Until age six, every Saturday, I went to work with my mother. Upon arrival, Mom began work on the adding machine and I was dispatched to walk one block to the Italian bakery where I would exchange a one-dollar bill for a warm loaf of bread wrapped in a white paper bag.
Back at the store, after giving the bread to my mother, I worked on my coloring books until the siren call of brine-filled olive barrels pulled me out from my mother’s office, onto the wooden floor of the small sliver of retail space.
My pattern was unchanging—a short walk up, walk down, past the barrels, quietly mouthing the names of the olives as I went, not really reading them, but bringing their names to my lips from long experience: nero piccolo, nero normale, nero gigante, nero siciliano,(dry, wrinkled, no brine), verde piccolo, verde normale, verde gigante. These green giants were my favorite. When I was sure my mother was on the phone, or occupied by her adding machine and my aunt was talking with a customer, I would push back the lid of the green giants and scoop up as many as the pierced ladle held and grab out as many as I could into my left hand, leaving the right free to return the leftover olives to the barrel, replace the ladle and close the lid. Quickly, still furtive, for I was sure my aunt or mother would scold me for eating olives so early in the morning, especially so many. Eight fit carefully into my left hand. My hiding place to savor my secret treasure was a tiny nook behind the cases of DeCecco pasta bounded by cases of six-in-one tomatoes—promises of delicious dinner yet to come—out of sight of retail customers, my mother’s glass windowed back office and my aunt.
One by one, I dropped an olive in my mouth, each so big it barely fit in that space where tongue could enjoy the briny saltiness of the oval taste treat and my teeth could begin to strip their firm yet delicate skin from the pit. My right hand, free, when I had scraped the goodness off the pit and sucked it dray of bring, I would spit out the used olive, hide the pit in my sweater pocket to throw away later, and repeat the process of satiating my unending capacity for olives.
I heard my mother’s footsteps down the wooden planks.
Well before the last olive made its way from hand to mouth, my mom would often walk up to my hiding place, two pieces of that crusty bread in one hand and a few black and green giants in a small bowl. At least two of each for her and two of each for me. Then, we could alternate—a bite of olive, a bite of bread. Somehow, she knew just where to find me and knew that when I was eating olives. Sometimes we talked about the store. Sometimes about the olives.
One Saturday, I finally asked her, “How do you always find me?”
“Easy, my mother laughed. This is where I used to hide to eat olives when your grandfather brought me with him to the store when I was just your age.”
Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer. Her poetry, essays, articles, books, and performances have delighted many audiences. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Postcard Poems and Prose, Silver Birch, The Ekphrastic Review and others. When she is not composing pages or performing on a stage, you can find her at the beach, collecting shells and daydreaming.