Friday, February 24, 2012

The Greek Lady In The Aluminum Van

I would see her
Just about
Every morning
In her aluminum
Food vendor van
A kitchen on wheels
Where she spent
Every early morning and
Early afternoons
Serving up
Sausage egg
And cheese
Sandwiches and
Hot dogs and
Hot coffee and
Sweet tea and
Ice cold sodas and
A whole rainbow
Of assorted fruit juices and
Bags of potato chips and
Small packets of
Rich chocolate chip cookies

Her name is
Fredericka and
She is most definitely
(And proudly)
100% Greek
She was a woman
Of a certain age
(Late fifties)
And she had been
At her trade for
The past 36 years
Hardly ever missing
A day

I had long been
A faithful customer
Buying more than
My share of her morning
And Cheese
(With a small hot coffee
Milk and sugar and
A fruit juice to go)
Almost every morning
Before heading in
To my office
For my daily 9 to 5 shift
In the salt mines
As a chain gang
Worker bee
In the city’s mammoth
(Where the daily lashings
Will continue
Until morale improves)

“I gotta go make the donuts!”
I would usually say to her
While taking my leave
As I paid her
My usual $5 tab
She would always
Politely say
Thank you in Greek
(Σας ευχαριστώ!)
And I would respond with
You are welcome!
(Είστε ευπρόσδεκτοι!)

Over the years
We had become
Friends and
She had become
My Greek language teacher
(It always pleased her
To have a little conversation
With me
In Greek
To impress
Who ever was also
Waiting in line
For their
Coffee and donut
It was a little game
That we played)
(Then she would tell me
That I also had the worst
Greek accent that
She had ever heard!)

Being Greek
She was no stranger to
(Although we also had
Our share of laughs-
She always did
Have a great
Sense of humor
In an off-color
Greek sort of way)

Her husband of 35 years
Had recently passed away
Due to a losing fight
With prostate cancer
(Frederika often said
That she thought that
It was the hospital treatments
That may have killed him first
But that is another story)

Ted was a gruff man
Though he could also
Be a kind and gentle
Big bear of a man
Ted often worked
Side by side with his wife
(In that cramped
Aluminum lunch wagon)
In all kinds of weather
Day in and day out
Year after year
But it was clear
How much they
Loved each other

Fredericka took his passing
Very hard
But she mourned him publicly
For only two weeks
Before carrying on
With the little
Kitchen on wheels
Business that the
Two of them had
Built up together
Over the years

I would often
Try to console her
Whenever she would give vent
To her considerable sorrow
Over the loss of her
Wonderful Ted

It was a kind of therapy for her
To wear her heart on her sleeve
And she had a loyal following
Of customers who would
Invariably also become her friends
(And she had legions of them!)
Fredericka and Ted
Also had a son
Also named Ted                                                                                                                                                                
(But we all
Called him Teddy)

Teddy had his own little
Kitchen on wheels
And he worked
On the next block over
Serving up
Hotdogs and
Coffee and
Philadelphia style
Cheese steak hoagies
Just like his
Mom and pop

But Teddy
(Lord love him)
Was also a drug addict
With heroin being
His favorite
Drug of choice
(A very risky business
On the hard
Streets of Philadelphia
Where the purity of
The horse could vary wildly
Or so I have been told)

A few days ago
Fredericka found Teddy
In his bathtub
Dead from an overdose of
Her worst fears and
Nightmares had
Come true

The shocking news
Almost killed
Poor Fredericka
On the spot!

After all
She had vested
All of her hopes and dreams
In the hope of
Living to yet see
Her only son married
With and arm full
Of babies to raise
(The more the better)

That dream at least
Would make his mother
Very happy
And would also serve
To help balance out
Some of the grief
That she had experienced
In the course of her life

(But sadly
Such a dream
Was not meant
To be)

Ever since Teddy’s
sudden death
Little aluminum
Kitchen on wheels
Was no longer
To be seen
In her customary spot
(I later learned from some
Of her former customers
That she was quitting
The lunch wagon business
And that she was looking
For a buyer
For her beat up and
Somewhat broken down van)

Others also told me
(As if I didn’t know)
About how overwhelmed
She was by her loss
“She doesn’t want
To live anymore”
They said and
How could I doubt them?

I did see her
One last time
When she was
In the neighborhood
As she was winding down
Her business affairs

From her car
I could see that
She nodded her head
To acknowledge that
She could see me
As she passed me by

She waved
And even managed
A little tight smile
But I could see
That she was still
Too distraught to talk

I waved back
And I tried to
Offer her my
Shouted words
Of condolence
But she was in a hurry
To leave
And I stood mute
As I watched her
Drive slowly away

Another passerby
Friend of hers
Told me that
She lived in
Upper Darby
A nearby suburb

I told myself that
I wanted to at least
Find a way to
Contact her
And to send her
A sympathy card
That would somehow
Manage to express
How much and
How deeply
I cared and
With her loss

But how to find a
Hallmark card
With just the right
Combination of words?

The words
Would have to be
At once
Beautifully poetic and
Exceptionally caring and
Wonderfully and
Endearingly sweet

And above all else
It must be
Quintessentially Greek!

Philadelphia, Pa. 2012

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