Made a late night trip to Walmart.
I had to get some nicotine gum.
When I say had to get some nicotine gum, I mean I had to get some nicotine gum. Although I haven’t smoked since February of 1997, I’m still addicted to this drug.
My father also chewed nicotine gum. He developed heart disease, and cancer, and used the gum — late in life — to quit smoking.
During the transition — after the heart surgery and before the cancer — he would cheat.
He’d make frequent trips to the grocery store, for the smallest of items — and I’d see him at the red light, taking a toke from a cigarette.
Been there, done that.
Eventually he kicked it completely. Just as I did.
So we chewed nicotine gum together.
Then, one day, he stopped.
He switched to Tic Tacs.
And he suggested I do the same.
“Give up the gum,” he said. “These are cheaper.”
He was a loving father and grandfather with plenty of grandchildren, so the Tic Tacs had the added benefit of being something he could give children (anybodyâ€™s children) at any time, in any location. All of them always enjoyed the little gifts. During temple, when things got really boring, he would reach in his pocket and produce a container of Tic Tacs. Like Pavlog’s dogs, when the candy began to rattle against the plastic container, grandchildren turned to him and waited for the Tic Tacs. Watching TV. In the car. At a banquet. Anywhere. My father, late in life, became known for his offerings of Tic Tacs.
As his illnesses progressed, he became less mobile. But he would sit in his chair and rattle the candy in his pocket, and children began moving in his direction.
Meanwhile, I’m still chewing the gum, and will go to Walmart in the middle of the night if I run out.
I also picked up a few Passover items while in Walmart.
I remember the day â€“ not long ago â€“ when the only way to get Matza was to know somebody who was going to Charlotte who could bring back an extra box.
I remember a day when you would expect a Walmart employee in Salisbury, NC, to give you a pretty funny look if you asked for help finding Gefilte Fish.
I had trouble finding it, so I approached a pretty young woman in the candy aisle. She was shelving Easter items.
“I’m looking for the Gefilte Fish and Matza,” I said. “You know, Passover stuff.”
“Right this way,” she said, and she took me to them.
I thanked her and called my wife.
“Do you know if we have any horseradish?” I asked.
“If we do, it’s a year old!” she said.
So I started looking for horseradish. A few minutes later, I went back to the woman on the Easter aisle.
“Do you know where the horseradish is?” I asked.
â€œSure,â€ she said.
Will all the items in Walmart, I couldnâ€™t help but to ask her another question. â€œDo you know where everything is?â€
Again — she took me to it, and told me to ask her again if there was anything else I needed.
The horseradish only cost $1.22. A small price to pay for a jar that’s fresh, rather than a year old.
My father used to tell us about Passover at his house, in New York, when he was a child.
He said his fatherâ€™s Seder took all afternoon and all night. The children passed the time outside, playing.
â€œNobody paid a bit of attention,â€ heâ€™d say.
He and his brother and sister changed their names to Post, so it wouldnâ€™t sound Jewish. That made it easier to get a job or an apartment.
He made a secular life for himself, here in The South, and participated in his Jewishness enough to get by, keeping the rabbi and folks at the temple happy. But his friends were not Jewish. His life was almost completely assimilated. Aside from a few trips to temple a year, a little brisket, chopped liver, bagels, and herring, it was rather mainstream, Salisbury NC.
Somewhere in heaven, my father is rattling his Tic Tacs, smiling about the girl at Walmart who knows exactly what youâ€™re talking about when you ask for Gefilte Fish and Matza.