“Are you sure? They’re yellow. Some people call them banana peppers. Can you just check in the back again, please??”
There I stood in front of the glass case that April afternoon tired, edgy and hungry, looking longingly at the roast beef behind the glass – it was that time of the month. I held strong, my eyes imagining the prize. If only they had the right peppers, it would all come true. I was just moments away from receiving the best roast beef sandwich a girl with raging hormones could ask for when an older gentleman saddled up next to me at the Kroger deli counter wearing a straw hat and suspenders. My mind drifted away for a bit from my roast beef sandwich and my puffy, yet growling, stomach. This gentleman was not eyeing the rare roast beef inside the case like I was -- no, his eyes were fixed on a pair of golden wings.
Him: tall, dark and handsome. Me: short, white and hormonal.
But there was no denying it. I had to ask him. Maybe it was because I always wanted a father like Jim in Huckleberry Finn who might tell me stories about himself as a boy and a father or maybe it’s because I fell deeply in love with Sidney Poitier when I was nine, the first time I saw him in To Sir, With Love. So, maybe this was my chance, right here at Krogers, in front of all the Hillshire Farm cold cuts. Maybe he’d even tell me a story or two if I asked him to share half of my dream sandwich: rare roast beef stacked high atop mayo and cream cheese, slices of pepperoncini strewn everywhere, finished off with thinly shaved red onion on a crunchy French roll. But, alas, he was already smitten with a spring chicken.
“How much you want for your wings today?” he asked the woman behind the counter.
“99 cents a wing,” she replied, her face blank.
“What in Darnation?! A dollar a wing?” his forehead rumpling from years of hard work.
I couldn’t believe my ears either. My stacked roast beef sandwich was estimated to come in at around $3.99 when they finally finished assembling it with pepperoncini, but there was hardly any meat on those little wings he wanted.
“I agree!” I said. “That doesn’t seem right at all. But, um… well… did… uh… did you see the roast beef?”
“Well, now, I try and eat healthy, I do.” taking off his hat, “But, now and again, I like them wings they roast and the gravy and such,“ standing with his hat over his heart, his blue work shirt buttoned all the way up to his chin.
“Oh, okay then,“ I said, feeling like a lonely, middle-aged glutton. “I must say, though, sir, you are in terrific shape. You must eat very healthy.”
“Well, now, that I do… but, you... you still holding yourself up pretty good. That young man a-yours sure did buy you some nice engagement ring.”
I wanted to scoop him up right there on the spot and have lunch with him forever and ever, roasting him chicken or beef on an open spit. There we’d sit, rocking back and forth on our big wide front porch, while my husband and children jumped up and down, trying to get our attention from inside the house. But, we… well, we were busy… we had cream cheese to carefully spread across long crunchy rolls. We had purple onions to shave down real thin, using that old tortoise shell knife of his, and pepperoncini to lovingly toss to our sandwiches. All the while, me listening to his stories about growing up along the Mississippi.
“Ma’am!” the woman snapped from behind the counter. “Your sandwich is ready,” attempting to lift a brown package the size of a toddler.
“Well, your fiancé, he sure is a lucky man, you bringing him his lunch at work,” he said before he shuffled away with two chicken wings and a little container of mash potatoes and gravy.
“Oh, he’s one lucky man, all right,” the woman behind the counter muttered to her co-worker who had just spent 10 minutes looking for some damn thing called, “pepper-RON-cheeky” for a PMSing, middle-aged nutcake.
As I headed to my car I couldn’t help but wonder where he was going to eat his lunch and with whom. Then I strapped my roast beef sandwich and myself into our seatbelts and drove away, holding myself up pretty good, bloated but renewed, and feeling like a spring chicken.