2.9 Looking Backward, Looking Forward

My father was the friendliest man I’ve ever known.  That is, when he was in his element. At home he was taciturn, which is why it took me so long to realize he was friendly to the point of being gifted.

His element was Levenson’s Market, a corner grocery store in Middle America.  Middle America is a state of mind and the state Levenson’s Market was in was New Jersey, way south in New Jersey, in the town of Bridgeton.   So far south, in fact, that it is below the Mason-Dixon line.  So if I want to go into a mush-mouthed, y’allin’, drawlin’ manner of speech, I am entitled.

Bridgeton, New Jersey is rural.  I know, I know.  Rural New Jersey is an oxymoron in our national consciousness.  But way down on the southwest edge, just ten miles from where the Delaware River begins to open its mouth and form the Delaware Bay, population is thin and family farms stitch a patchwork quilt.  I go back there every five years for high school reunions for a booster shot of bedrock values, the world’s best tomatoes and peaches, and a refresher on the proper pronunciation of  ‘water’.

When I was growing up, the front doors were never locked, car keys were left in the ignition, and cars were washed by their owners every Sunday.

Bridgeton isn’t famous for much.  I looked up a list of Who’s Who in Bridgeton history and the only name I recognized was Goose Goslin.  If you recognize the name, you must have been nutty for baseball statistics when you were a teen.

While in high school, I worked in my father’s store after class and on Saturdays.  I re-stocked shelves and wrote the prices on cans with a wax crayon.  Campbell’s Tomato Soup was 12 cents, the same price as a loaf of bread.  I delivered groceries on my bicycle.  I also sliced lunchmeat because it was before the days of pre-packaged lunchmeat.

And there I learned to imitate my pop’s welcoming style.

Pop knew the name of everyone who came into his store.  If he didn’t know it when they came in, he knew it by the time they left.  He knew the names of his customers’ kids, what grade they were in, what sports they played.  At least I learned to make an effort to remember names.

I was a shy, awkward, under-sized, invisible kid, friendly and forgettable.  It was many years before I learned most teens think of themselves as shy, awkward, and forgettable.  I remember my 25th reunion when one woman told me she should have seduced me when she had the chance.  No one would say that if it weren’t true, would they?  It doesn’t matter that I did not know what seduction was when she had the chance.  It is the thought that counts.  Another woman told me she always hoped I would ask to carry her books.  I suppose I should add ‘dense’ to the list above.

Eventually, I learned the value of knowing a lot of people.  Long before it was given its name:  networking.  Networking means if you sell things, you have more customers—at least if they buy the things you sell.  It did not make a lot of difference in my case.  I never sold a boat to anyone who was a friend, but many of my friends are people that I helped to buy or sell their boat.

Also having a lot of friends means you don’t have to look a lot of up.  You get to submit your question to people who already know the thing you have to find out.  For instance, the most interesting route to Needles from Alameda.

When I posed that question in yesterday’s blog, I got good information and a huge bonus.  I realized that A Year on the Road which started as a newsletter to let people know where I was and which evolved into a conversation about a variety of topics.  Now it seems to have graduated to full-scale resource.  And that is important because I have more questions than ever–questions that go to the threads of the fabric of our time–people, politics, an religion, as well as values, lifestyle, and yearnings, and more.  Questions I will ask new people I meet as soon as they understand a friendly man is asking, a man whose agenda is mere curiosity.  Questions I can pose to my Internet passengers, who collectively, are encyclopedic in their knowledge and experience.

I wonder what my life would look like had my father not taught me that there is profit in putting people at ease.

14 Responses to 2.9 Looking Backward, Looking Forward

  1. Tony Bacon says:

    Your father’s great market was the only store I have ever found that ground the tail of a steak for ground steak. His meats were the best and Bridgeton was lucky to have a store that sold quality like your dad.
    I am very familiar with Leon “Goose” Goslin and I have an autographed baseball from him. He is in the HOF and was instrumential in the Washington Senators winning 4 WS. He also played for Detroit. He had a bait shop just outside of Fairton on the water and when he died he was broke and his friends had to take up a collection to bury him. Very sad as he was one of the best baseball players in baseball.
    Tony Bacon

  2. karen wittgraf says:

    Oh, you just touched my memory of my “corner store” in Minneapolis. Al Weingarten ran a market with kosher hot dogs that were to die for. As a little kid, Al would offer me a free one when we visited there (which was almost every day). Al also knew everyone’s name and his smile made me happy to be alive. Are there any more “Als ” in this world- any more “Pops”???? I want to be there again.

  3. Chip says:

    Have many fond memories of the store in Bridgeton – Sitting in Nana’s lap as she ran the cash register, helping her to make change. The rack filled with what seemed every brand of cigarettes in the world above her head.

    The cool air of the meat locker in the summer time in the days before air-conditioning. By the time I had the privilege of marking prices on canned goods technology had advanced from the wax crayon to the most wonderful tool with a rotating device that stamped the price with a firm and satisfying thud and then rotated back to rest on an ink pad that readied it for the next can…

    In the “small world” department, met a woman when I was in college whose sister worked at the law firm that apparently took the place of the grocery store long after it ceased to be a grocery store…

  4. Alan stowell says:

    and thats is why you are a GREAT yacht broker!

  5. john miller says:

    Al
    My dad worked at Campbell Soup. He also was a truckdriver on tomato trucks. He is still alive at 96 living in Mt Laurel. My brothers almost killed him two years ago when they took away his car. A WRONG DECISION from my perspective. I let him drive my car when he is in Denver. He is still a good driver. Now his driving is restricted to a three wheel bicycle when there is good weather. On Monday he had the battery in his 20 year old pacemaker replaced. Still pedaling.
    I still remember the odor of sun rotting tomato trucks parked along the road leading to the Campbell Soup plant. Yeah I remember losing a nickel on the way to buy a loaf of bread at our neighborhood store in Westmont, a veritable family tragedy. I was the oldest of ten and the “responsible” one.

  6. Laila says:

    HEY AL..
    YOU ARE INTRODUCING ME TO A NEW WORLD. BORN AND RAISED IN EGYPT, I FIND YOUR BLOG VERY INTERESTING AND INFORMATIVE ABOUT A WORLD I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT. I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT POST.
    AL..I JUST POSTED MY FIRST BLOG. PLEASE VISIT MY WEBSITE LISTED ABOVE.
    LAILA

  7. Barbara says:

    I enjoyed this post immensely, AL. BTW, being from southern NJ doesn’t give one the right to ‘a drawlin’ manner of speech’ – just so you know!

  8. Ellen says:

    I remember the corner store at Third and Hugo in San Francisco – not because of anyone who worked there, but because when I was four years old (yep, FOUR – it was a different time!), my grandmother would send me there for a quart of milk or a couple of missile popsicles for my younger brother (who was NOT yet allowed to walk to the corner store all by himself!) and me. My grandmother would watch from the window of their second floor flat, net curtains billowing behind her, as I walked down to the corner, crossed the street and then crossed Hugo to reach the market. I felt so grown up, bringing the milk or popsicles to the counter, paying for them, and then oh-so-carefully carrying the paper sack back up the street to where my grandmother was still watching from the window.

  9. Beth Wasserman says:

    I remember our groceries being delivered from your parents grocery store. My mother never shopped in a supermarket as the quality of everything especially meat was top quality from Levensons market.
    Bridgeton is a different place today.

  10. AL PEDERSEN says:

    HI, BUDDY, I AM SITTING HERE IN MY LIVING ROOM AND OCCASIONALLY GLANCING AT ARLINGTION BLVD. WITH ALL THE HARRIED COMMUTERS A FULL BLOCK AWAY OVER THE TREES. I GATHER THAT YOU HAVE RETURNED TO YOUR WINTER GARDEN. I DROVE BY MY OLD HOME TODAY AND WAS A BIT PERTURBED BY THE SIGHT OF THE SITE. ANN AND I LEFT A LOT OF FOND MEMORIES THERE. STRANGELY, IN TERMS OF OPULENCE IT WOULD NOT COMPARE WITH THIS PLACE , BUT I PROFOUNDLY MISS IT. AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, I ALSO PROFOUNDLY MISS ANN. SHE WAS MY ANCHOR. WITHOUT HER, I AM ADRIFT IN SPITE OF TAKING SPANISH LESSONS, TRACKING THE STOCK MARKET, READING THE DAILY ‘POST’ AND JERKING OFF EVERY YEAR OR SO. SMOOTH SAILING AND A FAIR WIND. BIG AL

  11. Elaine says:

    The “store” was a big part of our growing up.
    Here’s a couple things I remember, whole sides of beef being
    delivered and going into the freezer.
    The smell of coffee beans being ground, and although I have never
    been a coffee drinker, I love that aroma to this day.
    I don’t think Dad had more than a 6th grade education but I have
    never met anyone who could add up a column of figures faster.
    A special service Levenson’s market had was home delivery!
    On the lighter side, one important member of the crew was Betty, the
    cat that lived in the basement and kept it mouse free. Betty had a private
    life as well, giving birth to countless sets of kittens that Dad managed to
    persuade his customer’s to take home with the groceries.
    I also recall my brother Al being a champion fly catcher (his technique
    didn’t include using a fly swatter).
    That and lots more memories.
    The store was Dad’s pride and joy, the place that brought out the best
    in him, and where he was the happiest.

  12. “I suppose I should add ‘dense’ to the list above.”

    I wouldn’t add ‘dense’. If we could read minds and ignored what we discovered, then we would be dense.

    Reading about your dad’s store reminded me of my first, short job. When I was twelve, I replaced a friend in a corner meat market (the real kind where there is a butcher) and swept the floor, etc. My friend went on vacation with his family and he asked me to work his two hour daily shift cleaning.

    Too much has changed.

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