The Cheese Man
In my youth, Fridays were an important day. My dad got paid, grandma made her trip upstate for the weekend, and the cheese man came.
I cannot recall how the cheese man came into our lives, but come he did, slowly and stealthily at first, and then with a dependable frequency that couldn’t be denied.
I vaguely recall his first visit. We had two driveways from which one could enter our property. The driveway that the cheese man chose to use was a pot hole- filled- with- dust and gravel kind of driveway. He was driving a 1961 black Chrysler Saratoga with wide whitewalls and chrome headlights. He drove slowly as not to kick up dust on that hot, dry August day, and out of the corner of her eye as she took clothes off of the line, my mother saw him well before she heard those whitewalls crunching down.
She stopped with my brother’s diapers in one hand and the wooden clothespins in the other. She never took her eyes off the cheese man as she bent down to put the diapers in the basket and the clothespins in their bag.
“Can I help you?” she lightly called from her stance.
The cheese man walked to the back of his car and opened the trunk.
I suppose that it was more curiosity than fear which gave my mom the courage to walk towards the man and his car. A pungent, but not necessarily undesirable, smell wafted the air as she approached.
The cheese man stood alongside the opened trunk and with his hands gestured for her to come closer and peek inside. With the smell now undeniably coming from within, she peered inside.
All sizes and shapes of cheese lined the trunk. The hard cheeses were squares and rectangles wrapped in brown paper, where they lay at the bottom. Softer cheeses wrapped in cloth were on top of them. Balls of cheese cradled in hammock-like rope hung from the top of the trunk’s insides. A metal scale , impaled by a hook joined the roped cheeses, so that when the trunk opened it would be ready for business. Towards the anterior, salamis were tucked away in empty corners.
“I can cut anything you like” he said matter- of- factly.
My mother’s eyes were wide open in wonder. She became transported to the cheese markets of her youth, and she marveled at the compactness and completeness of this store on wheels.
She looked up at the roped balls.
“How much for one of those?”
The cheese man took one down and placed it, rope and all, onto the scale. The scale number said 2.
“Give it to you for three.”
Mom’s eyebrows went up.
“I’ll take it.”
As he handed her the cheese on a rope, she reached into her apron and pulled out a five dollar bill. I knew from listening to my parents that five dollars was half a day’s pay for my father. Why my mother had that large amount of money in her apron I didn’t know, but I knew that my father would be furious that she spent three dollars for cheese on a rope.
The cheese man took the bill from her and put it into a metal box which was also in the trunk. He extracted two dollar bills from it and handed them to my mother.
“I’ll come by every Friday.” And with that, as my mother and I stood along the pot-holed, graveled driveway, she holding a cheese on a rope, and me shading my eyes with my hands from the sun, he closed the trunk, got into his car, and drove away.
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