When we are little girls there are large men. They aren’t necessarily tall, or wide, but they are large in our childhoods. We remember their smells, their habits, the way their walking sticks hit the ground and the size of their stride. We remember their faces only from pictures, because we are little when they are grand. We memorize their shoes.
My Uncle Marek smoked cigars that smelled faintly of cherry leaves. He took enormous steps, three steps of mine would equal just one of his. He had a cane, a walking stick I suppose. He carried that cane but never seemed to rest his weight on it, and as I ran along beside him, almost always to the bakeries that dotted Fairfax, I wondered why he carried it at all.
My Uncle Marek spoke many languages, and English was not his best. At the bakeries, we always went to more than one, he would speak German or Polish to the ageless women behind the counter who were covered in hair nets. At Thrifty we would get a 15 cent ice cream cone “the best ice cream” he told me in English, the rest was in Yiddish. I’m not sure what he said.
At home we never sat at the dining room table. That was for holidays only, but I’d sit at the kitchen table and watch him prepare fresh chicken for the obese and lazy cat. He’d speak in one of the languages, and then switch abruptly to English for my benefit.
“Yessica, would you like a nice pear?” He would ask. There would be a fuss wherein an appropriate pear was located. The best pear would land on my plate, precisely quartered, and sweeter than candy. He was magical with food, fruits were always sweetest, and only a “nice pear” would do.
Jane made herself a snack today. “What’cha eating?” I asked.
“A nice pear and some crackers.” Was her offhanded reply, and as the tears came to my eyes I smelled cherry leaves burning, ever so faintly, but I smelled them.