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THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER
22 December 2006
Before pressing onward, do yourself a favor and take time to read this. I won't spoil it by telling you why. But it's hilarious.
It must be the "in" thing to do. Both Mary and Jim were reminiscing recently about the mom 'n' pop grocery stores in their neighborhood when they were growing up. Then I ran across an entry by someone else on Holidailies talking about memories of grocers when they were young.
It got me thinking about Angelo and Angelina, and wondering why, with all the photos that we always took throughout my childhood, there isn't one photo of Angelo or Angelina. I could only find one where the store is even in it.
It's called the "Top of the Hill Market" now. Maybe it was called that then, but we always just called it "Angelo's." Angelo and Angelina Gueralas were from Greece, as I recall, and they ran this little market which was at the top of Leavenworth Street where it intersects with Union Street in San Francisco.
It's one of those intersections that Bill Cosby talks about in his very first comedy album, where you drive up an impossibly tall hill and when you reach the top, there is a stop sign. We used to have such a great time, especially in the days before "everybody" had an automatic transmission, sitting on the window seat in the living room, watching cars go up the hill and then watching them begin to slide back as they tried to find that sweet spot where the clutch "catches" so they could inch over the very top of the hill, after stopping at the stop sign. (This was especially fun in rainy weather.)
The market was right at the corner, on our side of the block. It had fruit and vegetables in a bin outside and then when you walked through the door, there was a butcher area to your right and the cash register area to the left (with liquor bottles behind the cash register).
There was sawdust on the floor, presumably from Angelo tracking it on his feet as he walked from the butchering area to the cash register.
The shelves were tall and the three aisles narrow, making the store seem very dark, and at the back of the store was the little kitchenette where Angelina prepared food for the two of them and their son, Andy, whom I remember as being an adult, but then I was a kid, so he may only have been a teenager. The air was frequently filled with exotic aromas and they would sometimes invite me into the kitchen to have me taste something Angelina had cooked. It was no bigger than a walk-in closet, a storage room, really, but with a stove at one end of it, and a table big enough for two along one wall. The other walls were lined with shelves and stored produce.
Since this was a very small store, it was good for buying last minute items. If you needed to do a bigger shopping, you went to The Searchlight Market, a long block away, along the cable car tracks, which had a larger selection of merchandise.
Behind the butcher area was a door which led to the basement, a wonderful place with nooks and crannies--and kittens. I remember when the grocery cat had kittens. Karen and I would go to the store every day to play with them. There was a white kitten with a big "V" on his back and I named him/her "Victory" and called him "Vickie" for short. And then there was the day when the kittens--was it all of them, or only Vickie?--managed to fall asleep on top of a refrigerator motor that had turned off and when it turned on again, the kitten, caught in the mechanism, was killed. Terrible, terrible day.
Angelo would let me behind the counter sometimes--I don't know why, but he would give me little treats, little milk chocolates wrapped in silver foil that I found irresistible. I got very good at swiping them when Angelo wasn't looking, and still feel guilty about it to this day, but I had to have my chocolate fix.
Angelo's was a neighborhood meeting place. We were always coming across one of the neighbors, though we never did much socializing with the neighbors. I remember meeting Gloria and her new son, R.E. (that really was his name. Really "Robert Elton," but everybody called him R.E.) at Angelo's and it gave her the idea that maybe I might like to take the toddler out for walks in his stroller from time to time, my first babysitting job. I can't imagine a mother making that offer today.
I still remember the foggy, grey morning when we were coming home, I believe from Church, though we were coming in the wrong direction up Union Street to have been coming from our own parish, St. Brigid's.
As we drove past Angelo's, the store was closed and there was a black wreath hanging on the door. Angelina had died. I don't know if she had been sick or not, or whether it was sudden and unexpected. I just remember that when we saw the wreath and my mother let out a gasp, music sounded in my head--the ominous music that you hear when something dramatic happens in a movie.
I don't remember when Andy took over the store. I remember visiting there once, after I grew up, and saying hello to him, thinking how strange it was that he looked as old as I remember his father looking.
With a name like "The Top of the Hill Market," I'll bet the store is a nice little boutique now. I'll bet there is no sawdust on the floor and no kittens in the basement, and especially no delicious smells of Greek cooking coming from a back room, filling the store with home made goodness that made you want to go home and cook something yourself.
I was actually going to write about today's Video of the Day, but discovered that I couldn't possibly top what I wrote in January of this year. I'm posting this video because I was able to rip the DVD instead of just filming the TV screen. I was also able to adjust the quality so it's not quite so dark. It still remains a very treasured piece of family history.
Featured Holidailies Entry: Bigando's Market by Jim's Journal.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Eyes are starting to open, if not quite focus
This is entry #2458