I ran across the local seltzer man making his rounds in the neighborhood this morning. Ronny’s Seltzer is one of the last soda home-delivery services in NYC, driving around on a flatbed truck laden with old-fashioned glass seltzer bottles. I couldn’t believe me eyes the first time I looked out my window early one Saturday morning, soon after I’d moved to the neighborhood, and saw Ronny lugging crates of seltzer up the neighbor’s stoop. (Yes, Ronny Beberman makes the deliveries himself; there was something of a panic among fans when he was laid up after a fall last year) But it’s just one of the charming remnants of a bygone era that linger here in Brooklyn. Another is the knife sharpener men who drive around the neighborhood in their little trucks, ringing a bell to announce their presence—sort of like the ice cream man, except with sharp objects. There are a couple of them, and the skills of one vs. another are debated, but it was a strange thrill the first time I caught up with the Bob’s Grinding Service truck, scurrying down the block to catch him. Look at me, running with knives!
It took me back to the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, where my grandfather lived. When I was a child, the local produce vendor still made his rounds in a truck that was rigged to display carts of fruit and vegetables and had a scale hanging on the back. Everyone called him Huckster Harry, which was by no means an insult, just how the locals described what he did. Huckster Harry’s visits were small lessons in buying the freshest seasonal items. If it was on Harry’s truck, that meant it was time for the cantaloupe, or peaches, or grapes that he would pick up from the city’s main farmer’s market downtown, and he would share thoughts on what were the best picks for the day. For me, the prize was the late summer appearance of Bing cherries. They seemed a rare and therefore prized commodity, a small bowl of them to be devoured nearly on the spot.
Huckster Harry was also an introduction to the then-unusual items that wouldn’t appear in our local supermarket, like the crusty bread from a restaurant/bakery in the city’s Italian neighborhood that made me wonder why we had to eat that grocery store white the rest of the time. This bread had character, even if I didn’t make that connection at the time, and having a slice with fresh butter from my grandfather’s ancient Frigidaire was a treat beyond compare, almost as good as lazing on the porch later with a bowl of cherries for me, some grapes for my little brother.