Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Some People Make It

Beneath bushy black eyebrows, unkempt hair, and grit in the lines and creases of his hands and face, Tony sat behind a fly-swatting mule on a vegetable cart. He eased the wooden cart up our street late in the afternoon on a daily basis.  His jaw hung low and his eyes were dark and heavy. My aunt always waved to him and smiled at me at the same time, "He's a real dago, that one."

etching by John William Winkler
Perched on the front edge, the rickety cart, filled with bright vegetables and leafy greens, delayed traffic and ground a long line of cars to a steady crawl.
No one honked at guys trying to make a living in 1979.
Only eleven years-old, we asked for rides on the back of the cart when there weren’t many vegetables left at the end of the day.  Fatigued, he nodded and gagged the mule to a patient stop. On we climbed as Tony whispered some hocus pocus into its twitching ears. Our legs dangling from the back end, Tony calmed the mule and took us on a slow tour once around the block.

We waved at the cars creeping behind us. 

We didn't know better--people trying to find a place to park in a crowded city after a day at work aren't necessarily in the waving mood. 
I learned as I grew older that Tony had a wife and several kids. When summer break came, I heard the clattering wheels from his shopping cart reverberate against asphalt and brick neighborhood in the morning. Loaded with cleaning supplies, he knocked with grave respect, door to door and offered to clean windows for a couple of dollars. My aunt slipped him a ten dollar bill when everyone else always gave him three dollars. As I child, I thought Tony was illiterate--I didn't realize he was just Italian. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great character sketch, not only of Tony, tired and ready to head home to his own family, but giving you a ride around the block, but also of your aunt, giving him $10 when everyone else gave him three.