I wrote a short version of this story as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post the other day, but it seemed like something fun to put down here. And since it’s my blog to write whatever I pleased, that is reason enough, I suppose.
I have always loved Spanish olives – the green ones with the pimentos stuffed inside of them. You see them called all sorts of things in this age of greater olive sensitivity (I have no idea if they can actually be found in Spain or if they're the olive equivalent of French fries) and they’re stuffed with all sorts of funky things now (jalepenos being my favorite), but the bog-standard pimento-stuffed green olive was one of my favorite things when I was a kid.
Yes, I know.
I still like them. I’m the guy over by the relish tray at your party, scarfing down the olives while all the more expensive food gets vacuumed up by everyone else. I’m a cheap date.
The trouble with liking these olives when I was younger was that I was pretty much the only person in the house who did – or at least the only one who liked them that much – so it was not often that I could convince my parents to buy them. I figured they were one of the mysteries of adult life, completely out of my league, and if they weren’t filtered through my parents then there was no way I could get them.
We lived about three or four blocks from a small neighborhood grocery store at that point in my life. It had maybe 500 square feet of space and was wedged into a little strip mall that also had a hardware store, two pharmacies, a pizza place, and a fried chicken takeout. You could look at every product in the store individually in less than twenty minutes. The owner – a big man, probably about my age now, more or less – would sit up front by the cash register, while his dad would be in the back, in the meats and cheese section. That old man could take a butcher’s cleaver and cut exactly one pound of sharp cheddar – to the pennyweight – without even aiming.
My grandmother came to live with us after her mother died when I was about 8 or so. She would send me down to the little strip of stores to run errands every now and then. I’d hit the grocery store for cheddar, sardines and crackers, and then go to one of the pharmacies and get a carton of Benson & Hedges Gold, which they would sell me without hesitation, this being the 1970s. As a reward for this, I’d get a quarter, which I could save up or spend on chips or candy as I saw fit. I bought a lot of chips and candy this way.
One day on one of my grandmother’s errands I was idly wandering up and down the shelves of the grocery store, looking at the various things on the shelves while the line at the back lessened, when I made a discovery.
It turned out that a small jar of Spanish olives – wider at the bottom, Bicentennial artwork painted on the glass, maybe four inches high – was not all that much more expensive than a bag of chips!
This was a REVELATION.
Adult food cost about what candy or chips cost? Really? Not exorbitant? And I could just … buy it? Without asking my mom to get it at the supermarket? Nobody would stop me?
I came home with that Bicentennial-themed jar of olives, curled up on the sofa in the living room, turned on the television, and ate them all in one sitting. No regrets. It was awesome.
It’s astonishing sometimes how accessible things can be if only you think to look.