Uncle Joe was a pickle purveyor. He was referred to by many far and wide as Joe, the pickle man. For as long as I can remember, Uncle Joe delivered pickles to the many restaurants and delis in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Up at the crack of dawn, he would drive his truck to the establishments he purveyed; rain or shine, sleet or snow. Uncle Joe would make his rounds, delivering what he claimed were the best pickles in the Chicago area. He even delivered pickles to a young food entrepeneur whose father was one of Joe’s customers. Rich Melman seemed to appreciate Uncle Joe’s pickles, and how one always knew how the Chicago Cubs were doing by how Joe came in the door. Melman, of course, is co-founder of the famous Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.
My earliest memories of Uncle Joe and what he did when he went to work were of a pickle truck with Chipico painted on it. Actually, my earliest memories were of the distinct aroma of dill pickles. The Chipico sign came later, when I could read. I never knew what Chipico meant. Was it someone’s name? A town? A nationality? As I was looking for an image of Chipico pickles, I learned that Chipico is short for the Chicago Pickle Company.
As the years wore on, Uncle Joe replaced the pickle truck for a van and another pickle company for Chipico when it was bought by Vienna Beef.
Whether truck or van, coveralls or street clothes, the distinct smell of pickles always followed in my uncle’s wake with the aroma of dill and garlic and a hard day’s work. While growing up, my aunt and uncle lived next door to us. They had the corner house with a detached garage that faced the street and by which most neighbors and children on their way to school would pass daily. It was a neat garage painted white with black trim, my grandmother’s flowers bordering it. Yia Yia lived with us next door, but, her zinnias and marigolds knew no boundaries. Looking back, I think she probably knew they also softened the piquant of dill pickles.
Family picnics – and believe me when I say that family picnics of my mostly Greek childhood were like no other picnic around our suburban neighborhood – always had a few jars of Uncle Joe’s pickles, waiting to be plucked out and put on a hot dog or sliced on a plate. He generously provided gallon jars of pickles for church events and family gatherings and though he could sometimes seem gruff and always had THE opinion on the Cubs or Blackhawks or Bears, he always was there when my sister or I needed him, especially after our father died.
Image from google images.
When Jennifer was a toddler and experiencing new tastes, she quickly became a darling of Uncle Joe. How could he resist her curly blonde hair, big blue eyes, easy disposition and that she loved the first bite of dill pickle he cut up into a small piece and gave her one day as he came in the back door of their house while we were visiting? I can still see her, in a pale blue outfit to accent her eyes that my Aunt Christina loved, churning the pickle piece around her plump cheeks, not sure at first, then enlightened as she experienced the taste and then quickly wailed for more. From that day forward, Uncle Joe would often send over to our house gallon glass jars of dill pickles for the little girl who loved them.
I tried out a new store not far from us the other day. A Polish store and delicatessen. As I wandered about observing new sights and scents and produce labeled in English and Polish, I caught a distinctive whiff of something so familiar I was instantly brought back to my youth, and then Jennifer’s. There among the apples and carrots and cabbages, in a big plastic barrel with containers to fill at hand, were fresh dill pickles, just waiting to be plucked and I thought fondly of my Uncle Joe, the pickle man.
Someday soon, when our Jennifer comes over, I will take her there and we will pick out some pickles and I am sure that as we bite into them and savor their crunch and flavors, long ago memories of Uncle Joe, the pickle man, will rise forth with the dill and the garlic.
Read Full Post »