Sausages, Seltzer and the Floridian Death March

Originally published in Good. Food. Stories.

It was 11pm and I was standing in the garage of my parents’ apartment building, waiting for my father so we could hit the road for our 1200-mile journey. I looked at his white Chevy Blazer, and observed through the smoked glass of the rear window, the various contents of the kitchen cabinets he had emptied out and stuffed into the car.  

He appeared in his de rigeur cabby hat, leather jacket and slacks. Ever the Italian dandy in his dress he appeared to be a cross between Errol Flynn and Tony Soprano. 

“Ready”? He asked.

 “Let’s do it,” I responded.  

My parents had “mutually” decided to move to Florida after living in Washington Heights for thirty-two years. My mother was in her element in the Heights. She was self-employed running a day care center, had cultivated many friendships, was the president of her Coop board, and knew every smidgen of gossip in the neighborhood. So when the old man got it into his head that he wanted to retire on a beach, away from the noise and bad weather, my mother naturally gave him the “stink-eye”, but after 6 months of pleading, cajoling, nagging, and threats of divorce, she relented and acquiesced, albeit kicking and screaming.

He was literally sitting on a couch, waiting for their apartment’s closing, which had been delayed, while my mother flew ahead to meet the movers in Florida, and oversee the grand unpacking of over thirty years worth of hoarding Italian Baroque chotkes, desk mallards, six sets of flatware, entirely too much leather furniture, and what seemed like thousands of dresses.

The night she arrived in Florida she called my father nineteen times in one hour to complain of various issues with the apartment, voice screeching, and an octave higher each call; to which my father would invariably reply, “Call the Super.”

We got in the SUV, and I noticed that the seats were at a perfect ninety-degree angle due to the groceries and various flotsam and jetsam pushing up against every surface and virtually spilling out of the car.

“Really, Dad?!  I can’t go 1200 miles like this.” I pleaded

“Hwhahtssamatta? Be a man! When I was in the army the seats on the jeeps didn’t move, we had to adjust to them!” he said with disdain.

I vainly tried to push the angle of my seat back to a more comfortable setting, but a box of canned peaches was wedged against my back. 

He turned the key, and the car emitted the sound of a goat choking, ”AH AHAH AH AH AH,” but wouldn’t start.

 “Hmmmmmmmmm,” my father muttered through a quizzical frown as we exited the car and raised the hood. 

 “Dad, did you have the car checked out before this trip?” I questioned while rubbing my temples.

“No, I didn’t have time, I had to buy sausages on Arthur Avenue.” he said in his dismissive tone, usually reserved for telemarketers. 

“You … went … to …” my voice trailed off, as my eyes became slits. Sarcasm failed me.

For years my parents frequented the pork stores on Arthur Avenue, at least once a week. Food was a strong tie to the old country, and Italian culinary tradition ran strong through my house. It had survived my family’s three emigrations; first to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then to New York, and now to Florida it seemed. 

While I crawled around in filth under the truck in a useless effort to get it started, my father broke my angry reverie with a suggestion. Opening the rear hatch of the SUV, careful to stuff a case of sardines back in, he produced a bottle of seltzer, his staple refreshment.

“Spshhhhhhhhhhhh” The top was twisted off and he carefully washed the corroded battery terminals, muttering that this had happened to him last week when he went food shopping in Jersey.  I rolled my eyes and got in the car.

 It worked, and for the rest of our trip, every time we had to start the car, it wouldn’t budge without its drink of seltzer.

We exited the garage and drove off into the cold, bleak February night as the lights of Washington Heights faded into the distance behind us.

 If Torquemada’s backbreaking seats weren’t annoying enough, we had only two CD’s: Dave Brubeck, and the Gypsy Kings. By the time we reached Pompano Beach after 28 hours on the road, I had heard “Take Five” and “Bamboleo” no less than thirty fucking times apiece.

That morning we all had breakfast on the terrace overlooking the most beautiful ocean view I had ever seen. The silver light of the sunrise shimmered on the placid water casting long shadows from the palm trees. 

This place was alive with color and light. It was eighty degrees in February, and the humidity was sweet in my nostrils. 

 Six months later my father died from a sudden onset of pancreatic cancer. Looking back, I am glad I was able to ensure he got his wish.

I was jarred out of my trance when my father commented that the weather was gorgeous. 

My mother sniffed and said curtly, “It’s windy.”

My father looked at me out of the corner of his eye, smiled and retorted, “Call the Super.”