The tomatoes were nasty — bitter,
hard, dark green, floating in brine.
The deli owner too was nasty.
gruff, graceless and German.
Between the cases of meat and cheese,
and shelves of wines and specialties,
and counter with two dangerous
slicers (one for dairy and one for meat,
although the owner was Catholic)
stood a hip-high bowed oak barrel
brimming with half-sour tomatoes.
He was Teutonic coarse to customers
but he was not stingy with his worker.
We bonded over the acetic tomatoes.
He delighted as we each plucked one
from the salty swamp every few hours
to savor bites when we were not busy.
Most customers were also Germans,
Frauen of moderate wealth and status
via officer husbands at Fort Jackson,
comforted in exile by furs and jewelry.
Even on summer days, they arrived
in Benzes, wore minks, and sought
German food and drink, and sounds
of home, even if spoken brusquely.
A matron with several gold bracelets
would jingle holding up baby corn
in a tiny jar, asking “Was kostet das?”
He then gave her the price…plus scorn.
He glared, spitting out the cost as though
she was stupid to ask or silly to quibble.
His manner was not Southern gracious.
Yet to the women, his tone was home too.
As I sidled by the barrel, I knew tomatoes
weren’t the only half sours in the deli.
Michael Ball, 71, lives in Hyde Park, Boston. He was a newspaper reporter, then business and technical writer and editor. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Michael on Twitter @whirred and on Facebook @ facebook.com/harrumph. You can also read Michael’s blog here: harrumpher.com