I mentioned the Pickle Lady to Michael, my husband, who grew up in the same neighborhood and who has the memory of an elephant, and he insisted there was no Pickle Lady! He was sure I was thinking of the Newspaper Lady, she who was unkindly called Orphan Annie because she was dressed in a million layers of tattered clothing. In fact, the Newspaper Lady was on the corner I’d imagined Mme Pickle holding down, but there was a barrel: next to her stacks of papers, the Newspaper Lady had a beaten up metal oil barrel in which she built a blazing fire and around which passersby would stop to warm their hands and chat.
Michael’s always right about this stuff (and, once he said it, I knew he was right), but I called my mom anyway. Mom confirmed the details of the Newspaper Lady, but made it all better by saying that I did get pickles from a Pickle Lady, I’d just misplaced her or co-mingled a couple of memories – Pickle Lady was in a covered market down the block.
Then my mother started talking about a street-food place I remembered perfectly and loved almost as much as she did: the narrow enclosed stand (it was like a luncheonette counter without the stools) where you could buy a Charlotte Russe.
I can’t think of fancier street food than a Charlotte Russe, an elaborate construction of sponge cake, jam, gobs and gobs of piped and swirled whipped cream and the proverbial cherry on top! What made it street-eatable was the fact that the entire confection was housed in a cardboard cylinder with a bottom that might have been engineered by Wonderbra. You ate the cherry and the first layer of cream, pushed up the bottom, devoured the next layer – inevitably getting cream on the tip of your nose – and on it went, for as long as you could make it last.
I know a banana is a far more healthful snack than a Charlotte Russe and I’m glad bananas and their fruity brethren are so easily gettable, but where’s the fun? While virtue – and virtuous bananas – may be their own reward, they certainly won’t be the stuff of memories.