Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Not 'Cayote', Dietrich.

"Wiley" was the name everyone called my Uncle Russel's butcher in the 'H&S Grocery Store' in Anawalt, West Virginia. I've long ago forgotten what the 'H&S' stood for--the people who started the store before Uncle Russel took it over, I believe.

I worked for him, after school and on Saturdays (no store, back then, was open on Sunday, Heaven for fend!")

I stocked the shelves with cans along with Gene Taylor, the only Black person who's name I knew back then--except for his wife Celeste, who was my Uncle Russel's Housekeeper and sometime cook.

But I also manned one of the two cash registers with Maria Tagnesi, one of the few Roman Catholics in town--half the people in Anawalt's 500 were black and I only knew two of their names--there were, perhaps a dozen Roman Catholics and I knew all their names.

I also carried and bagged and did whatever needed doing. This was from the time I was 12 or so until I went to college. I think Uncle Russel paid me but I don't know how much. I was just above slave labor, I think.

And sometimes I'd help Wiley in the meat department. I'd slice cold cuts on the big machine. I'd pack chicken parts and beef and pork to be weighed and priced on Wiley's scale. I liked being the butcher's assistant a lot more than the rest of the many things I did--especially the things involving carrying things up from the basement to put on the shelves.

Wiley was a bit of a trip. He kept a bottle of Bourbon in the walk-in cooler that he sampled from time to time when he was chopping up a side of beef.

Once the meat deliverer was singing "bringing in the sheaves" as he carried in huge slabs of meat. Wiley told him, "never mind about the sheaves, just get the beef in here."

Wiley was a huge man--about 6'2, at least, though I was a child and not good at height, and weighed 260 or so. A perfect sized man to be cutting up huge portions of meat.

I watch the young--and not so young--people who work in the cold-cut section of Stop and Shop and wonder what it would be like to change places with them--to be slicing ham and turkey and pastrami--while they waited for their order.

Wiley is surely long dead--like most of the people from my childhood. And I miss him. I really do.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.