One of the nice things about growing up in the Bay Area was living among all the different backgrounds that made up our corner of America.
We actually had a Jewish Delicatessen Man, but he operated a not-so-Kosher cold case of meats and cheeses, including bacon and ham. I can remember shopping and reading the signs and prices with Mom. I’ll never forget: it was Murray who gave me my first taste of Swiss cheese; he had a little melon ball cutter that he dug into the cheese wheel and then dropped it onto a tissue to offer the bite to me. I took it, smiled and politely said that it tasted really good. Mom wasn’t finished shopping, so I held it in the side of my cheek until we finally walked outside and out of his window’s view; I told Mom I thought I was going to die… YUK. She told me I could spit it out and I gladly obeyed, spewing it right into the gutter! Mom couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t stop tasting the awful stuff until we got home and I could have a glass of milk to take the foul taste away. I still liked Murray, but I never accepted another taste test from him again.
The produce stand was run by a wonderful Japanese family. Their daughter shared the same birth day as I did, was about ten years older than me, and her name was Kathy. She was an absolutely beautiful and gracious young woman with a very genuine, loving manner. She dutifully worked for her parents, and always made sure to come to talk to my mother and me when we were in their produce stand.
When Kathy found out that my birthday was on Christmas Eve as well, she gifted me with two little wooden Japanese dolls; one male dressed in green and one female dressed in red. These two little dolls stood only 2 inches high, but they were the beginning of my collection of little figurines. I still have the female doll; apparently, the little green guy bit the dust and was lost forever in packing paper during one of my moves over the years; sadly, I never found him.
Shoes were worn and heels replaced; even soles. Bob the Shoe Repairman could fix anything. Bob was a veteran, injured in WWII, whose limped gait was overshadowed by his always pleasant demeanor; when he spoke to our parents, we kids were included in his welcoming smile. The smell of the rubber heels as he grinded them on the wheel to smooth the edges was the aroma you picked up rounding the corner toward home.
There’d be more housekeeping errands come tomorrow, and with luck and polite nagging, Mom just might walk a bit farther along the boulevard to let us kids visit some of our favorite merchants and their shops…