I interviewed my eighty-six-year-old grandmother about an interesting time in her life. The following essay is written in her voice:
I’m sorry we hadda sell it. Grandpa was so happy workin’ in it. But I got sick. My pneumonia came back because I’d work up a sweat from runnin’ around all day. Then I’d go into our cooler-freeza to get things, and I’d get tha chills. I told him not to sell it, but Grandpa says to me, if I lose you, Jean, what’s tha deli to me? So, we sold our Hobbies deli to a family of five.
Whadda you wanna know about it? It was around 1977. Grandpa and I were in our 50’s with no kids anymore—they were all outta tha house by then. It was tough work, man. We’d be in there workin’ from seven a.m. to nine p.m. Some nights, especially if it was snowin’, we’d sleep on tha couch bed in tha back. We had everythin’ we needed in there. We had each other, and we’s were doin’ what we loved.
People came to tha deli because they were crazy about tha food—what can I say? One time a man came in, and he complained to me about there bein’ too much roast beef in his sandwich—do you believe it? I made two roast beefs a day, and of course I used them up in those sandwiches; I wasn’t gonna skimp nobody. His was the only complaint I ever got. It was a pretty good complaint to have, if you ask me.
It smelled like roast beef and garlic all tha time in there. We had an eight-foot salad bar that was always loaded with potato salad, chicken salad, veal and peppers—tha works, okay? I’d cook up a storm and make 250 meatballs a day. Our floor was brown, and we had three aisles of canned foods and other things for people to purchase. There were no seats. This wasn’t a restaurant—are you kidding me? Grandpa and I would nevah have been able to do that on our own. People just came in, got what they wanted, and then they’d leave.
The entire place was immaculate. Tha health inspector came in once and all he could say about tha place was that our bathroom door didn’t close fast enough. I says to him, oh, was that all you could find? I’m pleased.
We had a reputation, boy. One time my mom was comin’ in from the airport, and she told tha cab drivah Hobbie’s Deli, downtown Nanuet. It was on the other side of tha Hudson. Tha cabbie says to her, I eat there all of tha time. She says you’re kiddin’ me, my daughter and son-in-law own that place. He told her he loved it—especially tha sausage and peppa sandwich. There was also a trucker man that would plan his route around our meatball sandwich. What can I tell you? Italians know what’s good.
We’d specially order tha bread for those sandwiches from the Italian bakery down tha street. Sometimes tha sandwiches would go so fast, we’d have to make two trips to tha place in a day. Our sandwiches were magnificent, sure, but our trays were somethin' else. Grandpa made 'em look just fabulous—gorgeous, even. You wouldn’t believe them. He was such an artist, and he’d fold tha Boars Head cold cuts just so. It was tha happiest I’d seen him. He gained weight workin’ there—he was always a skinny mini otherwise. He ate so much pasta and meatballs; he had his fill, boy. I have a picture of him standin’ behind tha deli counter, smilin’. He was always smilin’, Mr. Happy Tooth.
I never liked to eat tha food like Grandpa did. There was so much of it all of tha time; I’d be sick just thinkin’ of eating it. So you know what I’d do? I’d go to tha nearby diner to have an omelet. Tha people workin’ there would say to me, Jean, with all that great food you got over there, you’re eatin’ an omelet? Those people looked at me like I had bugs crawlin’ outta my ears.
We had some experiences in that place. We’d cooked for tha mental institution in Orangeburg, New York, a number of times for Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving—you name it. They ordered h’orderves and cold cut trays from us. Any time we went inside with our trays and bins to set up, we’d pass tha patients runnin’ around or sittin’ on tha floor. One time in particular, I was in tha kitchen puttin’ tha h’orderves into the oven, and I sees this guy come in. He starts runnin’ around tha table hootin’ and hollerin’ like an owl, takin’ his clothes off. I says to myself, if he comes near me, I’m gonna hit him over tha head with a pot. He didn’t ever come near me, and I just minded my business. I’m tellin’ you, tha things I saw.
Another time, a woman with red hair came into tha deli and said she was a waitress and wanted a caterin’ job. I told her I was caterin’ a colored wedding, and she could help. I was out settin’ things up, runnin’ back and forth, makin’ sure everything was just so. I found her in tha kitchen takin’ shots like don’t ask, with tha men who were mixin’ tha drinks. They thought it was hilarious. Of course she couldn’t help with tha trays after that; she could hardly stand up straight. We were sittin’ in tha van afterwards, and she says to me, boy I had a really great time; that was a beautiful wedding. I told her yeah, that’s tha last time you’re workin’ for me. I was no dummy.
We catered for tha homeless children once. It was tha nun’s 25th anniversary and about 200 people were there. We had so much food left over; I let tha Reverend Mother keep it for tha kids. She says to me Jean, God has to bless you; the children will be eatin’ for a whole week with what you gave me.
So I got sick from tha cooler-freezah, but God spared, and my pneumonia went away. I was blessed; what can I say? No matta how happy Grandpa was makin’ those trays and washin’ our windows, he still sold tha place. I was it for him. He woulda gone crazy without me.
It was a lotta work, that deli. But man, was it a hoot. And that’s it. What else you wanna know?