Max Goodstein and the Pickles

by Robert J. Wolfson


During the 1920s and '30s Prince Street was the main artery of the working class Jewish neighborhood in Newark. On Prince Street, cheek by jowl, stood food shops, small clothing stores, shoemakers, and so forth. In most cases, the proprietors and their families lived above the shops. Toward the rear of the store there would be a staircase which led up to the living quarters. That was the main entrance to the family quarters. At the rear of the building, outside, there would be a wooden stairway which led from the living quarters and the shop, out to the rear. Outside, behind the building, there might be a garden or a barren piece of ground which might or might not be paved.

On the street were the storefronts. This was a typical Jewish shopping area. Usually the food dealers' shops stood in a row. Kosher butcher; Jewish bakery (nearly everything baked on the premises, and the smell was wonderful); fruits and vegetables (the greenstore, as my grandmother put it); the dairy store (cheeses, butter, eggs, milk, and cream, and pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes---several barrels of each, in a row before the counter); smoked fish and meats (the delicatessen); a grocery; a neighborhood drugstore, with a soda fountain, and two big glass urns in the window---one full of blue fluid, one full of red. There might also be a luncheonette. And there was a barber shop, with the barber pole outside, the pole spinning, interminably.

There were two shops selling live creatures---a fish store inside of which were two large tanks: one containing fresh water fish, one containing salt water varieties; and a shop selling live poultry in cages---mostly chickens, but at special times of the year, ducks, geese and turkeys. The fish dealer sold only fish with scales, as all other fish and crustaceans were tref. Going into the fish store the buyer would stand by one of the tanks and point to a fish. The shopkeeper would then net that fish, and kill and dress it. In the poultry store the same sort of thing would take place: point, and watch the shopkeeper kill, pluck and gut.

The sidewalks and the roadway were not clean enough to eat from. All the food attracted mice and rats. Consequently, there was a population of cats, who made the neighborhood their home. They ranged all over, and kept the wildlife under control. The shopkeepers knew the older cats, and began, over the months, to become more acquainted with the newer ones. There was one fat old tabby, among the oldest in the neighborhood, who had not been seen for a few days. Probably, she had taken up residence in a neighboring block. The shop owners hoped that she was gone only temporarily, for she was believed to be one of the most efficient mousers.

Mr. Goodstein came down one sunny morning, unlocked his door, lowered the awning, and prepared for a day in his dairy store. His three daughters were upstairs, getting ready for school, and his wife would come down, shortly after the girls had gone. Max put on his apron (clean most days), and waited for business.

Several customers came in, purchased their butter, eggs, etc. Then in came Mrs. Warshawski, with her usual long list of purchases. As Goodstein took her order, and totaled it up, she remembered one last item. "A big, mild dill pickle, from that (pointing) barrel. Not the one next to it. They are too strong." Goldstein reached into the barrel, came up with a pickle. She inspected it. They completed the transaction. And she was off.

And so it went, on into the afternoon. At about four in the afternoon Jake Rubenfeld came in. All he wanted was a nice, strong-flavored pickle, from that barrel. Max put his arm in, and reached around. ["Something strange in there," he thought.] "This one's empty, Jake," he said. I'll find one in another old barrel. And he did, showing it to Jake for inspection. Jake paid and left. And Max sat down, a bit wobbly. Then he rolled the first barrel out into the yard, and came back into the shop.

At the end of the day, Mr. Goodstein locked up, and went out into the yard. There, he tipped the barrel over and let the liquid out. Then he tilted it farther, and out came old Tabby. Those pickles had had a special flavor.


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