my mother to be mean at times. Before we entered the store, she would say, in clipped, no nonsense words, “Don’t ask for anything!” This meant that the candy counter was for window shopping only. Unless I had a cold, hard penny in my pocket, I ignored this tempting area. I learned early on that window shopping without money was a ruthless form of torture.

Actually, it was easy to stay away from the candy counter, because right next to it was a big, red, metal thing with a gaping, toothy mouth painted on it. I could almost hear it snarl and growl. I avoided this hunk of horror for a long time.

After I learned to read, however, the slavering jaws disappeared, never to return. Even if I squinted my eyes, blurring the white, ribbony words, I could not make them change back into that mouth apparition again. Forever after, the benign, flowing, cheery script read, simply, COCA COLA.

Vol. 39 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – 2012


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