By Tina Portelli
I was six and he was sixty, and we got along just fine.
He had fingers like chewed animal claws and hands that felt like sandpaper.
He would wear other peoples discarded eyeglasses and say they were good
enough. I spent a lot of time with him, although we hardly spoke. Being the
first grandchild of the family, I think I was really special to him.
My nose would be buried in his comic books while he would be involved
stacking and bundling newspapers. I would sit at the soda counter for
hours at a time with Archie and Casper. Often my little hand would slide
like a solider on his belly to the two cent Jelly Roll box sitting inches
from my reach. I would eat these delicious chocolate covered jellies
thinking I was getting away with something big, until I'd notice my
grandfather peering over his second hand eyeglasses grinning at me from
across the store. More than running a candy store, his passion was for the
junk trade. In the back room of that small store was a larger room filled
with broken toys, tools, carriages, radiators and things I'd never seen
before. Parts of parts, piled to the ceiling. This was his sideline,
selling and collecting junk. I could never understand why anyone would
want any of that stuff, but now I do. Treasures of the past is what will
pay for. I wish I had his junk now.
I remember this small wiry man always in a sleeveless undershirt and khaki
pants, cigarette always hanging from his mouth. He was very clean, always
close shaved, hair slicked back, almost dapper in his informal attire. He
wore a blue apron with a kangaroo pouch in the front to store his loose
change. The driver of the Daily News truck would fling the papers at the
store entrance and Ralph would quickly get them on the stand for sale,
taking one for himself to read with his coffee.
When other kids came into the store to buy gum or soda, I remember feeling
superior, sitting up on that high stool thinking, "I never have to pay".
I can read these comic books and day, eat his candy for free, who has it
better than me?
I have my very own Candyman!